Dio's Story

This post was written by CK9’s lead trainer, Heath Smith shortly after bringing Little Dio onto the team in August of 2015. Currently CK9 Dio is training alongside the orca-scat-sniffing-veteran CK9 Tucker in the San Juan Islands. Dio’s journey to the program was q...WHAT GOES HERE?

Like a ship without a storm, our newest recruit was sitting at a shelter just waiting to find his true purpose. A rainbow in the dark if you will, that, thanks to one volunteer who saw the magic in his eyes, is now an honorary Conservation Canine (CK-9). Dio, a young Queensland heeler, came to CK-9 via the Humboldt County Animal Shelter in northern California. His previous history will forever remain a mystery but we do know that he was a stray with some significant jaw damage that left him sporting a bitter beer face. The shelter felt he had little hope of being adopted because of his, literal, off the wall energy. Before long we had a volunteer pet transport team bring him north to rainy Washington from sunny California.

Since arriving in early August, Dio dove head…. I mean, nose first into his work. Arriving at an extremely busy time for us we decided to deploy him directly into one of our active field sites. A common misconception that we have accidentally perpetuated over the years is that training a new working dog requires a huge amount of time. In actuality it is the handler that we focus on training more than the dog. Dio is a natural and he  picked up on the game immediately. For an experienced handler all Dio needed was some basic tweaking of his natural, rambunctious behavior as well as some basic work to improve communication. It is key that the handler and dog respond to one another well and creating a trusting relationship takes time. It wasn’t all rainbows though and on his second day Dio tore a pad. While he was convinced that just the thrill of the chase was worth the pain, we decided he needed to let things heal a bit before getting back to work. He was placed last in line for a few days. While these days were nail bitingly excruciating for our new head-banging hound it wasn’t long before he was back out in the field shattering records.

While we see Dio as a bit of a DemiDog, he has also been a hoot to have join the team and to blast to work with in the field. Originally known as Mario, he took to his new name immediately and hasn’t looked back since. Affectionately we have taken to calling him Ronnie James when he is in a bit of trouble, ala “Ronnie James you get out of those treats, Ronnie James stop stealing Alli’s ball” and so on. Like his namesake, RJD is a trailblazer that has a keen talent for making folks throw their hands in the air and scream for more. While he may be a bit of a rough character, he has the uncanny talent to feel like a long lost friend as soon as you meet him. Here’s to the Ronnie’s old and new and to finding that magic that set us free!

“The vision never dies

Life's a never ending wheel”

And while,

“We search for the truth we could die upon the tooth

but the thrill of just the chase is worth the pain”


In honor of Ronnie James Dio - July 10, 1942 – May 16, 2010



Species Currently Trained On:

  • Wolverine
  • Bat and bird carcass
  • Orca (killer whale)

Scenes From The Field:

Meet More Dogs


A program of the University of Washington's Center For Conservation Biology

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