Dogs have been officially serving as soldiers in the United States military since World War I. Known as (MWDs) or military working dogs they are trained for a variety of highly specialized tasks and actively contribute to U.S. combat operations. There are about 2,500 war dogs in service today, with about 700 serving at any given time overseas Military working dogs are versatile, highly mobile and have been proven to save the lives of US soldiers in combat.

When examining military working dog teams, an essential aspect that is often overlooked is that of the handler.  I had the opportunity to sit down with some working dog handlers and gain some insight into the significance of this position that the US Army refers to in its MOS listing as 31Kilo

The Military Working Dog Handler

This episode gives us some insight into the role of the military working dog handler and what makes a great one.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpls. Matthew Scofield, left, and Jarrett Hatley, right, rest next to Hatley's military working dog, Blue, after clearing compounds with Afghan soldiers during Operation Tageer Shamal in Afghanistan's Helmand province, Jan. 4, 2012. Scofield, a squad automatic weapon gunner, and Hatley, a dog handler, are assigned to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

This episode puts you right in the middle of the action with Military Working Dog Handlers with the US Army and US Marine Corps.  It also explores what makes a great dog handler.

Justin Edwards and K9 "Bond" in a helicopter
Jarrett Hatley and K9 "Blue"

A Special Thanks to Justin Edwards and Jarrett Hatley for sharing his stories.

We also want to thank our episode sponsors.  Be sure to visit them to learn more and show them your support.

Royal Canin




Music for this episode:

“Ossuary 5 – Rest” Kevin MacLeod (
“Concentration” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Podcast Transcript

Click ‘Show transcript’ below to read the transcript from this episode of A Life of Dogs.

A Life of Dogs Podcast
Episode 4: Thirty-One Kilo
Hosts: Jason Purgason; Chris Anderson
Guests: Justin Edwards; Jarrett Hatley
Duration: 43:15 minutes
Broadcast Date: April 19, 2019

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Justin: They got ambushed. They had this compound. They did a call out. They called the individuals out that were there. An Afghan male came up to the assault force with his hands up and the lady ran out with a s- vest on and blew herself up. It wounded a lot of people right there off the bat, but there wasn’t a hard structure wall. It looked like a tarp or something. So it is maximum effect when she blew up and then they had set up a bunch of a Daisy chain of IEDs like a belt all over that field. So when they were running away or taking cover, there was IEDs there. And so guys ran off target. This was before all the explosions happened, before that guy. When the helicopter landed, a guy ran off the target. That’s pretty much the favorite thing to hear when there’s this guy running off target and they’re gonna use a dog for that. So you link up with all the required personnel to go on this, they call it a squirter chase. They are like a squirting from the target. So he’s running off target.
Hargus, which is the dog handler at the time and his dog Jani, he let his dog go. The guy was running away from him and I forgot how close they were. He was talking to us about it. They were pretty close. The dogs were on the bike and they were coming up to detain the individual and the dog is, I guess. I don’t know if the guy did it or the dog initiated it, but the guy blew up. The dog pretty much was gone right there. But I talked to everybody who was there though. Yeah, we were going up to get that guy. So he saved some lives.
Jason: From A Life of Dogs, I’m Jason Purgason and this is 31 Kilo. Dogs utilized in warfare have a lengthy history beginning in ancient times. Dogs of war were used by the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians and the Romans. Among the Greeks and Romans, dogs served most often as sentries or patrols, though they were often taken into battle. Other civilizations used armored dogs to defend caravans or attack enemies. The Spanish conquistadors used dogs covered in armour that had been trained specifically to fight native people. The first official use of dogs for military purposes in the United States was during the Seminar Wars. Hounds were used in the American Civil War to protect, send messages and guard prisoners.
