Matrix, the newest canine addition at the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office, will soon be certified to be utilized for drug-sniffing purposes and patrol duty.

Matrix and his handler, Deputy Bruce Mastin, are currently in their third week of patrol training school which is held in Grand Island. Matrix, a Belgian Malinois, arrived in Fremont from an Alabama dog broker who specializes in handling dogs specifically bred to serve on K-9 Units.

Following his Sept. 7 arrival, Matrix and Deputy Brie Frank – his original handler — attended their first day of narcotics training school on Sept. 11. The duo completed the majority of the 7-week-long course before handling duties were taken over by Mastin.

For the next four weeks – three weeks have already been completed – Mastin and Matrix will work on forging their bond while getting acclimated with the ins and outs of drug detection and patrol training.

“Matrix already knows all of the odors and everything (relating to narcotics), now we are really working on my handling – it’s a lot about us working together now,” Mastin said during a Monday interview with the Tribune.

Prior to Matrix’s arrival, the DCSO relied on Brody, a German Shepard, to help detect narcotics in vehicles, homes and other places. Brody left the department in June when his handler left the Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Steve Hespen said.

Brody was certified to act as a narcotics dog and patrol dog for one year of service, however, he was unable to become recertified as a patrol dog. Hespen explained that the patrol aspect of certification is more rigorous than narcotics, because the dog has to have a full grasp of how it should react during a given situation.

“Brody was duel-certified for one year and then couldn’t pass the patrol training, but he was able to maintain his narcotics certification,” Hespen said. “So he then served as a single-purpose dog.”

Having a duel-purpose dog in Matrix will benefit the department.

“What they are working on right now this week at the academy is tracking, which is vital for obvious reasons – lost people, children wandering off or somebody fleeing,” Hespen said. “We can track those individuals and suspects who flee from a stop or any other type of situation.

“On the patrol side its detention/apprehension and we can use a patrol dog in business searches, alarm calls if we feel somebody could be in the building; and the dog is trained to detect people and then detain and apprehend.”

It’s vital for the dog to understand and act appropriately to the variety of situations that it could encounter.

“The patrol part is more extensive than the narcotics because it has to be trained to recognize the difference between a passive individual and one that is aggressive and resisting,” Hespen said. “If he finds someone and that person is not resisting he will detain them, and if they flee he will be used in an apprehension mode.”

Mastin has been in law enforcement since 2014 and served with the DCSO since February 2017. Mastin said that he has always wanted the opportunity to handle a K-9 Unit.

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“I’ve had hunting dogs that I’ve trained and stuff like that, and this is another tool that we can use to help us in many ways,” he said. “And just with some of my background this will be a good fit.”

With that being said, though, this type of training is vastly different than anything that Mastin has been accustomed to.

“It is a totally different style of training and the relationship I have with Matrix is a good relationship, but you have to be a little more conscious since he is a patrol base dog,” Mastin said.

Matrix lives with Mastin, and even when off duty a fine line has be walked in terms of their relationship. The rules don’t change just because the dog isn’t on the clock.

“With a hunting dog every now and again you can let them get away with something and it isn’t really detrimental,” he said. “With a patrol dog they can’t get away with anything because it can be the difference between having a good ending and a bad ending in a situation.”

Mastin and Matrix will patrol in a special vehicle designed specifically for the unit. On his belt, Mastin carries a deployment button enabling Matrix to be released from his kennel and vehicle if the time calls for it.

It’s a new sort of partnership, but it’s one that should prove to be positive.

“Before we had a narcotics dog, but we really didn’t have a patrol dog, so we would have to call the (Nebraska) State Patrol and wait for them when people would run or something,” Mastin said. “Now we will be ready and have him there in 15-20 minutes even if I’m not on duty. So it will benefit everybody … I would say that we are right on track with where we need to be, he is doing a great job with everything we are asking of him now.”

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