A former New Plymouth man, Aircraftman (AC) Liam Elder, graduated as an RNZAF Dog Handler on Tuesday 25 June, after completing the 12-week long Military Working Dog Handlers Course at RNZAF Base Auckland.
Graduating with him were AC Trent Norman and AC Terina Naden; the trio are now Military Working Dog (MWD) Handlers working in the RNZAF’s Military Working Dog Unit at Auckland.
The Air Force has a specialist Military Working Dog unit which is used for Force Protection—security of the air base and aircraft, and security of RNZAF units when deployed.
AC Liam Elder was a volunteer for the Dog Handlers’ Course, in which the handlers learn to control the dogs, have them obey commands, cross over obstacles and tackle intruders. For the MWD, training is in fact ‘play’, the handlers use toys to gain the dog’s interest but the goal of training is to transfer the dog’s interest to the handler.
AC Liam Elder said he was very pleased to have completed the demanding course, "The handler has to learn the dog’s characteristics; the dog is in fact a weapon, most definitely NOT a pet. But once training for dog and handler is completed, we have to keep up the pace and interest for the dogs."
By the end of the Course, AC Elder explained, the handlers can control the dog without a lead, and it will show its trust in its Handler. but when first introduced to the dog he trained with "It was a power struggle with the dog for the first couple of weeks!"
At the graduation ceremony, the three new handlers demonstrated the serious role of the MWD: an armed intruder appeared and when he failed to obey instructions from the Force Protection personnel, the dog was unleashed and, despite (blank) gunfire, tackled the intruder. The MWD remained on alert in the guard position as the intruder was restrained and searched.
AC Elder said the course was "full-on," but now he was proud to join the unit. "I am looking forward to taking the dogs on patrol."
The RNZAF Force Protection dog teams not only work at RNZAF Base Auckland but also deploy overseas on various exercises or operational deployments.
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