Soldiers, canine partners work toward certification

Kelly Moore

Soldiers and their K-9 counterparts have been working toward certification during the past week at Fort Polk, La.

The teams are paired up and train together for certification before being deployed. The teams in training this week were performing duties including explosive detection, drug detection and apprehension. The trainers and their dogs work exclusively together so they know each other in a way that enables them to perform flawlessly in their execution of duties.

“The longer you are together (soldier and k-9) the stronger your bond becomes,” Spc. Christopher Hallisy said. “It’s like being married, the longer you are together, the more you learn about each other and you become a better team.”

The soldiers who were going through the certification process explained that they begin training with their dogs when the dogs are about 18 months old. The first few weeks are spent building a rapport with their dog.

“We spend time playing, washing and walking our dogs,” said Spc. Timothy Conley.

Soon after trust between the soldier and dog has been built, the pair begin training in earnest. The dogs are trained to detect bombs and drugs and to apprehend suspects at the order of their trainer.

Once, Hallisy’s dog became ill in Iraq, he said. Hallisy performed CPR on his partner until the dog could be removed to a hospital for rehabilitation before being returned back to duty.

Dogs and their trainers do not stay together for their entire career, said one soldier, who explained that the dogs are assigned to a unit, like a piece of equipment. When trainers are given orders to transfer to another unit or installation, they have to leave their dogs behind and start the training process over with another dog.

Hallisy had to leave his dog behind when he moved to another installation, but will take a piece of him where ever he goes: on Hallisy’s left hand is an interesting tattoo.

“I had him put his paw on an ink pad then to paper,” Hallisy explained. “Then I had it tattooed to my hand.”

Though the dogs are working dogs with missions that have saved countless lives, the relationship between dog and trainer is vitally important.

Spc. Katrina Kurz and Spike are one such team. She and Spike have been training together for a mere month, but with hard work and patience they were ready to get their certification.

“It is all about teamwork,” she said. “We work together. The hardest part of the job is learning to be a team. They don’t speak the same language as we do, so we have to learn what they are telling us.”

Spc. Rachelle Schmidt has been working with 3-month-old Amigo, a Belgian malinois. She said that in the beginning it was often frustrating because Amigo, nicknamed “Eeyore,” is slow and never gets into any hurry.

“I am a pretty-fast paced person, but Amigo just goes at his own pace, no matter what,” said Schmidt. “For me the most difficult part of the training has been to slow down and learn to read his body language.”

The dogs are trained on a reward system. During Tuesday’s event, each time the dog was successful, it was allowed to play with its Kong, a toy the dogs are allowed to play with only when they perform specific tasks.

The certification of the teams will take more than a week. The teams will have to locate bombs and  drugs and clear buildings of people who may be in danger, searching warehouses and luggage.

They will also perform in obedience training, including on and off leash and an obstacle course.

Throughout the training the teamwork between the dogs and their handlers will be graded to ensure the communication between both.

“This is a great job, we get paid to play with dogs all day,” said Schmidt.

Leesville Daily Leader