JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
Considering the 37th Training Wing is home to training all military working dogs for the Department of Defense and other agencies, it is no surprise Airmen from the 341st Training Squadron found a new way to improve the exercise of the gentle giants of our force – using a gentle leader. A gentle leader is a collar, except it’s not the traditional collar that goes around a dog’s neck. Instead, it is a head collar that goes around a dog’s snout, which prevents them from being “pullers.”
“This collar has been a game changer here at our squadron, both for our two-legged and four-legged teammates,” said Joseph Graham, assistant master kennel for the 341st TRS Department of Labor. “Not only is it better for the dogs so they don’t tire themselves out, but it’s also important for our caretakers’ safety.”
As soon as caretakers voiced their concern about being pulled by some of the MWDs, Graham said the research for a device started immediately. One team member was familiar with the gentle leader, so he trained two people last July to see if it was a compatible device. After a few weeks of training, the team realized the collar was a good device to use on the MWDs. Eventually, using the gentle leader increased the caretakers’ confidence in walking the dogs known as pullers.
“Safety is our number one priority not only for our dogs but especially our people too,” Graham said. “We want to make sure our people aren’t hesitant on walking certain dogs. Not only does using the gentle leader boost their morale, but it also lets them know we are here to listen to their concerns and do the best we can to help.”
Exercising the dogs is vital to the 341st TRS’s mission and is the responsibility of the animal caretakers. It is the dogs’ chance to explore new smells, exercise their peripheral vision, and practice communication and socialization.
Caretakers exercise the dogs at least three times a week which consists of walking around the facilities and stopping by the cooling station afterward. Caretakers are also responsible for grooming, feeding, and taking the dogs to medical appointments if needed, which are separate responsibilities from the training dogs receive from the dog trainers. Using the collar is not mandatory for exercising the dogs. However, before a caretaker is issued one, they need to be trained by a supervisor or trainer, for one to three days.
According to Graham, about half the caretakers use the collar when exercising dogs. Graham added the collar doesn’t harm the animal; it merely limits their ability to pull.
The 341st TRS falls under the 37th Training Group and is responsible for training and developing K9 professionals and MWDs to enhance the Department of Defense's global warfighting capability.