Four 56th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handlers and their dogs competed in the 10th Annual Desert Dog K-9 Trials in Scottsdale. Of the 68 dog teams competing, the Luke Air Force Base teams were one of only two military units represented at the competition.
While the civilian canine units train regularly on the tests presented at the trials, military units had to put in more than 100 hours to acclimate their dogs to the new challenges.
â€œThe trials were set up for law enforcement and in the military we train primarily for deployments, so we had to meld the two together to ensure we were ready to compete,â€ said Staff Sgt. Kyle Alltop, 56th SFS MWD handler.
Aside from their uniforms, what sets the military units apart from their civilian counterparts is the length of the partnership between the trainer and dog.
Alltop explained that the civilians who competed had been partnered with their dogs on average seven to eight years, but military handlers donâ€™t have the same continuity. While 56th SFS MWD handler Staff Sgt. Jessica Keller had been working with Oscar for two years, Alltop had only been with Maxo for four months and Staff Sgt. Lindsay Thompson had been working with Wax for three months.
Despite the differences in training and continuity, the MWD handlers stepped it up and placed in several categories.
- Keller placed 5th in Top Dog with Oscar.
- Alltop placed 5th in the tactical challenge with Maxo.
- Thompson placed 4th in the explosives challenge with Wax.
The Desert Dog Trials is not the only competition they participate in each year. Two handlers traveled to Lackland AFB, Texas, to compete in the Defense Department dog trials April 30 through Saturday. Thompson and Tech. Sgt. Justin Kitts, 56th SFS MWD handler, will be paired with Chrach, (German spelling but pronounced Crash), a German shepherd and Dingo, a Belgium malinois.
Although the handlers enjoy the friendly competition of the Desert Dog Trials, itâ€™s also an event that brings the community together and helps the handlers develop a deeper bond with their dogs.
â€œIâ€™ve been a handler for a little over two years now,â€ Keller said. â€œMost of my experience has been at Luke. Being able to see what these dogs can do and the teamwork between dog and handler is amazing. I look forward to training with my dog, and every day is different. To be able to compete against the local agencies is an honor.