By Shannon Collins
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND — As a loaded trailer pulls up with an overwhelming sound of barking, the son-in-law of a Richmond woman knows man’s best friend is about to transform from playful pooch to a military working dog on a mission.
Air Force federal employee Joshua Brock, whose wife, Lauren, is the daughter of Kelli Bigby, Millwood Pass Circle, Richmond, is a military working dog instructor in the Dog Training School here with the 341st Training Squadron, Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program. It’s the world’s largest training center for military working dogs and handlers, dating back to 1958. The DoD Military Working Dog Veterinary Service and the Lt. Col. Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital — the largest of their kinds — are also located here.
Within the 341st Training Squadron, there are five courses with about 140 students, 107 staff members and nine teams with about 18 dogs each: the Dog Training School, Handler’s Course, Kennel Master’s Course, Specialized Search Dogs Course and Combat Trackers Dogs Course. In the Dog Training School, the dogs learn obedience, patrol techniques, drug detection and explosives detection in 120 days. The students will work with four different dogs to learn the different personalities and learn different ways to utilize the dogs. Most of what the students and dogs learn will be on the 3,000 acres of training areas during practical scenarios in mock airplanes, warehouses, dorm buildings and open fields.
The mission here is to provide trained military working dogs and handlers for the Department of Defense, other government agencies and allies through training, logistical, veterinary support and research and development for security efforts worldwide.
Brock said his favorite part about being a part of the DoD military working dog program is being around military members.
“I love still being around military members,” said the Air Force veteran. “It’s just something I’ll never lose and will always respect because I’ve been in the same situation.”
Brock said the most challenging part of the job is the different personalities of the dogs.
“Every dog is different, so your training is different,” he said.
The dogs are usually German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retriever and occasionally a mixed-breed or other sporting or herding-breed dog. They range in age from one-year-old to 13 years old and include both males and females. They are spayed or neutered before being adopted into the military working dog program.
They currently house more than 850 dogs at Lackland.
When the military working dog handler is assigned to a kennel at his duty station after completing training here, he or she is assigned to one dog and will deploy to war zones with that dog. They deploy as a pair and the bond they share is vital for them to be able to successfully accomplish the mission. Brock deployed to Afghanistan as a handler and said the bond is indescribable.
“The bond you build with a dog is indescribable,” he said. “I’ve deployed with my K-9, Kormi, and it was the best time. I’ve deployed both to Iraq and Afghanistan, one as a straight-leg cop and the other as a handler. By far my K-9 deployment was the best.”
The first Air Force sentry dog school was activated in Japan in 1952. The Army continued to train and supply sentry dogs to Air Force units in the U.S. until the Sentry Dog Training Branch of the Department of Security Police Training was established at Lackland in October 1958. By 1969, they adopted the patrol dog as the standard military working dog and added a drug detection course.
In 2005, they added a new type of detector dog to the Department of Defense inventory in response to the rising threat of improvised explosive devices attacks during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aptly referred to as Specialized Search Dogs, these highly skilled counter-terrorist search assets are trained to detect arms, ammunition, and explosives — both of the conventional and homemade varieties. They differ from their standard Explosive Detector Dog counterparts in the fact that they are far more independent and work primarily off-leash via voice and directional commands issued by the handler. In 2010, the dog program here began assisting the Marine Corps in training Combat Tracker Dog Teams to recognize and follow suspected terrorists. Upon deployment, Combat Trackers assist unit commanders by tracking enemy insurgents, bomb makers and snipers. These special forces-like military working dogs are force multipliers that offer the abilities to both stop current attacks and prevent future ones. Military working dog handlers learn to work with the dogs of all specialties.
The Best Working Dog for Cattle
The Hangin’ Tree Cowdog breed was developed as a mix of Catahoula Leopard dog, Border Collie and Australian Kelpie. They are short or slick-haired dogs with bob tails that come in many different colors from black, reds, merles and unique blends of these colors.