General Ulysses S. Grant described how entire packs of Southern bloodhounds were destroyed by union troops wherever they were found due to their ability to effectively hunt men. Dogs were also commonly used as mascots in American World War I propaganda and recruiting posters. Dogs had been officially serving as soldiers in the United States military since World War I. Known as MWDs or military working dogs, they are trained for a variety of highly specialized tasks and actively contribute to US combat operations. There are about 2,500 war dogs in service today, with about 700 serving at any given time overseas. Military working dogs are versatile, highly mobile, and had been proven to save the lives of US soldiers in combat. When examining military working dog teams, an essential aspect that is often overlooked is that of the handler. I had the opportunity to sit down with some working dog handlers and gained some insight into the significance of this position that the US army refers to in its MOS listing as 31 Kilo.
This episode contains some terminology that may be unfamiliar to some listeners. IED is an improvised explosive device, a bomb created and deployed in a manner that is generally unconventional in military operations. S-vest is a suicide vest that is typically worn by individuals, used to create mass destruction and death. A squirter is someone assumed to be an enemy that flees from a military attack. In this episode you will hear from Justin Edwards, a former dog handler from the US Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion, who worked with two dogs and had several deployments with a Malinois named Bond. You’ll also hear from Jared Hatley, a former dog handler that was in the 3rd battalion, 3rd Marines and Infantry division of the US Marine Corps. Jared handled an explosive detection dog named Blue. We return to Justin Edwards, the handler who served in the Army’s 3rd Battalion.
Justin: I’ve always been interested in dogs. I loved animals growing up and everything and I was always trying to teach them how to sit and do stuff like family pets. And then I got into Ranger regiment, got into the Army and I was just a private. I was in the Army for a year or two and I finally found out we had a dog section and I was like, really? That’s awesome. I want to do that, but you got to pretty much pay your dues to even be able to have a chance to be a dog handler. So I ended up serving my four years, my initial four years that I was in and I reenlisted because I wanted to be a dog handler. So I pretty much reenlisted because I was just going to do four years and get out and go to college, but once I found out the dog thing, I said no, I want to do that because I would see them on target and say, that’s so awesome. I want to do that. So I just did that and went to Ranger school, pretty much said that I was here, built a good relationship with the unit and told my platoons I had done my team leader time so I was a leader. I had done the leadership thing and my next step up was to be a squad leader and go from there. I told my platoon Sergeant after I did my team leader time, I want to be a dog handler, and then he said, are you sure? It’s going to slow down your progression. I said I understand. I don’t plan to be in the Army for the long haul. I just want to be a dog handler, and I just don’t want to do anything else.
Jason: Being a dog handler isn’t an easy job. Justin describes what he believes is one of the most difficult parts of being a handler.
Justin: I definitely wasn’t the best handler the first two years I was a handler, but I became a senior handler and helped out the new guys. I always helped out the new guys, always was there when they were doing detection, helping them through stuff. I mean, it actually took me a while to understand how to read your dog. I guess I look back on it, how to comfortably read your dog. You can read your dog, but comfortably read them and when I could read Bond pretty good. So when I got Fodo I could actually read. I didn’t even work him that long, but I had watched Fodo work for so long that I actually knew how he worked. We had other handlers that worked him and I would try to watch as much as I could. That helped me a lot. I like watching videos of myself too. I watch videos of me handling dogs and kinda be like, Oh, what was I doing right there? What the hell was I doing? Reading dogs, I think it’s hard to comfortably read your dog and it’s hard to feel confident, I guess.
Jason: Learning to read and interpret a dog’s behaviours is crucially important for any dog handler. We had the opportunity to talk with Jarrett Hatley, a former Marine Corps handler who gave us some first-hand insight into how critical this is.
