Handler Pvt. Katelyn Walters, 906th Military Working Dog Detachment, Fort Rucker, Ala., guides 8-year-old German shepherd MWD Juci over an A-frame during an obedience drill on the first day of annual MWD recertification Feb. 18 at the Fort Leavenworth 67th Military Police Detachment (MWD), Special Troops Battalion kennels. Photo by Charlotte Richter/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Charlotte Richter/Staff Writer

Four military working dog teams participated in the military working dog certification of the fiscal year conducted by the 67th Military Police Detachment (Military Working Dog), Special Troops Battalion, Feb. 28 to March 4 at the MWD kennels and various buildings around Fort Leavenworth.

Handler Pfc. Thomas Johnson, 67th Military Police Detachment (Military Working Dog), Special Troops Battalion, guides 2-year-old Dutch shepherd MWD Fiona through an agility course during an obedience drill on the first day of annual MWD recertification Feb. 18 at the Fort Leavenworth MWD kennel. Johnson and Fiona were the only team seeking certification in narcotics detection during the event. Photo by Charlotte Richter/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Kennel Master Staff Sgt. Hector Rodriguez, 67th MP Detachment (MWD), said military working dog teams are required to participate in annual certification and recertification. Every kennel must conduct two certification events each fiscal year, and teams pursuing certification can travel between kennels to certify when necessary. 

Rodriguez said the certification process allows evaluators to assess each team’s training during the year and check for deficiencies.

Guided by handler Pvt. Katelyn Walters, 906th Military Working Dog Detachment, Fort Rucker, Ala., 8-year-old German shepherd MWD Juci demonstrates controlled aggression with role-player Spc. Richard Tossas on the first day of annual MWD recertification Feb. 18 at the Fort Leavenworth MWD kennels. Photo by Charlotte Richter/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“This is also going to qualify them for any kind of deployments to actually work the road, provide garrison support, to be on missions, provide support for Secret Service and security for the base as well,” Rodriguez said.

The four teams participating included Spc. Vasilica Stipetich with 8-year-old German shepherd Brenda and Cpl. Casey Bowolick with 3-year-old German shepherd Ressler, both from the 905th Military Police Detachment in Fort Knox, Ky.; Pvt. Katelyn Walters with 8-year-old German shepherd Juci from the 906th MWD Detachment in Fort. Rucker, Ala.; and Pfc. Thomas Johnson with 2-year-old Dutch shepherd Fiona from Fort Leavenworth’s 67th MP Detachment (MWD).

Stipetich, Bowolick and Walters and their dogs worked to certify as explosive detection teams, and Johnson and Fiona as a drug detection team. Walters and MWD Juci were the only team seeking recertification.

Teams must pass drills in the 95th percentile to earn official certification. Rodriguez said Johnson will retrain for 60 days for proficiency and attempt certification again in late spring.

Two-year-old Dutch shepherd Military Working Dog Fiona sprints to handler Pfc. Thomas Johnson, 67th Military Police Detachment (Military Working Dog), Special Troops Battalion, during an obedience drill on the first day of annual military working dog recertification Feb. 18 at the Fort Leavenworth MWD kennels. Photo by Charlotte Richter/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Drills include obedience, firearm habituation, controlled aggression, odor recognition, building search per person and scout per person, and detection later in the week.

Rodriguez said good rapport between the handler and military working dog is evident in training, such as if a handler has control off-leash and can identify a dog’s change in behavior. He also said they assess if a dog can habituate to its environment and train through challenges.

“That’s the biggest thing — the dog team concept — we’re looking at overall…if that team works and blends together,” Rodriguez said. “It’s hard to describe when you’re assessing from the outside. There are a lot of handler actions that interplay with the overall certification process.”

MWD Juci is Walter’s first dog, and they have worked together for two years. She said although she and Juci have a good rapport, traveling to a different installation can be challenging.

“Home (certifications), you know where things could be. So coming here to their (obedience) yard…our (obedience) yard is almost three times the size of that. It’s very weird having everything so close to together; I feel like it really tests my ability to have control of (Juci),” Walters said.

Stipetich and Bowolick agreed that even as experienced handlers who have completed certification in the past, certifying in a new environment is difficult. Both Stipetich and Bowolick had spent a month or less with their dogs before attending certification.

Handler Pfc. Thomas Johnson, 67th Military Police Detachment (Military Working Dog), Special Troops Battalion, cues 2-year-old Dutch shepherd MWD Fiona to search for narcotics during a detection drill on the first day of annual MWD recertification Feb. 18 at the Fort Leavenworth MWD kennels. Johnson and Fiona will work toward recertification after 60 days of training. Photo by Charlotte Richter/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“We’ve never been here before. With the obedience course, it’s a different area, even with the weather; it’s just different to the dog, so you have to work with that,” Stipetich said.

Johnson said he recognized different expectations from certification at another installation and that certifying with people from other places is beneficial.

“It’s nice because I get to meet new people from other kennels, and they know people I graduated from dog school with. It’s cool to meet different K-9s because it’s a small (military occupational specialty), everyone knows everyone.”

Johnson said he enjoys meeting people from other installations during certification because he can learn from other handlers.

“You learn new things because every dog handler is different, they all do different things in different ways, and every dog is different — they all have their personalities and the way they train better. Different people will come in with different solutions.”

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