Working with our Air Force’s Four-Legged Defenders

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kailee Reynolds
  • 47th Flying Training Wing

Military Working Dogs (MWD) provide a variety of services, including the detection of explosives and drug searches, tracking of personnel and suspects, patrol of restricted areas, and protection of military installations. Keeping these dogs' skills strong and honed is essential – this is where MWD handlers play a vital role.

Staff Sgt. Charles Gaines, a 47th Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer, is in charge of training each of the dogs and handlers here at Laughlin. He is responsible for making sure the bond, teamwork, and skills between a handler and a MWD are at their finest.

“As a trainer, my day-to-day consists of feeding and checking up on the dogs,” said Gaines. “Then I’ll come up with a game plan with the handlers on what kind of training they will be doing that day, whether that’s patrol or detection.”

While MWD trainers are more of a supervisory role, they are still very hands-on when it comes to working with both the dogs and their handlers and providing top-notch training.

“Part of my job is to hide either faux drugs or explosives around the base and have the handlers and their dogs go out and run a ‘detection problem,’ as we call it, to find them,” said Gaines. “We will also go out and do a patrol to work on controlled aggression or searches for a person/persons outside or inside buildings.”

Being a MWD handler or trainer is a remarkable job that comes with many unique challenges. Working with these animals is an exceptional responsibility because each dog has a distinctive personality and different health status/concerns. A dog's mood can change from day to day, which is why understanding dog psychology is a must for these handlers and trainers.

Handlers are also responsible for the physical aspect of each dog, including bathing, grooming, exercising, and feeding their dogs. Military working dogs are also prone to injuries, so being able to deal with cuts, scrapes, broken nails, broken teeth, and more is vital.

Even though being a MWD handler comes with many responsibilities, it can also be a very rewarding career while building strong bonds with their companions.

“The most rewarding thing about being a trainer for me is seeing the progress between a handler and dog when they finally start working together as a team and forming a strong bond,” said Gaines. “It’s great to see a handler develop the skills needed to read their dog and start working with them to move as one machine.”

Gaines discovered the military working dog career after joining the Air Force back in 2016.

“I’ve always been interested in law enforcement, and I’ve always been a big supporter of the military, so I thought it would be a great route for me to join security forces in the Air Force,” said Gaines. “I really didn’t know much about training or working with MWDs, but once I found it, I became really passionate about it.”

The initial military working dog handler’s course is a three-month long course located at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. It covers patrol, detection and veterinary knowledge training.

“So far, it’s the best Air Force course I’ve been to. I had a lot of fun, made a lot of connections, and learned a lot of great information,” said Gaines. “At the start of the course, I knew that military working dog training was where I belonged and what I really wanted to do.”

Becoming a military working dog handler or trainer is no simple task. It takes a great deal of dedication and more to be chosen for the job.

“While being a canine handler comes with more added responsibility, hard work, and dedication, it is a very rewarding job,” said Gaines. “It comes with amazing opportunities for your career and at the end of the day, you have this great bond with your dog.”