The 289th Military Police Company in the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) is home to one of the most sophisticated bomb detection units ever designed: a handler and his dog working in unison. K9 units are capable of detecting a wide variety of explosives.
Dogs and their handlers must form a cohesive team to reach their full potential. That is why on December 9, 2015, The Old Guard’s best weapon against planted explosives trained at FedEx Field in Landover, MD.
“We use real explosives,” said Spc. Beau Andrea, a handler that trained at FedEx Field. “We have German Shepherds, Belgian Melanomas, and Black Labs used at our kennels.”
FedEx Field provides a real world test full of environmental distractors. Teams tracked down small amounts of real explosives planted by The Old Guard training staff in an MVP Tent and the visiting team locker room.
Dogs signal their trainer at the presence of explosives with sometimes-subtle cues of excitement to more obvious clues like sitting down when they have found the source.
No two dogs operate in the same way, said Andrea. Dog’s personalities vary by breed and each individual K-9 may have their own quirks.
“Realistically, it all depends on the dog’s personality,” said Andrea. That is what makes the training in a real-world scenario like FedEx Field so valuable for the trainer and the dog to problem-solve and successfully carry out their mission.
When asked about his experience, Spc. Jesse G. Victory, a handler on hand for the training exercise said it’s a fluid situation. A trainer’s approach varies widely. Victory said the last dog he trained with was a 9-year-old that had a methodical approach to a search.
Now Victory has a new dog, a two-year-old that’s practically a puppy.
Victory said his new dog is about what one would expect from a puppy, full of enthusiasm and excitement. Victory said, “Every dog is different. You get a new issue every day that might show up.”
The nuance involved forces trainers to be highly tuned with their four-legged partners.
As of October 2014, the Army created the MOS 31K, which trains new Soldiers to be MP’s and then through a dog handling course. It takes about 30-weeks of training to become a dog handler, said Andrea. MP training is 19 weeks and dog training is another 11.
But that’s only half of the story when it come to training; dogs are required to be certified.
“The dogs are initially trained at Lackland Air Force base on the basics,” said Andrea. “Between basic obedience, patrol work, and detection they have to certify at Lackland before they are deemed good to go.”
Once the dogs are certified as meeting the Army standard, the dogs arrive at their first duty station.
“They’ll come to the kennels and its up to the handlers and the
trainers to advance that dog,” said Andrea. “It takes a lot of work and training to actually get a dog that’s brand new, a green dog, to maintain standards.”
A departure from the normal training environment of barracks and warehouses like FedEx Field gives an indication of the teams’ progress.
“The hope and the intent is for Soldiers to be able to leave this training with the ability to accurately tell me what the change of behavior is on their dog,” said Sgt Charles A. Ogin IV, an NCO facilitating the training. “Accurately tell me if and when their dog is on odor, and to save lives ultimately.”