Military Working Dogs have played a vital role in the United States armed forces throughout history. This book is a celebration of their contributions to our nation. In Dogs Who Serve, New York Times bestselling author Lisa Rogak profiles these heroic dogs and their handlers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and even the Coast Guard. She chronicles their path to service, from puppyhood to training, then through their career in the field and on to retirement and adoption. And she showcases them in vivid, full-color photographs that capture the devotion and respect that these amazing canines, their devoted handlers, and fellow soldiers share for one another.
A tribute to America's Military Working Dogs, as well as others serving around the globe, Dogs Who Serve is a heartwarming collection for dog lovers everywhere.
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About the Author
LISA ROGAK is the bestselling author of numerous books, including Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart, and And Nothing But the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert. She is the editor of the New York Times bestseller Barack Obama in His Own Words. Rogak lives in New Hampshire. Learn more at www.lisarogak.com.
Read an Excerpt
Dogs Who Serve
Incredible Stories of Our Canine Military Heroes
By Lisa Rogak
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Fat Pencil LLC
All rights reserved.
"They say not to get too attached to the dog you work with but how can you not get attached to something you work with for hours day in and day out?" asked Cpl. Darren Westmoreland, an MWD handler based at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California.
Especially when they're cute puppies?
Indeed, that's the most difficult part of working with an MWD, whether you're a handler teamed up with a canine partner for a two-year commitment or a trainer in charge of evaluating a bunch of squirming puppies to decide which one is going to head off to protect American soldiers put in harm's way.
But happily, there are many people who are willing to do it. After all, it's a fulfilling — and entertaining — way to serve their country.
THE YOUNGEST RECRUIT: DDONJA
It's a pretty fancy name for such a small, cute puppy: Donja, or Ddonja if you want to get technical.
All of the puppies born into the Military Working Dog Breeding Program at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, are given names that begin with doubled letters to characterize the dogs as belonging to the program, where the aim is to supply MWDs to every branch of the U.S. military. As such, it's one of the largest military breeding programs in the world.
At only eleven weeks of age, it's hard to believe that the wriggly Belgian Malinois with the enormous ears will develop into a highly trained ferocious warrior who will undoubtedly head off to a volatile part of the world, where her ultra-sensitive sense of smell will help save the lives of American soldiers.
Though the military has long acquired canine soldiers from a mix of private breeders, individuals, and even shelters, the focus in recent years has shifted to a desire for uniformity by working with a breed with a combination of strength and temperament that will excel at whatever the military can throw at it. Defense experts determined that the Belgian Malinois was close to perfect for their needs due to the breed's adaptability and genetic ruggedness; German shepherds were previously the breed of choice, but many of the dogs tended to develop hip dysplasia in their later years, which is less likely to become a problem for Belgian Malinois.
This is where Ddonja comes in. "We can provide a product that's specially tailored for our needs," said Bernadine Green, deputy director of Lackland's breeding program. "We can start these puppies from birth and really start guiding them along the Department of Defense training path."
That path consists of several stages for future canine soldiers to graduate from: first up, the whelping stage, from birth through about two months old; next is living with a foster family, which is followed by basic training, which focuses on obedience, and finally advanced training to teach patrol and detection skills. Then, if the dog completes all the required tests and certifications, the fledgling canine soldier is assigned to a military base where he is teamed up with the first of several two-legged partners to serve out his military career.
Throughout the entire process, trainers and civilians alike learn about a particular dog's strengths and weaknesses, which will help to determine whether a dog is trained to detect explosives or narcotics or, indeed, if the canine washes out of the program entirely.
During the first stage, staff at the breeding program are looking for a sense of each puppy's personality. As Green described it, a puppy who grows into a successful MWD should be "inquisitive, eager to check out new places, sociable, not overly aggressive, and eager to play with objects, such as toys and balls." Obviously, not being afraid of loud noises is a requirement.
As Ddonja chewed on a rope, batted at a ball, and tumbled around the floor with her littermates, she appeared more than ready for the next stage.
FOSTERING LOYALTY: BBELLA
When the Belgian Malinois puppies are about eight weeks old, they are placed in a foster home, where they stay for about five months to build socialization skills and learn basic obedience. Most of the foster families are volunteers who live in and around San Antonio and outlying communities. Some are service members or veterans, while others have a military affiliation, but all volunteer for the job because they share a common desire to serve.
"Families love to do it," said Bernadine Green. "It's their way of giving back to the community and the military, and also for the sheer pleasure of caring for a puppy."
Living in a foster home is an integral part of an MWD's development. "Families take them everywhere — to school, playgrounds, stores, work," said Green. "It broadens the puppy'shorizon. Without these foster parents raising puppies, we don't get well-rounded dogs." Tracy Cann, a foster consultant with the breeding program, concurs. "Working dogs are very high energy and intelligent and growing up in a kennel could make them shy and introverted when we need them to be just the opposite," she said. "Foster [families] ... raise the puppies in their homes and socialize them in all kinds of environments, which would not be possible if they were raised in kennels."
