First there was Dakota, then Kody and now Duke.

St. Paul police officer Dave Longbehn graduated with a new K-9 partner Thursday, ending months of training and marking a fresh beginning.

In February, Longbehn’s former partner Kody, a 9-year-old German shepherd, was fatally stabbed in the basement of a St. Paul home by a suspect. Kody had only two more weeks to go before he would have been able to retire from the St. Paul Police Department. His attacker was shot and killed by police.

Longbehn, a 29-year-veteran of the St. Paul police, said that the bond between officers and their dogs gets tighter as the days go by and that that’ll happen with Duke, too.

“I think as K-9 handlers we probably spend more time with our dogs than we do with our family because we’re with them for 10 hours while we are working and the remainder of the time they’re at home with us,” said Longbehn, who has been a K-9 officer since 2002.

Kody had been his partner since 2005.

Kody’s death wasn’t the first he experienced with the unit. His first dog, Dakota, died in 2004 after an intestinal disorder. That didn’t make the transition any easier.

“It was tough. It was really tough. We were all very sad. It was a tough deal for all of us,” Longbehn said, referring to his family, who also had become attached to Kody.

Longbehn said he and his family took solace in the way that Kody served during his last call.

“He died a hero and he died doing exactly what he was trained to do,” he said. “He was designed to protect the officers that were there.”

Before Kody’s death plans had been made for his retirement and for Longbehn to get a new dog. Kody was getting older and had developed a bit of arthritis. Duke, who was purchased with several other dogs in Europe, was given to Longbehn at the beginning of February.

The academy was to start about three weeks after Kody died. The decision was made that Longbehn would start training after he had a couple of days of administrative leave after the incident.

During training, handlers and dogs go through myriad procedures including agility, obedience, scent detection and criminal apprehension. Training and bonding are different for each dog and handler.

“People think dogs are all the same; they have as many different personalities as each and every one of us,” Longbehn said.

Duke, who is little more than a year old, is very intense and driven, he said. Kody was very social and tolerant of large groups, making him great for public events, Longbehn remembered.

What really set Kody apart was his “day in and day out” dedication, Longbehn said.

“He was always there for us,” Longbehn said. “He was always up for whatever we asked that dog to do, whether it was a search, a track or just going to a demo or sitting out at the State Fair.”

Longbehn said he was sure that his new partner would do a great job once he hit the streets.


Twitter: @stribnorfleet