Jarrett: I think a good handler is somebody that knows how to read his dog and trust his dog, knows what his dog can and can’t do and a good handler don’t listen to other people when it comes to his dog. On my deployment, there was one IED that my dog had found, but the IED was in the wall and there was a ditch right outside the wall and the way they indicate it was they just lay down. And so my dog couldn’t lay down, but he was working out in front of the patrol about 20 yards and he just did a crazy change of behavior. Head turned just right there and I called him straight back and I told my Lieutenant. I said, there’s an IED in that wall somewhere. Well, I talked about Marines not really knowing the dogs. All my Lieutenant knew is he supposed to lay down when he finds an IED. And I said, well he can’t lay down, but he did a change of behavior and I noticed it and my me and my Lieutenant got in a fight because he was wanting me to send the dog back out and make him lay down, and I said, I know there’s something over there. I’m not sending my dog out to get hurt, and I called an EOD and there was a 40 pound an IED in the wall with ammonium nitrate, aluminium powder, ball-bearings and roofing nails. So I think a good handler will tell even his higher ups, it’s my dog. I know what he’s doing. I’m not sending him back out.
Jason: We often view dog handlers as people who work with dogs, but working with other people is an important function as well. We get to hear from both of these handlers about how essential this is
Justin: In my unit especially. It’s always awesome to build a credible relationship with the people that you’re going to be working for, because you’d be working for a whole platoon and you are sometimes the only dog handler on the ground. You have to be able to build a relationship with them and show them that if they want to utilize the dog, they can count on you.
Justin: It’s pretty nerve racking sometimes, because those Marines pretty much are brothers and they’re kind of dependent on you, because I mean you’re still a rifleman, but on the patrol your main job is to find the IEDs. The way I looked at is how many ever Marines are on patrol with me, they are protecting me so I can protect them because I don’t have time to be keeping my eyes open for Terry Taliban hanging out over there in the wood line. I’m trying to focus on my dog. Sometimes it wasn’t that fun when you were pretty nervous because like I said, you don’t want to miss a change of behavior, and then you just keep walking and your buddy three guys back gets his leg blown off because you’re messing around. So yes, definitely not fun sometimes, but it’s rewarding at the same time when you can make finds or hopefully you don’t find anything at all and everybody comes back safe. So it goes both ways
Jason: As these guys explain, creating relationships with fellow soldiers is important to the mission. Jarrett goes on to explain that when dog handlers reach out to others, it can be just as advantageous,
Jarrett: Interacting with other people, you know, being in Afghanistan is not all about the firefights, and we always had an interpreter with us on every patrol and 90% of Afghan people have never seen a Labrador retriever so they are just all about it. Kind of just brushing them off, not interacting with them, you’re kind of going the other way on that one because I mean you’re on an 8-hour patrol, you’re going to take a couple breaks and hang out, find some trees and set up under and there’s always locals out there farming and they’ll come and talk to you and if you’re nice to them, 90% of the time, they will be nice back to you. They were just crazy about the dog, especially the kids which got in trouble sometimes because the kids would want to throw rocks, not at the dog, but for the dog and him being a Lab, he would want to go out and run and pick them up and bring them back, so I think that plays a big part. The handler interacted with people, probably goes with police canine handlers too, because those are the people you really need to be your friend.
You are in Afghanistan for seven months. I’m not going to see that people again, but if you just kind of brush them off, it’s whole different culture. That might really make them mad, then two weeks later when they put an IED in the road, they’re not going to let you know about it. So I think that plays a big role. We actually had a guy. We patrolled by his house almost every day and he would come out and talk to us and we would talk to him and he had four big pot plants growing out in his backyard because it’s legal there, and he would try to give it to us, and we were like, sir, we can’t do this but he was nice. One time, the Taliban had put in an IED right in the middle of the road, probably a hundred yards from his house, and we patrolled by his house and he said, hey guys, there’s IED down there. He told us about it and everything. Looking back, if we wouldn’t have interacted with him, he might not have told us about that and we might have never found it and we might have lost Marines. So you know, I think the hearts and minds plays a big role. I know it’s not the stuff they put in the war movies, but I think it’s a big part.
