The 549th Military Working Dog Detachment is holding a certification session for new dogs and handlers this week at Fort Wainwright. The four-day training covers a variety of skills, including obedience, bite work, patrolling, and drug and explosives detection.
Kennelmaster detachment Sgt. Elisabeth Wienke explained that handler and dog teams are certified each year, and once certified, teams are validated every month. Five dog and handler pairs went through the certification this week, nearly all for the first time. Wainwright’s kennel has 11 dogs, which are used for force protection and law enforcement, including supporting overseas operations.
On the first day, Monday, dogs practiced obedience and controlled aggression, or bite work. The dogs run through a course, which included hurdles and underground tunnels. Controlled aggression is supposed to mimic a real-world scenario of an encounter where the dogs are asked to attack after the target runs away.
According to Wienke, soldiers are evaluated on patrol and detection tasks to see the “maturity and reliability of the teams” and how dogs and humans work together. To be successful during certification, the soldier must be patient and work well with the dog, and the dog should be focused, follow orders, and “find everything they are asked to,” Weinke said.
A good working dog needs to have both drive and the desire to please, according to Wienke.
“A lot of these dogs, you’d be surprised at how much and how hard they’re willing to work for the soldier,” she added. This is a combination of nature and nurture; dogs should have this drive to obey inherently, but it can also be honed through training.
Communication and the bond between the dog and handler is also important, since both need to want to work for each other. “It’s a team effort,” Weinke explained.
Jonathan Sharkey is a K9 handler. He and his dog are already certified, but he was assisting at the training on Monday.
Sharkey explained that his dog, despite being new to the program, “is just really motivated,” which helped them pass the certification. His dog’s “obedience to me is above anything else in the world,” said Sharkey, adding that’s what makes them successful in working scenarios.
On the handler’s side, to be successful, “You have to maintain a motivation and a love for the job,” Sharkey said. But the handler also must remain focused.
“It is a lot of fun, obviously, playing with dogs,” he said, but the handler also needs to remember that the dog is not a pet. “It is a tool, so you do need to maintain that boundary.”
This is because the dog is always working and, since the dog is constantly paying attention, the handler needs to be paying attention to the dog.