Senior Airman Christopher Stitcher and MWD Sam pose for a photo at Maxwell Air Force Base, 14 Feb.Their mission is to protect base personnel by sniffing out explosives and narcotics, both at the gates and around base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman William Blankenship)
Q&A: Unknowns about MWD

by Senior Airman William Blankenship
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

4/11/2014 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala.  -- The 42nd Security Forces Squadron's military working dogs are seen daily around Maxwell Air Force Base.

Their mission is to protect base personnel by sniffing out explosives and narcotics, both at the gates and around base.

There are several aspects about four-legged military members that are not as commonly known. Staff Sgt. Adam Bearden, 42nd SFS MWD trainer, gives us a behind the scenes look into what it's like to bring dogs into the military environment.

Blankenship: What kinds of dogs do you use and why?

Bearden: Typically, we use Belgian Malinois or German shepherds. They have the appropriate work drive and desire to serve that works best for military working dogs.

Blankenship: I see many security forces personnel around, but only a handful of dogs. How is it determined who works with the dog?

Bearden: Well, the dog handlers go to another technical school to learn how to work as a dog-team. Dogs do not work with multiple handlers at one time. They form a bond with one handler, and that team is together full time.

Blankenship: Does the handler bring the dog home with him?

Bearden: No, the dog will stay in the kennels when not working with the handler. Brining a working dog into a home environment is not an ideal situation.

Blankenship: What happens to the dog when its handler leaves for another assignment?

There is a continuity book kept by every handler throughout the MWD's career. This book will be reviewed by the next handler to help moving forward.

Blankenship: Tell me about the new handler starting to work with the dog.

Bearden: It takes time to build that relationship between the dog and handler that makes everything work. The new handler will start off walking the dog and playing with him until that bond is made where they can start to train. The trainer will use the continuity book to see what has worked with the dog before and then annotate how everything works between them for the next person. Once the team is signed off on their core tasks, they can then start working around base and elsewhere as a unit.

Blankenship: I know that the dogs watch the gates and work to protect the base, but where else do the teams work?

Bearden: Teams deploy anywhere the Department of Defense wants them. We are assigned to any branch's unit, not just Air Force. That is how MWD handlers go through technical school anyway, so that is not uncommon. We also go on temporary duty for the secret service to make sure that whoever is being protected has dog support.

Blankenship: Tell me about the training the dogs go through.

Bearden: All MWDs, from all branches, are trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. They are with foster parents up until six months, or so, learning basic obedience. From that time on, they come to Lackland and start learning how to work for the DOD.

Blankenship: How long are the dogs in service and what happens to them after?

Bearden: The dog's career is really dependent on the dog. Some dogs can no longer serve properly after a few years, and some go until they are around 12 years old. If a dog gets injured or suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, then they can no longer perform the duties required. When a dog is set to retire, the current handler has the option to take him home. If the handler does not, the option to adopt goes to someone else in the kennels, base personnel with dog experience, or if that doesn't happen, it will return to Lackland to be used for training.

Blankenship: How safe is it for someone to adopt an MWD? How does that work?

Bearden: That is why it's important the dog goes to a home with an experienced handler. That person will work with the dog to integrate the animal into a safe home atmosphere. There is a relationship formed with the dog before it leaves the kennel to ensure the safety of everyone involved.