Man, dog serving side by side

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Staff Sgt. Robert Prim, 52nd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, prepares to unleash Judy, his German Shepherd, on his assistant during a training session. Judy is an experienced military working dog who has deployed to Iraq. (US Air Force photo/Nick Anderson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Staff Sgt. Robert Prim, 52nd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, prepares to unleash Judy, his German Shepherd, on his assistant during a training session. Judy is an experienced military working dog who has deployed to Iraq. (US Air Force photo/Nick Anderson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Sergeant Robert Prim, 52nd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, praises Judy, his German Shepherd. Working dogs have served as part of the Armed Forces since World War I. Dogs receive specialized training based on their breed and which skills they display. (US Air Force photo/Nick Anderson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Sergeant Robert Prim, 52nd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, praises Judy, his German Shepherd. Working dogs have served as part of the Armed Forces since World War I. Dogs receive specialized training based on their breed and which skills they display. (US Air Force photo/Nick Anderson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Staff Sgt. David Duty and Ricky, his German Shepherd, charge Staff Sgt. Paul Niswonger who plays an aggressor during training. Working as a team, the handler leads his dog through a rigid and repetitive training schedule every month to refine skills and remain proficient. All are members of the 52nd Security Forces Squadron. (US Air Force photo/Nick Anderson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- Staff Sgt. David Duty and Ricky, his German Shepherd, charge Staff Sgt. Paul Niswonger who plays an aggressor during training. Working as a team, the handler leads his dog through a rigid and repetitive training schedule every month to refine skills and remain proficient. All are members of the 52nd Security Forces Squadron. (US Air Force photo/Nick Anderson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- The Air Force holds the largest inventory of working dogs in the military. These highly trained animals are the front-runners in the fight against narcotics, explosives and terrorism. 

Dogs have been used to help the Armed Forces since World War I, when they worked as messenger and mine dogs. They have seen both combat on the front line and loss in their ranks by their handler's side for over 90 years. 

Rottweilers were used to simply attack in Vietnam. Since then training has evolved, as have the jobs and types of working military dogs. German and Dutch Shepherd, Belgian Malinois and Tervurens have replaced the Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers because of their durability and ability to adapt to different environments. 

Today's dogs are trained to serve in the cold rainy climate of the Eifel and the hot deserts of Iraq. They serve to detect narcotics and explosives, scout out humans by scent, sight or sound up to 30 yards away, attack and provide protection for their handlers. 

Military working dogs and their handlers work 14-hour shifts at peak performance. Working as a team, the handler leads his dog through a rigid and repetitive training schedule every month to refine skills and remain proficient. Military working dogs are trained differently than those in the civilian sector. Their training prepares the dog for situations they may face by placing them in dangerous situations that could cause loss of life if both the dog and handler are not at their best. 

"You have to maintain confidence, give discipline, but still have a little fun," said Staff Sgt. David Duty, 52nd Security Forces Squadron dog handler. "The dogs are highly disciplined, highly trained tools to be used for a greater good, but at the end of the day they are still just dogs who want to do dog things." 

Part of a military working dog's training is learning to work with new handlers as permanent changes of station move people across the globe. The dogs belong to the installation and are kenneled on the installation unless they are deployed. 

"We are a team and they try to mesh personalities together," Sergeant Duty said of his German Shepherd Ricky. 

Once matched together, dog and man have to learn to trust each other. They have to mesh as a team, understanding their different personalities. Both of their lives will depend on it. 

"I trust my dog more than anyone ... except my family," Sergeant Duty said who has worked with four different dogs since he became a dog handler. 

He spends off-duty time visiting, grooming and playing with Ricky; building a better bond with the dog before they ultimately deploy to Iraq. 

"You have to treat them (the dogs) well. I'd like Ricky to want to do his job rather than just have to do it," Sergeant Duty said. "But it is a very rewarding experience, even with the amount of extra work you have to put into it, and I encourage anyone who likes dogs to look into a career in detection."
As dogs continue to excel at working with the military, they are becoming increasingly valuable in the civilian sector. Airports, railroad stations, professional sports stadiums and concerts arenas are using detection dogs to find contraband and potential explosive materials. 

As long as the threat of terrorism and explosives is there, military working dogs provide an invaluable service. They and their handlers continue to save lives here at home and at war.