Becoming a Military Dog Handler – Mid-’80s Edition Part 2

 

(Disclaimer: The training, etc., I discuss in this post was the norm in the mid-1980s, nearly 40 years ago. I would be surprised if a lot of this didn’t change. So if anyone wants to say, “They don’t do it that way now,” yeah, I know. I’m not talking about now though.)

(Part 1 can be found here: https://ricochet.com/1492422/becoming-a-military-dog-handler-mid-80s-edition/)

I just realized I should tell you how the U.S. military used dogs at the time. There were (and still are AFAIK) three ways the dogs were used:

  1. Patrol Dogs – Patrol dogs are trained to attack and hold suspects or anyone who attacks the handler. They conduct area and building searches, stand guard on a suspect while the suspect is being searched, etc. They are conditioned to be around people other than the handler, so I could take my dog into the base exchange, headquarters, the LE desk, and so forth. Every dog used in the military was trained to perform patrol duties. Every single one.
  2. Drug Detection Dog – Patrol dogs with exceptional noses might also be trained to detect illicit drugs. These included marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other opiates, PCP, etc. This was in addition to the dog’s patrol duties. There were a lot of drug dogs in the ’80s.
  3. Explosive Detection Dog – Alternatively, a dog with an exceptional nose and a calm personality might be trained to find explosives.  Again, this was in addition to the dog’s patrol duties. There weren’t a lot of bomb dogs when I served, but I know that nowadays they are much more prevalent than drug dogs.

We left off Part 1 with the handler class beginning attack training. The very first thing we went over was how to stop the attack, not how to initiate it. It made sense when we thought about it. The dog will instinctively attack, but stopping him when the suspect has surrendered takes training, both for the dog and the handler. I’m not going to give details on this (for obvious reasons), but it took pretty much the entire morning session before the NCOs felt comfortable with us moving on.

Oh, we were also trained in being the “decoy,” that is the person being attacked during training. It kind of went hand-in-hand with learning to call off the attack. One might think we all donned suits like this:

Belgian Shepherd attacking the arm of trainer wearing body bite suit. (Eric Isselee/Shutterstock)

One would be wrong. We used a burlap wrap on one arm. The burlap covered a leather sheath, and there was a hard rubber handle in the end. You can see the wrap on the airman here:

We used this to “work” the dog during the bite. Once the dog bit the wrap, the decoy would use that arm to shake the dog back and forth. The dog learned to hold on and bite harder.

We worked on this the rest of the day, with some breaks thrown in. The NCOs would have us do basic obedience in between attacks to help us maintain control of the dogs. It was a surprisingly physically taxing day. Probably had something to to with fighting the flight-or-fight response.

We worked a bit more on this the next morning, and then went into a semi-realistic scenario: A suspect flees, you warn him to stop or you’ll release the dog. He doesn’t stop so you release the dog. This gave the dog the joy of a prey chase and bite, and we got to experience catching the dog at full speed. You haven’t really lived until you catch a 75-pound GSD running at full speed with your arm. The handler had to be on full alert if the decoy went down, so he could immediately call the dog back.

And then we then added calling the attack off to the scenario. We’d send the dog and the decoy would stop, with his hands in the air, before the dog bit. We had to recall the dog. It was a good test of the handler’s control, and we used this exercise frequently in training throughout my career. We added the suspect again fleeing when the dog was recalled; the handler would then send the dog on the attack before it returned to “heel.” At my last base I was able to send/recall the dog 6 times before he got his bite.

And the dog always got to bite at the end of this (and any attack training). It was his reward for doing the work and obeying his handler/partner.

I use that phrase “handler/partner” because that’s where we were headed. We were becoming partners, not merely a dog and handler.  That, in my opinion, is the ideal end state of a K9 team. Heck, I’ll go a step further: a top notch K9 team acts as one unit. The human instinctively knows what the dog is telling him, without any conscious thought. The dog instinctively knows what the human wants him to do and what the human needs to know in any given situation. To an observer it looks like the human is reading the dog’s mind.

(Yes, I know that last bit sounds like woo-woo BS. It’s not; I’ve experienced it.)

I’ll end this installment here. Next up: Building and area searches, and the use of the dog when searching a suspect’s person. And then off to the duty station.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I so enjoy your stories on working with these dogs!

    MWD B612 "Dawg": I use that phrase “handler/partner” because that’s where we were headed. We were becoming partners, not merely a dog and handler.  That, in my opinion, is the ideal end state of a K9 team. Heck, I’ll go a step further: a top notch K9 team acts as one unit. The human instinctively knows what the dog is telling him, without any conscious thought. The dog instinctively knows what the human wants him to do and what the human needs to know in any given situation. To an observer it looks like the human is reading the dog’s mind. 