When a Belgian Malinois puppy named Bbella, all paws and ears, came to live with Hector Hernandez and his family, they weren't sure what they were getting themselves into, which certainly went double for the family's resident dog, Rosie. But Hernandez, a Navy veteran and training instructor at the Naval Technical Training Center at Lackland, said that signing up for the foster program has provided him with a way where he can continue to serve his country.
"I miss the military," said Hernandez, who retired from the Navy in January 2011. "I feel like I have a lot of good fight in me. I want to serve further."
While the day-to-day life of living with a foster puppy can be a lot of fun mixed with an occasional dose of frustration, the truth is that the end of the period is never far from the minds of the families.
"We have a lady who's fostered 13 puppies for us," said Green, adding that when the time comes for a puppy to return to Lackland, "she cries a blue streak."
After the foster period ends, the puppies — who, at around seven months of age, are now officially adolescents — head back to Lackland for what is essentially basic training for canines. They'll spend the first couple of weeks settling into life in a kennel at the base, which admittedly can be a rough adjustment to make after living in the relative cushiness of a family home, complete with comfortable furniture and at least several family members spoiling the puppy for the majority of her waking hours.
Indeed, though the kennel staff obviously take excellent care of the young pups upon their return to Lackland, some of the dogs become visibly depressed from losing their home and foster families, as well as sleeping in the comparatively harsh environment of a kennel. If the depression continues for more than a few weeks, staff take it as a clear sign that the puppy will not be able to deal with the rigors and uncertainties of military life. At this point the puppy will be put up for adoption and go to live with either the foster family or an active-duty service member or civilian employee at the base. More often than not, there's a lengthy waiting list of people who would love to welcome the puppy into their homes.
Those canines who remain then begin a five-month program of training and tests designed to analyze a dog's strengths as well as his weaknesses. Anything and anyone a dog may encounter on a military base or in a war zone comes into play to further weed out those canines who may not be suitable for a lifetime career as an MWD. Gunfire, bombed-out buildings in a harsh desert environment, and helicopter landings and takeoffs are all part of the program.
Trainers are also watching to see if a dog prefers to spend more of her time biting and chewing on a ball or rag even if an unfamiliar and enticing aroma wafts by or will relinquish the ball and veer off in the direction of the scent, curious to follow where it leads.
Dogs who favor the ball are more likely to excel as patrol dogs, tasked with protecting a military base from potential criminals, while the dog who was distracted by the scent will probably develop into a fine detection dog, specializing in searching for either explosives or narcotics. In recent years, however, the military has branched out into training and certifying MWDs in both detection and patrol — known as dual-purpose dogs — in order to put the dog to full use.
"Right now, the need is great for detection dogs," said Green. "These puppies will save more people with their nose than they ever will with their teeth."
When the dogs graduate from basic training, they head directly into a two-month intensive program at Lackland known as DTS training, short for the Dog Training Section. As before, after some time is allowed for the adjustment from one program to the next they head directly into a regimen of exercises and training sessions where a variety of different handlers will put them through their paces.
By the time dogs make it into the DTS program — which consists of one month of patrol work and one month of detection training — the job of their trainers and handlers is to build the finest canine soldiers they can manage. "I compare it to coaching Barry Sanders' or Michael Jordan's son," trainer S.Sgt. Victor Nelson said. "It's just a matter of guiding them along the path. As far as genetics and talent, they already have it."
"In my world, you don't want a dog you have to coax to do anything," said Bernadine Green. "You want a dog that comes right out of the gate and says, "'Let's go to work.'"
But as is the case in life, nothing is ever guaranteed. Upon watching a group of trainers put several dogs through their paces on the training course, Dr. Stewart Hilliard, logistics chief with Lackland's breeding program, marveled how even if a previous pairing produced a litter of pups where seven out of eight went on to become hardworking canine soldiers, just repeating the bloodline doesn't mean that lightning will strike twice. In fact, it's highly unlikely.
"One of the interesting things about breeding is there are no guarantees," he said. "Even if we've had a very successful breeding of a particular male and female, if we repeat the breeding there is no guarantee the result is going to be as good as the first time. This shows you that genetics are highly variable, that environment plays a big role, and it is very subtle interactions between genetics and environment that lead to good working dogs."
After the program ends, each dog is again tested, and if he passes with flying colors he is certified and assigned to a military base or post to begin what will hopefully turn out to be a long and illustrious career.
SERGEANT GRECO, REPORTING FOR DUTY, SIR!
When a new canine recruit by the name of Greco arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State in the summer of 2015, neither he nor his new handler, Army S.Sgt. Adam Serella with the 95th Military Police Detachment, knew exactly what to expect. While Serella was an experienced trainer and handler, every dog is different; in addition, the stress of travel and arrival on a new base, as well as some uncertainty about what came next, can mask a dog's personality until he settles in.
