DOGANBEY, Turkey -- Military working dogs fit snuggly into the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Marine Air Ground Task Force. The MEU utilizes the flexibility in its structure to respond to any crises or event across the range of military operations. The working dogs with the MEU meet these expectations.
Military working dog handlers and their partners, Lex, a combat tracking dog, and Endy, a patrol/explosive detector dog, conducted bite and tracking demonstrations for Turkish Marines and sailors at Doganbey, Turkey, during Exercise Egemen 2015, Oct. 26.
The demonstration was one of several training events taking place during Egemen, a bilateral training exercise designed to strengthen the ties of countries committed to the security of the region.
“We conducted a ‘five phases’ exercise,” said Sgt. Davis, a military working dog handler with the 26th MEU.
Endy and Davis conducted this portion of the training.
The five phases show the escalation of force utilizing a working dog’s different means of apprehending, capturing and detaining aggressive suspects.
“The first phase is an introduction where a suspicious individual is questioned,” said Davis. “For training purposes, the individual is non-compliant or demonstrates overly suspicious behavior.”
An individual acting in this way, who signals a need for restraint or apprehension toward the handler, is the baseline for the phases that follow.
“You inform the suspect that they’re in an unauthorized area,” said Davis. “When they refuse or attempt to flee, you give the dog the command to capture the individual.”
This phase is colloquially called the “bite phase” since this part of the demonstration involves a working dog attacking a trained role-player donning a bite-resistant jacket.
“After the suspect is caught, you conduct a search and notify the suspect that the dog is trained to attack, with or without command, if he notices any sudden or aggressive movements,” said Davis.
The role-player attempted to flee during this phase, affording Endy an opportunity to execute a re-bite without being given any commands.
“After that, we did an escort of the suspect,” said Davis. “The working dogs are capable of escorting an individual to a control point or vehicle. Endy is actually capable of escorting without a handler and is trained to react if the detainee does anything unusual.”
The final part of the five phase demonstration is a stand-off.
“If a suspect is running and the dog is set on him, but the suspect decides to give up, the dog is trained to cease pursuit without causing any harm upon command,” said Davis. “We don’t want to harm anyone that complies with us.”
The ability to prevent the unnecessary wounding of a suspect is a unique aspect of using a working dog.
“Unlike a bullet, a dog can stop on command and cease before causing irreversible damage,” said Davis.
The five phase demonstration was followed by combat tracking practice with Lex and Cpl. Josue E. Robles, a military working dog handler with the MEU.
“During the training, a designated person drops an article of clothing or leaves a footprint called a ‘spore’ and the dog is introduced to that scent and set to track that individual,” said Robles.
The article in this scenario was a Marine utility uniform hat.
Weather, terrain, crossing of scents given off by other people and animals and wind strength all factor into a dog’s challenge in tracking down the source of a scent.
“Despite high winds, the Turkish observers and Lex’s exposure to new terrain, he was able to successfully track his target,” said Robles.
Lex was rewarded with a tennis ball after he tracked down a Marine role-playing the pursued suspect.
“They get restless being in the kennels on ship, so the opportunity to run around and get exercise is rewarding to them,” said Robles. “We can’t offer them enough room for proper exercise on ship due to the flooring that’s used, because it is too rough on the pads of their paws for them to run.”
The ship has non-skid flooring to prevent equipment and objects from sliding during transit.
“This allowed us to not only show the capabilities of the dogs to the Turkish Marines and sailors, but gave us an opportunity to exercise the dogs and keep them sharp for missions they may have to conduct,” said Robles.
The phase and tracking capabilities are usable in several operations ranging from detainee handling to the tactical recovery of aircraft personnel.
“We can utilize the dogs in contingency or joint-force operations and the Turkish saw a few of these abilities during this demonstration,” said Robles. “It enabled them to think about how the dogs can be a great asset, and they asked good questions about them and their training, and what they could do beyond just biting or tracking, including patrols and bomb detection.”
The versatility of the working dogs is due in part to training, the dog and handler relationship and their elevated senses.
“The dogs will react to subtle changes they can pick up on that we can’t,” said Davis. “A dog can smell explosives without risking the lives of Marines or sailors who may have to get dangerously close before identifying an improvised explosive device.”
The dogs perform defensive operations as well as offensive operations such as apprehension and escorting functions.
“The dogs helped capture the interest of the Turkish while we were out there,” said Robles. “They’re always a good ice-breaker in almost any situation, because most people in general love dogs.”
After the demonstration concluded, the dogs were given time to play with toys and rest, building the strength of the dog-handler relationship.
“It wasn’t just training,” said Robles. “It was an opportunity for [Lex] to get attention, he got to sleep next to me when we stayed out overnight and he got to stop being a working dog for a little bit and just be a dog, running around, playing and enjoying the outdoors.”
The dogs showed a positive response to the day, taking some time to chew on their toys and urging petting and attention from their handlers.
“I think if Lex could speak he would’ve been expressing how excited and happy he was to get off the ship, stretch his legs and be happy in Turkey which is both beautiful and scenic.”