Meet Fritz. He’s a 56-kilo Belgian Malinois employed as a Military Working Dog by the US Air Force. They figured it’d be a good idea to get him to attack me so I could write you an article about it. Let’s see how that goes.
My girlfriend and I have been living on a United States Air Force base in Japan for the last few months. Despite having to listen to the national anthem every day at 5pm, sharp, it’s a situation that has its perks.
One night, the Security Forces Commander suggested that Kyra and I visit the K-9 kennel to learn more about the Military Working Dog programme. A few more beers and he decided that not only should we visit the facility, but also experience the brute force of these animals first-hand.
“You guys wanna get attacked by one of the dogs?” 'Why not?' We thought.
Fast forward a few weeks and we’re walking into a tan-coloured cement structure, exactly like all the others on base. This one, however, smells like faeces, food and fur and is so loud with barks inside that the reverberations feel like they’re going to puncture your ears. Seven dogs live here right now. There’s normally eight, but one just retired.
First, the handlers demonstrated the dogs’ skills for us. Professional sniffers were able to find a kilo of potassium chloride (an explosives ingredient) hidden in one of a pile of suitcases. Then, we were shown the command attacks, performed on this newly adopted rubber prosthetic arm. Or, the “dildo,” as the handlers refer to it. They’ve got to use this thing carefully, its small surface area leaves no room for error as the dogs clamp their powerful jaws on it, over and over and over.
It was 35 degrees out, so donning the heavily padded safety suit felt like putting on a sauna. After my first encounter with Fritz, I was happy to be wearing it. Shit, I’d have worn two if it was possible.
The first thing they had me do was hold my arm out while the dog sat there, patiently awaiting its orders. It’s an odd feeling to have an animal as powerful as this one look at you in anger. And suddenly, before you can even blink, he’s on you, with his teeth sunk into the suit’s arm. They told me to fight, to throw my arm back and forth, to pull up if I could. The idea is to try and prevent the dog from “typewritering,” moving his bite up and down your arm. Being that Fritz is just 11 kilos shy of my weight, his bite and subsequent thrashing threw me around like a rag doll.
“Fight back!” The handlers screamed. “Keep him from biting your hand!” It was all in vain; I was typewritered.
They shouted some abrupt orders that I couldn’t understand and Fritz let go, tongue wagging, eagerly awaiting his next command.
“Say something mean to the dog and then run away!” The handlers instructed. “You need to provoke him, it’ll make the pursuit more realistic.”
Alright. “Fuck you Fritz!” And I ran, as fast as I could.
Looking over my shoulder, I could see Fritz moving at full speed, in anger. By the time I felt his jaws lock onto my upper arm, I was already on my way to the ground. The handlers were there in a flash, then walking me — Fritz still attached — toward the crowd that had gathered to witness this nonsense.
They were proud of how well Fritz had attacked the meaty section of my body, as opposed to going for the less crucial extremities. His reward? A pat on the head while he sat drooling.
What makes a MWD different from your average police pup? These animals, which begin their training at the Air Force’s Texas training centre, spend more than a year under the tutelage of experienced handlers before being dispatched to different bases around the world.
I should note that the USAF trains all of the K-9s used by all branches of the military. During their training in Texas, the dogs are split into two categories based on their ability to detect drugs or explosives. Why not have dogs that can do both? They want to be able to know if the dog is indicating 5 kilos of plastique or a half-ounce of marijuana; the difference can be life or death.
Of the seven MWDs currently on-duty at this base in Japan, six are trained to detect nine different kinds of explosives, while the seventh can detect seven kinds of narcotics. These dogs and their handlers get deployed all around the world, frequently on Secret Service missions sniffing suitcases, hotels, vehicles and anything else that could potentially come into contact with the Commander-in-Chief.
What happens to a MWD when it’s done serving? How’s about a full, military-grade retirement ceremony complete with medals, a steak and lobster dinner and, assuming they are fit to be adopted, a few lazy years lounging on a someone’s porch.
Can a humble civilian adopt one of these animals? “If you’re ever in the San Antonia area and are looking to adopt an animal, you should definitely consider a retired MWD,” the handlers tell us. What does it involve? Some simple paperwork and a handful of instructions, including a list of words you should never, ever say.
Justin is a freelance writer cataloguing his journey on WestX1000.
This article originally appeared on Indefinitely Wild, Gizmodo's blog on adventure travel and the gear that gets us there