"Five-Star service, one sniff at a time." That's the motto of the Wynn Resorts K9 Unit, according to Ryan Millbern, senior program manager of K9 operations.
Now, three of Wynn's most-trusted four-legged employees have taken that credo all the way to the champion's circle of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department K-9 Trials. Winning first, second and third place, Umit, Lotto and Rocky—and their handlers Marco Pulido, Oshanna Remy and Barry Hartman—swept the explosives category. With this achievement, Wynn became the first single resort to take the top three medals in the competition's 30-year history.
Overall, Wynn’s unit has taken the championship title the last six out of seven years.
Hosted by the Las Vegas Metro Police Department Foundation, the 2022 K-9 Trials took place in March with resort K9 teams competing alongside police and military units.
"They have narcotics detection, explosives detection and patrol [trials]," Millbern says, noting that Wynn only competes in explosives. "Las Vegas has more casino-related canine units than anywhere in the world."
This year's competition took place inside the rodeo arena at South Point Casino. "They brought in two gigantic construction vehicles and planted multiple training aids. [Our teams] had to accurately find them with no false alerts and they did it faster than anyone else,” he says.
In first place and the reigning champion, handler Marco Pulido and Umit, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd, found the first training aid in four to five seconds. Runners up from team Wynn were Lotto, a German Shorthaired Pointer and Rocky, a black Labrador.
Wynn's K9 team lives at the resort's kennel 24-7 and as a result, the handler-canine bond that forms is unparalleled.
"When it comes to doing the training and the operational detection work that we do every day to keep our property safe from harm, that bond is unique to canine and handler," Millbern says. "When those two come together to make that perfect team, that is what truly makes the difference between being a good dog and a Five-Star dog."
Wynn bears the distinction of being the longest continuously running canine unit on the Strip.
In terms of acquiring the dogs, they are brought into the program when they are in the 18-month-old range and they’ve already been through a basic training protocol. Millbern, who’s a retired police officer, visits the pups to test them out before adoption takes place.
“We have very high standards so we need to make sure the dog cannot only do its job phenomenally well, but that they are very social and friendly," he says. "We have guests who interact with our dogs and we do canine Master Classes multiple times a year. Believe it or not, it is very hard to find dogs who can do both their job and socialize.”
Millbern points out that none of the trainers actually had K9 training before coming into the unit. Instead, he looks for other qualities.
"I can teach you everything you need to know about how to train a dog, how to run a dog, how to take care of a dog, all of the explosives, what bombs look like," he says. "What I can't teach is work ethic, dedication to the team and the right attitude."
Millbern emphasizes that all Wynn's dogs are play-based learners so if they go find that training aid, they get their ball or their bone as a reward.
"We let them choose what toy motivates them the most and that's what they work for," he says.
While at work, the canines, keep guests safe with vehicle searches, open area searches, room searches, anywhere that "a bad guy can put something that can hurt our guests," Millbern says. "We do a lot of reality-based training where I bring actors in to be victims and to be bad guys. And the canines and handlers have to recognize them and interact with them."
At the end of the day, it's all about the guest for Wynn's elite Woof-patrol.
“It's fun to have friendly competition with other casinos. But the truth of the matter is, we all train together and we share information because safety is more important than rivalries. It’s our No. 1 priority,” says Millbern.