Soldiers, faithful partners working toward certification at Fort Polk
Fort Polk, La. –
Soldiers and their K-9 counterparts have been working toward certification during the past week at Fort Polk.
The teams are paired up and train together for certification before being deployed. The teams certifying this week were performing duties including explosive detection, drug detection and apprehension. The trainers and their dogs work exclusively together so they know each other in a way that enables them to perform flawlessly in their execution of duties.
“The longer you are together (soldier and k-9) the stronger your bond becomes,” said Spc. Christopher Hallisy said. “It’s like being married, the longer you are together, the more you learn about each other and you become a better team.”
The soldiers who were going through the certification process explained that they begin training with their dogs when the dogs are about eighteen months old. The first few weeks are spent building a rapport with their dog.
By Leader Photo by Kelly Moore Spc. Katrina Kurz along with Spike are working toward their certification as a Military Working Dog team. Once they are certified they will be eligible for deployment.
“We spend time playing, washing and walking our dogs,” said Spc. Timothy Conley.
Soon after trust between the soldier and dog has been built, the pair begin training in earnest. The dogs are trained to detect bombs and drugs and to apprehend suspects at the order of their trainer.
Once, Hallisy’s dog became ill in Iraq, he said. Hallisy performed CPR on his partner until the dog could be removed to a hospital for rehabilitation before being returned back to duty.
Dogs and their trainers do not stay together for their entire career, said one soldier, who explained that the dogs are assigned to a unit, like a piece of equipment. When trainers are given orders to transfer to another unit or installation, they have to leave their dogs behind and start the training process over with another dog.
Hallisy had to leave his dog behind when he moved to another installation, but will take a piece of him where ever he goes: on Hallisy’s left hand is an interesting tattoo.
“I had him put his paw on an ink pad then to paper,” Hallisy explained. “Then I had it tattooed to my hand.”
By Leader Photo by Kelly Moore Spc. Timothy Conley along with his dog spent much of Tuesday morning working through the paces for certification. They are pictured as they search vehicles for bombs.
Though the dogs are working dogs with missions that have saved countless lives, the relationship between dog and trainer is vitally important.
Spc. Katrina Kurz and Spike are one such team. She and Spike have been training together for a mere month, but with hard work and patience they were ready to certify.
“It is all about teamwork,” she said. “We work together. The hardest part of the job is learning to be a team. They don’t speak the same language as we do, so we have to learn what they are telling us.” Spc. Rachelle Schmidt has been working with three-month-old Amigo, a Belgian Malinous. She said that in the beginning it was often frustrating because Amigo, nicknamed “Eeyore,” is slow and never gets into any hurry.
“I am a pretty fast paced person but Amigo just goes at his own pace, no matter what,” said Schmidt. “For me the most difficult part of the training has been to slow down and learn to read his body language.”
The dogs are trained on a reward system. During Tuesday’s event each time the dog was successful, it was allowed to play with its kong, a toy the dogs are allowed to play with only when they perform specific tasks.
The certification of the teams will take more than a week. The teams will have to locate bombs and drugs and clear buildings of people who may be in danger, searching warehouses and luggage.
They will also perform in obedience training, including on and off leash and an obstacle course.
Throughout the training the teamwork between the dogs and their handlers will be graded to ensure the communication between both.
“This is a great job, we get paid to play with dogs all day,” said Schmidt.
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