Training Unleashed: Marine dog handler shares bond with canine
By Lance Cpl. Suzanna Knotts
| Marine Corps Base Hawaii | October 18, 2013
Marine Corps Base Hawaii --
Lance Cpl. Suzanna Knotts
Lance Cpl. Suzanna Lapi
military working dogs
Dogs are referred to as man’s best friend, and it isn’t any different for the military working dog and dog handler. Their bond is created through play and long hours of training, which builds a strong, trusting relationship for whatever mission they may find themselves a part of.
Mido, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois military working dog with Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s military working dog section, sat focused, waiting for commands from the Provost Marshal’s Office chief trainer Sgt. Joshua Sutherland, a native of Lexington, Ky. They conducted “bite work” at the dog training area behind PMO with Sgt. Daniel Pierce, Tuesday. Pierce wore a sleeve on his arm to protect it from the sharp bites of Mido.
“Bite work” builds on the protective nature of a dog. Through training, they teach the dog to bite properly and neutralize a dangerous situation, after given the command.
During training, Mido eagerly carried out every command he was given as he kept is eyes on the target. The dog handlers said Mido is the top working dog of his 13 comrades.
Mido relaxed at Sutherland’s side while the handler took a break and explained the journey of becoming a dog handler in the fleet.
“Dog handler training takes place at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas,” Sutherland said. “Marines conduct six weeks of patrol and detection training with the dogs. If a dog from the fleet needs more work, they go to Lackland and train with the Marines.”
Once Marines become dog handlers after leaving school, they are assigned to a working dog. Their main focus is to build a rapport with the dog before they train together.
“We spend time with the dog for a few weeks, sometimes play catch, but it’s really all about creating trust,” Sutherland said. “It’s important for the dog to know you and for you to know the dog.”
The handler and dog bond the way a family would at home with a new pet. This means feeding, playtime, walking and anything else that creates a relationship between man and dog.
Sutherland said the Marines are in charge of everything that concerns the dog they are assigned.
“From veterinary appointments to training, it’s up to the Marine to take care of them,” Sutherland said.
After rapport building, the handler and dog train together. They conduct bite work at least once a week and detection about three times a week.
“Detection is the bread and butter of the job because that’s what we do on patrol,” Sutherland said. “We set out explosive scent kits around base, like in a warehouse or buried next to a roadway for detection training. It’s all about working together and making the dogs and the handler mutually better.”
Sutherland has worked with eight dogs throughout his six years as a handler, but adopted the dog he was partnered with during his deployment to Iraq from 2008 to 2009 through an adoption program. He said she has medical issues, which began in Iraq and worsened upon their return. He was able to take her home after her retirement from her working dog career.
Sutherland said the best aspects of being a dog handler are the variety of his day-to-day activities and the opportunity to work with man’s best friend.
“It’s great getting to work with dogs every day,” Sutherland said. “No day is the same, and not many people get to do my job.”