Developing K9 Handler and MWD Partnership
by U.S. Air Force Airman Alvaro Villagomez
January 30, 2022
Keys jingle, lights flicker on, dogs start howling – the start of a Military Working Dog’s handler’s day begins with feeding military working dogs breakfast in preparation for the day ahead.
Staff Sgt. Jennifer Brinker, from San Diego, California, joined the Air Force in March of 2015 as a Security Forces trainee. She completed both Basic Military Training and Technical Training school before becoming a Defender.
“I worked with dogs before joining,” said Brinker. “I always wanted to serve in the military, so I was like, I get the best of both.”
Brinker worked at a vet clinic for about seven years, but also wanted to serve in the military. By joining and working towards becoming a dog handler, she was able to do both. Brinker worked as military police personnel before cross-training.
She eventually went on to attend the MWD training course at Lackland, where she was taught the basic fundamentals of working with dogs. There, Brinker was tested on her ability to handle MWDs.
“I had one of those dogs that didn’t do anything, even when it was my turn to run the problem,” said Brinker. “The instructors would be like, go get somebody else’s dog.”
Brinker faced many challenges when she was given a dog to train during tech school, although it wasn’t going to be the first time a dog didn’t want to work without some kind of reward.
“When I met Cigi, I was like look at this little scraggly dog… He had this big old hygroma on his elbow,” she said. “He was cool, but he’s definitely a sweetheart.”
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jennifer Brinker, 100th Security Forces Squadron K9 handler, patrols the area with Cigi, Military Working Dog K9, at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England on Nov. 23, 2021. Brinker and Cigi both patrolled a section of the base searching for contraband or anything out of the ordinary. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Alvaro Villagomez)
Brinker met Cigi when he was three years old, new for the career field. MWDs, on average, work up to nine years or less, depending on issues that may arise throughout their time of service.
“He’s definitely the neediest I’ve ever had; every time we’re at guard mount, he’s always wanting me to pet him like 24/7,” she said with a laugh.
To start their day on a regular shift, Cigi and Brinker inspect contractor vehicles entering the base for any contraband and items that might threaten the mission or base. Cigi always wants attention from Brinker, but that doesn’t stop him from getting the job done.
“He’s definitely taught me patience because he will test it,” said Brinker. “He’s a top dog with a good nose and, when he works, he really makes me look good and seeing that definitely motivated me to get out there and do my job to the best of my ability.
“Progressing in my detection work with Cigi has been one of the biggest accomplishments with him,” said Brinker. “My first dog was Sita also a detection dog, Cigi is my second detection dog and he is money when it comes to detection.”
Cigi is the second detection dog that Brinker has had since becoming a MWD handler. Brinker trusts Cigi when it comes down to work, as this is her longest partnership between a MWD and her. Detection refers to the dog seeking contraband or finding something, including drugs and explosives.
Whether it’s seeking or securing the perimeter, the most rewarding experience for Brinker is finding out what works for Cigi and making him better.
“Once you basically (train) a dog, you get a rewarding sense of accomplishment, because now, when you tell them to sit, they sit,” the handler said “When you tell them to wait at the door, they listen.”
Cigi was different from the other dogs that Brinker had, because he likes to work ... but immediately wants to be rewarded after. Brinker had to adapt to a different type of MWD, but she found ways to make him feel motivated to do the job. She regularly builds his drive through training and constantly practicing commands.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jennifer Brinker, 100th Security Forces Squadron K9 Handler, and Military Working Dog Cigi search the trunk of a car for contraband, at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England on Nov. 23, 2021. Brinker and Cigi both searched contractor vehicles in order to give them access to the base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Alvaro Villagomez)
When Cigi and Brinker are having some down time, they both have this very special ritual that they do at least two times a day.
“Cigi is a lover, so I’ll do a little triangle with my hands and he’ll just walk up and put his nose in the triangle.”
Brinker has spent the last two years at Mildenhall. Now it’s time to start a new adventure with another dog at a new base. She’s scheduled to head to Creech, Air Force Base in Nevada. Brinker is excited to return to the United States, but will definitely miss her partner, Cigi.
Brinker will be ready when she receives her new MWD at Creech. She has high standards for her future dogs because of how well Cigi and her both worked together during her time at Mildenhall.
If Brinker could share one last thing before she leaves with Cigi she would say, “Why did you always get on my nerves, but it’s okay because you were always great.”
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