MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Dogs have long been recognized as “force multipliers” by military fighting forces around the world. The use of dogs in the military dates back to the Romans, when canines were equipped with razor-sharp collars around their necks and sent into the enemy's ranks to bite and cut enemies.
The U.S. military has used working dogs since the Revolutionary War, initially as pack animals. Later, they were used for killing rats in the trenches during World War I. In World War II, man’s best friend saw their biggest support role in military operations, yet. The U.S. military deployed more than 10,000 specially trained canines as sentries, scouts, messengers and even mine detectors.
Today, military working dogs have taken a more natural role beside their handlers – following their noses. With an acute sense of smell, five to 10 times stronger than humans’, MWDs like the ones found on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, are able to detect minute traces of explosives or drugs and alert their handlers of their presence.
Sgt. Joshua Mullins, chief Military Working Dog trainer with the Provost Marshal’s Office kennels, said the dogs also do health and comforts in barracks, vehicle searches and are often tasked out by the United States Secret Service for detection missions.
“(Having a military working dog) is a whole lot easier,” said Mullins. “I supported a bomb threat at the commissary here on base two years ago. Someone called in and said there’s a bomb. We went in and found nothing.”
Mullins said that instead of having an explosive ordnance disposal team go into the situation, wearing full bomb suits or using robots, the dogs can pinpoint the explosives through smell.
An EOD team, however, would have to find something out of place. For example, if the bomb were to be in a box of cereal on aisle four, EOD would have a very hard time finding it whereas a trained dog would not.
Mullins said the dog would then change its behavior and respond to the smell of bomb substances or even narcotics and let the handler know. He added that trainers keep up with the proficiency of the dogs and monitor explosive, aggression and narcotics training with the different teams.
Dog handlers, however, train with the dogs to execute these skills, support road missions or any tasks that come down from the Secret Service and local law enforcement.
Marine Corps Civilian Law Enforcement Officer, Lt. John Salvetti, the kennel master with PMO, said MWDs also help support missions with other agencies. During election season in 2012, the dogs will be used when candidates use large venues during their campaigns.
“Once they identify a republican candidate, then that person will get Secret Service support,” said Salvetti. “We’re looking at a really productive year for our explosive detector dogs to be able to support the elections and campaigns.”
Salvetti said the larger events are great opportunities for their dogs to hone their skills, which include patrolling, controllable levels of aggression, psychological deterrents, searching buildings and apprehending non-compliant or fleeing suspects.
The handlers and their animal’s abilities also bring another factor into conducting successful operations.
To control these actions, handlers learn to use three distinct voices to communicate with their dogs: the praise, command and correction voices.
The command voice, the most common of the three, is a mid tone and is the closest to the handler’s natural voice which lets the dog know that 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 in its near future. This is a relatively high pitched, friendly tone that can be somewhat embarrassing to use when dog handlers first begin to use it in training.
The correction voice does just that. It lets the dog know that is has done something wrong or it needs to “correct” itself.
In any team, whether animals are included or not, communication and teamwork is key to maintain high team morale and safety to complete the mission.
“When we go out on missions, we still do work hand-in-hand with EOD teams,” said Salvetti. “We’ll sweep through first with our dogs, and then they go through. It’s a necessary redundancy for the success of the mission.”
Salvetti added that the PMO kennels are also having a new office under construction for them, which is slated to be complete before March 2012, aboard the base.