Navy Seals’ Canine Commando

By Eric Gonzales….

Long leash protects handler during Mideast search for explosives

Having returned from Afghanistan as a Kennel Master in February 2011, I can offer a sneak peak as to what many may wonder about regarding to the canine that accompanied the Navy Seals during the raid that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden.

As mentioned in MSN coverage, the SLATE on May 6, 2011 posted beneath the title, “Canine Commando,” …neither the Pentagon nor the White House is talking about the role the dog played in Sunday’s operation…”

As a Kennel Master I had the privilege of supervising several canine-handler teams which consisted of narcotics and explosive detector dogs. While some contracts require a single-purpose canine — implying that the dog will be used for one purpose only, such as detection — my contract required training of dual purpose dogs, the use of detection as well as protection, the latter referring to an ‘apprehension’ or ‘bite dog.’

The military’s “Canine Commandos” are required to go through a training curriculum of several weeks to several months when chosen for the program. Breeds of choice for most military working dogs (MWD) are German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers. Labradors are usually singlepurpose performers for detection although exceptions exist.

Once a canine breed is selected for training, the dog is required to perform several exercises that include obedience, protection, and detection, before flying ‘into country’ (overseas). These trained dogs are especiallyvaluable because tests have confirmed that detector canines have an 80% success rate compared to man-made detector items (metal detectors, etc.) that have a 50% success rate.

Canines also possess a “dual” usage such as an ability to apprehend a bad guy if and when needed. Furthermore, they remain as man’s best friend in many aspects, too numerous to mention. Dislike by our four-legged companions for the Taliban insurgents is subtly increased because the dog is considered a dirty and detestable creature (a ‘demon’ to most). They believe that if they kill themselves as suicide bombers in the presence of the dog, and the dog dies along with them, that they will not inherit the kingdom that promises the many virgins that await them.

For this reason many soldiers adopt the stray dogs found throughout the areas they protect. Even though adopting canines may help deter suicide bombers, remote improvised explosive devices (IED’s), roadside bombs and air strike missiles still account for most Taliban attack weapons Deploying a dog into a hostile area presupposes that the canine will find the person or subject in question and apprehend the individual by cornering the subject through intimidation or by actually biting the subject to prevent escape.

In the Middle East war fronts, a search for explosives utilized keeping a dog on a long leash averaging 30 feet long. At that distance, manipulating the dog will help to avoid injury or death if an IED or trip wire is disrupted. The canine is required to alert a handler passively, simply coming to a sitting position when it smells an explosive component. Unfortunately, many are detonated by a remote control or controller; thus, the further a handler is distanced from the dog, the better chance there is of surviving serious injury or death.

Besides basic commands (sit, come, heel, etc.) granted, dogs sent to apprehend a fleeing subject are trained to have obedience take precedence when confronted with that possibility. The need to control is paramount to assure maximum success for the team and to best safeguard both dog and handler from injuries or even death in critical situations requiring instant decisions.

Eric Gonzales is a retired K9 Sergeant, Founder of Gonzohaus K9 Services, and Author of Dog Training for the General Public. He can be reached at 305-749- 7376,,

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