Archive for Thursday, July 9, 2009

Students learn ‘bread and butter’ of canine handling

Military working dogs bark as handlers walk by the kennels at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center at Lackland Air Force Base.

Military working dogs bark as handlers walk by the kennels at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center at Lackland Air Force Base.

July 9, 2009

Lackland Air Force Base, Texas — It can be a terrifying thing to see a dog streaking toward you across a field, fast and low to the ground, lips peeled back from a mouth filled with huge white teeth. But for the son of a Bonner Springs couple, all he can think about, as the 80-pound animal leaps toward his arm, is making sure the dog gets a good bite.

Marine Corps Pfc. Christopher Wallace, son of Christopher and Malisa Wallace of Bonner Springs, is a student military working dog handler with the 341st Training Squadron, the largest canine training center of its kind in the world.

The Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center has courses that train both new dogs and new handlers to work together as sentries and bomb and drug sniffers. The human students spend 11 weeks working with veteran dogs, learning how to control and understand their future canine partners. The new dogs work with veteran handlers to learn patrol work and to recognize the scents of drugs and explosives and the behaviors that will tell their handlers they’ve found something.

“I am learning how to be a military working dog handler,” said Wallace, a 2008 Tonganoxie High School graduate. “We’re learning basic dog obedience. To be a good handler you have to be able to control your dog. As you progress in training, you learn detection, our ‘bread and butter.’ It is what saves lives and what makes us so special.”

The four-footed students at the center learn to identify the scents of a wide variety of explosives and drugs, many of which are odorless to humans. The dogs also learn how to patrol and are taught “controlled aggression,” a name given to define when it is and is not appropriate to bite a human and to let go of someone they have bitten, on command and with no hesitation. For Wallace, and others at the center working with canines, it is a completely different military experience.

“This has always been something I wanted to do,” said Wallace. “Working as an intern at the Tonganoxie Police Department, I fell for police work. One of my goals when I joined the Marines was to be a canine handler.”

Human students at the school learn the basics of their future partners, including safety procedures, managing health, the gear they will be using, general record keeping for the animals and the principles of behavioral conditioning.

Then they begin to work with the dogs, learning basic obedience commands for the animals, how to control the animals, procedures for patrolling and searching an area and how to perform as a decoy to keep a working dog in top form.

“Our job is important to the military because we save lives by detecting bombs,” said Wallace, who has been in the Marine Corps for a year.

Wallace understands that facing ferocious attacks, hammering in constant commands and providing frequent praise will one day pay off with human lives saved on the battlefield.

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