Man’s best friend – bad guy’s worst enemy

  • Published
  • By Dylan Laurie
  • 16th SOW Public Affairs
During World War II, the American Kennel Club and a new group calling itself Dogs for Defense mobilized dog owners across the country to donate quality animals to the Army Quartermaster Corps. Dogs donated to the Army by a patriotic public saved the lives of numerous Soldiers in combat.

In March 1942, the Quartermaster Corps stood up the “K-9 Corps” and undertook the task to change these new recruits into good fighting “Soldiers.”

At first more than 30 breeds were accepted. Later the list was narrowed down to German shepherds, Belgian sheep dogs, Doberman pinschers, farm collies and giant schnauzers.

The first estimates were that only about 200 dogs would be needed, but that soon changed.

Dogs for Defense worked with qualified civilian trainers, who volunteered their services without pay, to train dogs for the program.

Soon the demand for sentry dogs outstripped the original limited training program, as well as, the duties they would be required to perform.

Staff Sgt. Bob Weigold, 16th Security Forces Squadron K-9 trainer, explained how the K-9 units have evolved since the early days.

"The dogs that we are assigned go everywhere with us," Sergeant Weigold said. "From secret service missions, to state missions, to deployments, everything is about that dog. The dogs go on the aircraft with us; if we rent a car or a hotel room, they're right there with us. During hurricane evacuations, the dogs are high priority. We leave when the aircraft leave, even before the base populace because they're such a valuable asset."

How much of an asset?

"The average dog is worth about $50,000-$60,000 after all the training and time spent on care and maintenance," said Tech. Sgt. Paul Gambrell, 16th SFS K-9 trainer. "As they get older, they increase in value due to the number of man hours spent working with the dogs."

The dogs also perform duties for the United Nations, inaugural functions and anything to do with heads of state.

In addition the dogs are used to assist in the Drug Enforcement Agency's and U.S. Custom's efforts along the borders.

The dogs backgrounds are researched and the acceptable candidates are purchased by the Department of Defense Dog Center at the 341st Training Squadron, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The 341st TRS is the premier military working dog school and provides basic working dog handler instruction to over 525 students annually.

Additionally, they train over 300 working dogs for all of the Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration. Its four major sections provide logistic, dog training, handler training and medical support to the entire DoD.

"They go through a series of tests (to check their health and demeanor)," said Sergeant Weigold. "Is the dog going to be able to attack somebody? How are its nerves? They do a whole slew of tests before they purchase the dog."

Most dogs are about a year old when they start their training as military working dogs and will spend on average one year learning all the basics before being assigned to a base, at which they normally will end up working the rest of their career, base closures and natural disasters aside.
Once there, they are evaluated to see at what echelon of performance they are.

"They are like a three-level troop," Sergeant Weigold said, "with the basic knowledge: sit, heel, down."

The handlers will work with the same dog to form a personal bond, until they either get orders somewhere else or if problems arise with the dog-handler relationship.

The dog will stay at the base it’s assigned to, except when gone on temporary duty.

"Some people think that you pick up a new dog (when you go TDY)," Sergeant Weigold said. "We have to get everybody validated and certified on their dog. As a team, they have to be able to work together."

The handlers are responsible for coming in during off-duty hours to groom their dogs or take them to the vet.

The dogs are kept to a regimented schedule of appointments and check-ups to ensure they are physically, mentally and emotionally fit for duty.

"Anytime we take them anywhere, we have to get their service records in case something does happen," Sergeant Weigold said.

"A lot of people think that we just show up and hold onto the dog," Sergeant Gambrell said. "Sometimes it's a thankless job."

Staff Sgt. George Shepherd, 16th SFS K-9 handler, recently cross-trained into the career field.

"It's something I've wanted to do since I came in and always thought it would be interesting to do," Sergeant Shepherd said. "If you don't take the time to learn about it or put forth the effort, you're not going to get anything out of it."