Jason: As Jarrett mentions, it’s not the stuff that they put in the war movies, but sometimes as a handler, you can find yourself in a situation that’s exactly like a war movie.
Justin: Actually it was a normal target we were going after, but we ended up finding one of the guys on target that was there at the time. After the mission was over, he found out he was pretty high up. We’re going after the target. It’s as quiet as can be. Me and Bond are out front, just walking along these trails in the mountains in Northern Afghanistan, walking. We enter this compound and me and the OD went up to the front. Had Bond on a long line and had him search the front where we were going to put the ladders up to get on top of the building just to have eyes on it everywhere. Get Bond up there and I pulled him back. We were good, just taking a knee right there and we have Afghan guys with us that are in our assault force. One of the guy’s stuff is like a bunch of pots and pans. This is in a valley so it’s loud as shit. So I’m out of here.
So I get Bond, put him on a hip lead and go to this corner where nobody was watching, and it was looking into like an animal pen and there was an archway going …it’s kind of hard to explain, It’s just looking into an animal pen and there was a doorway to my left and I was sitting there and they start calling out in the compound, pretty much saying, “Hey, we’re here. Get out. Come out with your hands up.” And about that time I looked down and Bond was going crazy. The bull horn was going off. I looked down at Bond, I looked back up and there is this guy coming out of the door running or at least walking towards the archway but I couldn’t see was in his hands. I just saw like he was tactically moving and he had something in his hand and it looks like a chest rag on his back and I said “Udu Raghu”, which means stop in Pashtu. “Udu Raghu”, and he just kind of sped up. So I just put my gun on fire and shot him up, pretty much from his lower back. I know it hit him from his lower back up his back and he fell to the right inside of the compound and he started shooting back at me. I don’t know if it was going by my head or anything. It was pretty crazy. It all happened pretty quick. So me and Bond are just sitting there, I was engaging this guy. I don’t know if anybody else was going to come out of the door to my left.
So finally more people come on top of me and I have a suppressor on him to help the dog out. These three guys come on top of me and they were shooting without suppressors. That’s loud and the guy finally stopped firing. He started shooting in the air. So we didn’t know what to do. We’re calling all sorts, but we’re trying to get approval to know if there are grenades and stuff. We were overseas at the time. It was ridiculous. We finally clearly the compound to the left. Nobody wanted to go past doorway to the left until we cleared that room. We didn’t know what’s inside there. So that took forever to even get our Afghan commandos to go inside of that compound because they were just scared and I didn’t want to send, I mean we had no reason to send Bond because there’s this room and the guy that came out of there was a bad guy and the Afghans didn’t want to go in there and we’re pretty much getting pretty upset at that time.
So they ended up going in there. They cleared it, got that clear. There were two people in there. They ended up identifying that guy that got shot as this pretty high value target they were looking for for a while, and I guess we ended up throwing a grenade. My platoon Sergeant ended up throwing a grenade over the wall that the guy was behind that was shooting back at us, and he failed to pull the thump safety so the grenade didn’t go off. So it was a whole string of…. It was horrible. So we ended up, the guy ended up crawling into a ….cause he wasn’t dead, but they were asking me, did you shoot him? Did you shoot him? Yeah, I shot the shit out of him. He should be dead, but a .556 round isn’t that close range. I don’t know. I guess the damage could kill you, but I think it will bleed out or whatever. He ended up crawling into a little animal enclosure inside the animal pen. It was pretty much a building in the corner and we were trying to get approval, put a wall charge on there and blow the wall, throw grenade inside there and kill him. All sorts of stuff. All got turned down, so pretty much the last resort came that was to put my dog in the building and I was like, well that guy is armed and still alive. We’re going to lose my dog and then what? I figured yeah, you’re losing your dog. I told him that if I send my dog, he just going to end up getting shot and then we’ll have a dead dog or a wounded dog. So I was like, can we just soften them up, throw some grenades in there or something? He said, okay, let me check. He went to check and I was like, Oh God, this sucks. This guy is probably bleeding out pretty much because there was kids coming to me, you sure you shot him? They’re giving me a hard time. And I’m like, yes. So we had already lost two dogs at deployment and one was the same circumstance. We sent a dog into a building, he got shot and that was my best friend’s dog, so he took that pretty hard. And then we lost another dog. A squirter ran away, he has his s-vest on and we sent a dog, and the dog detonated the s-vest somehow during the scuffle. The s-vest went off and blew the dog up but he saved a bunch of people’s lives.
