County’s champion K-9 retires

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The most decorated K-9 in the country worked his last shift Tuesday night as a member of the Mower County Sheriff’s Department.

Tazer, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois and five-time national champion at the U.S. Police Canine Association’s National Field Trials, will now get the opportunity to be a regular house dog, his handler, Sgt. Jeff Ellis, said.

For Ellis, who has had Tazer since he was a 6-week-old puppy, the move means an end of K-9 work so he can focus on other opportunities within the sheriff’s department.

“It’s kind of a career thing for me,” Ellis said.

But that doesn’t mean the K-9 couldn’t still compete at a high level, the sergeant said. Despite going through leg surgery last year, Ellis said Tazer has gotten back into good shape. He even competed in the 2009 national field trials in October, finishing third.

“He’s healthy,” Ellis said. “He probably could do it for two more years.”

Ellis’ career move, however, means Tazer will get to take it easy at home, eating potato chips off the couch, the sergeant said. Ellis said this is well deserved after Tazer’s storied career, and added that the dog will have no problem living the quiet life — even while active, the K-9 still came home with Ellis every day and assimilated into the household.

“He’s a lap dog,” Ellis said. “He’s just like any other dog out there.”

Tazer’s legacy will also live on in a very direct way with local law enforcement. Two of his offspring, Ghost and Bosco, are currently K-9s with the Austin Police Department.

Lt. Matt Holten, who handles Ghost and has done K-9 work for 20 years, said it has been a “treat” watching Tazer grow up. In fact, Tazer is a second-generation descendent of a past dog of his, Rocket, making Holten even more proud.

“Tazer is the best dog I’ve ever seen,” Holten said. “And Jeff is the best K-9 handler I’ve ever seen.”

The lieutenant said it has been Ellis’ innovative training style that has made him so good, a style that even the 20-year veteran said he learned from.

Ellis described his training style as reward-based rather than compulsion based, meaning he tries to provide incentives for good work.

“I teach the dogs to want to work,” he said.

Indeed, Ellis’ style has had quite an affect on the K-9 field. Mark Yates, an Anoka, Minn., K-9 officer and former USPCA board member, said Ellis and Tazer will be remembered years from now.

“Very few people have had the kind of success they’ve had,” the officer said.

Yates also said he has learned a lot from watching Ellis handle his dog.

“It was so different from what all the other trainers and handlers were doing,” Yates said of Ellis’ style. “He understands what the dog is thinking.”

Tracie Erickson, a lieutenant with the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, also got the chance to learn from Ellis and Tazer over the years, both at regional trials and in the field on occasion.

“There’s no better dog on the face of the earth as far as I’m concerned,” Erickson said of Tazer. “He’s unbelievable.”

Erickson said much of what he does now with his K-9 is based on what he learned from Ellis.

“I attribute my success to Jeff,” Erickson said.

Ellis said he is proud of the mark he’s made on the K-9 field and proud of watching Tazer grow up — and have so much success — before his eyes.

“Tazer came along and kind of put the bar a little higher,” Ellis said. “I’ve never seen a dog quite like (him).”