If you had to guess what the biggest challenge to our dog teams overseas is, you might hear answers such as IED’s, performance during gunfire, and other combat related responses. But one of the biggest challenges is not necessarily how they may react to gunfire and bombs but how they adjust to and work in the weather.
Braving combat situations, searching for explosives for hours, and providing security at checkpoints are just a few of many uses dog teams are utilized for. By studying the combat environment dog teams can implement training programs to be very well prepared for just about any situation. While dog teams can be prepared for gunfire, explosives, and searching vehicles one element that is difficult to prepare them for is the weather.
The average temperatures in Iraq range from higher than 48 degree C (120 Fahrenheit) in July and August to below freezing in January. In this weather service members may slow down but they can still work for hours and days consistently. This weather can challenge a dog’s efficiency dramatically. Dogs have a much more difficult time expelling heat than humans do.
Not only do dogs have a layer of thick hair but they don’t have the ability to sweat either. Dogs cool down through panting and cooling their undersides. Keeping our dogs as fresh as possible requires constant hydration, and a significant supply of water everywhere the dog teams go. Handlers are also trained on how to give their dogs I.V.’s giving them the fluids they need.
Another weather element they battle are the sandstorms. Stinging sand can significantly reduce a dogs vision and ability to detect and work. With new gear and technology for the dogs we are able to limit the effect the elements can have on our dogs.
Handlers are supplied many top of the line products to help them keep their dog healthy and efficient. Ice packs and cool pads specifically designed for the dogs are a must have item for handlers. Specially made ballistic dog goggles called “doggles” are also often used to protect the dogs eyes. Handlers use booties to wrap around the dogs paws to keep their feet from directly stepping on the excruciating hot ground as well as glass and shrapnel. These items are just a few of many in the handlers arsenal that enable them to perform their duties and do what they do best which is saving and protecting lives.