CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait -- Media depictions of working dogs, like the TV show "COPS" or in Hooah Army homepage photos, normally show dogs doing a bite suit demonstration or in extreme environments with goggles, helmets, fast roping or parachuting. Working dogs and their handlers are popularly seen searching for explosives in a combat zone, or for drugs in a stateside environment. In a less dramatic demonstration at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Feb. 16, , Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division, Army National Guard, learned about the equally important aspects of military working dog use: the legal and administrative guidelines governing searches in a garrison environment.
The 29th ID Judge Advocate General lawyers, paralegals, command officers and administrative noncommissioned officers were provided guidance on the policies and procedures for the Army Military Working Dog Program, including the assignment and functions of military working dog teams. In 2012, Military dog handlers attained their own military occupational specialty-- not a subset of the military police field -- and have one of the longer training programs for Soldiers graduating basic training: 17 weeks.
The demonstration covered the legal implications of ordering a military working dog inspection, using search results in court, or challenging results as a member of a legal defense team. Staff Sgt. Brian Koester, a 17 year Army veteran from Fort Gordon, Ga., was a member of the U.S. Army Central team leading the briefing.
"I have yet to meet a handler go to trial," said Koester. "They (the accused) always plead out because they can't beat the dog. Dog noses are 1,000 times more sensitive than ours. You go to Burger King and you smell burgers. They smell everything separately -- ketchup, mustard, bun," he added.
Three trials involving searches conducted by dogs have gone to the Supreme Court since 2012 on fourth amendment grounds. Cases hinged on arguments about the reliability of sniff test results by a detection dogs trained to identify narcotics, how to validate the reliability of a dog's training for detection, and what constitutes probable cause for searches of homes and vehicles.
One of the key cases discussed during the briefing was Florida v. Jardines: can a dog sniffing outside a residence without a warrant be legally considered a search? According to civil liberties reporter and 2011 Journalist of the Year, Radley Balko, "police could well begin using drug dogs to conduct mass 'sniff sweeps' of apartment complexes, public housing, and other densely populated areas." The JAG Soldiers and other observers were primarily interested in the use of dogs for "health and welfare" inspections.
Per Army Regulations, commanders are legally empowered to conduct "an examination of property, facilities, or equipment by narcotic detection dogs … to ensure the area is free of unlawful weapons or other contraband."
For units wishing to use dogs for barracks inspections, the company commander and first sergeant must first attend a health and welfare brief. The briefing is four pages long and must be read verbatim to both leaders.
"We like zero personnel in the barracks during a search," said Koester. "Otherwise they're contaminating the scene. As far as health and welfare inspections, nothing surprises me anymore. We've had Soldiers hiding boyfriends, girlfriends, drugs, weapons."
Attorneys from the 29th ID quickly came up with hypothetical situations to test the handlers, such as: "Someone with drugs in their pocket is sitting in a chair, gets up and walks away. Will the chair read positive? What about someone else who sits in the chair?"
"Dogs don't hit on residue. They may show a lot of interest, but are not trained to respond to it," said Koester. "We would recommend having an investigative team sent to the area."
When asked, "How do dogs deal with food smells like beef jerky?" Koester responded, "We train it out of them. We encourage them to move along if they're interested in a smell, but not providing a trained response. The dogs are trained to work through distractions like noises and smells."
Dogs were initially used in World War II to locate enemy soldiers. When not searching for explosives on the battlefield, dogs are used in health and welfare inspections to locate contraband and as a psychological deterrent aiding good order and discipline in the barracks.
Strict rules govern what is admissible and how searches are conducted. For example, the search must be command-driven and cannot be used as a substitute for a lawful search based on probable cause. Each Soldier and their space must be searched equally. Individual Soldiers cannot be targeted for a more thorough search, and if the stated intent of the search is to find illegal handguns, then packages too small to contain weapons cannot be included in the search.
Where some issues can be argued by "barracks lawyers" - young, junior enlisted Soldiers who know the intricacies of the law and time-tested ways to beat the Army - dogs are considered objective proof. Searches by dogs are used to enforce the zero tolerance policy on drugs and prohibited materials covered under General Order No. 1.
When it comes to military working dogs, who have a 90 percent or higher accuracy rate, a Soldier's best bet is relying on the dogs rather than that an un-credentialed barracks lawyer.
"Hiding in a coffee can or masking the smell with gasoline won't work. Detection is our bread and butter whether narcotics or explosives, here or at home," Said Koester.
Because of their accuracy, only military working dog teams are used to supplement the Secret Service in conducting security sweeps for current and former presidents and vice-presidents. Koester and his team have conducted several.
Most Army military working dogs come from European breeders. When reviewing potential working dogs, 500-1,000 dogs are tested, with the Army purchasing no more than 20 percent. All dogs receive identification and a tattoo (or "dog tagged") with one letter and number by the ear, and trained at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Potential dog handlers, no matter what branch, train for 11 weeks with their dogs in addition to military police techniques and regulations. The human-canine teams cover six weeks of patrol training and five weeks for detection, but that is only the beginning. Dogs, like their human trainees, can wash out of training if they fail to get with the program.
"Not every dog can do this job," said Koester. "They're just like people. They've got their own personalities. Dogs require four hours of patrol and detection training per week."
"As handlers and trainers, you're constantly training them. Dogs are evaluated throughout the month against an Army checklist of five narcotics and 10-11 explosives. The results are logged into the military working dog system that calculates a dog's percentage for us … the dog's success rate … Per regulation, must maintain a 90 percent rate for narcotics and 95 percent for explosives," he added.
False responses do adjust a dog's detection percentage downward, so trainers, like NCOs with their Soldiers, are quick to identify and work on areas where a dog is weakest to bring their scores up to standard.
Unlike Soldiers, military working get to go out for play with their handlers every day to maintain the bond and fend off boredom. Training is often conducted like a game, with dogs rewarded with a play toy when successful, or an easy find if the search has been too frustrating and unsuccessful for too long.
The dogs are also highly competitive "alphas" and play only with their trainers and not each other.
Military working dogs are trained to give a passive response when they make a detection -- for example sitting when finding a hidden bomb -- in case the object or area is booby trapped. This is similar to the inconspicuous code word used by human inspectors working a vehicle search at a base entry check point.
A positive response by a military working dog does not mean an automatic on-the-spot conviction. Every Soldier will have their case individually and thoroughly investigated. They are presumed innocent and have the right to due process. Their paperwork will be handled by the paralegals of the 29th ID and, if necessary, a division attorney.
"The training was very valuable," said Staff Sgt. Darnell Hardy, a paralegal with the 29th ID. "It really supports good order and discipline to have this resource at our disposal. It's a good deterrent. We were also able to prep the military dog handlers to train them to be better expert witnesses at trial … respond to questions and keep their composure on the stand."