Seven-year-old Natalie Hall watched with delight Saturday as Roseburg police Officer Ryan Dingman sent his German shepherd police dog Iago after a pretend suspect dressed in protective clothing during a demonstration at the Sportsmen’s & Outdoor Recreation Show at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
“I like how he bit the man,” said a smiling Natalie, who lives in Roseburg.
Dingman explained to an outdoor audience that numbered more than 100 that 5-year-old Iago thinks he is engaged in a game of tug of war whenever he’s called to subdue a suspect.
“It’s pure fun for him,” Dingman said. “You’ll notice his tail is wagging the whole time. He’s having a blast.”
If a suspect strikes the dog with his fist or an object, Iago perceives the action as intensifying the game. He simply holds on to the person’s arm even more securely, Dingman said.
“It’s more fun for the dog,” he said.
Iago, who weighs 78 pounds, has been with the Roseburg Police Department for about a year and a half after being donated by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. He’s one of three police dogs employed by Roseburg Police. Helix, like Iago, is a tracking dog, while Dora sniffs out drugs.
The dogs have been well-received, said Shirley Counts, who works as a risk manager for Douglas County and is a member of the nonprofit Friends of Umpqua Valley Police K9 Programs that raised $50,000 in 10 months to launch the Roseburg Police Department dog program and would offer its assistance to other departments wanting to start a similar program.
“The community is really behind this,” Counts said.
Iago can clear an eight-foot-high wall and can run 38 miles per hour — the second-fastest police dog in a state competition last spring in Springfield. He finished third overall in that contest.
Iago has been deployed about 65 times and has captured a suspect in 48 of those instances. He has never had to bite a suspect in any of those cases. His presence and his barking, which makes him sound like he could attack at any moment, are enough to get all of those wanted criminals to give themselves up, Dingman said.
The dog acts as a powerful deterrent, Dingman said, even when he responds to incidents where Iago isn’t needed. The dog is trained to bite a person only if commanded by Dingman or if either himself or his handler is attacked.
“No one fights with me anymore,” he said, laughing. “I’ve had two fights since I’ve had him. And both times that was when I was away from the car so they couldn’t see Iago.”
One of the first times Iago was called to track a suspect took place a year ago Thursday when a Myrtle Creek man being pursued by police ran from his vehicle after running over spike strips on Interstate 5 near Green. The man ran toward a hill east of the Ingram Book Co. plant.
Iago tracked the man for a mile and a half before alerting officers to his presence.
On Saturday, Dingman had Iago grab the arm of Officer Blake Cordell, dressed in a padded suit, during several different play scenarios. One time, Cordell acted like he was striking Dingman. Another time he broke free and ran off. He also walked toward Iago like he might try to grab the dog.
Each time, Iago waited for Dingman to give him a command to grab Cordell’s padded arm. Even when Cordell spun around and tried to shake the dog from his arm, Iago kept ahold until Dingman told him to release.
The audience paid rapt attention to the trio throughout the 30-minute demonstration.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Brady John, 6, a Bend resident visiting his grandparents in Douglas County.
• You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at email@example.com.