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NEWS | April 9, 2007

Military working dogs take a 'bite' out of training

By Airman 1st Class Katie Hickerson 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

Man's best friend? Well, certainly an aggressor's worst nightmare. That's what Tech. Sgt. Antonio Rodriguez, 12th Security Forces Squadron, Military Working Dog Section kennel master, and his staff here train their partners to be. 

The 12th SFS, MWD section hosted an eight-day training seminar on decoy and detection techniques for handlers and their dogs recently. More than 40 military and civilian handlers attended the seminar, representing the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Bexar and Travis County sheriff's offices. 

Experience throughout the group ranged from participants directly out of technical school at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to handlers with 21 years and more under their belt. 

"We're here to advance the dog's natural skill and ability to perform, as well as evaluate how they react to perceived threats," Sergeant Rodriguez said. "We train the dogs to bring out their natural instincts, and we want to prepare not only the dogs, but the handlers as well, so they will perform in real world situations." 

Sergeant Rodriguez explained that, in today's fast-paced, forward-deployed military, the use and reliance on MWDs is becoming more and more prevalent. The dogs provide a valuable, versatile, non-lethal asset to a security forces unit. They are capable of detecting the presence of ammunition, firearms, explosives and narcotics, as well as act as a physiological deterrent when threatening situations arise. The dogs are routinely employed when units need assistance with security, riot control, patrols and raids. 

It takes 100 to 120 training days for a dog to become fully trained and certified out of the Department of Defense MWD training course, commonly referred to as K-9 boot camp, at Lackland AFB, said Sergeant Rodriguez. 

David Deason, Travis County sheriff's office senior deputy, explained that training is the most important thing handlers can do. 

"If you don't use it, you lose it, so we are continuously training every day, all the time. It never stops," he said. "It's nice to be invited out here to seminars hosted by the military, because it affords us the opportunity to get up to speed with one another." 

In the decoy portion of the seminar, handlers worked with their dogs on various front, shoulder, and back bite techniques for when the dogs must apprehend an offender. 

"Normal bite progression work starts from bites on a thick padded arm sleeve, to a full-body suit, then the dogs move on to a tactical, low-profile suit, and finally graduate on to real-situation scenarios," Sergeant Rodriguez said. 

All forty-plus attendees of the seminar took turns playing the aggressor, as they worked each dog. 

The handlers dress in a thick, full-body suit and whip the ground with what is called a rattle-stick, to agitate it. A second trainer holds the MWD back by it's leash while the aggressor paces around erratically. When the handler holding the dog is ready to neutralize the situation, he releases the dog. The simulated aggressors attempt to avoid the bite, but the dog refuses to stop pursuit, and will get the take down. 

"The dogs will body-slam, climb, bark, pull on their leashes, and jump when provoked by an aggressor," said Staff Sgt. Nathan Combs, 12th SFS MWD handler. "They are very serious about protecting themselves, their handlers and apprehending the aggressor."

"The dogs range in weight from 44-100 lbs., so they can easily knock over even a full-grown man," he said. "They have a strong enough bite to break bones, and often do when taking down an aggressor."

Trust and rapport are major keys to building a successful partnership between handlers and their dogs. The underlying theme of all of the training at the seminar is building that trust and relationship. 

"Handlers use verbal and physical praise to reward a job well done that builds a special bond between a MWD and handler," said Sergeant Combs. "Handlers interact, play, and personally provide for their dog's needs every day out of mutual respect due to that bond." 

The second half of the seminar focused on detecting explosive ordnance and narcotics in buildings, vehicles, and other off-line searches. 

"This career field is changing the way it instructs, as well as how it operates due to the changing needs in forward-deployed locations," Sergeant Rodriguez said. "We used those new concepts in this seminar." 

Handlers are now teaching their dogs to heed to their verbal calls as they use directional terms to guide them while searching for improvised explosive devices in places like Iraq. This new technique is being implemented military-wide, and allows the handler to control a MWD from a distance. 

Though this technique may be more safe for the handlers, it is not always the case for the dog, Sergeant Rodriguez said. Therefore, the military has created body armor for the MWDs to wear while deployed, or in other dangerous situations. 

Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Stanley, 14th Military Police detachment, Yongsan Garrison, Korea, said, "As kennel master, my job is to attend training courses like this one, then bring back the knowledge and experience to my unit. The training will help me to develop a training plan for my soldiers to bring them up to speed on the new techniques I have learned." 

"You can always learn something new when you share experiences, techniques and work with people from different agencies, whether they are civilian or military," Sergeant Stanley said. "Our goal is to take this training and be able to deploy it world-wide when the situations call for it." 

So, the next time you see one of the front-running members of the 12th SFS give them an extra "thank you" for what they do for the Air Force. Whether it is a narcotics raid, bomb threat, out of control riot in otherwise peaceful streets, patrol in Iraq, or taking down threatening aggressors, know that these hard-working dogs, and their dedicated handlers will be out there protecting the Air Force way of life.