The excitement and anticipation from a military working dog is evident as soon as a handler steps into the kennel each morning. That’s their person, their partner, and the bond between them is a strong one. To a handler, they are not only working dogs, they are family.
“We get to come to work every day and play with our dog,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Reid, 355th Security Forces MWD trainer at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. “That’s our partner, our friend and they brings us up when we’re down. That’s a bond not a lot of people get to experience.”
Being part of an MWD team requires a lot of time and commitment. Handlers provide daily care and grooming for their canine, as well as being responsible for their partner’s emotional and physical well-being.
“Through walks, signs of affection and spending time with their dog in and out of its kennel, a rapport is built,” Reid said. “Building a relationship with your partner is essential to any mission.”
Military working dogs are valuable assets with superior sight, smell and hearing capabilities. They are primarily employed for explosive and narcotic detection, and their presence is both a physical and psychological deterrent to unlawful activity.
In a deployed environment, MWD teams provide detection and deterrence capabilities essential to keeping military members safe.
“Searching vehicles as they are entering an installation, finding individuals that may be hiding and searching for explosives on route clearance are just some examples of the kind of support these teams provide,” Reid said. “That’s why training is so important because people’s lives are in our hands.”
Reid oversees training for MWD teams on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. He is responsible for teaching both the canine and handler simultaneously. Training consists of obedience training and executing simulated narcotic or explosive detection, depending on what an MWD is specialized in, and scouting.
“Through training, handlers learn how to utilize their MWD in situations they may encounter,” Reid said. “It’s where all the learning and bonding occurs, that way they know how to perform in real-world responses.”
The teams are put through real-world scenarios providing them readiness for deployment and operations. During the exercises, MWDs work for a reward, whether it be verbal praise, physical payment of a toy, or in some cases, a bite.
“The dogs don’t realize they’re out looking for bombs or drugs,” said Tech. Sgt. Roy Carter, 355 SFS kennel master. “They associate the odors with their toys, so this is all just a big game for them.”
Not being able to verbally communicate with their partners, handlers must be aware of every move and reaction their MWD gives them to effectively work as a cohesive unit. Continuous training aids in honing each team’s communication skills. Learning each other’s temperament and personality is essential in the relationship between them.
“The bond is important between an MWD and handler due to what’s at stake,” Reid said. “Either the safety of others or legalities for possible presence of narcotics. The handler’s ability to recognize their dog’s change of behavior and being able to differentiate those situations show how strong the bond is.”
The U.S. Air Force’s greatest asset is its Airmen, and MWD teams provide added security to those who protect and serve. MWDs are critical to the mission downrange enabling us to win the high-end fight.
“Training dogs is so important because for combat and law enforcement operations, they bring so much to the table,” Reid said. “They can locate things that we are unable to detect. Especially downrange, everyone’s lives depend on these dogs. They’re out front leading the squad trying to detect that small amount of explosives.”