How long does it take to become a military dog handler? Here’s the Answer

Step 3: Complete Army dog training and earn certification

You will have to complete a basic training program at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The skills that you learn in this program are essential. Not only will they assure that you perform your job correctly and safely, but they will also strengthen the bond between you and your service companion.

After that, you will need to earn a certificate to show that you are able to guide a military working dog and read its responses. However, there is a caveat: you must be recertified every year. This means that your certificate is renewed, and you will likely undergo an updated course of training.

Dogs in the military todayToday, K-9 working dogs and their handlers are some of the most valuable teams in the military.

The Military Working Dog Program is currently housed at Lackland Air Force Base. This facility is responsible for training all dogs under the Department of Defense, including for the CIA and Secret Service. Dogs are used in all branches of the military, but the majority of K-9 units are found in the Army.

There are many different kinds of dogs that can be trained to serve, though the most common breeds are German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. Both male and female dogs are effective, the only difference is that female dogs tend to be smaller, so they may be more suited to searching tight spaces.

K-9 dogs are used for all kinds of missions, but they have featured in the high-profile takedowns of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019, as well as Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011.

Step 4: Become an active-duty dog handler

  • Once you have completed the prior steps you can become an active-duty dog handler and join such ranks as the Army K9 Unit. You will have the opportunity to advance over time, but you will still be responsible for training and taking care of your animals
  • You must also pass a medical screening and background check, obtain a passport, and successfully complete an interview with the kennel master or unit commander in order to qualify for this voluntary assignment
  • Army Dog Handler-31K-Military Working Dog Handler

    By Kristie Dober When asked to write an article highlighting the U.S. Army 31K Military Occupational Specialty, Military Working Dog (MWD) handler, I struggled with where and when to begin. The history of the MWD is a long and proud one, so what was it exactly that spawned the idea of this new generation of handlers? I realized that just like the old adage that you can place three trainers/handlers in a room and the only thing that two will agree on is that the third is doing it wrong is much like the answers you may get from the many Subject Matter Experts that each played a significant role in its development.

    I would be remiss if the story did not begin with a brief history of the MWD program and its continued advancement. The MWD has been utilized by the U.S. military since 1942 and has a distinguished place in our history. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army’s so-called “K-9” Corps was established within the Quartermaster Corps in March of 1942. The first known doctrine for MWDs was Technical Manual 10-396, War Dogs published July 1, 1943. The manual explained basic care and training of the MWD, but did very little to address capabilities and limitations in their employment. By 1946, more than 10,000 dogs were trained for varying duties like mine detection, messenger, scout/patrol, and it has been roughly estimated that 9,300 of these dogs were trained for sentry duty. The first use of MWDs in combat was in the South Pacific and it is estimated that 400 dogs saw duty in the Pacific and in Europe. At the close of WWII, training of all MWDs except for sentry dogs ceased.

    In 1961, the use of canines in a tactical environment was explored once again and the Vietnam War became, and remains today, the largest deployment of MWDs in our history. It is estimated that more than 4,000 dogs and 10,000 handlers were part of this effort. There were many lessons learned throughout the employment of canine teams in Vietnam. Sentry dogs provided a great psychological deterrent and were extremely effective in military police operations. However, the effectiveness of the sentry dogs was greatly impacted by the length of time that a handler was assigned to the same dog. The performance of the sentry dog was impaired immediately when reassigned to another handler. Their capabilities were not clearly understood, and their employment considerations were not clearly defined. This led to underutilization and often breaches in security with bases prone to attack. Scout dogs were a major asset during Vietnam and credited for saving thousands of American lives. Scout dogs were deployed as scout dog platoons and were assigned on an as-needed basis. The teams were unable to train with the organizations to which they were assigned, which made effective support difficult until trust had been established.

