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A military dog handler lifts his canine out of a zodiac and onto a U.S. Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter in a simulated boat raid during U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command’s multi-purpose canine handler training in Key West, Fla., Jan. 12, 2018. Dog handlers drilled on advanced insertion techniques and mission profiles during the final phase of their 16-week training pipeline, leading to their certification as special operations multi-purpose canine handlers. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley)

Photo by Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley

Multi-Purpose Canine Handlers: integrated force multipliers

22 Jan 2018 | Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command

Marines working to become multi-purpose canine handlers completed the amphibious training package for Phase II of their training pipeline in Key West, Fla., Jan. 8-12.


The package was one of the training requirements to become a certified Special Operations Forces multi-purpose canine handler with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command.


            MARSOC’s multi-purpose canine program is a 16-week training evolution separated into two phases. Phase I is an eight week course, consisting of a basic understanding of concepts such as how to deploy a dog to search, train a dog in explosive detection, tracking, controlled aggression, building and area searches, bite work, and medical training on canines. Handlers are paired with their canines at the beginning of this basic course to enhance dog and handler relationships.


            “This early pairing gives the handlers a unique opportunity because instructors are training the dogs’ behaviors as well as the handlers’ and they forge them as a team,” said MARSOC’s MPC program manager. “This brings added value because as a handler you’re getting a chance to see and develop a dog that will be a true reflection of you and the hard work you’ve put in.”


            Once handlers complete Phase I, they begin the advanced eight-week Phase II training session, which includes an amphibious package. The amphibious package consists of events such as surface swims for canines and handlers at long distances, water insertion and extraction techniques, helo-casting techniques, boat raids, advanced homemade explosive detection and advanced tracking. 


The largest hurdle handlers had to overcome during this amphibious training was their dogs’ fear of the water. Helping them conquer the fear of an unknown and new situation and is key to trusting their handlers.


At the end of the training package, handlers and canines are put through advanced training scenarios to show what they had retained in their basic training by implementing tracking and detection techniques. Once completed, instructors gave feedback to the handlers on proficiencies and deficiencies during the scenarios and provided better methods to use in the future.


“We want them to be comfortable and for us to be comfortable in our dog team, so that we can successfully conduct missions of this nature,” said a handler during training.  “Training helps the dogs trust their handlers and enhance confidence in their abilities and their handlers’ abilities.”


After completing their amphibious training package, the teams move on to the rest of Phase II training. This training focuses on range work to accustom the canines to live fire, close quarter combat training, and different insertion and extraction techniques, all leading up to full-mission profiles in the culminating events.  Handlers are expected to be capable of executing any given mission as well as brief appropriate personnel on how to best utilize their canines’ capabilities for the mission.


“The canines are evaluated and hand-selected in order to accomplish missions requiring higher drive to push through scenarios and variables they are exposed to,” said the MARSOC’s MPC program manager.  “This makes them subject matter experts on their dogs and their training, so they are fully integrated force multipliers."


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