MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- Depending upon what evidence you accept, the domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris, has been a part of human societal development for 10,000 to 100,000 years. Ask a member of the K-9 unit, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, and they would most likely be more interested in the development and training an individual dog has had in the last few months, or more correctly, what the animal can learn on a daily basis.
“The training never really stops,” said Kevin P. Casey, K-9 Section, Provost Marshal’s Office, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany. Casey said that when they get a dog, they train continuously
The military working dogs at the MCLB Albany kennels have received basic obedience training and can run an obstacle course on command. They then undergo additional training, on an almost daily basis.
Presently, MCLB Albany has a number of teams aboard. A typical base will have the teams necessary to meet the installation requirements.
The dogs are trained by the Air Force until they are ready to be posted or are flagged for further evaluation and training.
Casey said that when a dog arrives on base, they try to match the dog’s ability to that of a handler. Then the handler and dog spend time working together and getting to know one another. Jessie R. Smith, K-9 Section, called this rapport training.
Casey added that you also want to get the dog to act as if the handler is the master. As a result, the working dog will take commands only from the handler.
Smith said that a dog has an extended working life, but then you eventually need to look out for medical problems.
“As long as the dog’s health holds up and the handler’s employment status doesn’t change, the team could be together extensively, especially if you started out with a young dog,” Smith reported.
Casey added that how long a handler and the dog work together depends upon the needs of the Marine Corps.
When a dog is actually working, how long the dog can work may be based upon the animal’s age, climate, personality, intensity of the situation, etc. “These dogs work,” Casey said. “When they are working, it’s like running a marathon, very focused and intense.”
Smith noted that when a dog is no longer optimal, they may go back to the Air Force as a training aid or are put up for adoption.
K-9 unit missions include narcotics and explosives detection in support of military or other government agencies like the Department of State or Department of Homeland Security.
Historically, according to K-9 History: The Dogs of War (http://community-2,webtv.net/Hahn-50thAP-K9/K9History/) the ancient Egyptians and Greeks both used working dogs. Attila the Hun used Molossian dogs in his campaigns. Napoleon posted dogs as sentries at the gates of Alexandria. In American history, the first official use of a canine corps was in the Seminole War in 1835.
“The idea of searches is to detect contraband,” said Casey. He said that terrorists look at bases trying to get the biggest bang for their buck. Therefore, K-9 teams help discourage illegal activity by being a physical and psychological deterrent.
Working dog handlers also receive their training through the Air Force. The basic course runs three months and then another month to receive kennel master rating. As with the dogs, training for handlers never stops. Dogs and handlers at MCLB Albany spend 10 hours a week training together. “Nothing is going to replace experience as a learning process,” Casey said.
Cpl. David A. Carter, K-9 unit, said he began the working dog training Nov. 22. He started out learning to leash, praise and take care of an empty ammo can. He then moved into the scouting and obedience phase using training dogs. There, he said, he learned how to do scouting missions and building searches among other things necessary to do duty in Iraq.
Shane Fripp, Albany Police Academy trainee, said he had previously worked as a dog handler in the Air Force from 1989 to 1995. He said he liked working in the kennels. After his graduation from the Albany Police Academy, he will join the K-9 unit on base.
“I like seeing the dogs develop, training them. I like watching them go from a dog that is well-trained, but then seeing them learn new things. It’s like watching a kid go from little league to the major leagues,” Fripp said. “There’s a big difference in their ability to work.”
“Who wouldn’t want to be a dog handler in the military?” Carter asked. “You get to hang out with your best friend all day, train, do aggression and detection work. You take care of him and he takes care of you. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”