    [/et_pb_text][et_pb_code disabled_on=”off|off|off” admin_label=”Code Large Banner” _builder_version=”4.13.0″ custom_padding=”||20px||false|false” custom_padding_tablet=”||0px||false|false” custom_padding_phone=”20px||20px||false|false” custom_padding_last_edited=”on|phone” link_option_url_new_window=”on” z_index_tablet=”500″ global_module=”56373″ saved_tabs=”all” global_colors_info=”{}”] [/et_pb_code][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.14.8″ hover_enabled=”0″ global_colors_info=”{}” sticky_enabled=”0″]The dog program during Vietnam was strictly voluntary and the Army faced many personnel challenges throughout the conflict. It was difficult for the number of handlers to meet the growing demand for dog support. There was also lack of experience on the instructor level as the program grew at an accelerated rate. The most effective instructors were those who had already served as a handler in a combat role, and this proved difficult as casualty numbers rose. It was imperative for a handler to interpret every nuance of his dog’s behavior. When a new handler was assigned, the team’s effectiveness and reliability diminished greatly. You could teach an old dog new tricks, but could not teach a new handler old behavior.

    When the Global War on Terror (GWOT) initiated the largest deployment of MWDs since Vietnam, the Army found itself once again facing many of the same challenges it had in years past. Combatant commands began requesting dog support at an accelerated rate. New capabilities were being sought after, developed, trained, and funded with “short term” monies across all branches of service. Dog teams could be found employed in roles supporting Military Police, Infantry, Special Operations, and Engineers to name a few. The rapid fielding of these new capabilities led to large gaps between experienced program managers and kennel masters and newly certified handlers. Canine teams were being deployed at an accelerated rate to support full spectrum operations and many combatant commands had little to no experience with the employment of canine teams, and just as their Vietnam predecessors, they had not trained with them prior to their employment. However, despite the challenges, the effectiveness of the canine teams was acknowledged and as the war continued, every resource was devoted to efforts to combat the enemy’s effective use of the improvised explosive device. Modern technology was stretched to limits and many devices proved effective, however, there still isn’t a device that can duplicate the canines keen sense of smell, hearing, and sight.

    So began the daunting task of preserving this much-needed capability and correcting the many shortfalls that had plagued the program in its past. New capabilities had been developed within the Army beginning in 2004. The Engineers developed the Mine Detection Dog and the Specialized Search Dog. The Specialized Search Dog proved to be effective in combat operations and was soon utilized by the Military Police as well. In 2007, the Explosive Detection Dog Capabilities Production Document was in draft form, and attempting to document the full requirements to support a fully-functioning MWD program for both the Military Police and Engineer Schools. In October of 2007, a MWD seminar was held at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to facilitate an open discussion for the future of Army MWD capabilities. Participants were selected based on their recent deployment, organizational, and operational experience.

    In January 2008, a memorandum was staffed to provide MWD recommendations based on Operation Iraqi Freedom operational experience. MWDs were credited for saving countless lives on the battlefield in Iraq and proved to be one of the most versatile assets to detect improvised explosive devices, tracking enemy personnel to their base of operation, and other law enforcement and route clearance duties. The memorandum went on to further identify key issues: the MWD program lacked squads, companies, and higher level leadership positions. Military Police 31B obtained an additional skill identifier as a Z6, then worked as a MWD handler for a few tours during their career, and were then forced to seek opportunities back in line units to gain developmental leadership experience for advancement because the MWD program had no such opportunities. This practice proved counterproductive to maintaining experience within the MWD program. Experience that was also proving imperative to the GWOT effort. MWDs were being utilized within a variety of units in theatre, and many of the senior leaders of these units first experience with a MWD was when they were employing it on the battlefield. Units did not train with MWDs during preparatory deployment training and no leadership schools offered MWD instruction as a part of the curriculum.

    It was this memorandum that first recommended the establishment of a dedicated MWD Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) to replace the additional skill identifier. It was also recommended that MWD force structure to provide required leadership and support to full spectrum operations to maintain institutional knowledge during war and peace, and to develop and implement theatre specific readiness training, and implement MWD training in all pre-deployment and institutional training.