I was like, Oh, I’m going to have to send him. So sure enough he comes back and said, you got to send your dog. I was like, Shit. I knew it was going to happen. So we have a camera system put on the dogs and we put the camera system on Bond. I have the screen on my chest and then I pretty much give my platoon sergeant a run down on how to use the red lasers, because I can’t have them fooling around all those shit. I got my gun ready, got the camera. So I pretty much make it pray to that door and I’ll give him the command and go and find them. So I get set up. Pretty much I say bye to him. Platoon sergeant put laser up there. I send Bond. He did it too fast at first. He just shot it up there as quick as good, but he got a old laser and went up to the door and was sniffing around. There’s pretty much a blood trail going around the courtyard because he curtained the wall around to this stairwell. Then Bond was sniffing around the doorway for a little bit, broke the plane and then he was in there for a little bit. I saw a scuffle on the camera and then there was so much dust and then I heard like six or seven gunshots and I was like, oh shit.
It was quick and I immediately did a recall. I was like “Bond. Here. Here” and there was a new ROE that came out literally like this is the first mission that was ran by Special Operations, I’m pretty sure to my knowledge an ROE came out that week that said American forces cannot enter into Afghan compounds, but the dog was an exception so you could send a dog in. So if he ended up getting shot and was in there, we couldn’t even go get him probably. I would have. I would have probably gotten into trouble, but I would have gotten in there and got my dog. He didn’t come at first and then I saw him shoot. He just shot out of the door. Just shot out the door and came running back to me. I scooped him up. I did a quick blood sweep of him and I was in shock that he wasn’t even shot once. We had a sniper on a mountain looking inside the doorway. He couldn’t see the guy but he saw the dog go in there. There’s like gunshots going up all around him. And I was like, what the hell? Yeah, that was pretty much the craziest thing.
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Jason: Bond shot out of the door and came running back after Justin thought he was gone forever. As I found out sometime later, Justin actually lost contact with Bond again. Bond, the Malinois actually got out of the military before Justin. Soon after his retirement, Bond was donated by the US military to Pine Mountain Police Department in Georgia to be used to respond to active shooter situations.
Justin: Well Bond actually when he retired, I was still in and he went to a Police Department, Pine Mountain Police Department after I had already told everybody that he looks old. He wasn’t really working as good. He wasn’t working as good as he used to, and they were telling me you’ll probably be able to get him when you get out, but they ended up sending him to Pine Mountain Police Department, which was probably 30 miles north of Columbus, 20 miles North of Columbus, Georgia. And my girlfriend caught light of that. She was pretty upset. So she went behind my back in a good way. She went behind my back and linked up with AHA, the American Humane Association, and they pretty much… At first the Pine Mountain Police Department was not on board with it and they were going to use him for active shooter dog, which Pine Mountain, Georgia, if you have ever heard of that place, it’s like the middle of nowhere, Georgia. I don’t know why you need an active shooter dog for, but at first they weren’t on board with it, but then AHA linked up with them and pretty much told them that if you give us this dog, we’ll give you enough assets to get another dog for your department. So Bond came to me.
Jason: Up next we hear how Jarrett and his dog ended up on a bizarre hunt for an IED that belonged to a mechanic with an unusual bomb making signature.
