Military Working Dog Handlers Collaborate with the University of Arizona Feb. 16, 2024

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE- Ariz. --Three U.S. military working dogs demonstrated their skill sets for the Canine Cognition Center, a veterinarian research group affiliated with the University of Arizona, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on Feb. 7, 2024. 

MWD handlers shared knowledge and experiences with the research group to showcase their handling capabilities. 

Three particular exercises demonstrated the dogs’ skill sets and capabilities in unexplored terrain.

“When deployed in ‘outside the wire’ missions, our job is to have the dog out in front of us and in front of a squad behind us,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Duggan, 355th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler. “The dog is searching for dangerous scenarios.”

As the leading MWD navigates the terrain, the handler’s detect potential behavioral changes. If such a change occurs, a vulnerability has been found in their proximity. Different MWD are trained in unique capabilities such as drug or bomb detection. 

MWDs learn at a young age to seek specific smells and react to them accordingly. Their handlers use techniques such as sorting different odors into boxes for young dogs to smell. 

“The MWDs encounter an odor that they are trained to find, and then show what’s called a ‘change of behavior,’" said Duggan. “We then show that we have seen this behavioral change, and then we let the dog in training go into a final response.”

MWDs and their handlers remain paired during their deployments, like U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Dillon Johnson, a 355th SFS MWD handler, when he was deployed to Africa. There Johnson conducted route clearances, sweep exercises, and patrol work with his MWD.

During patrol work, handlers could act as ‘decoys’ and hide out in fields before open area searches were prompted. MWDs are trained to pursue aggressors or ‘decoys’ as certain commands are issued to them by their handlers.

“I did an ‘outside the wire’ mission, and I was able to clear a route for the convoy that I was with,” said Johnson. “It was awesome watching my dog work, picking up all the scents, and making sure that we were able to be safe.”

Through deployed experiences and deliberate training, the Canine Cognition Center learned and watched a demonstration of the MWD's approach to attack an aggressor under the handler’s command. The following demonstration showcased the dog’s ability to bite onto a slippery object with its full mouth, and the handler’s ability to respond to its performance. 

After the handlers and their dogs completed the exercises, the handlers held a question and answer session with the Canine Cognition Center representatives. Both parties built relationships and attained a better understanding of how research, training, and handling of dogs is conducted at Davis-Monthan.