CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - “The relationship between a military working dog and a military dog handler is about as close as a man and a dog can become. You see this loyalty, the devotion; unlike any other.” – Robert Crais, #1 New York Times–bestselling author
Ddunn, a patrol and explosive detector Dutch Shepherd, was born in Texas at Lackland Air Force Base where he was raised to serve and protect.
Ddunn and his handler, U.S. Army Spc. Richard D’ornellas, 100th Military Police Canine Detachment out of Stuttgart, Germany, work hard to ensure the safety of everyone inside the entry-point gate at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.
D’ornellas and Ddunn have been working together for nine months. In that time, life changed greatly for Ddunn.
This is 6-year-old Ddunn’s second deployment to Camp Bondsteel. Like on his last, his job on this tour is to search for explosives on the vehicles that come through the gate. But something is different from last time.
“Ddunn was a different type of dog on his last deployment to Kosovo,” said D’ornellas. “He wasn’t very friendly with people, very aggressive. This deployment, people (who guard the gate) remember him. And they've given me a ‘good job’ for making him nicer.”
With his past handlers, love wasn’t the focus in his training. Compulsion training didn’t work for him and it had made him afraid and hostile. According to Whole Dog Journal, “the primary tool for compulsion trainers is positive punishment (the dog’s behavior makes something bad happen, like a jerk on the leash), often followed by a treat, a pat, and or verbal praise to keep up the dog’s enthusiasm for the training process.” For some dogs this works, but not for Ddunn.
“I met Ddunn when he was at a different kennel,” said D’ornellas. “He wasn’t being touched. He wasn't being used. He was really aggressive. Nobody wanted to get inside his kennel.”
After hearing about Ddunn and his personality challenges, D’ornellas drove to the kennel that was two hours away. He was told ‘You can take this dog if he lets you in his kennel.’
“So I opened up his kennel and he showed his teeth,” explained D’ornellas. “And I just sat there and waited till he stopped, which took another couple hours. I was there all day waiting for him to just be normal. Did we get into a little rough spot a couple times? Yes. But it was definitely worth it and now he's the best dog I’ve ever had.”
When D’ornellas, a Tampa, Fla. native, joined the military in 2016, he had a few options for his job, or military occupational speciality (MOS). After thinking about military police or firefighter, D’ornellas chose Army military working dog handler (MOS 31K) because it meant he would be able to work with dogs and give them the love and care they deserve.
“My favorite thing about this job is definitely the dogs,” said D’ornellas. “I am a dog person, and understand, especially his case, he didn't have the best of handlers.”
With each passing day of the deployment together, Ddunn has the opportunity to feel more secure in his relationship with his handler, and in his own skills as a highly proficient explosives detector. On their days off, the two of them are constantly training.
“We train as we fight,” said D’ornellas. “So on the training lanes, we hide explosives exactly how someone would if they were trying to cause damage. We search roadways, warehouses, vehicles and open areas. Basically anywhere a dog can go.”
This training serves to enhance the initial training that military working dog handlers receive at their Advanced Individual Training (AIT).
“From the schoolhouse you only learn the basics,” said D’ornellas. “So you have to learn from the other handlers and basically become your own handler.”
By understanding what works best for him as a handler, D’ornellas was able to better understand how he wanted to train each dog he worked with. Through his last seven years in the Army, he has served with four dogs.
“When you get your new dog, you give them no commands, no nothing,” said D’ornellas. “You let them be a dog, just let them run around. You sit in the middle of the yard and wait until the dog comes to you. Just so he knows ‘hey, this person is always going to be there to take care of me and play with me.’”
Even when they are hard at work, Ddunn gets to see his deployment as an adventure.
“A lot of these dogs see what the job is, and it’s playtime for them,” explained D’ornellas. “They're looking for a reward, they're looking to play.”
Between getting to enjoy his job of ensuring the lives of the Soldiers around him are safe, and finally receiving the love that he needed, Ddunn has formed a bond with D’ornellas that will last far beyond Camp Bondsteel.
“When it came to loving him, it was brand new to him,” said D’ornellas. “But now he isn’t just being used for his job; he is wanted.”
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