PUYALLUP, Wash. - Dogs, dogs and more dogs were lined up in rows at the Puyallup Fair’s animal barn. This was no kennel; rather these dogs were on display and on their best behavior as crowds of people came to see them.
The military canine was one of the highlights on Sept. 7, the opening day of the Western Washington Fair located in Puyallup, Wash.
Susan Gesting of the Puyallup Valley Dog Fanciers invited the 51st Military Police Detachment from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to participate in the event.
Three soldiers and their four-legged partners, assigned to 51st MP Detachment, 504th MP Battalion, 42nd MP Brigade, along with other agencies, entertained the public by demonstrating training as a working dog team.
As an Army K-9 custom, the military working dog is always one rank higher than his assigned partner.
Staff Sgt. Gizmo, a German shepherd, his handler, Sgt. Todd Neveu, and a simulated aggressor, Staff Sgt. Cartrell Fleming, also a dog handler, showed the crowd a controlled aggression exercise.
The exercise began as Neveu searched Fleming while Gizmo remained vigilant yet stationary until Fleming attempted to escape and became hostile against Neveu.
Gizmo bit Fleming, who was wearing an arm protector, and held his bite until commanded to release by Neveu, demonstrating the dog’s disciplined ferocity.
“The goal was to put a face with the military K-9 program and working dog teams here,” Neveu said. “Puyallup wants to showcase the local dog handlers and we are apart of that, showing what our dogs can do.”
More than 22 booths filled the barn, which ranged from rescue groups and prison pet partnership programs to guides dogs for the blind and more.
“We want to showcase and educate the public, show them that dogs are not just family pets,” Gesting said. “Many public agencies need dogs to support them.”
Usually a chew toy or ball is saved for the dog for positive reinforcement, except when exercising aggression for patrol and protection.
“They see biting as a game and the bite itself is a reward,” said Staff Sgt. David Heinzig, handler of Sgt. 1st Class Unox, a Belgium Malinois.
Soldiers from the detachment brought two different breeds of patrol detection dogs that are trained to find either explosives or narcotics, and one breed trained specifically to detect explosives.
Also showcasing their team talents were Sgt. 1st Class Cummings, a yellow Labrador “bomb dog” and his handler, Fleming.
Cummings is trained to locate explosives off his leash at a further distance than other dogs. He is able to follow directions from his handler as long as he is within sight and sound of him.
“This is the best protection for the handler in a deployed environment,” Fleming said.
Despite the close bonds that develop after many hours of training and working together, military working dogs are not pets.
Obedience training for military working dogs is not considerably different from their civilian colleagues for personal pets, except that it never stops.
“They are trained to remain alert and can be dangerous,” Heinzig said. “Their whole goal in life is to make their handlers happy.”
An audience member at the show asked about the process of adopting military working dogs. Fleming responded to their question by paraphrasing the Congressional Bill HR-5314.
“In the past, military working dogs were forbidden for adoption because of the possible danger they pose to the public,” Fleming said. “Now, retired military working dogs can be adopted by their former handlers, or any individual, who has comparable experience or by law enforcement agencies with a hold harmless agreement signed by the new guardian.”
After the three soldiers completed the demonstrations and answered questions from the crowd, they showed interest in what other dog handlers had to say, while their dogs seemed more interested in the fragrant smells of fair food.