Retired cop opens canine training center

Published: Dec. 9, 2018 at 10:00 AM EST
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A retired Burlington Police officer is carrying his law enforcement knowledge into the civilian world, opening a new training center for dogs.

"I wanted some more help to help me to help her," said Melissa Salatino, who's been taking her German Shepherd, Tya, to Tom Radford's Thin Blue Line K-9 for the last year.

"Tom uses positive reinforcement, whether it's a treat or a simple telling her, 'You're a good girl,'" Salatino said.

Radford built the center next to his house in Williston and opened the doors in September.

"When I take on a new client-- human and dog-- I always put myself in the human's place and treat that dog, that new dog, as my own," Radford said.

Radford practices what he preaches with his own four dogs. But what really sets him apart is that he's been training police dogs for the last 20 years. His love for working with canines began when he joined the Burlington Police Department in 1995.

"I remember just watching the police dogs that we had on duty when I first started and being inspired by what they could do, and also just kind of being inspired by the actual police officers and the connection they had with their dogs," Radford said.

Three years later, he become a K-9 handler. He was paired with a German shepherd named Stoney. They would work together for the next nine years, tracking people, finding illegal drugs and protecting the public.

"We were the busiest police dog team in the state of Vermont," Radford said.

The duo established a powerful connection between man and man's best friend.

"It's an incredible bond," Radford said. "I don't believe that there's any bond between human and dog that's stronger. That dog is with you literally 24 hours a day and never leaves your side. When you go to work, they go to work with you."

That was, until Stoney died in 2007, the same year Radford founded the Vermont Police Canine Hall of Fame.

"He was lucky enough to be inducted first, and then he passed away later that day," Radford said. "So, it was a bittersweet day for me, of course. I look at it as a really great last day for my dog to kind of go back to the academy where he began, to see some of his old friends."

After retiring from the force in 2015, Radford wanted to continue his work with canines, which inspired him to create Thin Blue Line K-9.

"And I started to teach everything that I had learned teaching my own dog to other dogs," Radford said.

His passion for training, especially aggressive dogs, was fueled by his experience as a police dog handler.

"It really started when I was a rookie canine handler, and I was asked for the first time to put on a bite sleeve," Radford recalled. "The head canine trainer asked me to go to a fair and to take a bite from a police dog in front of a crowd of about 300 people."

Radford said it was in that moment that he realized taking on tough cases was what he was meant to do.

"The worse the aggression issue, the more comfortable I feel," he said. "I think I looked at it as a challenge, and when it was done I had a sense of accomplishment. Like this dog actually came after me and bit me and I survived, which is good. It lit this internal fire."

Now, Radford is proving you can teach all dogs new tricks, and their humans, too.

"As most people know, police dogs are trained to do incredible things," Radford said. "So, I know what it looks like to take a dog that has absolutely no experience at all, and to turn that dog into a highly trained dog that can do a whole slew of tasks."