    On 01 February 2008, in a memorandum from LTG Raymond T Ordierno to the Vice Chief of Staff, United States Army General Richard A. Cody, stated that “the MWD program had proven to be one of the most valuable assets on the battlefield. Regardless of cost, you will not find a more reliable asset to protect our soldiers from explosives. These canine heroes have truly proven their worth.” On 09 February 2008, General David H. Petraeus supported LTG Ordierno’s recommendation and requested that the Department of the Army review the current MWD structure. General David H. Patraeus has been quoted by many for the following statement in that memorandum: “The capability MWDs bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine.” He went on to further discuss the importance of retaining experience within the program, and that the MWD is far too valuable to be treated as a part-time profession, and that MWD training should be embedded in training programs at all levels to ensure that leaders are prepared and able to employ MWDs on the battlefield.

    On 20 February 2008, the VCSA agreed with both assessments and requested a course of action for the MWD program. On 17 April 2008, the VCSA directed U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to spearhead a comprehensive review of the MWD program. The review would consist of an in depth assessment and conducted with close coordination with Headquarters Department of the Army, Office of the Provost Marshal General, Human Resources Command, and other major commands. Discussions with other services were also helpful in the overall assessment. The Capabilities Based Assessment that addressed all areas of the MWD program was briefed to the Maneuver Support Center Commander on 3 October 2008.

    The Support Center’s findings were briefed to HQDA on 4 June 2009. There were multiple discussions, briefings, seminars, surveys, evaluations, and analysis of data. There was an audit conducted by the U.S. Army Audit Agency in September of 2009. Ultimately, the Integration Capabilities Development Team was comprised of 56 corps members that were considered MWD stakeholders, and a series of solutions and recommendations were staffed in October of 2009. The assessment concluded that the way ahead would greatly enhance and sustain the required operational MWD capability. It was projected in 2009 to take a minimum of five years to fully implement a proposed 31K MOS.

    In the follow-on years, it was the responsibility of the U.S. Army Military Police School to update doctrine and policy, conduct Critical Task Selection Board for all 31K training, develop the Force Design update with new organizational designs, and incorporate new MWD rules of allocation into the Total Army Analysis process. This, however, was not without long days of disagreement, adjudication, compromise, a complicated staffing and approval process, and input from all higher levels of the Army. It would also take considerable work developing the 31K course requirements for reclassification and determine career tracks for the Advanced Leaders Course and Senior Leaders Course for the MWD 31K MOS. Units would be converted, restructured, and personnel realigned, and a merger would occur with the Engineer 21B (K-9) and the 31B (Z6). This final step was not without politics, but it was evident that the handlers themselves were not concerned as to whether they remained within their current MOS. They were passionately committed to being 31K Military Working Dog Handlers.

    In August of 2011, the MOS 31K Military Working Dog Handler was approved. Activation of the new MOS would occur in April of 2013. In October 2014, enlisted MPs from E-1 thru E-4 that had the additional skill identifier of Z6 were converted to 31K. All others could request reclassification into MOS 31K and those that were selected were reclassified by October 16, 2014. All new recruits attend Basic Military Police training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, then attend Advanced Individual Training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. To qualify for placement into the 31K MOS, an individual must score a minimum of a 91 ST score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).

    Job training for Military Working Dog handlers requires 17 weeks of Advanced Individual Training (AIT) on how to care for, handle, and train a Military Working Dog (MWD). The training is in two phases. The first seven-week phase covers on-the-job instruction and teaches police methods and techniques for dog handling. The second phase of instruction is an 11-week course that provides basic instructions on the application of Military Working Dog utilization and employment capabilities. Phase II instructs in basic obedience, controlled aggression, first aid, principles of conditioning, building searches, scouting, detection, and daily care and grooming of assigned MWD. Source:

    As they advance throughout their careers, they will receive additional training to handle the Specialized Search Dog and/or Mine Detection Dog. Continued courses will concentrate on MP and other MWD related tasks. The force structure and design will assist in supporting the needs of the warfighter. MWD organization will consist of MWD detachment HQs, MWD squads, and provide command and control and oversight of MWD assets. The squads will provide a mix of capabilities to commanders by providing explosive detection on and off leash and below the surface, narcotics detection, and patrol functions. The new MOS will ultimately provide the Military Police Corps with enhanced capabilities in their warfighting function.

