Training NSGL’s Military Working Dogs
The Navy’s security force is comprised of well-trained security professionals, dedicated to protecting the fleet at home and abroad. Be it on a ship or on a base, our master-at-arms’, security officers, and civilian police force are constantly training to be ready. Within this dynamic team are some significant members putting paws on the ground instead of boots.
Naval Station Great Lakes’ military working dogs are consistently training in a variety of skills such as drug sniffing and controlled aggression. These furry friends train with their handlers to be the fierce force focused on maintaining the mission.
“Handlers train daily with their assigned MWDs,” said Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Austin Klinkhammer, from Kenosha, Wisconsin, one of Great Lakes’ MWD handlers. “The dogs are trained in contraband detection, bite-work, and obedience. Daily training is extremely important to guarantee the dog’s reliability in the field.”
This consistent training builds the working relationship between dog and handler. A dog may find themselves with many handlers over their career, making building the individual working relationship crucial.
“The working relationship with the working dogs is as good as you make it,” said Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Juilana Manderson, from Rockford, Illinois, one of the MWD handlers. “The amount of effort you put forth to enhance the relationship determines how well it is. I, personally, treat the dogs as if they were a co-worker who I deeply care for. We work hand and hand in taking care of each other and therefore have to have a good relationship with each other.“
“The job is not as easy as people think it is,” said Master-at-Arms Seaman Apprentice Noah Alonso, from San Antonio, the team’s junior-most handler. “It’s not just a ‘here go fetch’ and call it a day type of thing. There’s a lot of little pieces to the puzzle.”
Manderson describes the daily training like training with other Sailors – just as our skills can diminish if not practiced, so can the dogs. She highlights that the dogs can’t state their thoughts or feelings and handlers must learn how to find a way to build that trust and communicate. This takes patience, she says, and can be very hard and teaches you a lot about the dog’s mind but also how much you can be capable of.
“The handler’s rapport with their MWD is crucial to the team’s success,” said Klinkhammer. “The longer a team is paired, the stronger their relationship will typically be. Many dogs become protective of their handlers, and most will only listen to that one person.”
In real-time scenarios, the MWD team has a variety of opportunities. This team a resource utilized by local law enforcement, NCIS, Secret Service, ATF, and other security outlets both inside and outside of the federal system. Klinkhammer stated that it’s a great avenue for getting experience with different aspects of the law enforcement profession, where your standard Master-at-Arms may not have the same opportunities.
“Outside of the working dog community, very few people know what a handler’s job is like or what capabilities the MWDs can offer, even within our own department,” said Klinkhammer. “I would want people to know that most MA’s that strive to become handlers do so because we believe our MWDs can be one of the most valuable assets to our commands and our communities when utilized properly.”
Amidst the daily challenges, Klinkhammer, Manderson, and Alonso describe being a handler as rewarding – the payoff in an effective team between handler and MWD.
“My favorite part about being a MWD handler is being one of the very few people to actually call themselves a MWD handler,” said Alonso. “Also coming to work every day never gets old because you’re always learning new techniques to either fix your dog or training them to be better than he or she already is. There is no better feeling than fixing something so small with your MWD that just makes you look more efficient.”
Through hard work, this team stands ready to respond to whatever may come, on or off base.