All bark, all bite

All bark, all bite

Cpl Paul Kelley, military working dog handler, Combat Center's Provost Marshal's Office, holds on to MWD Collie before setting him on a potential suspect during aggression training near K9 unit kennels, Jan. 22, 2014. Aggression is one of the skills that handlers focus on the military working dogs. Photo by Cpl D.J. Wu.

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (Jan. 24, 2014) - Military working dogs are trained to do many things. They can locate drugs and explosive components. They can be a part of search-and-rescue teams and react to save its handler's life.

Aggressive behavior is encouraged with military working dogs, but it is a very controlled aggression. Some dogs have the aggression built into them when they are born, some need a little more training for to have the confidence to pursue a suspect or go in for the takedown.

"It's all about building confidence," said SSgt Charles Hardesty, kennel master, Combat Center Provost Marshal's Office. "If the handlers are timid, the dogs are going to sense that and act the same way. We have to build their confidence and then reinforce it with positive feedback."

The aggression in a military working dog can be compared to the use of a ballistic vest for police officers. The likelihood of being shot on duty is relatively low, but it's always good to have a tool and not need it, vice the alternative.

"It's a tool that we like to have," Hardesty said. "Aggression and biting are skills we need the dogs to have even if we aren't going to use it."

Training the dogs' aggression is a gradual process. Handlers will work on specific drills and repeat them until the dogs can maintain that good habit.

Handlers and trainers utilize bite sleeves and suits to get the dog in an aggressive mindset. They move more aggressive dogs into advanced training, including vehicle extractions and hidden bite sleeves under civilian clothes.

"We like to take it step by step with aggression," said Daniel Andrzejewski, K9 trainer, Combat Center Provost Marshal's Office. "Training varies from dog to dog. We work them up with different biting wraps. We like to work off wraps too, because we don't want the dogs to become gear dependent."

Controlled aggression is crucial characteristic for K9 handlers to instill in their MWDs. It allows them to be effective in their jobs and safe when those skills are called into action.

Aggression is a true test of the working dog's obedience. Commands for aggressing and stopping need to be obeyed without hesitation. The handler and working dog need to have a strong relationship to be able to be aggressive when the time comes.

K9 training is continual throughout the MWD's career. From the time they get to the kennel as young as two years old until the day they retire, they work on the skills of their trade.

Marines.mil is the official website of the United States Marine Corps and is maintained by the Marine Corps' Division of Public Affairs.