The training provides handlers with another tool to deter illegal activity or to handle situations that call for necessary action such as keeping a suspect from trying to escape – a dog’s bite to bring a suspect into custody.“Our main focus here is crime prevention,” said Sgt. Jean Villanueva, military working dog trainer with the PMO Kennel and a Garden Grove, Calif., native. “We train to show the public, our Marines and families aboard the installation how proactive we are in preventing crime.”
According to Villanueva, a military working dog’s presence can prevent people from committing a crime.
“You might have 10 to 15 officers at the gate and a potential suspect isn’t really scared of us, but the second they see that dog come out they’re like, ‘oh man, I don’t want to get bitten,’” said Villanueva. “People know what our dogs can do. We provide demonstrations for different units aboard the installation so they know what our dogs can do.”
Handlers perform various training every week to keep their working dogs from becoming complacent. On any given day they may train at base housing, search warehouses for training aids carrying drug or explosive scents or perform aggression training with other handlers.
The constantly varying scenarios, or problems, as handlers call them, acts as a whetstone used to hone the already sharp skills these dogs possess.
However, not all of the work falls to the four-legged officer– it’s up to handlers to know how best to employ their partner’s capabilities and when the bite is a necessary solution to a problem.
This is where officers like Sgt. Charles Sicklesteel, a military working dog handler with the kennel and a Chicago native, come in. Personnel with the kennel aim to match the personality of the dog with that of the handler to ensure a strong, trusting bond.
“The work you put in with your dog, you can see it every time you are together,” said Sicklesteel. “Without that trust, that bond between you and your dog, you don’t have a foundation to build on. You won’t have anything to build basic obedience, detection or aggression capabilities at all. The dog has to trust you, because you are telling him what you want him to do, and you have to trust him because your life, others’ lives, might be relying on his nose.”
Sicklesteel spends time with his dog, Ralf, every day working, training, feeding and bonding with him. They are a team, and when it comes to aggression training, Ralf can really sink his teeth into his work.
Another handler, assisting in training, straps on a padded jacket, or sometimes a sleeve, to protect his or herself and work with the dogs for aggression training. Sicklesteel issues orders to the mock suspect who complies with commands and randomly makes a break for it.
After a verbal warning and counting to three, Sicklesteel releases Ralf and the brown German shepherd sprints away to intercept. He sees an opening and chomps down on the mock suspect’s arm with up to 265 to 328 pounds of force.
It takes about 160 pounds of pressure to fracture a strong bone. Each day these handlers step into the ring with these dogs to be bitten over and over again during the training.
They get banged up and bruised, but at the end of the day, they know that the dogs they help train could save lives. Most of the handlers at the kennel would agree that it’s a small price to pay to keep their friends and installation safe.
By Cpl. Christopher Johns, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar