Military working dog (MWD) handlers are highly trained, driven, dedicated people with years of experience. All MWD handlers are volunteers, drawn from the ranks of the military police. Requirements to get into the program are stringent, as are the requirements to stay in the program. A drive to build rapport with your dog, partner and teammate is essential above all else. You must have at least 33 months in service and gain approval from a base kennel master. Although you get to choose to join the ranks of the MWD handlers, you don't get to choose your job as a handler. Ranging from narcotics detection to sentry work, the jobs each serve their own valued and necessary purpose. All military dogs and handlers are trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Lackland, Texas.
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Narcotic detection teams are common in posts close to a country's border. A dog spends four months in training in order to develop and hone his desire to search for and find drugs. Every narcotics detection dog is also trained to defend its handler and attack on command. Dogs are extensively drilled in obedience and agility. Most narcotics detection teams remain stateside, although a few are deployed to participate in the war against drugs.
Explosives detection dogs go through a similar training course as narcotic dogs, but they are taught much more self-control. An explosives dog must never be allowed to touch what he finds and must provide a "soft" alert, such as sitting with his nose toward the object, as opposed to a "hard" alert, which involves scratching frantically at an area to alert the handler that a scent has been found and isolated.
Patrol dogs are used as sentries, guards and message carriers. The dog's alertness is honed to a high level. The dog must be able to alert the handler to the presence of any unfamiliar entity and provide feedback to the handler. Training to become a patrol dog involves a 60-day course at Lackland Air Force Base, with another two-week session to ensure that a dog/handler team works well together and communicates easily in the field.
Search and Rescue
Few military dogs are trained solely for search and rescue (SAR). Most military SAR dogs are cross-trained in another discipline. It takes exceptional physical fitness from both dog and handler, in addition to high trainability, in order to qualify for entrance to a military SAR program.
Many dog handlers aspire to become MWD handlers. Becoming a trainer involves spending three to five years as a handler and completing a specialised course in canine psychology and handling. All training is completed at the Lackland Air Force Base Department of Defense Military Working Dog School.
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