Canines and handlers learn tools for survival

By Jonathan Austin, Army News ServiceMay 29, 2024

Teams from numerous nations attended the third annual Military Working Dog Symposium May 11-17 at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in Michigan.
Teams from numerous nations attended the third annual Military Working Dog Symposium May 11-17 at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in Michigan.

(Photo Credit: Photo by Brandon Schadler)

ALPENA, Mich. — The Army’s third annual Military Working Dog Symposium at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in Michigan in mid-May focused heavily on wellness and education for senior leaders and canine teams who serve in uniform.

The symposium featured 43 vendors, 13 lecture-based briefs and 26 hands-on courses led by over 60 instructors from the military and civilian K9 industry. The symposium focused on modernization efforts, MWD critical tasks, scenario-based training and research and development project updates. Over 435 attendees participated, including MWD/K9 senior leaders, trainers, handlers from the DoD MWD Program, USASOC Multi-Purpose Canine Program, the Mine Detection Dog Program, law enforcement K9 officers, NATO partners and Partners for Peace.

Teams from the United States, Columbia, El Salvador, England, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Netherlands and Norway attended the symposium representing military working dog services.

Director of the Holland Working Dog Veterinary Hospital at Joint Base San Antonio, Army Col. Scott Chamberlin, said the symposium was a great opportunity to coordinate between different forces and different specialties, with veterinary services in a support role.

“We help enable these working dogs to be successful. We also enable the handlers,” he said.

“We’re here to support; to see how we can help them do it better.”

Instruction included how handlers can care for their dogs when they are injured, including K9 specific anatomy instruction. Handlers also learned about the proper use of NARCAN for their dogs in the event of exposure or overdose in an operational setting.

Handlers also learned how to use reinforcements to build K9 obedience through consistent training methodologies. They received instruction on the proper use of food rewards while learning proper body language and mechanics with food luring. A course on tactical K9 applications offered handler decision-making scenarios to identify strengths and weaknesses in their training and capabilities.

They also demonstrated how to properly employ a K9 and proven tactics required to be a more professional handler.

Handlers and their dogs gained direct experience in advanced rappelling to attain the knowledge required to take that skill back to teach at their home stations.

Nodding towards his K9 Levi, Dutch Sgt. Mark de Bruin said loading and rappelling was valuable instruction. “For him, the first time,” he said.

“We made a lot of contacts with … different members of the military from the U.S.,” de Bruin said.

“Our goal is to further educate our military working dog teams and make them the most professional handlers in the industry,” said Sgt. Maj. Viridiana Lavalle, the Army MWD program manager.

This type of event is uncommon, according to Lavalle.

Typically, conferences are lecture-based and do not foster open discussions. Here, handlers and trainers saw training concepts put into action. Learning from top tier instructors, they had the opportunity to watch how other handlers worked their K9s, which sparked conversations on best practices and training methods.

The symposium allowed handlers from all over the world to build relationships and foster interoperability across the forces, Lavalle said, and aimed to increase lethality, survivability, interoperability, readiness and modernization efforts, Lavalle said.