SEBRING - When Ed Kunkel of Sebring served in the military 47 years ago, they had guard dogs, but those canines apparently couldn't do much more than protect, he recalled Thursday.
"We didn't have all this," Kunkel said Thursday after watching K-9 unit dogs from all over the state and their handlers perform various fetes, including having the dogs go after supposed criminals and jump over barriers.
One of the most impressive performances was when a helicopter landed, Polk County Sheriff's Office Master Deputy Jody Gill and his dog, Shea, jumped out of it and Shea captured a supposed criminal.
Kunkel said he was impressed by "any of it," referring to the entire exhibition.
The dogs were in Sebring to compete in the U.S. Police Canine Association's Region 1 Field Trials and Certifications. More than 70 K-9 unit dogs competed in such areas as apprehension and detection.
When the top 20 canines were announced Thursday night, Lakeland Police Department dominated the list.
Highlands County didn't make the top 20, but this was the first time for it to participate in the competition.
Thursday night's event was a public display and several hundred people filled the stands.
Taisha Sampson of Sebring said she was impressed that a handler could release a dog to chase after a supposed criminal and then have the canine give up the chase and return to the handler.
Announcers for the event said that for the handler to teach the dog to give up the chase is one of the most difficult things to teach a dog. In another segment, the handlers got their dogs to stay in a spot and not follow them.
That's another difficult thing to teach the dogs, the announcers said.
Both Josh Ramos and Sara Gillmore, two middle school students, who won bicycles in a free raffle at the event, said they were impressed with the dogs catching suspects.
The K-9s provided entertainment in other ways as well. In one instance, it appeared a rather unattractive woman was pushing a cart down the field and the announcers repeatedly warned her to leave because of the danger from the dogs.
But the woman refused to leave and a guy ran up and stole something from her. Then it was revealed the woman was actually a deputy in disguise and he was concealing a dog that nabbed the thief.
The dogs also went up ladders and down again, which is the part that 8-year-old Illiana Miller liked the most.
One surprising aspect of it was the presence of so many alpha male dogs, yet the lack of any aggression between the canine's.
"They don't have to be friends, but they have to work together," an announcer said.