Staff Sgt. Kathryn Goldman and her working dog Rolf from the 412th Security Forces Squadron took home three first place trophies from the Western State Police Canine Association Trial.
The two-day competition was held May 16-17 at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The competition brought working dogs from the military, law enforcement, homeland security and many other organizations. In all, there were 66 competitors from 29 agencies.
The first day of competition was detection, the next day was patrol and obedience.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Goldman. “I was kind of intimidated and overwhelmed when I saw the first day how many cars there were along with dogs and handlers.”
Their first problem was outdoors in a fenced off area. Each team was given five minutes to search the area for bombs. If a ConEx was open, the team could search inside, if it was closed they were instructed to search around it. Following the same guidelines, the next problem took place in a warehouse with seven minutes for the search. In the first event, Goldman found all but one, and in the second event, she and Rolf found eight out of 10 explosives.
Meanwhile, judges were standing by to evaluate their performance.
“It really comes down to teamwork with your dog, and as a handler, you being able to say ‘my dog’s throwing a change, he found something, that’s a find let’s keep on,'” said Goldman.
She added what makes the competition so challenging are the time restrictions. It’s important to keep the job “fun” for the dog, by paying him with his toy after a find.
“That was my first time just praising him instead of paying him,” said Goldman. “They give you the option of stopping to pay your dog, but you’re on a time limit.”
Instead, Goldman kept Rolf motivated by using animated actions and verbal praise, which she found out later, impressed the judges. She was also commended for her use of a 15-foot leash, rather than the standard six-foot leash.
Goldman permanently changed stations to Edwards AFB in March of 2010 and has been working with Rolf since November of last year. It was Tech. Sgt. Kristina Reese, 412th SFS, MWD trainer, that first encouraged Goldman to work with a 15-foot leash.
Goldman and Rolf took home first place trophies for their Outdoor Search, Warehouse Search and overall for Explosive Detection.
“It was definitely a self-esteem boost to see that my hard work has paid off,” said Goldman. “It definitely makes you feel good.”
Staff Sgt. Christopher La Boy, 412th Security Forces Squadron, MWD handler, and his dog GGreta, also went to the WSPCA trial to participate in the patrol and obedience events.
“It’s a good experience for the kennels as a group,” said La Boy. “A lot of local police departments are more patrol-oriented. Our agencies are more geared for detection; we’re better at that than the local agencies are.”
Goldman and Rolf also participated in the patrol competitions and “knew going into it that detection is our strong suit.”
The patrol events include area search for a person, obedience, agility and protection.
La Boy has been working with GGreta since January. Participating in the trials helped La Boy get to know her much better.
“We got there and GGreta was in love with the grass. She’s all about smelling it, trying to eat it,” said La Boy.
Tech. Sgt. Ian Spivey, 412th SFS, MWD kennel master, added that they try to expose the dogs to as many elements as possible to prepare them for any assignment, including deployments. The competition also inspired new ways to train the dogs on their obedience course.
“There was a portion of competition where the dogs had to jump over barrels,” said Spivey. “We didn’t have that for our standard obedience course, so now we’ve got three barrels, put them together and we’re training with that.”
Spivey hopes to send narcotics dogs to competition in June.
“The awards show we’re top notch,” said Spivey. “It’s rewarding to have the dog and do the mission here, but it’s also rewarding to know that they can go out and compete and then bring something back to represent what we did.”
Edwards has seven military working dogs, each with unique personalities. Part of Spivey’s job is to match the personalities of the handler to their dog.
“I love my job as a handler,” said Goldman. “Working with a dog as a partner is an awesome feeling. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of time and training goes into it.”