|Training starts with the Breeding Program
The 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base operates a breeding program for military working dogs in support of the Department of Defense Military Working Dog program. These dogs are a vital part of our national defense and serve in Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps units around the globe. You can become part of this important effort by volunteering your home and time to raise a military working dog.
At the heart of the program are the breeders -- known as stud dogs and brood bitches -- which are selected for their outstanding performance as military working dogs. Experts select only Belgian Malinois for this purpose, Green explained, because that breed tends to make outstanding working dogs, able to carry out their mission equally well on an installation or in a combat zone.
Once a litter is born, the puppies progress through three phases that help determine their suitability to become a military working dog. The first phase, called whelping, takes place from until the puppies are 8 weeks old. This early on, whelping care attendants mainly are getting a feel for the puppies’ personalities and exposing them to a variety of sounds. Meanwhile, trainers and development specialists are keeping an eye out for the attributes that bode well for a successful working dog, Green said as she gestured toward a litter of puppies -- fourth-generation DOD -- tumbling over each other in a small playhouse. She ticked off a list of those qualities: not afraid of noises, inquisitive, eager to check out new places, sociable, not overly aggressive, and eager to play with objects, such as toys and balls.
Next is Foster Homes
At about eight weeks, the puppies are placed in a foster home, where they stay for about five months. Foster families are volunteers from San Antonio and outlying communities. Some are service members or veterans, while others have military affiliation, but all share a common desire to serve.
“Families love to do it, It’s their way of giving back to the community and the military, and also for the sheer pleasure of caring for a puppy.”
The foster phase serves several purposes. By living in a home versus an austere kennel, they learn social skills and are exposed to a variety of environments. “Families take them everywhere -- to school, playgrounds, stores, work, It broadens the puppy’s horizon.”
Having foster homes also keeps the program’s costs manageable.
“This phase is probably the most integral part of the program. Without these foster parents raising puppies, … we don’t get well-rounded dogs.”
On to Training
At about 7 months old, foster families return the puppy to Green, the program’s deputy director and her colleagues, a challenging time not just for the puppy, but also for the families who have grown attached to their now-beloved family member.
“We have a lady who fostered 13 puppies and one of the brood bitches,” Green said. Each time she returns a puppy, she added, “she cries a blue streak.”
The transition also can be tough on the puppy, Green noted, which now must adjust to sleeping in a kennel instead of their home. “They’re taken care of, but it’s not the same as being with their family,” she said.
Some puppies don’t recover from the loss, which is a strong indicator the dog isn’t suited for military work. In that case, the dog is put up for adoption, Green said, noting there’s a long list of people waiting to adopt DOD dogs.
The puppies that adjust well enter adolescent training, an intensive phase that lasts about five months and serves as a precursor to working dog training. Trainers use this time to expose the dogs to situations and environments they may encounter on an installation or in a combat zone, such as aircraft,
vehicles and strange buildings, and to sounds such as gunfire.
“We evaluate how they are environmentally, their object drive, how long they’ll play or interact with us,” Green said. “This all leads to the ability to train as a detection dog.”
When they’re about 12 months old, the dogs are evaluated for entry into the 341st Training Squadron’s Military Working Dog Training Program here, which is about 120 days long and teaches the dogs how to patrol and detect drugs and bombs worldwide. The squadron also trains all handlers, kennel masters and specialized mission function dog teams for the Defense Department.
Military Working Dogs (MWDs) used in patrol, drug and explosive detection, and specialized mission functions for the Department of Defense (DoD) and other government agencies. The dogs are enrolled in a 60- to 90-day training program, where they are trained in explosive and drug detection, deterrence and handler protection.
October 7, 2012 - Vets Adopt Pets Founder at
2012 San Francisco Fleet Week Marine Military Working Dog exhibit