    I believe you, and it doesn’t sound woo-woo to me at all! 

    • #1
  2. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Bravo Zulu.

    • #2
  3. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    I’ve heard our son talk about his teams’ working dogs and bond is just as you describe. That part couldn’t change. As to mind reading- my most ridiculous Vizsla, Annie, could read my mind. Vizsla as a breed is absurdly smart and good at obedience and wants to work, while I was not up to her potential in that regard. But she did read minds and I’ll bet your K9’s were even better because they were trained up in it. To Annie it was all a great game, but to the hard worker it must have made the job even more rewarding. They do so like to do a good job. I love your stories. 

    • #3
  4. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    Bravo Zulu.

    Thanks Tex!

    • #4
  5. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    EODmom (View Comment):

    I’ve heard our son talk about his teams’ working dogs and bond is just as you describe. That part couldn’t change. As to mind reading- my most ridiculous Vizsla, Annie, could read my mind. Vizsla as a breed is absurdly smart and good at obedience and wants to work, while I was not up to her potential in that regard. But she did read minds and I’ll bet your K9’s were even better because they were trained up in it. To Annie it was all a great game, but to the hard worker it must have made the job even more rewarding. They do so like to do a good job. I love your stories.

    Thank! 

    The work did make it more rewarding. When we as a team “clicked” it was amazing.

    Do you have any pictures of Annie? Vizslas are such striking dogs!

    • #5
  6. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I so enjoy your stories on working with these dogs!

    MWD B612 "Dawg": I use that phrase “handler/partner” because that’s where we were headed. We were becoming partners, not merely a dog and handler. That, in my opinion, is the ideal end state of a K9 team. Heck, I’ll go a step further: a top notch K9 team acts as one unit. The human instinctively knows what the dog is telling him, without any conscious thought. The dog instinctively knows what the human wants him to do and what the human needs to know in any given situation. To an observer it looks like the human is reading the dog’s mind.

    I believe you, and it doesn’t sound woo-woo to me at all!

    Thanks Susan!

    • #6
  7. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    In the OIF/OEF we had two different dog breeds:  Malinois for patrol and security, and Labrador Retrievers for bomb sniffing.

    We were told that dogs took priority over people on medevacs.  I was never able to confirm that.  Fortunately we never had to test that claim.  [edit:  Because none of our dogs got hurt.  Plenty of people died or were hurt.]

    In Iraq we had a dog named Star attached to our battalion.  My wife’s dog was named Star, so I found that coincidence made me like Star more.  Star was a great dog and he knew a lot of other silly tricks too.

    I didn’t get to know the labs attached to us in Afghanistan.  But when we were doing workups in California, one of the malinois got loose at night.  A company gunnery sergeant claimed over the radio that he had found him and had him corralled in the back of his truck, and said he was really ornery.  But we had already located the dog and the Gunny had in fact captured a coyote.  He never heard the end of that one.

    • #7
  8. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    MWD B612 "Dawg" (View Comment):

    EODmom (View Comment):

    I’ve heard our son talk about his teams’ working dogs and bond is just as you describe. That part couldn’t change. As to mind reading- my most ridiculous Vizsla, Annie, could read my mind. Vizsla as a breed is absurdly smart and good at obedience and wants to work, while I was not up to her potential in that regard. But she did read minds and I’ll bet your K9’s were even better because they were trained up in it. To Annie it was all a great game, but to the hard worker it must have made the job even more rewarding. They do so like to do a good job. I love your stories.

     

    Thank!

    The work did make it more rewarding. When we as a team “clicked” it was amazing.

    Do you have any pictures of Annie? Vizslas are such striking dogs!

    Do I ever – Annie at 4 (she died of cancer at 9) always full of play and I still miss her
    Below the 2 we have now. Molly is 1 1/2 and Flynn is 3 1/2. He’s a boy and true to V’s male stereotypes (strong, an unbelievable athlete, affectionate, obsessive, endlessly driven and needy). She is clever, independent, faster than he is and too high drive to care what I’m thinking. She thinks for herself for sure. Both are very obedient and willing. I’m happy to say they get compliments on their manners in the forest park we run in. Also grateful they are obedient enough to mind and be safe dogs. I’m without pride about the breed. High maintenance but boy how’dy big return. Real sibling rivalry which is funny to see in action. They hate being apart but compete over who has the best spot on the couch. 
    Thanks for asking about them – no pride here. I love showing them off. Heading to the woods now. 

