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VIDEO: Police dogs bring family together

Monday, Jan. 13 | By Hannah Dellinger
--Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
The Thielens were first brought together by their passion for search and rescue dogs, and they have built their family and business around that shared passion.

Marshall Thielen and his wife, Colin Thielen, first met at a search and rescue dog seminar in Alabama. Colin has been training law enforcement dogs for three years, and Marshall was selected as a dog handler for his agency in 1999.

“911 and Katrina were a [big] thing for me,” said Colin. “I wanted to help in the USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) world. So, I started getting books and reading about the USAR dogs.”

She began volunteering with USAR dogs as a way to help the community.

“Once I got into it, I realized I had a knack for it,” said Colin. “This is what I enjoy doing. Communicating with these dogs and watching them learn and grow and blossom, it’s the best thing in the world for me. I love it.”

Colin Thielen soon saw that there was a need for more top quality trainers and breeders in the field.

“My partner and I, in Alabama, had people that were seeking our help through law enforcement to come and help with their canines,” she said. “We found that they just weren’t getting the training or the dogs they needed. From there we started it.”

Colin started her rescue dog training business two years ago on the side. Now she and Marshall have a full-fledged training business that they run out of their home in Catlett.

The Thilens currently have 12 dogs in training and have successfully sold five dogs to different law enforcement agencies as far away as Germany. There are several more dogs that are scheduled to sell in the Northern Virginia area.

The Thielens sell their fully trained dogs for $8,000, which is a bargain according to Marshall.

The dog’s training begins when they are about a month old. Colin works for weeks to select puppies that are right for the job.

“I’ll take all kinds of scary [things like] pots and pans, construction flashing that you use on houses that makes a real loud noise, and I’ll scare the puppies. I wanna see how long it takes for these puppies to recover and come check it out,” Colin said. “I start there, evaluating them on their hunt drive and their nerve strength.”

Colin will check the puppies again when they are six weeks old and eight weeks old. She said that while this method helps find good USAR dogs, there is no fail-safe way making sure that the dogs will work out for a search and rescue program. The Thielens donate or give the dogs to good homes to be pets if they aren’t cut out for the work.

Marshall Thielen said that they train the dogs with what is known as the Coker Method.

“What it’s based on primarily is building the drive of the dog to do nothing else in life but to get to the end of the trail to find that person with the exclusion of anybody else,” said Marshall.“The unique thing about these bloodhounds that we’re training is that we can use them in the urban environment.”

The Thielens train the dogs to look for scents in crowded areas like shopping centers, so that they are ready to work in cities and look for that one scent while ignoring all of the other scents that they smell.

“We try to set them up for success and expose them to every kind of problem that we can foresee them having, so that they’ve experienced it in training and so it’s not a problem when they’re out there working the cases,” said Marshall.

Colin Thielen’s daughter, Lily Baessler, helps out with the training by serving as the search target.

“People think it’s fun to play with them and love on them…but it’s really fun to go and watch them work and do so good,” said Baessler.

Colin and Marshall Thielen recently began planting the seeds for a breeding program. They recently acquired a puppy, named Wheezy that will be bred in order to produce top quality tracking bloodhounds.

“I find it hard to find really good working line blood hounds that have the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) hip certification and have their joints looked after,” said Colin.“We’re taking [the dogs] at a year-old and two years old and have their hips, shoulders and elbows evaluated. We’re going to take those [that have good joints] to breed so that we’re putting out the best that we can, and also, we’re improving the breed.”

The Thielen’s business and passion for USAR dogs is fueled by their desire to help serve the community.

“We want to keep producing top quality dogs and getting them out there to law enforcement and those that are serious about search and rescue so that we can save lives and bring closure to families that have lost their loved ones,” said Marshall. “It’s something that we love and we do it to provide for the community. We hope to continue it for a long time.”

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