Lance Cpl. Miranda DeKorte
From detecting improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan to being on the front lines during World War I, military working dogs, who we celebrate on K9 Veterans Day, have been used to help service members win battles for generations.
The same holds true today, as Marine Cpl. Cody Hebert, military dog handler and his military working dog, Ziggy, give us a look into their everyday lives.
“We start our daily duties when we come in every morning,” Hebert said.
“Those duties include cleaning out the kennels and doing any tasks like preparing for any type of training that we might be doing that day.”
When it comes to military dog training, there can be different variations that can influence the handlers and the military dogs in order to become mission ready.
“Just like us, the dogs have training jackets for everything that they learn,” Herbert said.
“This includes commands they know, training they have done, what they are good and bad at and even which handlers had them in the past.”
For a military dog handler, it is important to know the history of who and what the dog knows and how they are currently performing. Each handler creates a special bond with their military working dog to instill confidence in both the dog and themselves.
“When you and your dog deploy, there should be confidence in everything you do,” Herbert said.
“If you’re on patrol with an explosive detector dog, not only do you have to trust to follow him, but the unit also has to be able to trust you and your dog because they are going to follow every step that you take.”
Military dog training can take on different types of aspects between the dogs and their handlers. Examples including doing an agility course to recreate real-life situations, practicing commands for listening and direction and physical training to build strength and stamina.
“We have the opportunity to spend time with the dogs after hours almost anytime,” Hebert said.
“We’re given the chance to build a bond and reward the dogs for all that they do. If we are willing to do that, the dogs are willing to work with us by listening to the commands while working for longer periods of time as well.”
The best way for the military working dogs to learn is to let them know that they are getting rewarded by either a ball or positivity and sometimes even belly rubs from their handlers.
“These dogs get taken care of like us,” Hebert said.
“They get attention, exercise, training and medical care. As handlers, we’re trained to know the information just like how the dogs know what they are looking and listening for.”
A military working dog’s average military career is eight years before it can retire.
“It just depends on the dog for when it retires,” Hebert said.
“Most of the time they retire because of medical reasons. Going full speed and biting constantly puts a lot of strain on their bodies. Just like us, as the dogs get older their bodies aren’t able to do as much.”
Whenever a dog retires from the service, their handlers are given the first opportunity to adopt a military dog that they already know and care for.
Whether a military working dog is spending time with its handler or training to protect Marines, they will always be rewarded for doing their job in every clime and place.
-This story was originally published on marines.mil and posted on USO.org in 2019. It has been edited in 2020.
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