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NEWS | June 9, 2020

SA Rotary Club members virtually immerse in K-9 handler training

By Rachel Kersey 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

Cadre members from the 341st Training Squadron’s K-9 Handlers course at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland showcased the training military members undergo to become military working dog handlers during a virtual demonstration held for members of the San Antonio Rotary Club of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, June 3.

The Rotary Club is a national and international service organization that reached out to learn more about what these service members and their furry companions go through to join the most elite two- and four-legged teammate duos in the Department of Defense.

According to club treasurer, Bobbe Barnes, at least half of her chapter is former military, so the demonstration held a special significance for this group.

My husband was career military, and he has told me stories about how they used these 'war dogs' in Vietnam and the Middle East,” said Jane Burton, the Rotary Club secretary. “His second career after retiring was to teach middle school, and each year he would take his students from McNair Middle School to Lackland to see the dogs put through their paces.”

After general introductions, the demonstration started with a show of basic obedience capabilities. Three dogs were instructed to sit, go down on all fours, stay, run in circles, perform facing movements alongside their handlers and more. Service members also showed the dogs being rewarded for their successful execution of each command with their beloved toy and some play time. 

Next, there was a controlled aggression demonstration. 

We’re training the students and the dogs. If the dog were to encounter someone in the field, we don’t want that dog to be aggressive. We just want to get the suspect's ID to make sure that they are supposed to be in that area, but we do not want the dog to [be aggressive] whatsoever,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Formolo. “A fully qualified MWD is trained to act with or without command, so it is important these verbal, physical and other cues are well known by the handler and the dog.”

Pursuit and attack was the next demonstration.

With proper protective gear, an Airman approached a dog and his handler, pretending to be a troublemaker. When the handler told the Airman to hold still or he would release the dog, the Airman ran anyway and the dog chased him down to bite his sleeve. 

After that, there was a search of the suspect, followed by a show of what would happen if a suspect ran while being transported to the handler’s vehicle.

Finally, the handlers and dogs demonstrated a “stand-off.”

"Once you fire a gun, you cannot bring the bullet back, but when you release a dog, you’re always able to recall that dog back if the suspect surrenders,” Formolo said.

The dog chased the suspect, but stopped and sat by him when his handler called off the attack.

At the end of the presentation, members of the Rotary Club were eager to ask questions and learn more about these impressive animals and service members.

The members of the club asked about the cost of keeping a dog, what happens with dogs who do not pass the training tests, where dogs live during training, fostering and adopting puppies and military working dogs, what a career looks like for an MWD, and how long their career may last.

Formolo explained that each dog is different, but typically, the dogs work anywhere from nine to 11 years before the military seeks to give the dogs a family. Otherwise, it is based on the health and needs of the dog. 

These dogs get human interaction every day and top-notch care. It’s a good life they live,” Formolo said. 

The club members asked about the differences in training for members from the different services to become handlers.

The Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army all have a slightly different path to work with dogs, but every single one of them goes through the training at JBSA-Lackland, said Formolo. 

“Everyone I talked to loved this presentation,” Barnes said. “You all do important work!” 

Burton agreed. 

I think the program speaks to us on many levels,” she said.  “As those who appreciate dogs and their unique talents, as citizens who are proud of the special things going on in our San Antonio community, and as patriots who appreciate what our military and their dogs are doing to preserve freedom in the world.”

To learn more about the 341st TRS, visit more photos, visit the MWD album on the Gateway Wing Flickr page.