Pass the Sniff Test – Military Working Dogs Keep This Air Force Safe

The 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron continues to ‘hold the line’ at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. To achieve this, consistent training, vigilance and teamwork are required to ensure nothing goes unnoticed. Although ADAB Defenders are trained, equipped, and ready to deal with any threat that may come their way, it doesn’t hurt to have a little help from a friend, especially one on the march. on four legs.

The handful of military working dogs and their handlers assigned to the 380th ESFS work together to secure the base through working patrols. Focusing primarily on explosives detection, MWDs are used to search for buildings, vehicles, gates, perimeter fences, and more. Additionally, MWDs are capable of pursuing and apprehending suspects on command.

It is the handler’s job to read the change in behavior of an MWD. Just as people will change their behavior in certain environments or to certain stimuli, trained MWDs associate the smell of specific odors with the reward and anticipate that reward. Managers need to be on the lookout for these tells.

“Dogs smell differently than humans.” said Staff Sgt. Mckenzie Langan, an MWD handler assigned to the 380th ESFS. “You might smell a cheeseburger, but the dog will smell meat, ketchup, cheese, bread – each individual smell. So they are able to distinguish between that smell they are supposed to find and everything else.

Although many dogs have the ability to separate different scents, it takes months of training before they are used as MWD.

“Our dogs are either born in San Antonio in Lackland or the Air Force buys them from Europe,” Langan said. “Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds and Labradors are the three main breeds used by the military, but there are other breeds as well. The Navy also has small dogs for its ships.

Once selected for the program, the dogs begin their training at the 341st Training Squadron in Lackland AFB, Texas. Once there, training can take between two and six months, depending on how the dog’s abilities improve. Before being put into service, the MWDs are validated and certified by the main training managers.

“Most dogs are ready to work after two years of age,” Tech said. sergeant. Latif Self, the kennel master assigned to the 380th ESFS. “But it depends; our only dog ​​Bak is two now, so he started early. It all depends on how mature they are and how quickly their abilities improve.

Upon completion of their initial training, MWDs are assigned to a security forces squadron and are paired with a manager from that squadron. Although MWDs are known to be operational, the training never stops and it is the handler’s job to be attuned to the dog’s personality and continue to develop their skills. For Langan, reading books on new training techniques keeps her on top form.

“A really good book is, ‘Don’t Shoot the Dog,’ it explains positive reinforcement really, really well,” Langan said. “The main thing is to keep the dogs accountable 24/7. It sounds like an impossible task, but you have to try to do it. You have to keep training after the training sessions. If I don’t give than corrections or rewards in the obedience yard but not outside, that’s when a dog becomes more stubborn.Positive reinforcement is a good way to teach rather than punish. It’s a really useful way to shape their behaviors.

Langan has been working with his MWD, Adja, for about two years.

“Adja was actually my first dog assigned to me, but then my unit did a dog swap until this deployment where I picked her up. She will probably retire with me too.

How long a dog serves as MWD continues to depend on their performance as well as their health.

“It all depends on how healthy a dog is,” Self said. “There is no specific age limit. We have two dogs that are eight years old and I have seen dogs working in the system until they are 12 years old. And that just means their bones are healthy and can work that long. But I’ve also seen dogs retire as young as two years old. It just depends on the medical history.

When they are officially retired, former handlers are contacted and given the opportunity to adopt former companions for an easy life at home on the couch. Technology. sergeant. Self was able to adopt her last dog, Edo, after her medical retirement.

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“I believe I have the best job in the Air Force,” Self said. “A lot of people have to sit behind a desk and stare at the computer all day. I walk around and play with the dogs. It’s the team camaraderie that’s really cool. Fur really is your partner. Whenever you have a bad day, you can come into the kennel and play with these dogs. It really brings you back and helps you understand why we do what we do.


This piece is written by Tech. sergeant. Jeffrey Grossi of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs. Want to present your story? contact us at [email protected]

Bette C. Alvarado