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Face of Defense: From Puppy to Police Dog

By Army Staff Sgt. Patricia McMurphy 28th Public Affairs Detachment

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., Aug. 7, 2015 — He jumps, he drools, and he sheds like it’s summer all year long, but this is no ordinary pup. This dog is an invaluable part of team that could one day save lives and capture dangerous criminals.

Army Staff Sgt. Adam Serella, a military working dog handler with the 95th Military Police Detachment here, is busy training Greco -- a newly-acquired military working dog, fresh from Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. Greco left there with the basics, just like the airmen who attend Air Force basic training at JBSA, and now he’s ready to learn what it means to really be a MWD.

Serella, a seasoned handler and lead trainer for the kennels, has worked with and trained MWDs for five years and says he enjoys training new dogs.

"I have seen how rewarding and also how frustrating it can be at times," Serella said. "Just like [new] soldiers who come pre-trained or know the basics, I prefer that. I’d rather shape and mold a new soldier. It’s the same with dogs."

Serella said that when he found out he was getting a new dog, he went to work extra early that day just to meet him.

First Day of Training

After reading Greco’s training record and logging some playtime in the yard to get to know each other, it was time for a bath.

"He smelled pretty bad, so I put him in the tub and gave him his toy to chew on," Serella said. "He just had this sad ‘why are you doing this’ look on his face."

After the bath, Serella took Greco to his first training session.

Like all soldiers, military working dogs must practice their skills to stay sharp. The handlers and dogs also learn to work together as a team and complete required tasks.

According to Serella, finding what makes the dogs want to work is the key building a good working relationship -- it’s all about the rewards.

"Unlike dogs at home, these dogs don’t have toys laying around, so, all the working dogs have an extremely high desire for the toy or the reward, and we only play with that reward when they are working and after they have done a good job and have met the standard," said Serella. "That’s their form of currency."

Next Step: Certification

To assure the standards are met, each MWD team is tested on their proficiency during annual certifications, which they must maintain to conduct their garrison missions and in order to deploy.

"Certification is a weeklong process where every aspect of our work is evaluated," Serella said. "The standards are very strict, but they have to be. Bomb dogs can only miss one plant or hiding spot, anything more results in a failure."

Serella said military working dog teams have to meet these strict standards because they could one day lead units on patrol in dangerous locations or even work with the Secret Service, ensuring the safety of the president.

Serella may have been working with Greco for just six weeks, but he said he is confident when the time comes to test for certification, they will pass with flying colors.

"I don’t want to sound cocky, but there is no reason I can’t pass certification with him," Serella said. "He is a good dog."

After certification, the team can be utilized for a variety of missions here and on deployments around the world. They will also be able to add more advanced skills on top of what they already know.

An additional skill Serella is hoping to add is improving his obedience and extending the amount of time he can have Greco stay where he is told, even if Serella is not in sight.

"I would like to be able to say ‘stay’ and walk away for 10 minutes then come back and him still be there," Serella said. "That is obedience, which is the basis of all dog training."

Serella and Greco are scheduled to certify at the end of August, and when they succeed as Serella predicts, they will become an asset to JBLM and those they may serve at home or abroad.