BRADENTON -- Under the bright Tuesday sun, Manatee County Sheriff's Office canine handlers stood near a parcel of land dotted with white scent-detection boxes and obstacles.
The law enforcement canines were brought out individually for drills on a hilly side of the fenced-in field. Bursting with enthusiasm, they obediently followed their handler's cues.
The west side of Braden River High School, 6545 Florida U.S. 70, Bradenton, is now a canine training facility for the sheriff's office.
The new land-use agreement with the Manatee County School Board leases it to the sheriff's office for $10 a year for the next five years.
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Manatee County Lt. Richie Cunningham said the canine unit never had a specific training area before. Cunningham, once a canine handler himself, now heads the unit.
"We're excited," he said of the new training facility. "Part of the process of working with these dogs is having a sanitized environment so we can make sure our dogs don't get into something we don't want them to get into."
Nearby is a building where the dogs undergo narcotics search drills to learn to find drug scents such as cocaine and marijuana. The second-floor couches and a table simulate the inside of a home.
The sheriff's office has eight multipurpose canine units with two dedicated to narcotics.
"We want to be able to have full control and accountability for those things," Cunningham said of the sanitized areas in the building.
For the sheriff's office, the new space comes with more training opportunities.
Deputy Mike Gerholdt, handler for a Belgian Malinois named K-9 Bouy, said the sheriff's office is having Manatee County jail inmates build aluminum scent boxes for its dogs. The boxes will be used for the dogs to detect the odors of explosives and drugs, which are kept in a separate container inside each box above a doggie treat.
"When they go and retrieve their reward, they smell the odor so they correlate their reward, which is their toy, to the odor," Gerholdt said.
That's what the dogs search for -- their toys. K-9 Ziggy likes to chew on PVC pipes and the others opt for rolled-up cloth towels tied on each end.
For Gerholdt, the new training facility is a blessing.
"It's something that we've needed for years," he said. "It's something that we can kind of mold to what we exactly need."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.