TALLMADGE — It has become a springtime tradition for Axel and Police K-9 Officer Nate Ickes to add to their collection of trophies.

During the annual K-9 Challenge at Lock 3 in Akron May 12, Ickes and his four-legged partner took first place in apprehension and second place in obedience in the competition, which Ickes and his German Shepard partner have entered every year since 2012.

"Officer Ickes does an outstanding job," said Police Chief Ron Williams. "The [K-9] program’s been great. They’ve been in place for a number of years now. They’re a great benefit to the department and they’ve also been very competitive in the competition. He’s got a pile of trophies they’ve won and they’ve been very successful."

Ickes said these honors during the K-9 Challenge include Axel being named Top Dog in 2016 as the competitor who scored best overall across all three categories, which also include agility.

Axel and Ickes began working together in 2012, when Ickes became the department’s first K-9 officer in about a generation.

"When the position came up and became available, I was ready for a new challenge," said Ickes.

Axel was not the first dog the department had ever had, but both he and Williams said they believe it had been around 20 years since the last one.

Williams said the impetus of restarting the program was "just realizing the benefit."

"It’s a great tool to have for officer safety, building searches, foot pursuits, tracking. It’s also a great benefit to smell for drugs," said Williams.

Ickes said Axel is trained in all of those skills, as well as article searches, handler protection and controlled aggression, meaning the ability to be aggressive to suspects without taking it too far and causing serious injury.

Ickes said one memorable call happened when a Newton Street woman reported coming home and finding an Akron woman walking out of her home carrying three laptop computers, two cellphones and a checkbook last September. The Akron woman handed the items over, then ran. Axel tracked her to a shed, said Ickes.

The Akron woman later pleaded guilty to burglary and breaking and entering charges and was sentenced to 18 months probation.

Axel, who was born in Canada, turns 8 on July 7. Ickes said he hopes that Axel, who lives with him, will be able to go on at least a couple more years before retirement. Williams said he can foresee getting a new dog when that happens.

"We’re talking about that, but I believe we will continue the program," said Williams.

Ickes said that when Axel retires, he wants to remain a K-9 officer.

"It’s definitely been the highlight of my career," he said. "I don’t regret it a bit."

Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, jsaunders@recordpub.com or @JeffSaunders_RP.