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Lance Cpl. Joel Juarez, a specialized search dog handler, Military Police Support Company, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF, shows his dog Benny a route to be searched for improvised explosive devices at Oura Wan beach on Camp Schwab July 26.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Mark W. Stroud

Specialized search dogs add new weapon to fight against IEDs

29 Jul 2011 | Lance Cpl. Mark W. Stroud Marine Corps Installations Pacific

Specialized search dogs have become a new weapon in the war on improvised explosive devices, roving more than 100 meters in front of their handlers to find the deadly devices before they can be triggered.

SSD handlers with Military Police Support Company, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF worked with their dogs to perfect their detection abilities at Oura Wan beach at Camp Schwab July 26, clearing designated lanes of travel of explosive devices planted for training purposes, much as they would do on a combat deployment.

“We set up scenarios such as a possible IED lane that friendly forces need passage through. The SSD handlers needed to clear the passage-way prior to the friendly forces going through,” said Cpl. Anthony J. Manfredini, combat tracking dog handler, MP Support Co. “We set up what we call ‘aids’. They are live explosives without the initiating system and I can either bury them or hide them under something.” 

SSDs and their handlers also train to be able to identify other threats and bomb-making materials along with IEDS.

“Our dogs are trained to find different types ammunition, explosives, IEDs, weapons caches, whether they be freshly dug or hidden for a long time. They are also trained to find homemade explosives,” said Lance Cpl. Joel Juarez, specialized search dog handler, MP Support Co.

It is the ability of the dogs to be released from the leashes to move freely in front of their handlers that makes them unique.

“Most dogs in the military working dog program work on-leash, and there is always a limitation there. Even though they have leashes that go from six-feet to 50-feet, there is still a limitation, so SSDs were implemented into the military working dog program to extend those limitations,” said Juarez.  “That provides a safety barrier for the handler.  When the handler is working on-leash, he is always in greater danger because he is right up there with the dog finding the IEDs.”

SSDs are only one of the tools in the fight against IEDs, but their ability to remotely detect explosives saves lives.

“SSDs are not the answers to everything even though they are very effective. They are just one of the tools we have, and they, along with military working dogs in general, save lives,” said Juarez.

To achieve this level of effectiveness, extreme care must be taken in the dogs’ training, according to the handlers. 

“We always take notes (on the dogs’ training), The handlers post records everyday of exactly what kind of training they did and the proficiency and deficiencies they have with their dog,” said Manfredini. “The records let them know what their dogs need to work at and what they are good at.”

The bond between an SSD handler and their dog is unlike that of other military working dogs and their handlers.

“One of the unique things about SSD handlers is that they usually stay with their dogs for the course of their careers,” said Juarez. “Almost from day one, a handler is assigned two dogs, and throughout the training the handler take cares of his dogs and trains his dogs as best as possible.”

The IED-detection training here served to make the bond stronger, helping prepare the dogs and their handlers for potential service in Afghanistan.

The specialized search dogs did very well locating the bomb-making materials that were planted, according to Manfredini. He went on to say that the dogs demonstrated a good ability to determine their own search patterns and focus on high-probability areas for improvised explosive devices.