QATAR, July 21, 2020 —
It’s a hot summer day at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar when Military Working Dog (MWD) AAslan prepares to search another vehicle coming onto the installation. U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Angel Flores, 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron MWD handler, leads him around the burning asphalt, his wet nose sniffing hard for contraband. They have a unique trust in each other, built over extensive time spent together.
It’s no secret that MWDs and their handlers share a strong bond. Through this bond, countless hours of effort, training and patience have been sacrificed to become an effective team.
“We want the dog to be comfortable with us, so we spend a lot of time with them to help build that rapport,” says Flores. “You want to get them used to being around you, so you’re trying to make it fun, which makes them more willing to work for you and over time that bond will form.”
Despite this bond, MWDs ideally won’t stay with the same handler for more than two years says U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kenan Kulasevic, 379th ESFS MWD trainer.
“Switching handlers is beneficial for the MWD and the handler,” Kulasevic says. “This way they are able to understand how to work with different MWDs, because not every dog or handler is the same. We also don’t want the dog to be attached to that individual.”
With this change, extra precautions are taken if a dog is being transferred from one handler to another.
“It was pretty rough the first time I ever met AAslan,” Flores added. “He’s a big dog and pretty intimidating. It took a few days to get him warmed up to me. He had one handler before me who he was with for about six to eight months.”
Flores gained AAslan as a partner when he completed a permanent change of station.
“We try to avoid doing training if their previous handler is around so the dog is not distracted,” says Flores. “We separate them from that person so the dog knows that he’s on your team, not the past handler’s.”
Flores says with all the work that dogs require, it takes extreme patience from the handlers.
“Over time, I became very patient with the dogs because it’s all new for them,” says Flores. “Some dogs struggle to understand a task, and if a handler doesn’t have that patience, it’s really not going to work out. They might fail certain tasks, but over time it’s going to get better.”
Much like pets back home, MWDs require extensive daily care from their handler, which also helps build trust between the two partners.
“My whole shift is dedicated to the dog,” Flores says. “We start off with our health point checks. We check blood pressure, temperature, and make sure nothing is out of the ordinary. Next, we groom our dog and start the day.”
When an MWD handler’s shift is over, it doesn’t mean that caring for their dog stops.
“Even in my off time there may be vet appointments, extra training, and the dog is with us the whole time if we travel for work,” says Flores. “Once a week, we’ll scrub their living space with bleach and water and give them a bath.”
According to Flores, all of the hard work that is put into becoming a dog team and growing together is worth it for the special relationship that blooms.
“MWD AASlan and Staff Sgt. Flores have great rapport with one another,” says Kulasevic. “When AAslan sees Flores, he knows he is leaving the kennel to go do various tasks that he associates as fun activities. AAslan trusts Flores, and this is why they make such a great team.”
After sundown, AAslan and Flores finish their final vehicle check and head back to the kennels. AAslan awaits the moment “dad” comes back to prepare him for another long, hot day together at Al Udeid.