TALLMADGE — It is spring and as usual at this time of year, Axel and Patrolman Nate Ickes’ trophy collection has expanded.

The city’s veteran German Shepard police K-9 and his handler took part in the annual K-9 Challenge, a competition hosted by the Akron Police Department, at Lock 3 in Akron on May 18. As they have every year since 2012, Axel and Ickes brought home some statuettes.

This year it was first place in obedience and second place in apprehension against as many as 15 other dogs, said Ickes.

In obedience, he said, Axel first had to show that he could heel or stay by Ickes’ side and then perform a series of movements at Ickes’ command, forward, to the left, to the right, about face, slow and fast. Axel then had to go down at Ickes’ command.

"The handler leaves, walks away, and for a minute the dog has to stay there by himself without getting up or moving forward," said Ickes. "And then he’s called to you and then once he’s halfway, you’ll down him again."

In the apprehension competition, Axel had to show a kind of controlled aggression. First he’s sent in to someone acting as a decoy or "bad guy." If the decoy indicates surrender, Axel had to stop when Ickes gave the order. Then Axel was sent in to bite the decoy’s arm and when the decoy indicated surrender, Axel had to let go of the arm when Ickes ordered it. Next, Axel had to stay still while Ickes patted the suspect down and finally, Axel had to show he knew what to do when a suspect attacks his handler.

"He has to engage the bad guy or decoy without a command," said Ickes.

Ickes said that Axel "did fine" in the third part of the competition, agility, but due to Ickes recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, another handler had to run Axel through that and because the competition is for both dog and handler as a team, no trophy was in the offing.

Of the three categories in the competition, Ickes said obedience is most important to him. It is key for a good police dog since it shows a real bonding between dog and handler.

"If that’s not up to top notch or the top level, everything else is going to be affected by it," said Ickes, adding that he and Axel have won first, second or third place in the obedience category every year since they first started competing in 2012.

Axel is trained in officer protection, in drug, building and article searches, and in tracking. When he started in 2012, he was not only Ickes’ first police K-9, but also the department’s first in about a generation.

Kato, also a German shepherd, was sworn in at City Council’s May 9 meeting as the city’s second K-9. His handler is Patrolman Jason Corzine.

Axel will turn 9 on July 7. Ickes said that "healthwise he’s doing well." He had a cyst or blood clot drained from his left ear recently, which cost him some muscle so he is no longer able to get the ear to stand up.

"But besides that, he’s healthy as can be," said Ickes.

Ickes said he plans on entering the K-9 Challenge next year with Axel. Besides trophies in the three competition, there is also a Top Dog award for best overall dog, which Axel won in 2016.

"My hope is for Top Dog 2020," said Ickes. "I like the way that sounds."

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