SHAW AIR FORCE BASE — A military working dog is a canine military member who aides their handler in performing security patrols or searching for and detecting explosives and narcotics.
All dogs, from every branch of the military, are sent to Lackland AFB, Texas for fundamental training. The training is composed of a 90-day course where the MWD is taught basic aggression and search tactics.
Training and accommodations for each dog at Lackland costs roughly $6,500. Once they graduate from initial training, the dogs are then sent to their assigned base.
When dogs initially arrive at Shaw, they are paired up with a handler. The handler then conducts report training, which familiarizes the dog with its new surroundings while building a mutual bond between the two.
“You get to play and see the dogs advance and shape them into the dogs that protect our country,” said Tech. Sgt. Alishia Nastas, 20th Security Forces Squadron canine trainer.
Once the dog becomes comfortable with its handler and the environment, both the handler and the dog must undergo a patrol certification test prior to advanced patrol and detection training.
The test is overseen by the kennel master and consists of a list of commands that the handler and dog must execute together. Once the kennel master approves of their compatibility, the MWD is then allowed to begin further advanced training.
“Just about every day we’re doing some sort of training,” said Staff Sgt. Johnathan Cooper, 20th Security Forces Squadron canine handler.
When an dog is assigned to a base, they stay at that base until they retire. A dog retirement ceremony is just like any other. The honor guard comes out and the national anthem plays. Next, a few words are spoken by the kennel master and the handler about the dog’s career. The dog is then issued the certification of retirement from the kennel master and is officially retired.
There is no set age that a dog must retire, they may continue to work as long as they are physically able, and can perform their duties. The average age for an dog to retire is 10 due to the wear and tear on their bodies from multiple climate changes, rigorous training and their daily duties.
Once a dog is officially retired, they can go one of two routes: either return to Lackland to help train new handlers or adoption. To be eligible for adoption, they first must be medically cleared by an assigned military veterinarian and pass an aggression test.
The veterinarian checks to make sure the dogs are medically healthy before allowing them to be put up for adoption. This is done to prevent a sickly dog from being adopted; leaving the new owner with a dog that would require significant financial and physical upkeep due to injuries sustained during its prior duties.
After being medically cleared, the aggression test is conducted. This test is used to ensure the dog will not show hostile behavior when provoked. The aggression test must be video-taped and sent to the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland. There, it is determined whether or not the dog can be put up for adoption.
If the dog is cleared by the squadron and is medically healthy, it can be put up for adoption. If the dog fails the aggression test, they are sent to either Lackland or a local police department to train new handlers.
The dog’s career, to include training, food and water, housing and medical care generally costs over $100,000. Even though they cost a lot of money to train, they do the jobs that nobody else can, concluded Tech. Sgt. Jemal Jones, 20th Security Forces Squadron kennel master.