NEW PALESTINE — A lieutenant in the Lawrence Police Department, Brandon Raftery had a firm grip on the leash as he led his Labrador, Niko, romping around the fields of Southeastway Park. The two-member team was looking for ammunition hidden in a tree. Within a couple of minutes, Niko found what he was looking for and indicated a hit when he started looking up while at the base of the tree.

“See how his tail is moving faster, he’s telling his handler there is something there,” Adam Hazelwood, a specialized K-9 trainer and law enforcement officer said. “What Brandon is looking for is a change in his dog’s behavior, and that doesn’t always mean sitting.”

As soon as Niko found what he was trained to find, his handler, Raftery rewarded him with a tennis ball.

“That’s all he’s working for, is a chance to play with that tennis ball,” Hazelwood said with a laugh. “It’s all he wants.”

Hazelwood, who grew up working on a horse farm in Westfield, is a current supervisor, K-9 handler, and the chief K-9 trainer for a local police department on the east side of Indianapolis. He’s also the owner of New Pal Canine, a dog training business that specializes in training police dogs as well as every day pets.

“We do a lot of work with K-9 law enforcement dogs, but our therapy dog program is also pretty big, too,” Hazelwood said.

Hazelwood is responsible for the job performance and certifications for all of the K-9s in the LPD as well as overseeing the training, job performance and certifications for multiple other law enforcement agencies and school districts throughout central Indiana. He has experience in training police dogs and handlers from all over the United States in detection, tracking, apprehension, handler protection, obedience and many other areas as it relates to law enforcement K-9 procedures.

Hazelwood, a 15-year law enforcement officer, became a head trainer for the LPD after they stopped using trainers from The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department a few years ago.

“We wanted to use our police dogs in a different, more specific way than they were training, so I went to dog training school then I started doing the training for our department dogs a few years ago,” Hazelwood said.

That work gave Hazelwood an opportunity to offer his services to other police departments around the state with the creation of New Pal Canine about two years ago, and now it’s a thriving business.

“I actually started by training pet dogs and then moved to training dogs for police departments and training therapy dogs for schools,” Hazelwood said.

Hazelwood says he loves being a police officer but discovered a passion for animals when he began learning how to train and communicate effectively with horses as a kid. Working with animals fueled his passion with learning how to appropriately communicate with animals in order to achieve a desired task.

“I’ve always been a dog person,” Hazelwood said. “Within the couple of years I’ve been doing this, I’d say we’ve trained about 1,000 dogs.”

During a recent detection training and patrol apprehension session for law enforcement dogs, Hazelwood was using Southeastway Park for the work. However, he noted they use parks all over to train in to expose the police dogs to different environments.

“We usually start out early in the mornings, letting dogs use their nose,” Hazelwood said. “Then in the afternoons we mix things up.”

Hazelwood will start working with a dog from the time they are a puppy, or when the dog is slightly older, depending on what the dog is being trained for.

“Right now, I’m working with an officer from Edinburgh, and he’s got a dog imported from Belgium,” Hazelwood said. “We’ve gotten dogs from shelters and turned them into working dogs, but it’s also good to get a dog with a strong bloodline for police work.”

The Belgium 2-year-old dog, named Xta, and her handler, Darren Koors from the Edinburgh Police Department, were doing standard training.

“She’s my first patrol dog while the other dog I had was a narcotics dog,” Koors said. “This is week four of our training, and it’s been good because I’ve really learned to trust the dog, and I’ve learned a lot about picking up signs from her.”

Koors likes the fact Hazelwood has been a road officer and has lots of experience working with dogs. It gives Koors a chance to sort of pick Hazelwood’s brain on how to best work with his K-9.

“Here we get a chance to meet new people and other dogs and I like that variety,” Koors said. “I like having a dog partner, especially on those tough calls where the dog can get out and check things out, plus it’s nice to have a partner where you can relieve the stress and take a break with the dog and let him get out and play.”

In addition to heavy training for police dogs, Hazelwood also does what he calls “maintenance” work on dogs who he works with once or twice a month. While a full dog patrol, school can last three to six weeks depending on what the dog is learning, but even that is just the beginning, Hazelwood said, as a dog continues to learn and train through years of service.

“Basically, what it boils down to is we teach the handler and the dog,” Hazelwood said. “They really are a team because these officers end up spending more time with their dog than they do anyone, including their family.”

Growing up, Hazelwood enjoyed playing baseball and participating in youth equine activities, which included showing and training hunter jumpers, standardbreds and trail riding horses. He received multiple awards while involved with horses, including several Grand Champion places. Hazelwood lives in New Palestine with his wife and children who are actively involved in equine activities.

However, for Hazelwood, it’s all about working with dogs now.

“Working with the dogs, it’s just my passion,” Hazelwood said. “Dogs, there is just something special about them and that bond we help create with the handlers it’s just really something.”