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Unleashing Tillman, ASU's new police dog

Canine will be introduced at Sun Devils' football game as part of the university's Salute to Service program


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November 09, 2016

Arizona State University is a place for learning, and one of the newest students is less than 2 years old.

Tillman, the ASU Police Department’s newest canine, is in training to become a patrol and explosive-detection dog.

The puppy was named for Pat Tillman, the legendary ASU and NFL football player who enlisted in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks and was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. The new police canine will be introduced at the Sun Devils’ football game Thursday night as part of the university’s Salute to Service celebration.

Tillman is handled by ASU Police Officer Colton Adams, who is training along with the dog.

“He’s ASU’s first dual-purposed dog, so he’ll be protecting students by sniffing out explosives and looking for bad guys, too,” Adams said. “And we thought it would be appropriate to name him Tillman.”

Tillman is a German shepherd, born in Hungary and brought to a kennel in Pennsylvania. Adams and Tempe Police Officer Reed Ribotta, the department’s master trainer, selected him from nearly 30 puppies over the summer.

“A lot of it was his play drive and his ability to work and his temperament and how he handled being around different people,” Adams said. “Obviously at ASU, we’ll be around a lot of people, and we really wanted a dog who would be comfortable with that.”

Tillman lives at home with ASU Police Officer Colton Adams, his handler. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Now about 85 pounds, Tillman, who lives at home with Adams, will likely top out at about 100 pounds by the time he turns 2 in March.

Adams is training Tillman in basic patrol skills now, such as how to do area searches, get used to different environments and be around lots of people. Soon, they’ll begin explosives-detection training.

Tillman joins the ASU PD’s other canine, Disney, who also searches for explosives. Disney is in the final year of her service and upon retiring will live at home with her handler, Detective Parker Dunwoody.

One difference between the dogs is that Disney is a food-reward dog. She eats only when she finds explosives, so two or three times a day, Dunwoody must set up a training area with explosives so that Disney can sniff them out and then eat.

Tillman is a play-reward dog, getting a few minutes of toy time after a successful maneuver. Ribotta said that the Tempe Police Department has successfully trained several canines this way.

“As long as you get the right dog that likes to play and have that toy — and that’s part of our testing process — it’s every bit as effective as food reward,” he said.

Disney was an inspiration for the donated funds that helped to acquire Tillman. Bob Fisher, a graduate of the ASU School of Engineering, met Dunwoody and watched him demonstrate Disney’s skills at Sun Devil Stadium last year. Fisher died at age 79 in May, but the donations made in his memory will help make the ASU campus a safer place.

Tillman weighs about 85 pounds and will grow to about 100 pounds by the time he turns 2, in March. Photo by Anya Magnuson/ASU Now

Top photo: ASU Police Officer Colton Adams plays with Tillman, the department's newest canine, on Hayden Lawn on the Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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