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No nose like Nitro's

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Deputy Troy Wangsness and Nitro are the new K-9 team in Wadena County. Submitted photo2 / 3
Nitro gets the command to chase down a suspect during a demonstration at the Wadena County Fairgrounds. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal3 / 3

A new K-9 recently joined the ranks of the Wadena County Sheriff's Office with at least one characteristic others in the department can't match. He can out sniff them all.

"He has an unbelievable nose," Wadena County Sheriff's Office K-9 handler Troy Wangsness said.

Nitro, a Czech Republic shepherd is a 2-year-old who's focused, alert, and fast on the job. But that same dog is playful and loving at home with the Wangsness family.

Nitro graduated K-9 school June 22, fully trained in narcotics, arrest and suspect apprehension, along with search and rescue of missing children and vulnerable adults. He scored a 98 in the vehicle search category and a 95 in the building search category, something Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr Jr., said is good to hear.

Nitro went through a 12-week training process, with Wangsness, a deputy of 11 and a half years, joining him for the last six weeks—some of the toughest six weeks of training he has been through.

"It was physically and mentally exhausting," Wangsness said.

K-9s like Nitro typically can go for about eight years of service. Nitro's first day on June 23, marked the last day for retiring 10-year-old K-9 Zeus, who will now spend his days at the home of his handler Sgt. Bryan Savaloja.

Savaloja explained that when it came time for Zeus to retire, it only made sense for someone else to take on the K-9 duties as he spends more of his time as the jail administrator and less time on the street. So the position of K-9 handler came open and Wangsness was chosen out of a pool of others to take on the duties that come with the job. Wangsness said he had previous experience working with Zeus and knew that he loved it.

"It's a promotion, but it's also a huge undertaking," Wangsness said.

Nitro came at a cost of around $16,000 including shipping and training costs. And in all, the county was able to raise about $20,000 thanks to communities and businesses in the county supporting the purchase.

Nitro may have completed his training to graduate from K-9 school, but there is regular training that takes place almost daily to keep him well exercised.

"I can't keep enough tennis balls," Wangsness said as they are a favorite victim to Nitro's powerful shredding abilities.

Wangsness said the obedience side of training is one of the most boring but is one of the most important as Nitro demonstrated for crowds at the Wadena County Fair. He showed how he was able to keep Nitro at his side until he gave the command for him to do the bite work on volunteer Savaloja. And when commanded again, Nitro stopped biting and dropped to the ground. A moment later, when Savaloga acted as a suspect that shoves Wangsness, another command had Nitro on the bite once more.

When Nitro bites, it's clear he is not doing so out of emotion, but of obedience. As soon as he is commanded to stop, Nitro's tail is wagging and he is ready for his reward.

It's going to be a rewarding day for the partners when Nitro gets to go on his first job. That's a moment Wangsness anticipates will go well.


All about that schnoz

It was Wangsness' trainer that first alerted him to the fact that Nitro has quite the sniffer.

"He said 'he's got a nose like no other,'" Wangness said.

According to PetMD, most dog's have an impressive smelling ability but the hound, shepherd and lab varieties seem to do best at smelling.

The vet authored site lists several interesting facts about dog noses.

• A dog's nose has two functions—one for smell and one for respiration. A canine's nose has the ability to separate air. A portion goes directly to the olfactory sensing area (which distinguishes scents), while the other portion is dedicated to breathing.

• Dog's also have the ability to take in and breathe out air at the same time.

• Dogs smell in 3-D. Dogs can smell separately with each nostril. Just as our eyes compile two slightly different views of the world, and our brain combines them to form a 3-D picture, a dog's brain uses the different odor profiles from each nostril to determine exactly where smelly objects are in the environment.

• Dogs can smell up to 100,000 times better than a human. It is so sensitive that dogs can detect the equivalent of a 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.