HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- During a routine training session, a military working dog trainer takes control of a leash from a handler. At the end of the leash stands a seven-year old, 70-pound fury-faced security forces veteran. The trainer gives the order ‘heel,’ a command that tells the veteran to stand firm against the left side of the trainer’s leg.
Instead, Ziko, a military working dog with the 1st Special Operation Security Forces Squadron, moves to the side of Staff Sgt. George Garcia, a military working dog handler with the 1st SOSFS.
In high pressure and dangerous environments where the margin for error is slim to none, Ziko and Garcia share a relationship that requires a great level of obedience and communication.
“When we first get a dog, we just bring them out and play with them or take them out on walks,” Garcia said. “[It’s] just a lot of me and him time together, that way he understands ‘this is dad now,’ ‘this is the guy I’m going to be working for.’”
Garcia has been a handler for more than eight years while Ziko has been in the field for five. They have been partners for more than a year.
Dogs and handlers begin their training at the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas . This is where teams learn basic skills such as patrol and detection work. Once they return to their units, they continue to hone their skills with their new partner.
As the relationship between handler and dog progresses, obedience and detection training are practiced every day to be combat ready.
“Anytime you have your dog out, you’re training,” Garcia said. “Even when you’re not thinking about it, you’re still training. It’s a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week thing.”
Once a MWD team is qualified together, they are responsible for providing narcotic and explosive detection as well as patrol work on base.
“Detection is our bread-and-butter,” he said. “This dog’s nose is going to find anything way quicker than we, as people, ever would, regardless of whether we are looking for a person, bomb, drug or something like that.”
Constant training allows the 1st SOSFS military working dog unit to remain combat ready and perform at a high level to ensure Hurlburt’s Air Commandos, home and deployed, are safe.
“I have no doubt I can send them downrange tomorrow and be confident they’re going to do their job to the best of their ability,” said Tech. Sgt. Chad McCord, kennel master with the 1st SOSFS. “That’s what we train for.”
The bond built between handler and working dog from training and constantly being together on the job allows them to rely on each other downrange in high stress, high tempo environments to execute the mission.
“People deploy and they go with people they work with. I’m going with someone I share a bond with that nobody else does,” Garcia said. “Even though I’m deployed, I have a part of home with me and I’m never alone.”