News: Dogs play vital role in search missions
Story by Spc. Paul Holston
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Some dogs are known for being uncooperative, disobedient and naturally lazy. Other dogs are rambunctious, playful and energetic. However, here in Baghdad, Iraq, along with those many traits, canines have a hard-working role in finding explosive devices and human remains.
The Camp Victory K-9 military unit and civilian handlers are responsible for training these skilled canines in these specialties in order to contribute to the many military operations that require their assistance.
“Dogs have a more sensitive nose than humans do, so with their sense of smell a lot stronger than our own, they are able to sniff out and discover a lot more,” said Byron Snyder, from Milledgeville, Ga., a human remains detection handler.
Some specialized search dogs are used to detect substances such as drugs or explosives that might be carried on a person or placed in a specific area. Military and civilian handlers train them on a regular basis to assure that they are keeping their skills sharp.
“We try to do at least six hours of detection training a week, so it varies from day to day on how much training we do,” said Spc. Pamela Collen, from Angels Camp, Calif., a military police officer with the 163rd MP Detachment based out of Fort Campbell, Ky. “With dogs, almost any time you spend with them is training, such as walks that help with obedience and spending time with them that improves the bond.”
Collen trains with an explosive ordnance disposal dog named Astra, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois. She says dogs like Astra are important when it comes to contributing to the fight.
“Dogs like mine bring an important element to the battlefield, and so far nothing has been able to replace them,” Collen said. “Humans can’t smell out explosives the way dogs do, and until something else comes along that can successfully do what dogs do…dogs in the military will always have an important role in the fight.”
Cadaver dogs are another type of specialized search canines. They
are utilized in detecting the odor of decomposing human remains.
Catherine Schiltz, from Ashlyn, Miss., also a human remains detection handler, trains with a cadaver dog named Gabe, a 16-month-old Labrador retriever. She says that when handlers try to choose dogs for this job, they look for dogs that have a really high toy drive because wanting the toy is going to make them want to find things, as well as being easier to train because they want something.
“These dogs are very self-serving, as long as you reward them for the job that they do, they will do their very best in getting the job done,” she said.
Breeds such as German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and Belgian
Malinoises are breeds of choice for K-9 handlers based on how each dog will be specialized.
It can be quite rewarding when trainers teach their canines the skills
that hone their keen senses and provide accurate results.
“I think the most rewarding part of being a handler is being able to help protect soldiers,” said Collen.
The mission for specialized canines and their handlers can be as dangerous as it is rewarding.
Collen relayed a story from a previous deployment when danger hit very close to home. An explosives sniffing dog, Jock was killed by a house-borne improvised explosive device. His handler and an escort were also severely wounded.
“As sad as this was, Jock made the ultimate sacrifice and saved a squad from going into that house that day. It was tragic and amazing at the same time,” said Collen.
While these dogs in Iraq are rambunctious, playful, and energetic,
they are also skilled, hardworking, specialized and self-sacrificing.