MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Man’s best friend, the domesticated dog, has been recorded as an obedient, loyal companion for thousands of years. Standing in testimony to this historic relationship between man and canine are three Marine Corps civilian law enforcement officers who are also military working dog handlers.
Officers Richard Loveless, Clayton Albright and Richard Tallman all graduated with honors from the Military Working Dog Handler’s Course with the 341st Training Squadron aboard Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio.
“The course is 11 and a half weeks, divided into two blocks,” said Tallman. “The first block is aggression, a basic obedience course and learning the basics of working with a dog. Block two is detection.”
All dog handlers are trained in the basics of how to build a working relationship with their dog.
“We don’t consider ourselves individual officers, we consider ourselves a team,” said Loveless. “Without (the dog), I can’t complete our mission and he can’t do it without me, so we have to work together.”
Personnel in the field agree that the biggest part of their job is building a high level of rapport, communication and teamwork.
These officers work hand-in-hand with their kennel masters and trainers, who have a vital managerial task. This includes matching the handlers up with dogs. With their experience and leadership, they are able to match dogs and handlers based on their behavior.
Loveless said like humans, dogs have their own personalities and if matched up properly the better the team becomes.
Dogs have abilities that can prove to be extremely beneficial assets to the officers. These abilities include detecting bombs, drugs or, in special cases, both.
All of the animals, however, are proficient at patrolling and are used for their controllable levels of aggression, psychological deterrents, searching buildings and apprehending non-compliant or fleeing suspects.
“It’s a psychological deterrent,” said Tallman. “All (suspects) have to do is just see the dog.”
“I think most people are more afraid of a dog than they are of a person,” said Tallman. “If you encounter someone while clearing a building they’re thinking ‘I’ll take my chances’ or ‘I can probably outrun this guy’ but they hear that dog barking, and they know that they can’t outrun the dog.”
Tallman added if a suspect does run and the officers release the dog, there is going to be a moment when it is just the suspect and the dog. The handler will be out of distance to give commands.
What dog handlers teach their dogs is a game to the animals, and in that short amount of time the handlers are not with the dog, it will just have “fun” with the suspect until its handler arrives to regain control.
Dog handling work has its difficulties as well. There is more to it than just feeding and walking the dog in the park or using it to fetch bad guys.
“Some days you just don’t want to go to work and you just don’t feel like working for whatever reason,” said Tallman. “The dogs have days like that too. If that rapport is strong enough, you can kind of tell.”
This can sometimes be frustrating when their furry partners behave like typical dogs, especially when there is a mission at hand.
To change these actions, handlers learn to use three distinct voices to communicate with their dogs: the praise, the command and the correction voice.
The command voice, the most common of the three, is a mid tone and is the closest to the handler’s natural voice. It lets the dog know the handler wants it to complete an action such as heel or escort.
The praise voice is used to let the dog know it’s doing something good and that a treat may be coming. This is a relatively high pitched, friendly tone that can be embarrassing to use when dog handlers first begin to use it in training, said Loveless.
The correction voice does just that. It lets the dog know that is has done something wrong or it needs to correct itself.
Military working dog handlers, whether in the military or civilian law enforcement, understand themselves to be police officers, but with added responsibility. Officers like Loveless, Tallman and Albright have taken enthusiasm in their field and pushed the envelope further, excelling ahead of their peers.
For Albright, making the decisions he needed to be one of the top graduates from the MWDHC in Lackland Air Force Base was simple.
“I was really excited to work with the dogs and I’ve wanted to do it for a long time,” said Albright. “Working with them is different from working with just officers. You have to learn what the dog needs you to do and reward it for the task you want it to do.”
Essentially, communication and teamwork is key to maintain high team morale, the safety of both the dog and the officer and to complete the mission.
“(The goal is) supporting garrison law enforcement, canine specific, for the base,” said John Salvetti, kennel master with the Provost Marshal’s Office kennel, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. “(Loveless, Tallman and Albright’s) maturity level and their character is just wonderful. It brings in a lot of variety to the table. Not only do the younger Marines have their (non-commissioned officers) to mentor them, they have these guys too.”