Monday, April 17, 2017

Hours of weekly training keep military working dogs ready to protect President, base residents

Story Highlights:
  • The dogs must complete daily obedience training (sit, down, stay, heel) to maintain proficiency or they start to become unreliable 
  • Dogs are classified as explosive (bomb detection), patrol (law enforcement) or dual certified
  • Depending on classification, the dogs and handlers train in real-world scenarios;  bomb detection, search and rescue, escorting and suspect apprehension 

The largest operational kennel in the Department of Defense, 11th Security Support Squadron's military working dog section has the unique mission of providing support to the president, vice president, secretary of defense, distinguished visitors and nearly 16,000 base employees and residents. That mission puts a spotlight on the kennel to make sure they are up to the task. 

To keep their 30 dogs in top shape, handlers constantly put them through training to maintain their proficiency.

"The dogs have the mind of a small child," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joseph Stoltz, kennel master. "If you don't constantly drill them, they will start to forget and become unreliable."

That means handlers have to drill them daily on obedience training which includes common verbal commands like sit, down, stay and heel, Stoltz said. This becomes the foundation for the rest of their training.

Repetition is key as they transfer those basic skills into their jobs. The dogs, mainly German shepherds, Belgian malinois and a few labs, are put into job classifications of explosive (bomb detection), patrol (law enforcement) or both during their initial training at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland.

There, the dogs, some from the puppy program and others purchased from breeders overseas, are tested to see if they have the necessary skills and drive to perform.

When they pass their tests, they are sent out to bases to meet the needs of the Air Force. After arriving at JBA they are paired with a handler and put through another 30-45 days to get certified as a team to work the road.

Each day they search, patrol, detect and train to stay sharp. They're put through obstacle courses where they run through tunnels, upstairs, and over walls. They practice search and rescue, escorting and apprehension, where handlers wear protective equipment as the dogs track them down.

They're trained to bite and hold a suspect and to go for non-lethal parts of the body like the arms, legs, chest or back, whichever is presented first.
They're also trained to attack with or without command if they sense a threat.

Attacking the neck and face is not trained to help minimize potential damage when apprehending the suspect. This is a key aspect of having a military working dog section on base, Stoltz added.

"It allows us to apprehend that suspect without firing a bullet," he explained.  "After you fire, you can never call that bullet back, but with my dog, I can. It's one of the safest, most effective ways for us to get the job done without loss of life."

Patrol training keeps the dogs and trainers sharp for their day-to-day job of keeping base personnel safe. Explosive training also keeps qualified dogs sharp as they carry out the important mission of protecting flights for the president, vice president, distinguished visitors, elected officials as well as keeping the flight line free of potential hazards.

The dogs and handlers train almost 40 hours a week. This time allows the team to grow and build a close relationship as they look to depend on each other while carrying out their job.