The latest addition to the Elgin Police Department already has proved to be a valuable asset, even as he continues intensive training to sharpen his skills.
Colt, a 21-month-old German shepherd, has helped detect narcotics several times since he was assigned in November to patrol duty with his handler, Officer Chad Schuttrow.
Schuttrow and Colt train together six times per month, sometimes up to 10 hours a day. That will eventually decrease to four times a month for maintenance.
Colt is trained in handler protection and scent detection.
"It takes about three years for a canine to become fully proficient," Schuttrow pointed out.
The K-9 unit is a sought-after assignment, Elgin Police Cmdr. Glenn Theriault said.
Colt is one of two police dogs in Elgin, along with Gage, a Deutsch Drahthaar who's only trained for scent work, not handler protection.
Typically, the department has three dogs, but Keiser, a German shepherd, died of cancer last July.
Schuttrow has served in Elgin since March 2012. Before that, he was an Indiana state trooper and often worked alongside K-9 units, he said.
"I had a really good experience working with canines when I was a trooper," he said. "I was happy to get this assignment."
So far, everything has gone smoothly, Schuttrow said.
The only exception, perhaps, was Colt ended up coming home with Schuttrow, who lives in Elgin, the first day they met, rather than a couple of days later like he expected.
"My wife was a little shocked," he joked, adding Colt's been getting alone fine with their pet Labrador.
Elgin created its first K-9 team in 1991. Its dogs usually are born in European countries and trained at Tops Kennels in Grayslake, where Colt comes from.
The popularity of K-9 units has increased in the last 10 or 20 years, said Keiser's longtime handler, Officer John Slocum.
"You can clear a building with a police service dog much faster than it would take an entire squad of policemen," he said.
In addition to an initial cost of $6,500 to acquire a dog, the police department budgets $10,000 per year for the ongoing training and maintenance of three dogs, Theriault said.
Dogs and handlers are typically matched to balance each other's personality, said Tops Kennels owner Alex Rothacker. For example, a hyper dog is matched with a laid-back handler, and vice versa.
In Colt's case, Elgin police specifically requested a socialized dog that interacts well with the public, such as during school visits, Theriault said.
As for whether Schuttrow has become attached to Colt, that's happening gradually, Schuttrow said.
"I do realize he's a job, and he's a tool to help me do the best job in Elgin."
Just wait, Slocum countered. "You spend more time with the dog than anyone else in the family," Slocum said. "By the time this is over, he'll be your best friend."