Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: The secret to a successful dog-handler relationship

By Rebecca Frankel Best Defense chief canine correspondent There’s been a lot of attention since the bin Laden mission on the training military canines receive. News sites have been sending their correspondents to kennels and bases trying to get the inside scoop on what kind of instruction Cairo (the MWD alleged to have been on ...

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By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent

There's been a lot of attention since the bin Laden mission on the training military canines receive. News sites have been sending their correspondents to kennels and bases trying to get the inside scoop on what kind of instruction Cairo (the MWD alleged to have been on Operation Neptune Spear) might've gotten before maybe taking out Enemy No. 1. Some could say these forays in behind-the-scenes canine reporting are a little...unnecessary.

But as any good handler will tell you, there's more to nurturing a top-notch war dog than just getting nailing down commands to push a canine-in-training to scale jump drills, maneuver through obstacle courses, unearth hidden explosive devices, and attack reporters in protective suits.

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent

There’s been a lot of attention since the bin Laden mission on the training military canines receive. News sites have been sending their correspondents to kennels and bases trying to get the inside scoop on what kind of instruction Cairo (the MWD alleged to have been on Operation Neptune Spear) might’ve gotten before maybe taking out Enemy No. 1. Some could say these forays in behind-the-scenes canine reporting are a little…unnecessary.

But as any good handler will tell you, there’s more to nurturing a top-notch war dog than just getting nailing down commands to push a canine-in-training to scale jump drills, maneuver through obstacle courses, unearth hidden explosive devices, and attack reporters in protective suits.

Cpl. Angelo Melendez is one such handler. He and his dog, Rocky, are in the Marine Corps — and the pair knows the value of hard work and commitment spending an average of 8 to 14 hours a day training together (standard for most dog-handler teams). But Melendez considers his job a real "privilege," keeps his work in perspective, saying "there’s no other job like it."

The effectiveness of Melendez’s focus and positive outlook hasn’t gone unnoticed by his superiors. "He has an exceptional relationship with Rocky," says Officer Brandon Owens, chief trainer for Camp Pendelton’s K-9 unit. "Rocky doesn’t only listen to him because he has to, he does it because he wants to, and that goes a long way. That’s a key thing we look for in a dog/handler relationship."

So what’s behind Melendez’s successful training philosophy?

"Handlers learn to love their dogs, Melendez said. ‘If you can’t," he added, "then this job is definitely not for you.’"

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
Tag: War

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