Jarrett: We were on patrol and my dog was out in front of the patrol working and we were all in kind of a main supply route, and we were searching houses with the Afghan army, and some locals came to us and told our interpreter that they had found an IED out in the field, so we went to go check it out and they said the IED was in the field, but they didn’t know where it was. They just said that they knew it was in the field somewhere. So I was working my dogs in the field and I took two other Marines with me to provide security for me, because that was a little weird that they had just said, hey there is an IED out there, but we don’t know where it is. You need to go find it.
Jason: In talking to Jared about this mission, he describes it as a bit of an unorthodox Easter egg hunt for an IED.
Jarrett: So I was in this open, cut wheat field and working my dog and I had two other two other Marines posting in security for me, and they had said it was in a field. Well, come to find out, I don’t know if it was a gang, like a rival gang of rival Taliban kind of thing, but we were looking for an IED in the field. Well, come to find out there was a guy that had his own motorcycle repair shop kind of deal, and he was making IEDs in his motorcycle repair shop. Well those guys was also making IEDs. So they sent us over to that guy, I guess, so he would get in trouble and not them. What we found is this IED and it had a bunch of motorcycle chain links that was the trap and all I guess he was using, and we couldn’t prove it was that guy just because he owned his own shop and we told him, Hey man, if we found any more IEDs with motorcycle chain parts in it, It’s not going to be good.
Well a couple weeks later we took some pop shots from that guy’s house, and we didn’t return fire or anything because it was only probably 5 or 10 shots. Well, we found another IED with motorcycle chain parts in it and we went to that guy’s house. The shock was, we didn’t really find any IED making material but we found bags of just black tar heroin and stuff and the guy wasn’t home.
Jason: Since the guy wasn’t home, Jarrett explains that he and his team took some time to make sure that the guy was quickly out of the drug and bomb making business. As you can see, these handlers had a pretty interesting perspective of the job as most handlers do. During my conversations with them, I was interested in getting to the bottom of a question I’ve been seeking the answer to for some time. The question is what makes a great dog handler? In my experience as a trainer handler and canine unit supervisor, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a vast number of dog handlers over the years and honestly, some were a lot better than others. Trying to understand the characteristics of a good canine handler is about as complicated as aiming to figure out the creation and purpose of Stonehenge in England.
Justin: We really never had a day off, unless you know… We wake up, sleep during the night or sleep during the day, wake up and if we had a mission to go out on that night, we’d gear up and go but sometimes you don’t get that for a while, just depends what they’re looking at. For the most part, for a day off, I wouldn’t even take a day off. I would just use my day off to train my dog. It’s hard sometimes. I mean, you don’t want to do stuff all the time, but I couldn’t leave a dog sitting in a kennel all day and not even take them out to run them or play fetch with them or do something with them.
Jarrett: Well, being in the military in general or a police officer, but it’s basically being a dog handler that’s not a 9 to 5 kind of thing. You always have to be working with your dog, based on deployment. When you’re with him for seven months, you can’t just put him in his kennel and then you go take a nap. Even just the bonding time and the training when you’re out on patrol with him working him.
Jason: One thing’s for sure. Being a dog handler is really hard work. One common characteristic that both of these former handlers identified as a trait of good handlers is the willingness to accept constructive criticism and learn from it to improve upon your performance.
Justin: I don’t know. I think a lot of the guys, you need to take, be able to take constructive criticism and let go of it and not get too mad, which a lot of people do when they get critiqued on something they did wrong. A lot of them don’t follow up and try to improve that.
Jarrett: It’s not always hummingbirds and butterfly kisses. Being the military dog handler or a police canine handler when you’re out there in the field. So I like constructive criticism. I know some people don’t. I think hard training, having a lot to take in and constructive criticism is going to make you better in the long run, because being in the field, you got people shooting at you or if you’re a police canine handler, you’re got people try to fight you because they know they got drugs in the car and you’re going to wind up finding them. So I think it makes better handlers, going through – I’m going to say harder – a harder school, but one that the instructors, if you make a mistake, the instructors are like, hey, you did this. They fix you. They are kind of harder on you instead of the instructors who want to hurry and get off and go home and drink beer, so they are like, yeah man. Good job and then you go out and do it and fail and you get yourself killed or somebody else killed. So I think a harder school and constructive criticism is a good thing for dog handlers.
