Macon police introduce canine that sniffs out explosives, guns

Sniffing his way through a room, it didn’t take Arco more than a couple of minutes to find a hidden handgun and ammunition.

Watching the 2-year-old German shepherd stare at a cupboard, the dog’s handler knew Arco had found the hidden items without so much as a bark.

“It’s like poker. All dogs have tells,” said Macon police officer Matt Tout, Arco’s handler.

“Good boy,” he said praising Arco and giving him his toy — a piece of fire hose, which he chewed with excitement as he slobbered.

Arco is Macon’s first explosive device-sniffing dog.

Thursday was his first day on the job.

Arco is trained to detect 14 different odors ranging from explosives to the black powder commonly used in handguns and ammunition, Tout said.

With Arco on the force, he and Tout now can respond to the courthouse, auditoriums, large event venues and other areas to search whenever police suspect guns or explosives might be present, Tout said.

Arco also will be used in schools when administrators hear a student has brought a gun into the building, Tout said.

“He’d be able to pinpoint on that locker and we could find the gun,” he said.

Arco’s journey to Macon started nearly a year ago in Slovakia where he underwent a series of tests.

“They have to see if he’s willing to go find something,” Tout said. Once the dog exhibited a hunting instinct, he was tested more to determine whether he’d persevere and continue searching for an item.

Over six to seven months, trainers introduced Arco to the smell of explosives, Tout said.

Then Arco was imported to Alabama, where he and Tout began training together in February.

For their first phase of training, Tout said he and Arco bonded and played together.

“It was just getting to know one another,” he said.

Then the two started hunting explosives and Tout was able to learn what behaviors Arco shows when he makes a find.

“If my dog gets an odor, he just sits,” Tout said, adding the dog also stares in the direction of where he smells the explosive.

Tout and Arco completed their training by traveling throughout the Southeast to visit a variety of locations and practice searching for explosives.

The training ended Tuesday.

Chief Mike Burns said the department used confiscated funds to purchase Arco for $11,000 and has paid about $2,000 for his training.

“It’ll give us another tool to take weapons off the street,” he said.

Officer Steven Hood, canine unit supervisor, said the police expect to get between five and seven years of work out of Arco depending on his health.

While Tout has only known Arco for about two months, he said the two have already bonded.

“I didn’t expect to be as close to this dog as I am,” he said with a smile. “He’s a good partner to have.”

But when the workday is over, Arco rides home with Tout and enjoys the life of a family pet.

“When we go home, he knows it’s playtime,” Tout said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.