KINGS MOUNTAIN STATE PARK -- Among towering trees, log cabins and unrelenting rain Wednesday, school was in session.
Students Dexx and Vegas perfected their canine skills -- vital in their role as police dogs.
The canines are students this week during a bloodhound handler and hound seminar at Kings Mountain State Park.
"Everyone comes with an issue that they need to work out," seminar organizer William "W.J." Miller said. "It could be the handler not knowing how to read what his dog's telling him."
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Or dogs might need better tracking skills, he said.
"The education is invaluable," Miller said. "You can't pick up a book and get it. It has to be shown to you."
More than 50 police officers and their dogs turned out for the 10th annual seminar that kicked off Sunday. During day and night training sessions, dogs and their handlers undergo fieldwork in both the wilderness settings and in towns such as York and Clover. The seminar, ending tonight, is sponsored by the York County Sheriff's Office and the National Police Bloodhound Association.
Participants included teams from California, South Dakota and New Jersey as well Florence, Cherokee County and the South Carolina Highway Patrol. Local teams included the York County Sheriff's Office, Fort Mill, Rock Hill and Tega Cay police departments and Lancaster County officials.
Sheriff's Deputy Chris Kinsey turned out with Dexx for the training. About two years ago, Kinsey used another canine to track the area surrounding a Fort Mill convenience store after the owner was fatally shot.
"This is what I do every day," he said. "Our jobs depend on these dogs being able to perform their duty. Without the dogs, we wouldn't be able to catch a lot of the criminals."
Dexx can go to a door and signal to Kinsey if a person is in the building. The canine recently helped recover stolen property, but there's room for improvement, Kinsey said.
"There's always little things that you can fine-tune, Kinsey said. "This training makes him track better."
Detective William Carter of the Indianapolis Metro Police Department drove 10 hours to attend the seminar with his dog, 17-month-old Grace. His goal: step up Grace's tracking ability.
"It's like a game to her," he said of Grace's tracking skills. "It's improved about 200 percent."
Grace also conquered another obstacle, Carter said.
"She was a little scared about going into the wooded area," he said. "We don't have real thick woods where I live. She's overcome that fear pretty good."
Training is a work in progress that starts as early as five weeks for some dogs, he said.
"When she first started tracking, she wanted to pay more attention to animal smells," he said as Grace munched on a treat. "She was easily distracted by other animals, but those are things she's outgrown."
Patrol officer Sam Blankenship of the Fort Mill Police Department and canine partner Vegas also were on hand for the seminar.
"I wanted her to focus on working longer distance and aged trails," he said. "You never know what kind of calls you're going to get. You may respond to calls that happened 45 minutes ago or two hours ago, so the dog needs to be able to work a large number of ranges in trails."
For Blankenship, training also was all about reading Vegas' tracking cues.
"When we're working on a case, I need to figure out what she's telling me so I'll know if we're getting close and still on the right track," he said.
On Wednesday, Shane Bell of the Tega Cay Police Department said the training was a worthy endeavor for canine partner Niki.
"It helps the dog out, and you get different opinions from different handlers who you don't normally hear from," he said.
To date, more than 600 handlers and 450 canines have participated in the program.