FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — The Patrol Explosive Detection Dog - Enhanced Course, or PEDD-E as it is commonly called, is designed to expand the capabilities of the military police patrol and explosive detection dogs by giving them the ability to operate without being physically tethered to their handler.
“You don’t always know what to expect when you are going into an operational environment. The off-leash capability gives that team — which in turn gives the whole unit — the ability to have a safer stand-off distance,” said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Jordan, PEDD-E instructor. “When a dog is searching for explosives, it is on a leash, with probably nothing longer than a 30-foot line. That means if that dog finds an explosive, the furthest that handler can be away is only 30 feet.”
The PEDD-E course, part of the U.S. Army Military Police School’s Directorate of Training, Force Protection Division, is taught three times a year. Each class has space for 10 military working dog teams. A team is made up of a Soldier with the military occupational specialty of 31K — military working dog handler — and their MWD. After graduating from this course, the Soldiers have the additional skill identifier of Z6, meaning they are PEDD-E qualified.
In the past, the specialized search dogs, or SSDs, were primarily explosive detection dogs, according to Master Sgt. Floyd Bengtson, the PEDD-E course manager. The Army wanted a “dual-purpose dog that could do the job of a military police dog as well as detect explosives.”
Sgt. 1st Class Elisabeth Wienke has been an instructor for the course for about seven months. She said she worked “very hard” to reach her goal of instructing the PEDD-E course because as a former SSD handler, “I understand the importance of the Army having off-leash capable working dogs. Here, I have the opportunity to further the capabilities of these teams.”
Wienke said the 60-day course makes the already dual-purpose MWDs even more functional.
“We can take a MWD from any kennel and get them to work off a leash by following directional commands with a whistle, voice commands or hand and arm signals,” Wienke said. “It is impressive the product we can deliver in just 60 training days.”
For the first 10 days of the course, Bengtson said only the PEDD-E cadre handle the dogs, “to ensure they are good candidates for the course.”
The youngest dog they have trained was a 1-year-old, and the oldest was a 5-year-old, according to Bengtson. He said the instructors have not met a four-legged partner they couldn’t find a way to train because, “through experience we have encountered a lot of different types of dogs.”
That is something PEDD-E student Sgt. Veronica Mendez, from the 43rd Military Police Detachment at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, said she is experiencing in her class.
“All of our dogs are different. They learn differently. They react differently,” Mendez said. “These instructors have tailored the training to each individual dog. It is incredible.”
Mendez said her dog, Ket, can go on patrol and find people who are barricaded in a building, track a person through a wood line and detect explosives.
“Being able to communicate with him from several feet away is going to be a game-changer,” Mendez said.
Mendez and Ket have been a team for about two years. She said the PEDD-E course has challenged the duo, “like we have never challenged each other before – our patience, our stamina, our thought process. These dogs have to think. When I am holding the leash, I am doing all the thinking for Ket. In this class, we are still a team, but with the distance between us, we have to rely on each other a lot.”
Mendez said she feels like the training, “is for me just as much as it is Ket.”
“When we start a new task, you never know what they are going to do. The biggest thing is you can’t get frustrated with your dog. I have to remind myself this is our first time doing it,” Mendez added.
One of the most beneficial things Mendez said she is learning in the course is how to use indirect pressure.
“Indirect pressure is essentially giving the dog another command that they already know how to do well. So, if I tell him to go back or to the side and he doesn’t do it, I tell him to sit. Sit is a command he knows really well. Then I can re-direct him to do what I originally wanted. It gets their minds back in focus,” Mendez explained.
Jordan, who has been a PEDD-E instructor for about two years, said the course students like Mendez are taking now is superior to the PEDD-E class he graduated from in 2016.
“I graduated from the very first PEDD-E class. To see how this course has advanced since then is amazing,” Jordan said. “Now, we have a set program of instruction that has been molded with input from some of the best handlers in the profession. There are a few drills that we do that are similar, but that is about it. It is so different. This is the only course in the Army that teaches off-leash handling. Any unit that has one of these teams with them is lucky.”
When these PEDD-E certified teams go back to their units, they will need to keep practicing these skills to maintain them, according to Bengtson. He said this is where the train-the-trainer initiative becomes important.
“The train-the-trainer initiative allows head trainers and others in leadership roles to grasp the concept of continued training to maintain the skills learned here. They can hold the new graduates accountable and make sure they have the opportunity to train off leash,” Bengtson said.
He said having kennel leadership observe the beginning of the course is most beneficial because, “the first 20 training days are the most crucial. They can see the foundations of directionals and be able to build upon that once their new PEDD-E team is back at the kennel.”
Mendez said she was glad to see some kennel leadership from Alaska observing the first few days of her class.
“The train-the-trainer initiative here is phenomenal. I think it is important for our leaders to come out here and watch the training. I encourage them to ask questions and really understand these skills,” Mendez said. “We will be tested when we get back to our units. If our senior leaders understand the course then they will understand why we are operating the way we are.”
Mendez, Ket and the rest of her class are set to graduate July 21. The next PEDD-E course is scheduled to begin in August.