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Team Malmstrom gains a future K-9 veteran

Staff Sgt. Christopher Hotine, 341st Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and MWD, Ffarah, pose for a photo March 1, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Hotine, 341st Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and MWD, Ffarah, pose for a photo March 1, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. MWDs are trained in law enforcement, including how to detect drugs and explosives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob M. Thompson)

Staff Sgt. Christopher Hotine, 341st Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and MWD, Ffarah, pose for a photo March 1, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Hotine, 341st Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and MWD, Ffarah, pose for a photo March 1, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Hotine has been assigned as the primary handler for Ffarah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob M. Thompson)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Military working dogs and handlers support defense posture by providing a psychological deterrent and increased security, as well as serving local communities in aid requests, such as bomb detections and drug inspections.

The 341st Security Forces Squadron MWD unit was assigned a new female K-9, Ffarah, a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois in early February.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Hotine, 341st SFS MWD handler, has been assigned as the primary handler of Ffarah.

Prior to arriving at their duty station, MWDs receive initial training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

“She is trained in the basics at Lackland,” said Hotine. “She’s trained for patrol work, which entails apprehending and biting agressors.”

Hotine added that during initial training, K-9s are also taught patrol, drug and explosive detection, law enforcement and specialized mission functions for the Department of Defense.

“When she got here, we progressed her training further into what we need for our mission,” he added. “It’s a lot of exposing her to the environment slowly. I take her out for a few minutes then bring her back in. Over the next few weeks, we start increasing Ffarah’s exposure to the temperature versus throwing her out in the snow.”

At Malmstrom, MWDs begin a new training regimen to better equip themselves to adapt to the unique climate that is the northern tier.

“We start fine tuning the dogs to perform our desired outcome,” said Hotine.

Dogs assigned to Malmstrom haven’t been previously exposed to severely cold weather. Acclimatization can require a slow exposure to the environment over the course of several weeks.

“With cold weather, we especially have to be mindful of frostbite,” said Hotine. “We have heated vests and boots for the dogs to wear that cover up their body to keep them warm.”

Once acclimated to the weather, MWD handlers and trainers can then build upon the dog’s previous training to better prepare the animal to accomplish the local mission, as well as foster the military relationship with the local community.

“Occasionally, when people drive onto base, we need to search their vehicle,” said Hotine. “People see the dog and it becomes a psychological deterrent, they don’t know what to expect.”

Handlers and their dogs are searching for contraband and are trying to detect terrorist threats or activity.

“Someone’s intent to bring something on to the base can cause damage to a mission critical infrastructure and could cause chaos,” said Hotine. "The dog is a force multiplier.”

“There’s no technology to date that can match a dog’s nose,” he added.

“My goal is to get her to not need me at all to accomplish the mission,” Hotine continued. “Ffarah is doing all the work and I’m just holding the leash.”

With training, Hotine hopes to see Ffarah progress to where she isn’t reliant on a handler to accomplish the job.

“You want to train the dog so that it is good at what it does,” concluded Hotine. “Ultimately, that’s the end game you want for your dog. There’s nothing the handler can do that will throw the dog off the job.”

MWDs and their handlers will be celebrating K-9 Veterans Day March 19, a day to honor the service and sacrifices of military working dogs throughout history.
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