Best job ever: Teacher at puppy school for future military working dogs

The courageous canine that helped the United States Navy SEALs capture the world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, has captured the world’s attention. The classified canine that went on the Navy SEALs raid on bin Laden’s compound has generated a wave of interest in military dogs.

The identity of the four-footed “frontline biter” — a highly trained special warfare dog that may have dropped out of the assault helicopter on a combat descent line – will never be known, but that doesn’t stop us from wondering — just who was that dog?

Naming of RAAF puppies

A specialized breed of bad ass

Most people, myself included, weren’t even aware that the military depends heavily on specialized dogs for many important life saving jobs, including one very important one, one that no human soldier is capable of: sniffing out bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Only specially trained Military Working Dogs (MWDs) are capable of that.

But where do the dogs come from? What breeds are they? How many are in service? What do they do, exactly? Where do they go after they’ve served in the military? As I am not a military buff I didn’t have a clue to the answer to any of those questions.

What follows is what I learned about the fascinating world of soldier dogs. But soldier dogs had to get their start somewhere and where do you think that would be?

Puppy school!


The 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base

It all starts here at Lackland Air Force Base. Lackland is the home of the schoolhouse for puppies and doggies. They actually call it the “Schoolhouse”, isn’t that cute?

The executive agency for the DoD Military Working Dog Breeding Program is the United States Air Force. The 341st Training Squadron, at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas, operates this program for the Air Force.

They provide trained Military Working Dogs (MWDs), handlers and trainers, puppy consultants and kennel masters for the Department of Defense, other government agencies and allies through training, logistical support, a state of the art veterinary hospital, and operate the Transportation Security Administration’s Puppy Breeding Program for security efforts worldwide.


DoD MWD breeding program

“Lackland is known as the dog mecca for all service branches”, said Tracy Shaw, the breeding program contract manager. The DoD’s breeding colony’s ultimate goal is to provide one-third of all dogs procured for military working dog training. And we know everything good starts with puppies!

Can you even imagine working as a teacher at a kindergarten school for puppies? If that isn’t an explosion of cuteness, I don’t know what is. “OK class, simmer down, you’re getting a little too rowdy, am I going to have to make you all take a naps or would you rather…go to recess, get cuddles, have playtime or have graham crackers and milk!”

MWD puppy K-9 dog Lackland AFB

DoD puppy foster program

As if this explosion of cute couldn’t get any bigger, it does! A large part of the success of this program is dependent upon volunteers to provide temporary homes for developing puppies.

“You are trying to prepare the dog for training,” Sergeant Hohenstreiter said. “You are getting it ready for school, almost like pre-K; you just want to help them develop the skills that are going to help them succeed.”

Even playtime is more about building motor skills than having fun. Sergeant Hohenstreiter said playing fetch has rules, too, you never pull the tennis ball out of her mouth.

Describing tug-o-war, Flight Chief Ms. Witter added, “puppy always wins.”

“Eventually they will go do their job as a military working dog. They are just military working puppies right now.”

“One day she might save a life; that’s what these puppies are eventually trained to do in Iraq,  Afghanistan or even an airport,” she said. “When I see the grown dogs doing their thing,  I’m just amazed and in awe of how they do it. Now, to be a part of how they develop and how they get there, it’s just a good feeling.”

The Puppy Program is looking for enthusiastic foster parents for DoD puppies for these canine pre-schoolers! And don’t worry pet parents, Puppy Consultants from DoD will always be available to demonstrate training techniques and to provide help and advice. I would kill for that job.

To find out more about becoming a foster mommy or daddy to a MWP click on this link. For information on the DoD Military Working Puppy Foster Program, call Lackland AFB  (210) 671-0845. Fore more information on the MSAs Puppy Foster Program also at Lackland, call (210) 671-1624 or visit the program’s website.

MWD puppy K9 team mom

Puppies with a proud pedigree

“The capability they [the dogs] bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine,” said Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “By all measures of performance, their yield outperforms any asset we have in our industry. Our Army would be remiss if we failed to invest more in this incredibly valuable resource.” In other words, they kick ass and take names!

The dog on the Bin Laden mission was most likely a female Belgian Malinois or a German shepherd, says a contractor who has worked alongside U.S. special warfare troops. “If it were a shepherd, it would have been a smaller canine — probably a female.”

Through the years, a number of different breeds have been tested for the MWD program. Currently, the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and Belgian Malinois have proven to be the best choices as the standard MWD for patrol and detection work. However, other breeds such as the Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and other sporting breed dogs have been used in support of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) mission and one of the DoD’s newer canine capabilities, the Specialized Search Dog. The German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois have the best overall combination of keen sense of smell, endurance, speed, strength, courage, intelligence and adaptability to almost any climatic condition.

As you might expect, the puppies in this program must be extra special,

“The military has very stringent criteria for dogs, and it’s really difficult to make a military working dog,” said the puppy programs manager.

Parents are handpicked for their excellence in genetics — medically and behaviorally,” she explained. “We want a dog which has good eyes, excellent hips, good elbows and comes from a really nice working pedigree going back generations. We also test for nerves, detection behavior and patrol ability.”


Adopting a MWD or puppy

The MWD adoption program allows members to provide a loving home for MWDs to live out their last days in peace…it’s the least anyone could do for these brave creatures who have served their country with honor and distinction.

And for puppies that prefer a lap than finishing puppy school are immediately adopted by families waiting to give them furever homes.

Dogs are available for adoption throughout the United States and some overseas locations. Click on the link to view the Adoption Listings page at Lackland AFB. Not all dogs available will be on the list, so call and check back often.

Although you may not be fortunate enough to adopt or foster one of these magnificent dogs, there are always plenty of deserving puppies and dogs in shelters across America waiting for you to love and care for them in a place they can call home. Check with your local animal welfare agencies, humane societies, animal shelters, animal control for adoption and fostering programs or check online at Petfinder has German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois  waiting for a loving homes all across the United States.

More! More! More!

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

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