By Mr. Stephen Standifird (Leonard Wood)October 20, 2016
A new course at Fort Leonard Wood is teaching "old dogs" new tricks.
Fort Leonard Wood is host to the new, and first, Patrol Explosive Detection Dog--Enhanced Course, designed to enhance the capabilities of the military police patrol and explosive detection dogs.
It's not about teaching a new dog from scratch, according to Theodore McCall, project lead and PEDD-E instructor. This course is to enhance the already existing patrol explosive detector dog, which has been in the inventory quite a long time.
The dogs are being trained in this course to assume the role of what was previously done by a specialized search dog, said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Shepker, PEDD-E course chief, 14th Military Police Brigade.
The SSDs were primarily explosive detection dogs. However, the Army wanted to have a dual-purpose dog; one that can do the job of a military police dog as well as detect explosives.
The enhanced part of the course, Shepker said, is the ability to work off-leash, which will provide distance between potential explosives and the handler.
"We've developed and designed this program to teach the current dogs that we have in the inventory to work off-leash at a controlled distance. That's what this course is doing. It's creating that standoff distance for the handler and the rest of the unit while the dog is searching," Shepker said. "Keeping people safe is what the goal is."
"Specifically, what we do is we train (the handlers) to be able to control their dog at a distance," McCall added. "So, when they are searching for explosives, the handler themselves are not right on top of a potential explosive. We teach them to search roadways, search open areas and teach them to send the dogs to objects to do object searches."
The 60-day course's initial focus is teaching the dogs how to take direction off-leash.
"The first part of the course is really the capabilities of the dog, because we are teaching the dog a new thing," Shepker said. "The handlers are always an important piece of that, but really for the initial part of it, it's about the capabilities of the dog."
From there, the focus changes to how the handler copes with directing the dog for situational searches. The final week of the course brings all aspects together for the dog and handler to be evaluated.
The challenge of training her dog the off-leash capabilities was part of why Pfc. Whitnie Baldwin wanted to come to the course.
"We have a SSD that is at our kennels right now, and he does amazing off-leash," said Baldwin, who is assigned to the 95th MWD Detachment, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. "The work he does off-leash inspired me to want to do and progress with my dog that way."
Baldwin said her dog, Dodo, has been progressing well with the new training.
"From day one until now, you can definitely see the progression," she said. "He is getting off leash and going out long distances and is able to respond fairly well to the commands I am giving him."
Spc. Tierra Jenkins, 180th MWD Detachment, Fort Leonard Wood, said she jumped at the chance to attend the course with her dog, Kappa. For her, the course has benefitted her as a trainer and handler.
"For the first few weeks, (Kappa) was phenomenal," she said. "As the course went on, I figured out where his comfort level was with some things, how advanced he was, where he needed extra help. That's part of being a handler and trainer; you've got to see what your dog is good at and where his weaknesses are and constantly improve."
Baldwin predicts this course will expand, based on what other members of the military working dog community see in these first graduates.
"Once I get back to my kennels, they are going to see the progression my dog and I have both made," she said. "They are going to be more amped up about sending somebody else to go through this training. It's just going to expand from there as far as the program itself, because people are going to realize this course is just amazing."
"The real test is going to be when these dog teams go to the field and become operational," McCall said. "The field is going to be very happy with the product that is coming out. I think it's going to be a very sought-after asset when people start to see it work."
This first class of handlers and their dogs are scheduled to graduate Nov. 4.