Training Center for Army Dogs
Captain John F. Riddick
Military Police Corps
Commander, Army Dog Training Center
Camp Carson, Colorado
Army Information Digest, June 1953
The place was Kobe, Japan, during the occupation years. Pilferage of supplies from docks and warehouses was getting far out of hand. To stop the theft of thousands of dollars in clothing and food, a specially trained group of one hundred and twenty-five men and sixty-five assistants was added to guard the installation. The pilferage quickly dropped to zero.
Credit for this achievement belongs mostly to the sixty-five assistants, each of which was equipped with a pair of sharp eyes and a keen nose and a set of teeth big enough to create fear in the boldest thief. They were trained Army sentry dogs.
Today the Army Dog Training Center at Camp Carson, Colorado, is receiving a steady stream of dogs and is turning them into competent assistants for our troops in combat. Camp Carson-training ground for the Army’s pack animal units-was selected as the site for this unique activity because of its varied terrain. In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Colorado Springs. a staff of officers and cadremen, many of whom had dog training experience in World War II, opened the Center in December 1951 under direction of the Provost Marshall General.
The Remount Branch of the Quartermaster Corps purchases the canine recruits-principally German shepherds-and holds them for a twenty-one day quarantine period at Cameron Station, Virginia, before shipping them to Camp Carson. There the training consists of a three-week basic course and an eight to twelve-week specialized course. Each animal is graduated as a specialist in sentry, scout or messenger dog operations.
The basic course establishes a working relationship between the individual and the soldier handler. Obedience is the first element to be taught. The dog learns to “heel” while marching, a lesson which becomes the basis for orderly movement of dogs and their handlers in the unit. To “heel” properly the dog must walk at the handler’s left side, his head even with the handlers knee. This lesson is followed by others which train the dog to “‘lie down,” “stay” and “recall.” Later he learns to crawl under and jump over obstacles.
Perfection in each lesson is gained through repetition. Hour after hour is spent in the field performing each exercise until the dog can be depended upon to obey under all circumstances. The noise and clash of a battlefield are part of his conditioning. To accustom the dog to sounds which would otherwise make him flinch, the training area is alive with giant firecrackers, explosive charges and rifle fire. Any dog unable to overcome gun shyness is classified as unserviceable.
Meanwhile, soldier volunteers with special aptitude or past experience as dog handlers are learning about dog foods and feeding, care and grooming, first aid, dog diseases and parasites. They also study dog psychology, principles of training, uses and training of specialized dogs, kennel care and management, and transportation for their charges.
When the dog has completed the basic course with his handler, he goes before a committee of officers and cadremen to be selected for the specialty for which he seems best suited. An extremely aggressive dog is considered ideal for sentry work. One which rates above average in alertness and sense of smell is usually trained as a scout dog. Canines proven to be highly intelligent and which show a strong desire to please their handlers, are started in the messenger dog course.
When occasionally a dog proves to be unsuited to the training, he may be reassigned to another course in order to determine his potential in other types of operations. Of all dogs received at the Center, only about 10 percent fall completely.
The sentry dog takes the shortest and most intensive course-eight weeks-following his three-week basic training. Starting for the training area on a choke-chain, he soon learns that when the handler attaches the leather collar it means that he is “on duty.” Another man, called an “agitator,” approaches with a small stick and begins to tease the dog-a measure designed to arouse the animal’s natural aggressiveness. The handler, keeping the dog firmly on the leash, commands “watch him.”
As soon as the dog makes an aggressive move, the agitator retreats and the dog is encouraged to chase him. After each successful attempt, the dog receives lavish praise from the handler. The psychology of always letting the dog “win” over the agitator and playing on his natural desire to please his master soon makes the lesson stick. Gradually the dog is taught to attack a padded arm guard which the agitator drops whenever the dog seizes it. The agitator later dons a long padded garment for better protection; he runs and the dog is urged to chase him.. Next, the dog is permitted to attack the suit while on his leash. Finally he is unleashed and taught to attack and to release his hold on command from the handler.
