Military Working Dogs, Taking a bite out of crime

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Shen-Chia Chu
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
They're strong and trained to take their enemy down. They're tested to see if they'll remain loyal. If they pass, they'll move on to the next phase of training, hoping to become mission ready.

Does this sound familiar?

They're the Military Working Dogs in the 436th Security Forces Squadron who work along side their handlers, searching buildings and sniffing for drugs, explosives and crime suspects.

Canine Bootcamp

Like many Airmen who go through basic training, these dogs attend a basic training of their own with the 341st Training Squadron, also at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

"It's like a basic training for the dogs," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Guild, 436th SFS kennel master. "They receive aggression and detection training, learning to search for explosives and narcotics."

Airmen go through nearly a month and a half of training, but certification of training for these dogs could take months.

"Training could take six months up to one year, depending on how fast the dog learns the criteria of their training to be certified," said Sergeant Guild. "If they pass, they'll be assigned to Department of Defense bases world-wide."

The military uses mostly Dutch and German shepherds and Belgium Malinois, according to Sergeant Guild. Because these dogs are strong and have fewer medical problems than other breeds, handlers may train the same dog for years.

This is why it's important to bond with your dog because they will only be assigned to one handler, said the sergeant.

"You have to build a strong bond with your dog so they're used to you and are more obedient," said Sergeant Guild. "Many dogs try to test you in the beginning, but you have to let them know you're in charge."

To build a better working relationship with one's dog, the sergeant suggests to other handlers that they spend a lot of time and effort with their canine partners.

"How much your dog listens to you depends on your dedication to the amount of training you have with them," said Sergeant Guild. "Patience is important because every dog learns at a different level and you may need to put more time and effort into some of them."

Many times, to train the dogs properly, the handlers use themselves as the bait.

"I've been bit with the 'bite sleeve' hundreds of times. It's tough burlap and you don't feel pain, just pressure from the bite," said Staff Sgt. Scott Yeager, a 436th SFS MWD handler. "You need to learn how to be a decoy so that the dogs are trained to remember where and what they have to bite."

Deputy 1st Class Dennis Taylor, Wicomico County Sheriff's Office, used a bite sleeve, for a public military working dog demonstration Jan. 23, giving the local media a glimpse of just what these dogs can do.

MWD Renzo, a three-year-old Belgium Malinois, has a playful personality of his own, according to Sergeant Yeager, who became his handler four months ago.

They're trained to listen to specific commands, he said.

"We performed a field interview where I went up to Deputy Taylor, shaking his hand which showed how controlled Renzo is," said Sergeant Yeager. "He doesn't do anything without a command unless he sees me being attacked."

For the long distance bite training, the sergeant had Deputy Taylor try to run away as he sent Renzo after him.

"I'd much rather have a dog working by my side than a person," said Sergeant Guild. "It's normal for a person to flinch or second guess something, but one slight hesitation could get someone injured or killed. Our dogs don't second guess, they just follow our commands."

Training isn't only for the dogs, but for many civilian agencies in the local area as well.

"We work well together, training and strengthening our working relationship as well as exchanging training ideas to make all of our dogs better," said Deputy Taylor, who has worked with Dover Airmen for two years. "We count on each other to help progress in our training. If I need help immediately at home or if anything goes wrong, I'll know they're always there for me and I can call them directly at all times.

"As a newer handler, I receive new insight and training ideas. They have showed me the ropes of becoming a seasoned handler," he said.

The deputy said the majority of training for their explosive dogs is done at the base.

"On occasion, (civilian agencies) will come with their dogs to train with us so we may keep them up to speed," said Sergeant Guild. "They call on us for support and we have a working relationship that helps keep a strong community bond."

A Man's Best Friend

Some of these canines are the Airmen's most faithful companions.

"The dogs are striving for a positive affection from their handler because it makes them happy," said Sergeant Guild. "That's all they strive for, to please you."

"They're just like human beings, they can wake up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning too," said Sergeant Yeager.

Airmen take their own dogs for walks, to groom and to play with them, but one Airman sees his MWD as more than just a dog.

"He's my best friend, my partner, and most importantly, an extension of myself," said Sergeant Yeager. "If something were to happen to him, I would feel distraught. It would be the same as the death of a family member. To other people it may just be a dog, but to us, they've become a part of our family because we spend so much time together."