For drug-sniffing K-9s, chew toy reward of more interest than illegal substances
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Sniffing out drugs.
It’s a serious job and takes a lot of training.
For four-legged military police it’s all a game, said K-9 handlers Thursday during a training exercise at the West Pac Barracks on Camp Foster.
Sergeants Aaron Nuckles, 29, from South Pines, N.C., and Christopher Diaz, 23, from Albuquerque, N.M., hid several palm-sized canisters containing small amounts of drugs in the barracks.
“We use 100 percent illegal drugs” in training, said Nuckles, the assistant kennel master.
“Using the real thing reinforces the training,” Diaz added.
Military working dogs go through a 90-day recruit training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. They then spend the rest of their careers in continued training “to progress their skills,” Nuckles said.
The dogs’ motivation is not in finding the drugs, he said. The dogs only want to find the drug odor so they can get a reward — playing with dog toys and words of praise from handlers.
“They can pick the individual smells out,” Nuckles said.
“If we walked into a Pizza Hut all we smell is pizza,” he said. “(The dogs) smell the dough, the pepperonis and the sauce.”
The promise of a reward also was evident as German shepherds Andy, 8, and Meister, 3, quivered with excitement when it came time to enter the barracks to search for drugs.
Andy “is like a little kid,” Nuckles said as the dog almost pulled him from room to room. “He knows if he does it right, he gets the kong (a dog toy).”
The dogs quickly located each hiding spot then sat to indicate their find.
And then waited for their rewards.