JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Military Working Dogs have served in combat alongside our service members in every major conflict since the American Revolution.
Today, they’re trained to perform a wide range of highly specialized tasks such as sniffing out bombs and drugs, tracking and close protection work. According to the Department of Defense, there are about 2,500 military working dogs in service today.
Airman 1st Class Brandon McKnight of the 902nd Security Forces Squadron grew up around dogs and knew that being an MWD handler was exactly what he wanted to be when joining the U.S. Air Force.
“It’s instant gratification watching the dog perform and knowing you’re doing your job correctly,” he said.
The 341st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland is the only MWD training facility in the Department of Defense and has been training dogs since the 1950s. The cost associated with training a military working dog can be up to $150,000.
The dogs undergo a very thorough assessment before being chosen and only 50% of those make it through training. According to the DOD, most dogs that complete the 120-day program qualify to be dual-purpose dogs that either patrol and sniff out explosives or detect drugs. The handlers must pass an 11-week course to join an MWD team.
The 902d Security Forces Squadron maintains a kennel at JBSA-Randolph as part of its law enforcement operations. The facility allows the handlers to both house and train the dogs when they’re not on active patrol on base. They use both German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois.
While the Air Force continues to use the German Shepard, they have begun to transition to the smaller and more robust Belgian Malinois.
“The breed seems to have longer careers and have a higher drive,” McKnight said. His last partner, a German Shepard named Gira, just retired after nine years of military duty.
The longevity is a tribute to the expert care and concern these handlers have for their furry partners.
“Training these dogs is like a piece of art," McKnight said. “You train them and pass them on to the next handler to work with.”
For more information about military working dogs or how to adopt a retired animal, please visit the 341st Training Squadron website at https://www.37trw.af.mil/Units/37th-Training-Group/341st-Training-Squadron/.