The breed has the instinct to work with animals and can be trained to work cattle. A unique attribute is their characteristic to bite the head and heels of cattle.
Hangin’ Tree Cowdogs are known for their courage and ability to handle any kind of cattle, from weanlings to cow-calf pairs. They are also alert, loyal, and have the ability to work long hours in the field. It is their combination of stamina, trainability, and instinct to work cattle that has made the Hangin’ Tree Cowdog a prize breed for cattle ranchers.
The catahoula is a medium to large sized dog. they are well muscled yet trim, powerful but agile with great endurance. They are independent, protective, territorial, and may show aggressive behavior. Their head is powerfully built with well developed cheeks with short-medium length ears that are pendulous. Their coat is short to medium length, and may come in any color imaginable. The same goes for their eyes.
The most enduring dogs who will outwork and outfight all other breeds of stock dogs, especially when protecting their master, livestock, and property. They are bred to handle wild cattle and hogs in the roughest, most remote country. They are also used as bay dogs to hunt coon, bear, mountain lion.
Catahoula have a wealth of herding instinct and natural drive but do require training to learn how to channel that drive and move cattle correctly.
1 - Start working with your Catahoula on simple obedience commands as soon as you bring the dog home. Teach the puppy the meaning of "sit," "lay down," "come" and "stay." Work the puppy in five-minute sessions three or four times a day. Keep a collar and leash on the dog during all training sessions to keep the dog close at hand. Catahoula are very focused and may ignore you in the field if they do not have a good obedience foundation.
2 Teach your dog specific herding commands, including "come bye," "walk on" and "away." To teach "come bye," hold the stock stick in your hand and point the tip off to the left. Tell the dog "come bye," walking your Catahoula in a wide arc to the left. Treat the dog to a small snack when it moves to the left consistently when you say "come bye."
3 - Reverse the process and move the dog to the right to teach the Catahoula "away." For the "walk on" exercise, walk forward with the dog, holding the stock stick in front of you. Loosen your grip on the leash, encouraging the dog to walk forward in front of you, telling the dog to "lay down" when it walks out approximately 20 feet in front of you. Call the dog back and praise with a treat.
4 - Move the dog to a small, enclosed yard and let a few ducks or geese loose in the yard. Drop the leash and tell the dog to "walk on," moving the ducks forward. If they stray left or right, call out "come bye" or "away" accordingly. Once the dog has pushed the ducks around the yard for five minutes, call the dog to you.
5 - Instruct the dog to lie down for a few minutes to rest, and then command the dog to "walk on" and work the ducks again. Catahoula are very determined and will herd the ducks incessantly, so work the animals for no more than 20 minutes to prevent burnout. Repeat the duck herding exercises daily until your Catahoula is consistently moving the ducks according to your commands.
6 - Swap the ducks for cattle once the dog is confident moving smaller animals. Turn two or three cows loose in a small corral, and walk the dog into the pen, closing the gate securely behind you. Make the dog lie down in the center of the pen and walk toward the cows, calling the dog to "walk on" once you are within 10 feet of the cattle.
7 - Point the stock stick at the cattle, firmly giving the "away" and "come bye" commands to keep the cattle moving. As soon as your Catahoula is confidently moving this small herd, let the rest of the herd free to build your dog's confidence and experience herding cattle.
Of all the big game species hunted in the United States, the mountain lion is probably the least understood. These elusive carnivores are rarely seen because they travel mainly at night and are very sneaky. Even when they travel in broad daylight, few people ever see them. Since no one sees them, it is hard to know how many of the big cats roam North America. Even biologists who study the big cats aren’t sure how many cats there really are. Some experts in Colorado claim there are a few thousand cats running in the backcountry of Colorado, but they are so difficult to locate that determining how many there are is simply an educated guessing game.
One mountain hunter recently learned how elusive mountain lions can be when he headed west to chase them. His friend and him found a fresh tom mountain lion track that headed up the center of a driveway to someone’s secluded backcountry home. After talking to the homeowner and showing him the track, he was amazed. Although he knew mountain lions lived in the area, he had lived in the house for ten years and had never seen a cat strolling through the woods.
