Military working dogs train with local law enforcement

Rudy, a military working dog, wears the badge of the 78th Security Forces. (U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp)

Rudy, a military working dog, wears the badge of the 78th Security Forces. (U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp)

SSgt. Christopher McCleskey sits with Rudy, a military working dog who also wears the badge of the 78th Security Forces.   (U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp)

SSgt. Christopher McCleskey sits with Rudy, a military working dog who also wears the badge of the 78th Security Forces. (U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp)

Officer Wayne Fisher, Warner Robins Police Department, fends off Ajax during a training exercise.  The local police trains their dogs with the Robins Air Force Base's military working dogs.  (U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp)

Officer Wayne Fisher, Warner Robins Police Department, fends off Ajax during a training exercise. The local police trains their dogs with the Robins Air Force Base's military working dogs. (U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- For many who visited the Robins lemon lot Dec. 20, their curiosity was aroused as members of both the 78th Security Forces Squadron and the Warner Robins Police Department joined forces to test the noses of their K-9 officers.

The training on the resale lot consisted of hiding different types of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines on the exteriors of the vehicles and then allowing the dogs to take turns attempting to sniff out the scent and locate the narcotics.
The joint training exercise is a great way to see the difference between training for K-9s in the civilian and military sectors, said Tech. Sgt. D.J. Ellison, kennel master for the 78th SFS.

"It is also a great way to develop a relationship with the community," Sergeant Ellison said. "If anything happens on base or is carried off base, we have a relationship and someone there to back you up."

Senior Airman Marcus Reaves, a handler with the 78th SFS and his K-9, Torca, were the first to try out the training course. Torca would circle the vehicles checking around the tires and underneath the gas tank covers. Torca was able to locate all four of the drugs hidden in the 10-car area, including a cigarette case filled with heroine on the windshield of a vehicle. As Torca located the heroine, he was rewarded with a Kong ball, which is a large plastic chew toy attached to a stick.

For the K-9s, the training may resemble a game, but the skills are invaluable when the dogs are called into action. Handlers from both law enforcement agencies said having the chance to train side-by-side with one another allows them and the K-9s to be better prepared in the line of duty.

"It can provide us with a wider array of opportunities to train in an environment such as a lot where we can limit access," said Wayne Fisher, officer with the Warner Robins PD.

The base officers benefit from the ability to test their narcotic dogs' noses against drugs actually confiscated on the streets surrounding the base by the Warner Robins PD. "We are using their stuff today so our dogs can get accustomed to what comes off the street," Sergeant Ellison said.

After spending their morning working on narcotic detection, the handlers and the dogs switched gears and spent their afternoon working at the 78th SFS Kennel, where the K-9s tested their skills on the confidence course and practiced their attack or bite skills.

"The confidence course builds the dogs ability to jump over obstacles, such as jumping through windows, and to be able to travel narrow crossings," said Staff Sgt. Chris McCleskey, handler with 78th SFS. "It helps them build confidence so if they come across it, they'll be ready."

The bite training teaches the dog to attack on command. If their handler instructs them, they will bite and hold a subject until called upon by their handler to release the subject.

"If you don't fight them, they are just going to hold you, but if you fight they are going to bite harder and harder until you stop fighting," Sergeant McCleskey said.

The groups attempt to train together several times each quarter to help broaden their dogs' abilities. Some of the other training the law enforcers partner on is working to identify explosives or narcotics in warehouse settings and other areas on base.

"Anywhere we can get into, we will do training in. We want to use the places the dog will actually be working in," Sergeant Ellison said.

The Warner Robins PD doesn't maintain explosives for training their K-9s, but on base the K-9s are able to interact with explosives while training with their military peers, Mr. Fisher said.

He added their weapons dogs are used for crime scene processing and their main objective is to be able to locate items that would be found in crime scenes, but having experience with explosives helps them be prepared for other situations where explosive detection might be necessary.

Another benefit for the off-base officers has been learning some of the military scouting or tracking techniques from Robins military working dogs and their handlers.

"We have integrated a lot of the scouting principles and other means of scent detection in crime scene or contaminated areas," Mr. Fisher said.

One of the benefits of the joint training effort between the civilian and non-civilian forces is they are exposed to new human scents when training for scouting or tracking instead of only be exposed to the same handlers they work with each day.

"It gives greater diversity for the dogs and the teams to work with," Mr. Fisher said.

Along with training with the Warner Robins PD, the military working dog unit also trains with the Gray Police Department, the Houston County Sheriff Department and many other law enforcement agencies throughout the year.