Joint Training Develops K-9, Handler Skills

February 14, 2018

For military working dogs and their handlers it is especially crucial for both to be able to work in any environment, any situation.

The 520th Military Working Dog Detachment seized the opportunity to work on urban combat tactics with the Honolulu Police Department K-9 unit Feb. 8 at the Combined Training Facility urban operations training site here.

“We have been working for a while to get joint training with HPD and their SWAT K-9 group as well as the [Transportation Security Agency] and special response teams,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. Coleman, the 520th MWD Detachment kennel master. “Being able to implement our dogs for [special response teams] if the situation arises, having that training prior to execution is essential.”

Incorporating the MWD and handler into a stack formation or SWAT formation when entering a building for search and seizure or apprehension is a tactic new to the detachment. This training will allow the integration of a MWD and handler into Schofield Barracks Police SWAT situations.

“If the dog is never exposed to it, he may or may not freak out or may or may not search,” Coleman said. “The best time to find that out is here during the training rather than down range. Our takeaways are knowing what our dogs’ weakness are when getting in the stack and building on that.”

Becoming a Better Team

Army Sgt. Molly M. Montoya, a military working dog handler with the 520th MWD Detachment, learned firsthand what the Honolulu police could bring to the training.

“HPD is super experienced with implementing a dog team into their stack and all their SWAT teams have dogs,” Montoya said. “They taught the Schofield Barracks SWAT Team and the canine handlers how to incorporate our dogs into their stack so we can become a more efficient team here for Schofield [Barracks] and Fort Shafter.”

The second portion of the training had the HPD handlers and K-9’s honing their explosives search skills within several multistory buildings without combat simulated noises like explosions and small arms fire. Simulated combat noise was added later to continue training tactical explosive detector dogs and their handlers in the types of situations they might find themselves in.

“You come in and whether you run the scenarios really well [or not], there are always something to take from it,” Montoya said. “My dog and I are an experienced canine team but there is always room for improvement.”

Coleman explained that training has to adapt just like the enemy does. To implement this, he tied a dog toy that the handlers are often seen with to a simulated explosive to see if the dog and handler would recognize the threat. In some cases, the dog went straight to the toy, setting off the simulated explosion.

“The takeaway from the tactical downrange side is what the handlers need to focus on, more so than just finding explosives,” Coleman said. “If they are not checking their doorways or constantly watching their dog and where it is at, the dog could set off the device, in which case both dog and hander could perish.”