PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Medford Police Department has the first two K-9s in the state to be certified in fentanyl detection and the department is working with law enforcement agencies in the Portland area to help them train their dogs to recognize the odor. 

Nacho, a Dutch shepherd, and Max, an English springer spaniel, were already working for the Medford Police Department as drug detection dogs. Now, they know how to recognize one more substance – fentanyl. 

Max was previously a three-odor dog. He could detect methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine. With the addition of fentanyl, he’s up to four odors. 

Nacho is trained to smell for all these drugs, plus marijuana. 

“Both dogs do what we call a focused alert,” explained Officer Rob Havice, the police K-9 handler with the city of Medford. “They’ll stare at that location and depending on where they’re at, if they can, they’ll sit down.” 

Havice has been a K-9 handler in Medford for 25 years. He’s also a trainer with the Oregon Police Canine Association and president of the California Narcotic Canine Association

He’s dedicated most of his career to working with dogs and in his time on the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement Team, he’s learned that drug transport is always changing, so his dogs need to keep up. 

Fentanyl is a growing issue across the country and Havice knew he could do something to seize some of it. 

“In Southern Oregon, a lot like Portland, the officers have to deal with overdose deaths and just straight overdoses on a regular basis,” Havice said. “That was one of the motivations to developing something to help combat it.” 

He started doing the research on what he and his K-9s could do to take more off the streets and decided to train his dogs to identify the odor, just like they can with other drugs. 

“These dogs can go out and they can search an area much quicker than a human can, much more efficiently and safer,” Havice said. 

He trained the dogs on fentanyl odor detection in Southern Oregon before taking them to California for testing and certification. His dogs were the first to be certified in fentanyl detection by the California Narcotic Canine Association. 

  • Medford police K-9s can now detect fentanyl
  • Medford police K-9s can now detect fentanyl
  • Medford police K-9s can now detect fentanyl
  • Medford police K-9s can now detect fentanyl
  • Medford police K-9s can now detect fentanyl
  • Medford police K-9s can now detect fentanyl
  • Medford police K-9s can now detect fentanyl
  • Medford police K-9s can now detect fentanyl

To train the dogs, Havice taught the dogs to identify the new target odor. He said it takes about a week for the odor to imprint. After that, he hid it in places to simulate real-world searchers. 

Now, on a typical day, Havice, Max and Nacho work with local shipping companies to intercept drugs. They sniff everything from parcels to envelopes to freight containers that weigh thousands of pounds. 

Even though they’re working, their training continues to keep their noses sharp. 

“It’s kind of like when an athlete trains to get to a certain level to run a marathon,” Havice said. “They don’t just start; they continue to maintain that peak performance.” 

Havice and his dogs will also assist with search warrants. In these situations, he said the dogs need to be careful. There’s always the risk they could find drugs lying around that would be dangerous to breathe in. 

In situations where a scene has been secured, Havice said he does a walkthrough before deploying the dogs to help ensure there aren’t hazards like fentanyl in a place they could access. If there is, evidence technicians will gather it before the dogs go in. 

Havice said he’s been in contact with the Portland Police Bureau and the Beaverton Police Department. He said their K-9 command staff are interested in training their dogs to recognize fentanyl. He hopes to get them trained in the near future