But first things first: the new soldier needed a bath. "He smelled pretty bad, so I put him in the tub and gave him his toy to chew on," Serella said. "He just had this sad Why are you doing this? look on his face."
After a vigorous towel drying, Serella and Greco dove right into getting acquainted with each other through playing together and going on walks. Serella also checked in on his new partner's obedience skills. They were able to concentrate since there are few distractions both inside the kennel and outside on the training fields. "Unlike dogs at home, these dogs don't have toys laying around, so all the working dogs have an extremely high desire for the toy or the reward," said Serella. "We only play with that reward when they are working and after they have done a good job and have met the standard. That's their form of currency."
For the first two or three months after a dog reports for duty, both handler and base trainers work to bring a dog up to the highest level possible through a certification process where every bit of work done by dog and human, alone and together, is analyzed and critiqued. "The bond with the handler is imperative," said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Clinton, kennel master with the 31st Security Forces Squadron at Aviano Air Base in Italy. "The initial phase of the certification process is having the handler build rapport with the dog. Without trust and respect, the dog team is fighting each other, the dog isn't going to want to do anything for the handler and the handler won't trust the dog's instincts."
"Building rapport is more like having to make someone your best friend," said S.Sgt. Erick Parris, a handler who works alongside Clinton in the 31st SFS. "It has to be sincere, if you don't truly love your dog they can tell. It's easy for me though, I genuinely love my pup."
"My job is to make sure the dogs go through the hardest training they can go through," said Tech. Sgt. Manuel Gamboa, a trainer with the 31st SFS who certifies new recruits at the base. "That way, when they do become qualified, they are ready for anything."
With Greco working alongside Serella, it was clear that the dog was well on his way.CHAPTER 2
Once an MWD is certified he's ready to serve on active duty, whether at a military base in the United States or deployed overseas. As a rule, each dog is matched with a base and stays with the base until he retires, while handlers tend to be switched to a different canine partner every two years, though it's not unheard of for a handler and MWD to be a team for longer than that; indeed, countless handlers have decided to reenlist simply because their canine partner had another year or two to go before he could retire.
Civilians rarely have an idea of the bond that dog and handler form and share over the course of working together for two — or more — years, especially if they're deployed overseas. If the team serves by providing patrol and detection services at a military base, it's standard for handlers to go home at the end of the day while canines head to their kennels; however, when deployed, MWD teams can easily spend every waking hour together.
S.Sgt. Alexandra Springman, a handler with the 355th Security Forces Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, was teamed up with a German shepherd named Dexter who was certified as both a patrol and explosive-detection dog. While Springman obviously appreciated her multitalented partner, she particularly appreciated him once they deployed.
"Deploying helped Dexter and myself grow and bond because it was just the two of us," she said. "He solely looked to me for everything. I was always the one who fed him every morning and every evening, took him to go to the bathroom, groomed him and bathed him. Also, when we were deployed, he lived in my room with me, so we literally spent 24 hours a day together."
Tech. Sgt. Chad Eagan, a handler based at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico agreed. "The most enjoyable part is being able to deploy with your best friend," he said.
All deployments can be stressful, especially when they're your first. So when PO 3rd Class Daniel Padilla received orders for his first overseas mission, his stress was slightly alleviated when he learned he'd be teamed up with PO 2nd Class Brit, an explosive-detection dog who already had a few deployments under his belt, uh, collar.
"[Brit] is a very experienced dog and has been deployed a few times with other handlers, so when we get out there I am sure he will show me a few things," Padilla said.
After receiving their orders to head to Djibouti, Padilla and Brit trained for more than six months. "We spend every day together," Padilla said. "We train constantly, playing detection games. We also do obedience training where we practice different commands and throw a ball around.
"Everything we both learned will be put to the test," he added. While he admitted to being nervous as well as a little excited, the fact that he and Brit were heading there together made a huge difference. "It's different because I am not going alone; I am going with my buddy so I will have someone to play and work with."
AIR FORCE: CIRO
Whether a canine team is deployed in a war zone or serving stateside examining visitors and active military on a base for contraband or patrol, handlers have additional responsibilities that non-handlers don't have: In addition to taking care of themselves, they must also care for their four-legged partners regardless of how harsh the environment. "We do the same details [as other security forces airmen], but we have the additional responsibility of having to care for and train these animals," said Senior Airman Carrie Dowdy, based at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, where she is paired with a German shepherd named Ciro.
Excerpted from Dogs Who Serve by Lisa Rogak. Copyright © 2016 Fat Pencil LLC. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
1. Basic Training,
2. Active Duty,
3. Continuing Education,
5. Public Affairs,
6. Stress Relief,
7. At Your Service,
8. Second Acts,
9. Stand Down,
Also by Lisa Rogak,
About the Author,