    This is only a small part of the background information and supporting history for the 31K MOS. It by no means explains the complicated processes within the Army to effect change on any level. Nor does it begin to discuss the many differences of opinions on MWD training techniques, MWD capabilities, types of training aids, training hours, certification requirements, limitations, breed, discussions regarding which dog is superior, whether all dogs can track, or whether there is more effectiveness in single-purpose canine or multi-purpose canines. Those discussions were had, and battles were won and lost. Some of those discussions are still going on today. Ultimately the development of the 31K MOS is perhaps a giant step forward in preserving the Military Working Dog legacy. It will put forth a new generation of handlers that, with their expanded knowledge, will bring credit to all of those who came before them and make us all proud to be a part of the MWD family.

    I would like to acknowledge all of those who put their heart and soul into this 31K project and all things MWD from 2004 until now. They will never receive the credit or recognition they truly deserve. I have worked through the years with countless handlers, kennel masters, program managers, commanders, and leaders – both military and civilian. I have worked with all facets of the Military Police School, Capabilities Development Integration Directorate, the Department of Defense, HQDA, OPMG, Major Commands, as well as the Joint Services. Each one was professional, passionate, determined, and devoted to the cause of preserving, enhancing, and honoring what MWDs bring to the fight. I wish that I could name each of you, but you know who you are. You are appreciated and forever a part of the MWD family and its proud history. [/et_pb_text][et_pb_code admin_label=”Code Small Banner” _builder_version=”4.9.3″ link_option_url_new_window=”on” z_index_tablet=”500″ global_module=”56374″ saved_tabs=”all” global_colors_info=”{}”] [/et_pb_code][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”3.25.3″ background_color=”#d6d6d6″ global_colors_info=”{}”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”3.25.3″ global_colors_info=”{}”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.14.8″ text_font=”||||||||” text_orientation=”center” hover_enabled=”0″ text_text_align=”center” global_colors_info=”{}” sticky_enabled=”0″]

    Military Working Dog (MWD) handlers are responsible for the care and training of his or her service dog, which contributes to combat operations abroad and installation security at home by providing target odor detection (explosive/drug). Service dogs, generally seen as a non-lethal option for neutralizing a threat, also serve as a psychological deterrent during law enforcement operations.

    • Patrol Drug Detector Dog (PDDD) handler • Patrol Explosive Detector Dog (PEDD) handler • Health and Welfare searches • Law and Order operations • Installation Force Protection and Law and Order support • VIP support • Customs support

    Candidates must first take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which is a series of tests that helps the Army understand your strengths and identify which Army job(s) fit your talents.

    Job training for Military Working Dog handlers requires 17 weeks of Advanced Individual Training (AIT) on how to care for, handle and train a Military Working Dog (MWD). The training is in two phases. The first seven-week phase covers on-the-job instruction and teaches police methods and techniques for dog handling. The second phase of instructio is an 11-week course that provides basic instructions on the application of Military Working Dog utilization and employment capabilities. Phase II instructs in basic obedience, controlled aggression, first aid, principles of conditioning, building searches, scouting, detection, and daily care and grooming of assigned MWD.

    Handlers will also learn other basic skills, including: • Basic use of firearms • Military/civil laws and jurisdiction • Arrest and restraint of suspects • Other specialized dog handling techniques

    • Ability to understand conditioning behaviors in training dogs • Ability to make quick decisions • Patience • Ability to interact with people[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″ _builder_version=”3.25.3″ global_colors_info=”{}”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.27.4″ global_colors_info=”{}”]

    Skilled Technical (ST) : 91 Learn more about the ASVAB and see what jobs you could qualify for.

    In the Army, qualified students can earn full-tuition, merit-based scholarships, allowances for books and fees, plus an annual stipend for living expenses.

    The skills you learn will help prepare you for a career with federal, state, and local law enforcement. Many of the job skills you learn will also help you to perform civilian jobs that involve working with animals, and general management positions.