Drool comes with the job

By Denise CaskeyApril 2, 2024

Drool comes with the job
Cpl. Camron Allen and his K9 partner, MWD Sasu, pose for a photo following a run through a training obstacle course. Allen and Sasu, whose specialty is explosives detection, are one of 23 military work dog teams with the 947th MWD Detachment, 289th Military Police Company, 4th Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). (Photo Credit: Jason Goselin) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, VA. - Imagine going to work every day and your partner is so excited to see you, he’s literally jumping for joy… And maybe slobbering a little.

That’s the life of Cpl. Camron Allen and 22 other military working dog handlers with the 947th MWD Detachment, 289th Military Police Company, 4th Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).

When Allen joined the military in April 2019, he said he was supposed to be a computer technician.

“Something happened during the MEPs process. My recruiter called me and said, ‘Hey, do you like dogs?’,” Allen said. “That’s how I became a (military working dog handler).”

To work as an MWD handler, Allen took the Military Working Dog Handler Course at Joint Base San Antonio/Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

He met his partner, 3-year-old Belgian Malinois MWD Sasu, when he joined the 947th in Sept. 2023.

Working with Sasu

Having a dog for a partner can be challenging because dogs have minds and feelings of their own, Allen said. Working with a dog takes patience, hard work, dedication and sacrifice.

“You have to be willing to sacrifice your weekends because building a rapport with your dog is the most important thing,” he said. “If you don’t have a rapport with your dog, you’re not going to be an effective team. Some days he doesn’t want to work, and I have to find ways to encourage him to do his job and keep him interested.”

Drool comes with the job
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Military working dog Sasu exits an obstacle course tunnel Feb. 21 at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall kennels. (Photo Credit: Jason Goselin) VIEW ORIGINAL
Drool comes with the job
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Cpl. Camron Allen runs his military working dog partner, MWD Sasu, through an obstacle course Feb. 21 at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall kennels. (Photo Credit: Jason Goselin) VIEW ORIGINAL

Allen and Sasu are a patrol explosives detection team. A typical training day for them consists of basic obedience, patrol and detection work.

“Sasu is still a baby. There’s a lot of things he doesn’t know,” Allen said. “As the experienced handler, I have to show him what to do.”

Explosives detection work requires Allen and Sasu to be tuned into each other. Allen communicates with Sasu using hand gestures and voice and tone inflection. He watches Sasu’s behavior for changes that may indicate an interest in a particular area.

“If I take a wrong step in an area my partner hasn’t searched, I could potentially be placing myself and others in life-threatening danger,” Allen said. “I can’t turn on the lights in a training or real-world problem. I can’t move items as it is possible that there could potentially be an explosive device in the area.”

Allen, who grew up with pets – two pit bulls, Sassy and Choc, and a cat named Cookie – in Gainesville, Florida, said working with Sasu is the best part of his job.

“I get to work with a dog,” Allen said. “I get to build a bond with the dog. Sometimes you don’t want to talk to the person to the left or right of you. I can talk to that dog, and I don’t have to worry about the dog saying anything.”

Drool comes with the job
Cpl. Camron Allen prepares his military working dog partner, MWD Sasu, to run an obstacle course Feb. 21 at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall kennels. (Photo Credit: Denise Caskey) VIEW ORIGINAL

Allen said as he’s learning and growing in his position, he looks to Specialist Isaac Reimer for inspiration.

“There is a bond and level of trust between him and his MWD,” Allen said. “I want to learn to build and strengthen the bond I have with Sasu to that extent or to surpass it. The training techniques that he has learned throughout his time as a handler are good tools that I can utilize.”

The Military Working Dog

The working dogs of the U.S. Army are primarily Belgian Malinois and German and Dutch Shepherds. These are strong, intelligent and energetic breeds that can complete tasks with little assistance from their handlers.

Drool comes with the job
Military working dog Sasu, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, chews on a Kong toy after running through an obstacle course Feb. 21 at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall kennels. (Photo Credit: Jason Goselin) VIEW ORIGINAL

A good working dog is obedient, able to avoid distractions and focus on required tasks, said Staff Sgt. Kara Yost, Kennel Master for the 947th. They have a strong prey/reward drive, meaning they’ll be enthusiastic about completing a task so they can receive the reward at the end.

MWDs are loyal and will protect their handler from harm, but they must also be able to tell the difference between a threat and a casual encounter.

“We prefer that MWDs don’t frequently bite without cause or command,” Yost said. “The reality is that while our MWDs are trained to attack if needed they have multiple other abilities. Patrol trained MWDs can search open areas, woods, or buildings for a missing person, and some are trained to track a specific scent and work through other human odors.”

PCSing and the MWD

Until recently working as a MWD handler meant leaving the dog behind and trying to build a bond with a new dog every time the handler changed duty stations. However, the U.S. Army is working on a pilot program in which the working dog can PCS with its handler.

Use of the program is done at the unit commander’s discretion, Yost said, and TOG leadership fully supports the program.

“Dogs for Life is an initiative from the U.S. Army to build stronger, more resilient, and more reliable MWD teams,” Yost said. “It also assists in retention rates for Soldiers who want to take their MWDs to their next duty location.”

Allen said when the time comes for him to change duty stations, he hopes he will be able to take Sasu with him.

Drool comes with the job
Cpl. Camron Allen and his military working dog partner, MWD Sasu, pose after running an obstacle course Feb. 21 at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall kennels. Allen and Sasu are one of 23 dog and handler teams at JBM-HH. They specialize in explosives detection. (Photo Credit: Jason Goselin) VIEW ORIGINAL

Coordination between kennel masters helps ensure that the new duty station can utilize the incoming team and the program masters work together to ensure a smooth transition, Yost said.

They look at the age of the dog and the quality of the teams, Yost said. Teams with younger dogs are more likely to PCS together than teams with older dogs because they still have several years of service remaining before they’re ready to retire.

Allen said he was planning on leaving the Army after his time at JBM-HH, but he has since had a change of heart.

“We have new Soldiers here and they are ready to learn,” Allen said. “It makes me feel good and it makes me want to put in my work, my effort, to mold this program to become something better. You can’t gauge your Army experience off your first duty station. Every day is not a good day, but as long as you come in with a mindset that is open and eager to learn and put a little time in, everything will work out.”

For more joint base news, visit: army.mil/jbmhhnews