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St. Croix County Sheriff's Deputy and K9 handler, Joshua Stenseth posed with his new dog Dex, a Belgian Malinois. Photo by Margaret Ontl

St. Croix County's newest K9 officer is Dex

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The year went by fast for St. Croix County Sheriff's Deputy Joshua Stenseth who lost his K9 partner Ace in February of 2011. For Stenseth it seems like just yesterday when he had to make the gut-wrenching decision to euthanize Ace. However the arrival of a new bouncing, enthusiastic new partner has made the time go fast.

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Stenseth wasn't home more than a couple of hours from the emergency clinic after Ace's death when he received a call from Mark Ficcadenti, of the St. Paul Police Department's Canine Training department.

"He asked if I wanted a new dog," said Stenseth. "It had only been three or four hours since I had lost Ace." I knew it had to be cleared by the sheriff (John Shilts) and I wasn't sure what the department would decide."

Ficcadenti knew the answer already.

"St. Croix Sheriff John Shilts had already ordered a dog for us and if I wanted it, it would be mine," said Stenseth. The dog was a bit unique. It was already two years old and came not only with the normal paperwork from breeders in the Czech Republic but it was also registered with the American Kennel Club.

"He was considered very valuable and they were planning on keeping him there as a stud dog," said Stenseth. The Belgian Malinois, renamed by Stenseth as Dex, leaped into his life two days after he lost Ace and the two of them haven't looked back.

Stenseth took the dog through training at St. Paul while he was a guest instructor. The team earned its national certification two months after completion of training instead of the year it normally takes.

"Instead of just teaching a new dog I was an instructor too," said Stenseth. "I pushed him a little more because of his age and aptitude."

The team went on to win fourth overall in a trial in July and they earned first place in the rookie dog, experienced handler class.

"This guy is super, super, super social," said Stenseth regarding the dog's ebullient attitude, which is clear to even the casual observer. "I am a firm believer in social acclimatization, he was exposed to everything from the start including family and friends. You can be scared to do it." That attitude doesn't minimize the fact that Dex can do his intended job very well.

"This dog is a rock star when it comes to tracking. He tracks like no other dog," said Stenseth. "He is good with narcotics as well."

"The Belgian Malinois is a social breed. The dogs just want to be with you," said Stenseth. "The training is different, from a German Shepherd, it is more reward-based. Dex is a very smart dog and quick to learn."

"A lot more departments seem to be using Malinois for police work," said Stenseth. "Healthwise they seem to be better. I hope to get some good years out of Dex." After retirement K9 officers normally stay with their handlers, hopefully that day will be a long way off for Stenseth and Dex.

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