In addition to attacking on command, the sentry dog learns to ferret out intruders by scent. When fully trained, he can walk patrol around an isolated installation; he may ride patrol in a jeep, always alert for smells which no human could detect; or he may be allowed to roam off leash in warehouses, airplane hangers and fenced storage yards. The dog’s readiness to attack on command leaves his handler free to use his weapon. The ever-present human fear of a vicious dog plus the dog’s alertness in detecting intruders make him invaluable in security work.
The scout dog’s twelve weeks of specialized training fit him for a different mission in the Army. Working from a harness instead of a collar, he learns to detect by smell a human decoy somewhere upwind in the training area. With friendly encouragement from his handler, he learns what is expected of him when the command “search” is given. Immediately he starts sniffing the wind and the ground for scent. As soon as he detects the presence of the decoy, he gives some little sign, such as straining on the leash or raising the hackles along his neck or shoulders. Each dog has his own way of “alerting” his handler, who must watch carefully for the signal. While “reading” the dog, the handler must prevent his barking, growling, whining or otherwise making a noise which would be audible to a lurking enemy. Such a reaction on the dog’s part might be fatal to both dog and handler in combat.
Next the dog is urged to move silently toward the decoy, who runs away. Though still held on the leash, the dog is allowed to give chase and is dutifully praised by his handler after each successful performance. After learning the basic rules, the dog is then trained to detect decoys planted farther and farther away. Lessons are repeated under varied conditions, at different times of the day and night, until the animal becomes expert enough to detect a decoy at distances up to five hundred yards or more.
The scout dog has many uses in combat and is valued especially by the infantryman. Taken with patrols into no-man’s-land, this keen-scented guarding reduces the chance of fatal surprise or ambush by giving silent warning of a concealed enemy. During the hours of darkness or when visibility is poor he can guard command or observation posts against enemy infiltration, a problem which has been acute in Korea. Or he can act as a sentry dog at small supply dumps.
The third type of Army dog developed at Camp Carson is the messenger dog-the only type which learns to work with more than one handler. Training begins by friendly association with two handlers. After he develops a strong fondness for both men,the dog is taught to run from one to the other. One handler releases the dog and commands the animal to “report.” As soon as the dog reaches the second handler he receives warm praise. Just before the dog runs, his choke chain is removed and a messenger collar is put on. Soon he learns to associate this collar with his job of running from one man to the other.
As the lessons proceed, the distance between the men is increased beyond the range of the dogs vision. He now learns to trail his masters by scent. Frequent repetition and runs of varied distances over different kinds of terrain finally develop his dependability as a messengers. In training, the dog customarily carries a pack which can be loaded with supplies or ammunition. He also learns to lay field telephone wire from a spool mounted on a specially constructed pulling harness. Before being graduated as fully trained, he must be able to follow a scent up to distances of five miles. He must be able to carry up to thirty pounds of ammunition and supplies over rough terrain. He must demonstrate his capability in carrying and stringing a one-mile spool of telephone wire between two points.
Dogs have long been recognized by military authorities as important for war and security purposes. During World War II the Army operated several centers for training war dogs and their handlers. Fort Robinson, Nebraska, the largest center, had as many as two thousand animals in training at one time. But with rapid demobilization, dogs were trained and used only locally in occupied areas of Japan and Germany.
Following the Korean outbreak, Major General Edwin P. Parker, Jr., then the Provost Marshal General, took steps to reestablish an Army Dog Training Center. Sentry dogs would naturally aid the Military Police Corps in its security missions but they could also be highly useful in other branches, including the infantry, General Parker maintained. He therefore planned the Center as a place where dogs could be trained for all types of military duty.
While the Center has yet to reach full capacity operation, the completion of each successive training cycle means that ever-increasing numbers of trained canine sentries, scouts and messenger, will be given a chance to serve around the world. Currently, dog platoons are proving their worth with the Seventh Army in Europe and with the Eighth Army in Korea.