By MC2 Amanda Cabasos
NAS Jax Public Affairs

Six members of the NAS Jax Security Department K-9 Kennel train their Military Working Dogs (MWD) year-round to ensure these elite creatures maintain their mission readiness. MWDs undergo constant training, which include obedience, building search, scouting, bite work and detection.

Kennel Supervisor MA1 Keith Danalewich said, "We train to keep up with the ever changing security threats, such anti-terrorism/force protection (AT/FP). We are evaluated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Services Security Training Assistance and Assessment Team every other year." 

He added, "There is always a constant threat out there and if we learn about something new we train our dogs are so their capable of handling that threat. Our dogs and handlers are constantly learning to improve their skills. We train as a team to face any situation, whether it's day or night, to familiarize them for any security scenario." 

Danalewich said, "The dogs receive different rewards for good behavior. Our dogs only get toys when they perform a task well. When we are conducting detection work, we give our dogs a toy as a reward for discovering an odor. They also receive lots of affection and praise."

According to Danalewich, when a handler transfers to a different command, they leave their dog behind for the next handler.

This procedure is practiced to familiarize the dogs with different handlers. Either one of them can move to the next team partner to certify and aid in their mission. A handler may work with his or her dog for a few months or a couple of years. 

"The MWD's primary mission is base security, including AT/FP," said Danalewich. "The dogs are great visual deterrents. Also, we are always conducting detection searches around the base - looking for explosives and drugs."

"The dogs need a lot of care," explained Danalewich. "Handlers joke around and say they get better care of than we do. We have a veterinarian on base who is in charge of our dogs' nutrition and their annual health assessments, as well as dental checkups." 

Handlers are also responsible for the dog's daily grooming sessions and head-to-tail health inspections, as well as bathing and clipping claws. 

"The best thing about our job is that we get to work with a dog all day," said Danalewich.

"That is the highlight for me. I have a great team here. The handlers all work together and get along. It's really like a small family. I know what my other handlers are thinking and they know what I am thinking. We all know what our dogs are good at which is important in order to set up the teams for success." 

MWDs for all the services go through basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. When assigned to their next command, each dog receives more in-depth training with its handler.

Although a variety of breeds have been used by the military for decades, the ones that currently have demonstrated to be the best for patrol and detection work are the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and Belgian Mallinois. These breeds have the combination of keen sense of smell, endurance, speed, strength, courage, intelligence and adaptability to complete their mission at NAS Jax Security Department. 

MA2 Andrew Barnhart said, "I love working canine. It's a unique way to make a difference in anti-terrorism and force protection. Working canine allows you to get interesting deployments, like going down range, and get to actually save lives in the real world. In a realistic scenario, if there's an unknown person hiding in a building, it's an MWD team that is sent in. If a person jumps the base perimeter fence and takes off through the woods, one of our teams is assigned to track and subdue them." 

According to Barnhart, MWDs retire after an average of 8-10 years of service. Its current handler at the time has the option to adopt. However, if the handler chooses not to take the retired dog, it is put up for adoption. 

Southeast Regional Kennel Master MA1 Elliot Fiashi said, "These dogs demonstrate the Navy's Core Values by: showing honor - the dog is loyal to its handler; through courage - the dog will do what the handler tells them to even when they are frightened; and displaying commitment - they won't quit the job until they are given the command.