A soldier’s best friend

Batavia native trains to be military dog handler
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Jessica Switzer Joint Hometown News ServiceSaturday, June 20, 2009 6:19 AM EDT

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — It can be a terrifying thing to see a dog streaking toward you across a field, fast and low to the ground, lips peeled back from a mouth filled with huge white teeth.
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Dog handlers wait with their dogs before participating in a series of tests determining the handler’s control on a working environment at the Military Working Dog Hospital at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center, Lackland AFB, Texas. (Photo by Michael Tolzmann)

But for the son of a Batavia couple, all he can think about as the 80-pound animal leaps toward his arm is making sure the dog gets a good bite.

Air Force Senior Airman Joseph Teresi, son of Joseph and Mary Beth Teresi of Lewiston Road, is a student military working dog handler with the 341st Training Squadron, the largest canine training center of its kind in the world.
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Air Force Senior Airman Joseph Teresi, a Batavia native, is a student military working dog handler. He is learning to become a handler at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog center at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. (Photo by Senior Airman Christopher Griffin)

The Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center has courses that train both new dogs and new handlers to work together as sentries and bomb and drug sniffers. The human students spend 11 weeks working with veteran dogs learning how to control and understand their future canine partners. The new dogs work with veteran handlers to learn patrol work and to recognize the scents of drugs and explosives and the behaviors that will tell their handlers they’ve found something.

The dogs learn to identify the scents of a variety of explosives and drugs, many of which are odorless to humans. The dogs also learn how to patrol and are taught “controlled aggression” — when it is and is not appropriate to bite a human and to let go of someone they have bitten, on command and with no hesitation.
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A military working dog attacks a handler on command at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center, Lackland AFB, Texas. Military working dogs are taught deterrence and how to protect their handler. (Photo by Senior Airman Christopher Griffin)

“I work with a dog every day and put in long hours of dog training and grooming,” said Teresi, a 2006 graduate of Notre Dame High School. “I also conduct police patrols with my four-legged partner.”

Working with canines is a completely different military experience.

“It doesn’t matter how badly a day is going or how long I’ve been working, when I look down my leash there’s always a tail wagging,” said Teresi. “A dog doesn’t care about the bad; he’s there by your side. He becomes a four-legged best friend.”
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Military working dogs bark as handlers walk by the kennels at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center, Lackland AFB, Texas. (Photo by Senior Airman Christopher Griffin)

Human students at the school learn the basics of their future partners including safety procedures, managing health, the gear they will be using, general record keeping for the animals and the principles of behavioral conditioning.

Then they begin to work with the dogs, learning basic obedience commands, how to control the animals, procedures for patrolling and searching an area and how to keep a working dog in top form.
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A military working dog handler instructs his dog to detect explosives around vehicles at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Center, Lackland AFB, Texas. (Photo by Senior Airman Christopher Griffin)

“Military working dogs are a vital resource unmatched by any piece of equipment,” said Teresi, who has been in the Air Force for three years and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. “Sure, some day a machine may be able to smell a bomb, but it will never have a heart or the will to keep going.”

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