    • #8
  9. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Skyler (View Comment):

    In the OIF/OEF we had two different dog breeds: Malinois for patrol and security, and Labrador Retrievers for bomb sniffing.

    We were told that dogs took priority over people on medevacs. I was never able to confirm that. Fortunately we never had to test that claim. [edit: Because none of our dogs got hurt. Plenty of people died or were hurt.]

    In Iraq we had a dog named Star attached to our battalion. My wife’s dog was named Star, so I found that coincidence made me like Star more. Star was a great dog and he knew a lot of other silly tricks too.

    I didn’t get to know the labs attached to us in Afghanistan. But when we were doing workups in California, one of the malinois got loose at night. A company gunnery sergeant claimed over the radio that he had found him and had him corralled in the back of his truck, and said he was really ornery. But we had already located the dog and the Gunny had in fact captured a coyote. He never heard the end of that one.

    Holy Hannah. 

    • #9
  10. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    Beautiful dogs @eodmom!

    • #10
  11. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    Skyler (View Comment):
    We were told that dogs took priority over people on medevacs.  I was never able to confirm that.  Fortunately we never had to test that claim.

    We were repeatedly told in K9 school that “The dog is more valuable to the military than you are.”

    • #11
  12. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald
    @Jose

    In the mid-80s I worked in an office that had a customer service window opening into the hallway, and extending in a narrow ledge much farther.

    On day a drug dog was brought in and got excited out in the hallway.  Finally, he came into our office and jumped onto the counter.  He went out the window and made his way balancing on the six inch wide ledge to a framed picture.  There was a little baggie behind it.

    My supervisor was absolutely enthralled by the performance.  I thought we were all going to be arrested.  I was so relieved to find out the baggie had been planted for training purposes!

    • #12
  13. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald
    @Jose

    I had a co-worker who claimed to have purchased some drugs and poured them into a mop bucket, and then mopped the dormitory hallway.  Then the hallway got a good buffing.  I was told the dogs went nuts looking for drugs but of course couldn’t find anything.  I had doubts about the story but it was well told.

    • #13
  14. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    Lunchbox Gerald (View Comment):

    In the mid-80s I worked in an office that had a customer service window opening into the hallway, and extending in a narrow ledge much farther.

    On day a drug dog was brought in and got excited out in the hallway. Finally, he came into our office and jumped onto the counter. He went out the window and made his way balancing on the six inch wide ledge to a framed picture. There was a little baggie behind it.

    My supervisor was absolutely enthralled by the performance. I thought we were all going to be arrested. I was so relieved to find out the baggie had been planted for training purposes!

    Been there, done that. ;)

    When I handled a Drug Detection Dog, I was walking through a dorm-style barracks to do an assigned check on the common rooms; it was around 0130. I went by a staircase with a bicycle chained to the newel post. The dog nearly yanked my arm off trying to get to the bike. Inspected the panniers, but didn’t find anything.

    We kept an eye on that bike. Sure enough, it came through the East Gate one night while I was doing vehicle checks. Bingo! Dog alerted and we found baggies of pot in the panniers. The airman was dealing and met his supplier at a bar about 1 mile down the road.

    • #14
  15. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald
    @Jose
    • #15
  16. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Skyler (View Comment):

    In the OIF/OEF we had two different dog breeds: Malinois for patrol and security, and Labrador Retrievers for bomb sniffing.

    We were told that dogs took priority over people on medevacs. I was never able to confirm that. Fortunately we never had to test that claim. [edit: Because none of our dogs got hurt. Plenty of people died or were hurt.]

    In Iraq we had a dog named Star attached to our battalion. My wife’s dog was named Star, so I found that coincidence made me like Star more. Star was a great dog and he knew a lot of other silly tricks too.

    I didn’t get to know the labs attached to us in Afghanistan. But when we were doing workups in California, one of the malinois got loose at night. A company gunnery sergeant claimed over the radio that he had found him and had him corralled in the back of his truck, and said he was really ornery. But we had already located the dog and the Gunny had in fact captured a coyote. He never heard the end of that one.

    Your whole comment is priceless.

    Focusing on the coyote end of things, here is a tale worthy of repeating.

    In my No Calif County, we have a “lost and found pets” group on FB.

    It is one of the more popular groups for our tiny area.

    One day a guy posted that he had been out on a local 2 lane highway.  He had spotted a lost dog on the shoulder of the road. He had pulled over and spent 20 miserable minutes attempting to get the ornery, snarling creature to finally jump into the back seat of his car. And if someone was missing their pet, here was how to reach him.

    Below the text was the photo of an unhappy  coyote, curled up fetal position and  much resigned to his fate.

    • #16
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