Familiarizing Military Working Dogs To Sound Of Rifle Fire
Thunder, lightning, crashes and booms ... all can be frightening to the average household pet, but the jarring sound of rounds down range is just part of a day’s activities for Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point’s Military Working Dogs (MWD). Handlers assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron (H&HS), MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, regularly train their MWDs to become familiar to the sound of weapons firing to ensure they remain calm and attentive to their surroundings during any live-fire situation they may come across.
“Basically it is just familiarizing the dog with the sound of gunfire,” said Officer Ervin Ormond, a MWD handler with MCAS Cherry Point. “It’s for any instance they may be involved in live-fire, so they’re calm and relaxed.”
Just like people, the sound of gunfire can be a heightened moment for MWDs. Handlers ensure they become adjusted to not only the sound, but to their handler firing a weapon in close proximity to them. It is absolutely necessary for this to happen so when the time comes, the MWDs aren’t overstimulated or fearful and maintain obedience to their handlers, looking to them for direction in the scenario and paying attention to their surroundings. This normalizes them seeing and hearing their handler use a weapon in the line of duty, it also helps the MWD maintain focus and obedience to their handler through experience in that situation, they have each other’s backs to the fullest in any scenario.
“The biggest factor in this training is exposure,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew Guidotti, a MWD handler assigned to H&HS. “Without exposure it will be alarming, just as it would be for a new military member, hearing an aircraft fly over the base for the first time. This also builds trust in the MWDs because they come to learn that it’s ok for their handler to be firing a weapon in close proximity to them and to stay calm and obedient to their handler.”
The handlers practice rifle training with their MWDs in various ways, most commonly conducting obedience training coupled with carrying an M16A4 rifle with blank rounds. Handlers work together by having another handler walk around firing blank rounds while the handler with their MWD walks around the training area. They do this to practice walking commands and making sure their MWD doesn’t get aggressive or fearful as soon as they hear gunfire. Handlers ensure their MWDs maintain pace and stay at their side, maintaining obedience and composure before beginning any other training.
The next training iteration is switching to the handler receiving the weapon and walking around the training area firing the weapon with their MWD at their side.
This helps the MWD become comfortable with not only gunfire in close proximity, but builds confidence and trust in their handler. After this is done for a while, the handler will practice different firing positions with their MWD, sometimes even incorporating some of the obstacles in the training area. This helps with ensuring the MWD is maintaining an awareness of their surroundings and builds even more trust and confidence between MWD and handler.
“Utilizing a military working dog the way that we do, these dogs need to be obedient and calm during gunfire,” said Guidotti. “It is very important for them to stay calm and attentive to their handler and surroundings in the presence of a firearm being discharged. Firearms are an everyday occurrence for these MWDs, as they are carried on duty by their handlers.”
Live-fire ranges are also scheduled by the MWD handlers so they can take their MWDs to a live-fire range and get a more authentic experience. It also helps get them out of their usual training areas and into a new environment where they will still need to maintain a calm, attentive demeanor and obedience.
“That’s basically it,” said Ormund. “It gets them adjusted to it, so in the case of actual gunfire they’re not going ballistic or crazy, they still maintain obedience to the handler and are aware of what’s going on.”
Handlers and their assigned MWDs put in countless hours a day not only on the job, but consistently training together to better each other as individuals and as a team. Working on given commands from handler to MWD, operational/situational awareness, obedience, aggression training, MWD and handler confidence and most importantly the trust between handler and MWD to ensure a successful shift or mission. Together, the handlers and MWDs use training like this to ensure they provide the best possible security for Marines, Sailors, residents and personnel on MCAS Cherry Point, and ultimately the nation.