Another similarity good handlers have is the ability to accept mistakes and laugh at yourself. As a handler, it’s inevitable that mistakes will be made and it’s important not to beat yourself up over it. Jarrett Hatley explains further while recounting the first bomb find his dog Blue had while in-country.
Jarrett: At the beginning of our deployment, it turned out to be good. I sent my dog out and he indicated, so I called him right back, gave him his Kong as a reward. I was excited about it because it was his first find in-country and I was telling the patrol leader about it. He’s like send him back out. I said okay. Send him back out. Come to find out there was nothing there. He was just laying down in the puddle because he was hot. So thank God, there was nothing better, but that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done probably. Sending him back out twice. There was a bunch of times where I would get him worked up before going out on patrol when we were doing our pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections, and I’d be out there very playing tug with them or something. I know it probably wasn’t a good idea, but we were bored and had nothing to do, and then we’d go out on patrol and I send him out because he only worked off lead, explosives. He’d be out there a pretty good ways and we would step outside the wire and as soon as we got out, I’d tell him to hunt it up and he would just work the whole time, and there was a couple patrols that he would bring back trash water bottles, just wanting to keep playing tug, and I had to laugh that off to a certain extent because he couldn’t be finding water bottles. He had to be looking for explosives. But if you’ve got a handler that gets mad at his dog and he’s heavy handed with a dog like that, the dog’s probably not going to work for him, and if your dog is not working for you, then you’re not doing your job. You’re not keeping Marines safe. So yeah, I think you have got to have a pretty good sense of humour about it. I mean sometimes he made me mad, but I didn’t want him to know that because he’d be like, I’m not working for this guy. So yeah, I think it plays a big role
Jason: In our quest to find out what makes a great dog handler, sometimes we’ve got to identify those traits of the bad ones.
Justin: Unmotivated, just wanting to be a dog handler because they thought it might, I guess set them apart from the other Marines. There was Marines with us, it would be time to go on patrol and they would just be lazy and they would use their dogs to get out of patrol. They would be like, Oh my dog’s not feeling good because they told us as the handler, and it’s your call to say that your dog is sick or not feeling good. Well, there was a couple of handlers with us. We’d be going out on a 10-hour night patrol and you want to lay in your bunk and watch movies, so you tell them that your dog is sick. I think a bad handler is just unmotivated. Don’t not care about their dog, don’t want to bond with their dog. Just get done walking them, throwing them in a crate and somebody that’s not good at reading their dog and just don’t want to better themselves being a dog handler and working a dog, and the most part a bad dog handler is one that thinks he’s a dog trainer. I saw that a lot.
Jarrett: Not been forth 110% effort during training, not asking questions. Attention to detail is huge in dog handling. You just have to know when to utilize something and when to not utilize the dog in a certain way as you guys know. A lot of guys didn’t want to put forth the effort to make a credible relationship with the platoon they were working for.
Justin: There was one handler in my battalion that comes to mind. His dad was a vet – not a dog trainer, not a dog handler – and that kid thought that he was a trainer I guess, just from his dad being a vet and our instructors used to get on him all the time because they would tell us one thing and he would have something to say about it every time. And even though they taught us that way to do it, he would do it different, then the instructors told him and he would do it completely wrong and he’d always go back and be like, well my dad’s a vet. So yeah, I know what I’m doing.
Jarrett: Not being proactive, being lazy, just being lazy. I mean we’re all at fault sometimes being lazy but just overly is like just … cause a lot of guys that came to our canine section where I came from, a lot of them are getting out of the Army. I reenlisted to be a dog handler and a lot of people are just like in their time in the army and they have like two years left where they send them to the canine section or get them out of the platoons, the lion squads. They were sitting there and they wouldn’t even deploy. They would just train dogs and get out of the army.
