The hard part isn't piquing a dog's interest - genetics kick in when the dog sees a tennis ball. The challenge is to teach the dog that it's worth finding something or performing an action to get that tennis ball.
Suttle likens the idea to a person earning a paycheck. An employee works to receive a check that eventually can be turned into cash. A dog works to find cocaine, for example, so that it has the chance to play with a tennis ball.
When he's training his dogs to search for drugs or explosives, Suttle equates finding the illicit substance's odor with a reward. Many times, it's a tennis ball. For other dogs, it's hot dogs.
It's just as important for the dogs to know the illegal substance, not the reward, is the ultimate goal. If a dog indicates there's something illegal in John McEnroe's trunk when it's really full of tennis balls, nobody wins, Suttle pointed out.
He uses a system of plywood and PVC pipe to train his dogs on a variety of scents. He places different items with distinct odors - mint, dog food and marijuana, for example - in T-shaped tubes on the back of the plywood wall. Then he has the dog search for the "target" odor, making its way from one PVC faux-hiding place to the next.
The dog knows it will get the chance to chomp on a ball or tasty treat when it pinpoints the target. Once it's found the substance, Suttle has it hold its nose on the source. Suttle lets the dog see the reward but doesn't give it to the dog yet.
A trainer - in this case Suttle's intern, Meredith Holland - pushes a clicker to let the dog know it is correct. When the clicking sound is made, the dog has the chance to bite the ball. After a few bites, it gets to play briefly with the ball before Suttle takes it back and starts again.
There are similarly intricate training methods for other potential working dog duties. Suttle has access to abandoned hospitals and closed schools in the county, which helps as preparation work ramps up.
If a dog starts to show a certain aptitude in one particular area, Suttle knows to steer a dog toward that particular line of work.
"If you're raising a son, and he's really slender and he's short but he's fast as lightning, you're probably not going to try to mold him into an NFL linebacker. You may try to mold him to a track star, for example," Suttle said.
Unicorns show more than aptitude. They genuinely enjoy their work.
That doesn't mean they're nasty or unfriendly. It just means, when push comes to shove, the dog wants to chase down a man in a dark warehouse.
"That's the big misconception: a dog doesn't have to be aggressive to put you in the hospital. He just has to be committed to biting . . . and he has to enjoy it," Suttle said.
Pride for his pack
From his days as a boy driving a dogsled through the mountains that surround his home to spending time around detection dogs as a Marine marksman, Suttle hasn't been able to avoid canines. They've always been in his blood.
Since starting his business in 2006, they've bolstered his bank account, too.
A puppy goes for $1,200. "Entry green" dogs, with little prep work, sell for $4,500. "Green dual purpose" dogs fetch $6,500, and those destined for special operations go for $12,000 or more. He has sold about 1,000 in seven years, most outside West Virginia.
"When I buy a dog, I'm probably paying more for a green, untrained dog than most department budgets in West Virginia will allow them to pay for a fully trained dog," Suttle said.
It can cost Suttle as much as $10,000 to buy and train a dog. With one other employee and two full-time interns, everyone works around the clock cleaning, feeding and getting bitten. Dogs still need to eat on Christmas.
People can board their dogs at his kennel. He'll train the family cocker spaniel not to run away every time it smells a rabbit. For a pretty penny, he'll train dogs for personal protection, too.
But he's not in it for the money.
Last Friday, 3-year-old Belgian Malinois Pakjo broke his neck while subduing a suspect for a police department in Utah. It survived and is expected to recover after emergency surgery in Las Vegas, according to local media reports.
Suttle sold Pakjo to the department, the third time he had delivered a dog to them. He heard about the injury through an early-morning text message Friday. The dog's new owner told Suttle that Pakjo saved lives.
"When a dog stays, it's not making us any money and not doing anyone else a service," Suttle said.
"I take a lot of satisfaction in knowing the dog didn't come from anyone else but us."
He wants to feed his family - he has two sons and the kennel is named after the older one, Logan. He wants to serve his country. And he wants to do it from West Virginia.
Even if it means he gets nibbled on every now and then.
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