CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — For a Military Working Dog handler it may take weeks or even months to build a bond with their dog, but once they do that bond will last forever. This is a bond that will survive through the good and bad times, as well as the challenges and struggles of life. To build this bond it takes pure dedication, a desire and passion to do the job, and a lot of time spent with the K-9.
That bond begins to build after dog and handler has been paired together, and it never stops growing. While each handler achieves the bond differently and each dog responds differently, the first steps to building that relationship are accomplished through simple activities such as grooming, playing, petting, taking walks, feeding, talking to, and training the dog.
“My old kennel master basically told me to grab a ruck and don’t come back,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Nault, 799th Security Forces Squadron MWD trainer. “[Dak and I] rucked the whole base. After that it was a bond forever because I started pulling him around instead of him pulling me.”
For some teams it takes a lot longer to build that relationship.
“It took three to six months to develop the type of bond I wanted with Kiara,” Staff Sgt. Rosanne Caballero, 799th SFS MWD trainer. “I spent a lot of time with her, got to know her, and she was with me everywhere I went while on duty.”
Even when the bond has been established, it never stops growing and only gets stronger over time. The handlers spend all but one hour a day with their partner and each day is something new. There is always more training and learning to be done no matter what skill level a pair is at.
“You can never stop learning, K-9 [as a job] is ongoing,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Michaud, 799th SFS MWD kennel master. “It’s constantly evolving and has come a long way [since the beginning].”
Every minute of a handler’s day is spoken for, starting around 4 a.m. with feeding, and ending the day around noon by putting the dog away after a strenuous day of constant learning. A significant portion of the day is devoted to nothing but training. These sessions include contraband detection, bite and take-down, obedience, live-fire scenarios, and other training situations.
“There’s so much training to do and every training session earns more trust with your dog,” Nault said. You get to advance your dog at the same time you advance yourself.”
“There’s more to this job [than people see] and it’s very time consuming,” said Caballero. “You have to want it. If your heart isn’t set in it, then this job isn’t for you.”
The busy schedule doesn’t faze the handlers though, in fact they look forward to being on duty.
“It’s great to come in to work and see your best friend every day,” Nault said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re not having a good day; [the dogs are] going to get you going.”
When not at home station just the handler and the dog the MWD are deployed as a team. They often work 12-16 hour days conducting patrols and searching for anything that could do harm to U.S. personnel such as explosives, drugs, or enemy positions.
During deployments, dog and handler are never apart. They work, eat and sleep together as a team.
“When I was deployed, my dog slept in the same bed as me,” Michaud said.
The handlers dedicate their time, energy and emotion into their job and are rewarded with a truly pure and strong bond with their partner.
“There is no better job in the Air Force. I put on my uniform and play with a dog,” Michaud said. “What other job is like that where you get to go to work every day and get paid to play with dogs all day?”