Once dogs have treed a mountain lion, they surround the tree and bark at the cat until the hunter arrives.
For many outdoorsmen who don’t know any better, mountain lion hunting appears to be an easy sport. Most people think you only need a couple good hunting dogs and a gun. After spending a week chasing the crafty wilderness cats, this mountain lion hunter can testify that chasing mountain lions is one of the toughest hunting sports out there.
Being a good lion hunter requires having good lion hounds. Most non-resident hunters hunt lions with a hunting outfitter because most of us don’t have a pack of well-trained lion dogs. Most serious mountain lion hunters use red bone, blue tick, or black and tan hounds. Leopard curs are also becoming quite popular. These breeds have incredible noses. Once they smell a fresh lion track they can follow it for dozens of miles if needed until they find a cat. They are also very high strung. One dog has more energy than ten people, and ten mountain lions for that matter! However, hound dogs don’t train themselves.
Most lion hunters have at least two or three dogs and most houndsmen spend most of the offseason training dogs. They first train them to be good trackers. They do this by trapping live raccoons, dumping a healthy dose of cat urine on them, and letting them go. After they have been running for awhile, the hunter lets his dogs out and the fun begins. As soon as the dogs smell the track and catch the scent of the raccoon, the chase is on. Sometimes the dogs have raccoons running up trees in an hour; other times it takes longer to locate the unlucky raccoon. The goal is to get dogs to trust their nose and follow the track until they find the reward - the raccoon. This style of training gets the dogs ready to chase mountain lions. Houndsmen may go through this training exercise dozens of times during the summer and fall before the winter mountain lion season opens.
While they are training their dogs to tree raccoons they are also teaching them not to track other game like elk, deer, or other critter they may encounter while running a mountain lion in the winter.
Any houndsman will tell you that they pray for snow like a school kid does at Christmas. Fresh snow is the key ingredient to mountain lion hunting. When a fresh snow blankets the mountainside in the middle of the night before a hunt, hunters are given a major advantage. If a mountain lion passes through an area the night before the hunt starts, the hunter will know the track isn’t very old because the snow is fresh. A fresh track in fresh snow is easier for the dogs to track than a track on dry land or old crusty snow.
Ideal hunting conditions are a new 3-8 inches of snow on the ground when a hunt begins first thing in the morning. When a fresh track is located, the hunter will know the track is probably less than 12 hours old, so the cat can’t be too far away.
When locating lions, it is not uncommon for hunters to travel several hundred miles over the course of a weekend. Once a fresh lion track is located in the snow, the dogs are turned loose.
PO BOX 606
Yarnell, AZ. 85362
Here’s what I offer to you, I can give your dog the opportunity to see if it has any potential for lion hunting and if it already has some skills, I’ll help to develop them. I make him part of a pack of dry ground hounds that can catch a lion when it’s catchable. You owe it to your dog to give him a good start and the opportunity to learn. They learn nothing on the end of a chain in your back yard.
My only promise to you is your hound will hunt a minimum of 12 days a month and if and when it’s in shape up to 20. Can you hunt 12 days from your house for $400 at today's gas prices. I hunt an average of four days a week, this is all done on horseback in dry Arizona conditions, as you can see in the videos I sell this is rough country. Speaking of the videos they are made up from the report card videos I make and send to the owner clients so they can watch the progress of their hounds. I’m very fortunate I can hunt from my yard and have had lions kill deer in the yard twice, I have a wife who gets pleasure from seeing me happy and I’m happy watching the dogs learn. I may not be any more skilled then you at lion hunting but my life allows me to give your dog the time that most others just do not have to give.
If you send your dog for 60 days or more of hunting plan on spending at least a day here when you pick him up because I would like you to hunt for at least part of a day to see how he handles and what commands he has learned. [an Arizona hunting license is required.