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Military working dogs: Treated more like Airmen than pets

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson, 354th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, runs Iro though the confidence course at the MWD facility. The confidence course is one of the training tools used to prepare the working dogs for real-life situations. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Rachel Walters)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson, 354th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, runs Iro though the confidence course at the MWD facility. The confidence course is one of the training tools used to prepare the working dogs for real-life situations. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Rachel Walters)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Even though they don’t sign a contract, despite the fact they don’t swear an oath, military working dogs are more than just four-legged friends. 

Not to be confused as pets, MWDs are treated like Airmen in a number of ways. 

MWDs are part of the 354th Security Forces Squadron and although the training is separate; both MWDs and SF members go through training at Lackland AFB, Texas.
Training is an important aspect of their job and just as SF members train frequently to remain proficient in their career field, MWDs undergo constant training as well. 

The confidence course is one aspect of training a dog goes through. 

The course consists of a series of obstacles the dog must conquer, designed to prepare them for situations they may face in a real-world situation, said Tech. Sgt. Paul Chute, 354th SFS kennel master. 

Some of the obstacles the dogs encounter in Eielson’s confidence course simulate jumping through a window, going through tight spaces, climbing stairs, and chasing a perpetrator. 

Even with training alone, a MWD’s work can be physically taxing. 

With the type of work they do physical fitness is a must, said Sergeant Chute. The dogs go to regularly scheduled veterinarian check-ups to monitor their health and are given a weight standard by their vet. Weight is maintained through diet and exercise. 

Besides their regular check-ups, or even their doggie sick-call appointments, all MWDs must undergo a physical, ensure their immunization records are up to date, and get a health certificate to cross the border before they deploy. 

At times en route to a deployment, hotels and commercial aircraft are used. “We try to only stay at hotels that let the dog stay in the room; the dog’s your partner and you want to maintain your team’s integrity,” said Sergeant Chute. On airlines, for the most part, airline employees understand the dog is a service member and the MWD is allowed to stay in the cabin of the aircraft. 

“Once at the deployed location, the dog’s mission is the same. They provide detection capabilities for unexploded ordinance, perform vehicles searches, building searches, and can play a part in patrols on or off the installation. The dogs are able to cover a large area particularly during periods of limited visibility. They are force multipliers and I feel they’re extremely important to the mission,” he said. 

There are times servicemembers are wounded, injured, or become sick beyond the medical capabilities of the place stationed; MWDs face the same issues and the procedures to ensure proper care for the dog is no different than that of a service member. 

“When I was deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, we had a MWD that became extremely ill. He was taken to the base clinic for care and then early the next morning the dog was medevaced out to a facility equipped to treat him,” said Staff Sgt. Blake A. Hemmann, 354th SFS MWD handler. 

Sergeant Chute said he feels treating the dogs as a service member is a good thing.
“You build a rapport with the dogs so knowing they are being treated right makes you feel good. You spend everyday with them and in a sense they become your best friend.”