Navy Vet training dogs to protect, serve

Derek Smith, K9 trainer and instructor, trains a dual purpose narcotics detection/patrol dog on the 15-acre property in Liberty Hill owned by Pacesetter K9, which is a veteran-owned company specializing in training quality canines for law enforcement or personal protection. (Courtesy Photo)

Derek Smith, K9 trainer and instructor, trains a dual purpose narcotics detection/patrol dog on the 15-acre property in Liberty Hill owned by Pacesetter K9, which is a veteran-owned company specializing in training quality canines for law enforcement or personal protection. (Courtesy Photo)

By Christine Bolaños 

His fur is black as night. His eyes exhibit a grace fitting of his namesake, the Greek god Zeus.

He expresses his anticipation for playing a game that will lead him to a toy he can chew on. Little does the highly energetic and confident German Shepherd dog know he is training to find drugs, a skill that helps keep the community safe.

“It’s 90 percent dog, 10 percent trainer,” explained Brad Langham of the work that goes into training.

The US Navy veteran is the owner, manager and training director of the newly-opened Pacesetter K9 LLC in Liberty Hill.

He loves dogs and he loves to serve so he jumped on the opportunity to marry the two by opening a company that specializes in training what he refers to as “top quality” canines for law enforcement or personal protection.

Pacesetter K9 strives to match the perfect dog with the needs of a particular law enforcement agency, security company, or even a family.

The journey to Pacesetter

Langham started on the track toward establishing his own company when he served in the Navy from 2002 to 2010 as military police canine officer. He worked with military working dogs in 2002 while stationed on Guam Naval Base.

After completing his basic canine handler’s course in 2004 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, he worked as a canine handler and made two combat deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

According to his staff, Langham’s canine team found more than 24,000 pounds of explosives during his time of service. His success resulted in a kennel supervisor position in the Navy.

In that role, he oversaw 10 canine teams, coordinated combat missions, maintained daily paperwork, ensured all supplies were available and coordinated personnel entering and leaving the country. As kennel supervisor, Langham stayed in contact with units in or around the base.

He launched and led one of the first canine handler courses in Al-Kut, Iraq, which helped Iraqi police officers learn basic obedience and proper handling of their dogs.

Langham earned certification on four detection dogs and attended the advanced canine combat readiness course in Yuma, Arizona.

He left active duty in 2010, but continues to serve his country by remaining in the Navy Reserves as a military police officer.

Langham said he worked at a civilian canine company from 2010 to 2014 before launching his own business. At that company, he was in charge of training all dogs, maintaining all equipment and updating paperwork.

He tested and selected incoming dogs, taught basic handler’s course to more than 300 police officers and matched canine handlers with their ideal dogs.

While at the company, Langham also delivered more than 30 dogs to families throughout the United States making sure the dog was comfortable in its new home and that the clients knew proper handling.

He helped police departments set up their canine programs and ensured all dogs were maintained medically, their kennels were cleaned and handled overall maintenance.

These experiences helped prepare him for the establishment of his own company.

“I left there because I had a passion for teaching and helping officers with the best dogs available and build the best teams available,” Langham said. “I care a little bit more about clients than some people do. It’s my passion. My wife is in law enforcement.”

His wife, Michele Langham, is legal and financial director of the company. She serves in a central Texas police department where she works as a narcotics detective.

On site to help Langham is Derek Smith, a canine trainer and instructor. He also served in the Navy from 2011 to 2015 and completed his basic canine handler’s course in 2012 at Lackland Air Force Base.

According to the company’s staff, while Smith was serving as an explosives canine handler he was hand-selected to provide security to the United Nations Convention held in New York.

He deployed to Djibouti, Africa for nearly all of 2014, with his explosives canine to provide base security. The company says Smith conducted explosive sweeps including a VIP sweep for European Special Forces high-ranking officials. Like Langham, Smith believes that in spite of the skills and talent the humans of Pacesetter K9 offer, it is truly the dogs that do the grunt of the work.

What the company offers

The company specializes in training of narcotics detector dogs, dual purpose narcotics detection/patrol dogs, protection dogs and handler training. It is Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-licensed to maintain controlled substances for use in conducting realistic on-site drug dog and handler training.

Pacesetter K9 does not allow pseudo training aids so that dogs can get the best quality training in real-life training scenarios.

Drug dogs are hand-selected in order to provide the highest-energy and most confident dogs available. Langham said he personally travels to Europe to pick the dogs.

The animals have to go through a rigorous testing phase before a department or family can purchase them.

Drug dogs are trained to find heroin, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and ecstasy. However, according to the company’s staff, the list can be adjusted as needed.

Law enforcement officials usually use these type of dogs to search vehicles, cargo, luggage, buildings and any location suspected of having illegal drugs. Langham said drug dogs are never allowed to make physical contact with the drugs during training. They are trained to detect and locate the “strongest point of odor.”

Dogs are trained to alert on illegal drugs in a passive, aggressive or focus-trained response, according to the canine’s personality.

Langham said it is important to respect the dog’s individuality and independence this way.

Pacesetter K9 offers canine handler training with purchase of a fully-trained drug dog.

Dual narcotics detection/patrol dogs undergo the same narcotic training as drug dogs, in addition to advanced patrol training. These dogs are trained with on and off-leash obedience and trained in protection of the handler from physical threat, attack on command, release on command and stop pursuit of a suspect on command.

According to the company, the dogs are also trained to re-attack if a suspect should continue to resist. They assist in providing security for roadside searches of multiple detained suspects, are trained to conduct building searches for human odor and to conduct a vehicle bailout if an officer is in danger.

The dogs are also prepared to track a suspect in a number of environments and situations.

Cost for dual narcotics detection/patrol dogs is higher and includes a handler training course.

Protection dogs are indoor pets with a little extra training to help give families extra peace of mind.

Langham said the company finds the dog that best fits an individual family’s lifestyle.

The company works with German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Labrador Retrievers.

Pacesetter K9 offers handler training and certification as well as annual recertification for narcotics detector canine teams and dual narcotics/patrol canine teams. Students are exposed to on-site and off-site training, which Langham said provides them with real-world experience.

The staff conducts numerous real-life training scenarios including traffic stops, tracking in various terrain, vehicle and locker searches and more. The company also offers an on-site dorm facility for visiting students and officers to occupy while taking training courses and certification.

The vision

The Langhams opened Pacesetter K9 with the goal of becoming a top company in the industry.

“My goal is to be able to be one of the top canine vendors throughout the state of Texas and nation,” Langham said. “Texas is my main target area because this is one of the greatest states ever.”

Long-term goals include providing excellent training for basic handler operations, canine interdiction and advanced special weapons and tactics classes.

Bottom line, Langham said he wants to “provide the best trained dogs to keep drugs off of the street and keeping our schools and cities safe and drug free.”

He and his wife, a Liberty Hill High School graduate, chose Liberty Hill because there is not another canine vendor in the Austin area.

“There is no one that trains pure dogs imported from Europe,” Langham.

The property, located at 555 County Road 200, has been in Michele Langham’s family since the 1970s.

Pacesetter K9 supports 4 Heroes Charities, a nonprofit that provides canines to law enforcement agencies.

For more information, visit