FORT WAYNE – Two of the dogs are jumpy, pulling on their chains trying to get at one another, all the while ignoring the loud and sharp heels coming from the mouths of their handlers.
Leaning against a green Ford van, Robert Compton looks over and gives a little bit of a chuckle.
Hes seen this before – thousands of times.
Well get that out of them, he says. By the end, theyll be able to crawl over each other and even lay nose to nose.
Compton is spending this Thursday out by the Allen County Fairgrounds, watching several officers and their dogs go through the second week of a class at a fenced-in patch of lawn littered with wooden obstacles.
Its a place hes come for years to put both officer and dog through the rigors of his 16-week course, one in which he forms the pair into a cohesive team.
Only, now hes here as a volunteer.
Compton, a man responsible for roughly 4,000 K-9 units that serve or have served police departments from here to Ohio and even places like Arkansas, retired from the Allen County Sheriffs Department last month.
He had served as the departments master trainer since 1976.
It was time, said Compton, 70, who announced his retirement abruptly. Physically, I knew I was getting to that point.
To put into perspective how much of a fixture Compton has become in the field of K-9 police training, you dont have to look much further than whom he has trained and what he has brought to the area.
Compton once trained a young officer named Ken Fries, now the sheriff, to be a dog handler.
He also trained Fries No. 2, Chief Deputy Dave Gladieux, as well as former Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell.
Many dogs and handlers used in Dayton were trained by Compton, and he was behind the training when Cleveland police began using dogs in 1989.
Twenty-seven of the 30 K-9 units used by Indiana State Police throughout Indiana are the handiwork of Compton.
That included Kilo, a dog shot and killed in the line of duty in June in Sellersburg.
In that shooting, a man had taken his children hostage, let them go but then fled police, breaking into several homes along the way.
Police began checking homes in the area, and Kilo and officers entered a house where the man had barricaded himself.
The man began firing blindly and shot Kilo, who died despite wearing body armor, after the dog had alerted officers.
The dog did exactly what he was supposed to do, said Compton, who attended Kilos memorial service.
Compton has also been around long enough to see how the use of dogs in police work has completely changed.
He had grown up with dogs – his first pet as a boy was a rat terrier named Duke – and joined the department strictly because it was the only one in the area that had K-9s.
Back then, police departments were just coming off of using dogs as what Compton called six-foot chainsaws.
In the 1960s, they were used primarily for attacking – and Compton said all you need to do is look at pictures of civil rights marches of the era to see why they were given the chainsaw nickname.
But in more recent decades, the dogs needed to be extremely versatile – plus extremely sociable and calm.
Thats because many of the K-9 units are now used to promote departments to various groups, including children.
I need a dog that can go to a kindergarten class in the morning, chase a bad guy in the afternoon and then go to a first-grade class later that day, Compton says.
Due to budget constraints many police departments face, dogs also had to become multiskilled.
While back in the day one dog might be trained to sniff out bombs and another drugs, dogs now are trained to pick up the scent of a variety of items.
Compton also keeps up with the changes in law, noting that a court decision can change in one day how officers are allowed to use force or perform searches.
It can also alter what a dog is lawfully able to do, meaning he might need to alter how dogs are trained.
And Compton has been at this so long, that all he needs to do is really look at a dog and within minutes he knows if the animal is potentially trainable or not.
About 70 percent to 80 percent of dogs donated to K-9 departments by the general public wash out, he says.
For whatever reason when dealing with imported dogs, ones bred in places such as Germany, the number drops to 40 percent.
You have to make sure theyre going to make it, he said.
Once he has the dog, the training is easy.
Its the training of the officers that is sometimes hard.
You have to look at the dog as a tool, Compton said.
But he also recognizes the bond officers make with their dogs.
Officers take care of their dogs while they have them, then have the option to keep them on as pets after the dogs services are finished.
Compton said he has never seen an officer give up his dog after the animals retirement.
They always become permanent family pets.
It makes it hard to think of the dog as only a tool.
The best explanation is that youre the parent, and the dog is your child, said Master Sgt. Mick Dockery of the Indiana State Police who has helped train dogs with Compton.
Its Thursday, and officers from parts of Indiana and Ohio are lining up on the lawn by the Allen County Fairgrounds.
Compton is leaning against the green Ford van, surrounded by a few officers hes trained in the past and who now help him train others.
When Bob started, he was training dinosaurs, Dockery jokes about Comptons longevity.
In reality, he has been at this so long that the five to 10 miles hes had to walk every day has led to two hip replacements and multiple knee surgeries.
So, on the cusp of turning 71 this year, he decided to hang up his leashes.
But not quite all the way.
After a few weeks at his home – which is without a dog and quiet – he agreed to volunteer with a new class of dogs because the departments new trainer was away.
He said theres not much he expects to miss, and he plans on enjoying some fishing during his retirement.
Then, Compton talks about the police radio in his home, and how when he hears the action his first instinct is to always turn and get ready to head out the door with a trusty companion.
He said it takes him a minute to realize that he doesnt have to go anywhere.
And then he finds himself out here, in a patch of grass by the fairgrounds, watching a new crop of dogs, green now, but slowly and surely being molded into future police K-9s.
Its hard to imagine him doing anything else.