Jason: During my time with these handlers, motivation and a genuine love for dogs was a trait that consistently came up in the conversation.
Jarrett: When we become dog handlers in the Ranger regiment, you’re not just like somebody that just came in the Army. You had been in, and I was already in for over six years, so you didn’t have to have your hand held all the time. You’re in a canine section which was pretty much made up of all NCOs, which had been in the army for more than four years, three or four years. So I mean, being independent comes with building credible relationships with your platoon Sergeant or the people you’re working with, your higher ups pretty much. That comes even on target, finding something. If you’re not doing anything, there’s all this stuff going on and overseas, I’m going to take my dog over here and search this barn, or I’m going to take my dog over here and pull security. We don’t have to do anything but I would always bring a drop high with me overseas.I grabbed somebody and tell them to go hide it in this room. Let’s sit there for however long after they already cleared the room, of course. Let it sit there for however long, and then I’d go do training on target, because I didn’t want to go out and all these targets. I’m a dog. Nothing has happened with my dog.
Independence too comes with training. You have to know how to do training by yourself as well. Just take your dog out, have somebody lay a trail for you or be proactive in the training too. Say overseas, we try to jump in with their training. If they want to do training, like say they are practicing room clears overseas or they are just hanging in the hooch. Just bring my dog in there sometimes and hang out with them, the hooch meaning just their rooms or whatever. Go in there, bring your dog in there, and hang out with the platoon, different guys from the platoon. Just try to integrate the dog as much as you can into the assault force.
Justin: The good dog handlers with 33 that I saw was guys that were kind of standout guys, guys that wanted to not only be riflemen like we were and engage the enemy, but be able to bring something else – finding IEDs, keeping our Marine safe. So guys to count on who want to do a little bit more than just our actual job. You are also protecting these civilians, kids out playing around, running down the roads. So as far as characteristics of the guys went, I would say guys that wanted to do more than our actual job, to go above and beyond what our job requirements were.
Jarrett: They’re always proactive, constantly wanting to train their dog if they weren’t doing anything, no downtime really. Always working to improve their dog. Don’t blame your dog on everything that goes wrong in a scenario. That what a lot of guys do. Sometimes they don’t set their dog up for success as well because they don’t understand the problem themselves. They don’t ask questions or I think it’s the main thing comes down to is training in general. You have got to put forth the effort to get the product that’s worth a damn.
Justin: Once I got there and started working with the dogs, because that’s the first time I’ve ever seen dogs working, military working dogs and by the end of it, I was just in love with it. I loved watching them work.
Jason: What makes someone decide to be a dog handler? More importantly, what makes them love this work so much that they continue to commit themselves to it, even in some pretty hard situations? What makes someone want to work with a dog so much that they’re willing to put themselves in harm’s way repetitively? Of the thousands of handlers I’ve met over the years, they’re all significantly unique people. It’s clear that it takes an exceptional kind of person to be a great dog handler. Is there a single thread that makes them all the same in some way?
Chris: A Life of Dogs is brought to you through the support of Highland Canine Training, offering professional dog training solutions and premiere canine education. Learn more at
Jason: Thanks for tuning in once again to A Life of Dogs. We want to send a special thanks to Justin Edwards and Jarrett Hatley for sharing their stories with us and I hope that you enjoyed them. We’d like to dedicate this episode to all the fallen working dog handlers and dogs who have served in the US military. Be sure to stay tuned for our next episode and if you haven’t already, subscribe to our website or most podcast apps.
By the way, if you haven’t gone over and checked out working dog radios podcast, be sure to do so and listen to episode number 10 where I’m featured talking about detection, dog training and some other cool things. Music for this episode comes from Kevin MacLeod. Be sure to stay tuned to next month’s episode because we’ve got something really special coming your way.

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