FORT DRUM, NY (February 17, 2022) — Pfc. Talon Bush and military working dog Redy methodically searched more than a dozen rooms and hallways for explosive materials Feb. 16 inside the Darby Rapid Deployment Facility at Fort Drum.
This is the same building that other MWD teams from the 8th Military Police Detachment swept last month ahead of a scheduled visit by the governor. But for Bush, it was part of a week-long validation process.
sergeant. 1st Class Coleeta Smith, kennel master for the 8th Military Police Detachment, said every MWD team is validated at Fort Drum before they can go through certification, which essentially allows them to do their jobs within regulations.
During validation, the MWD team conducts obedience training, demonstrates controlled aggression, conducts scouting and building search, reacts to gunshots, and tests for scent recognition. They must also complete five detection lanes.
“Given a building, roadway, vehicle or open space, we plant a scent – whether explosive or drug, depending on the dog – and the MWD team is given their limits to detect the scent through a systematic research,” Smith said. .
There are eight different explosive scents that they can plant for testing purposes, placed at different heights and depths and not usually visible to MWD or the handler.
“The handler can see what we call behavioral change in the military working dog,” Smith said. “The handler can see how the dog’s body posture changes and its behavior to the scent before giving the final passive response.”
Smith said they are changing the locations where the detection is tested – one day at the RDF, the next day at the Central Issuing Facility. This allows handlers to learn how to break down different areas, whether it’s a barracks, auditorium or warehouse, for a systematic search.
“When you’re first starting out, you don’t know how to systematically break down an area so the dog can search effectively,” she said. “But as you gain experience in different areas, you learn to break them down into pieces so you don’t get into explosives that the dog hasn’t cleared.”
It also exposes MWDs to unfamiliar environments that they may not have seen during training, such as the outdoor recreation facility.
“There were people on the archery course right next to us,” Smith said. “Most MWDs won’t be fazed by this, and they can work around these various factors. But if you have a team just starting out, the dog might be a little more nervous or concerned about what’s going on.
Smith said it’s natural for an MWD team to be nervous during validation, even though they excelled during training.
“They don’t combine training with an assessment, so they’re more relaxed,” she said. “But now we add that bit of pressure as a test and you see it particularly in the youngsters. Everyone gets nervous during certification, but it’s how you handle that stress that makes the difference. So we want to make sure that they can handle it appropriately so that they are able to overcome that when they go on missions or deployments.
How a manager handles stress also affects MWD performance.
“We have a saying that ‘it’s all on the leash,’ and when a handler gets stressed, some dogs stop searching,” Smith said. “After a handler establishes a relationship with the dog, these dogs feel all of the emotions the handler feels. They know when the handler is upset or under pressure because you can see the dog getting upset and protective, and they know when their master is calm, cool, and collected.
Smith said Bush and MWD Redy performed well in validation and responded well to feedback. Bush is one of the newest members of the 8th MP Detachment. He was named manager of MWD Redy at the end of November, and since then they have been training for certification.
It also gives Bush time to bond with Redy.
“We usually do it with a lot of grooming, walking around or just playing,” he said. “The more time you spend with them, the more relationships you build.”
Bush described Redy, an Explosives Detection Patrol Dog (PEDD), as an energetic pup with an independent streak.
“When Redy starts doing his own thing, I get a little frustrated,” he said. “But I have to be careful because if I feel frustrated then Redy will start to feel that and act. It is always better to have a clear mind when we are doing research.
Knowing the dog’s personality and tendencies helps Bush strategize how to work more effectively. For example, because Redy sometimes likes to rush into a room, Bush will slowly open a door so that an explosive scent can be detected before they enter.
Although Bush originally wanted to enlist as an Army firefighter, he said becoming an MWD manager had been rewarding.
“I’ve met a lot of people, made a lot of friends, and overall it’s been a really good job,” he said. “Playing with dogs all day is a dream job for many people.”