Spencer Himes was starting his last two years of service with the U.S. Military when he discovered a hidden calling to train as a handler for the military’s canine unit working with Explosive Detector Dogs (EDDs).
While working as a military police officer on a Special Reaction Team for the Provost Marshal’s Office, Himes came in contact with the installation canine unit. After befriending some of the dog handlers and researching the role, he was determined to become a dog handler and headed to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for 11 weeks of handler training.
Training the Humans
Working with a Patrol EDD, Himes first learned how to command the dog for tactics such as patrol techniques, controlled aggression, scouting, pursuing a fleeing suspect and obedience. He then focused on working with the dog to find narcotics or explosives. Himes was also taught how to properly care for the dog’s health.
Himes commented, “The dogs are already up-to-speed and are actually training the handlers – showing them how to avoid the dangers from explosive devices by learning the dog’s reactions. For example, the dog will sit or have some other non-aggressive reaction when they have discovered a potentially dangerous object.”
Training the Dogs
After serving in the military, Himes went to work for DynCorp International in Iraq as an Explosive Detective Dog Handler. That’s where he met Rex, the half German Shepherd, half Belgian Malinois who became his partner for the next three and a half years.
They trained together for some time so Himes could build rapport with Rex and they eventually became mission-certified for work at one of the regional embassies. Their primary duty was to sweep areas where meetings would take place to ensure the safety of the participants.
EDDs generally train for about 60 days on detecting explosives in open areas, buildings, vehicles and on travel routes before they are initially certified. Detection training can utilize traditional protocol training, or what is known as the deferred final response training method. Canines are also trained in patrol techniques which teach basic obedience and proficiency in completing obstacle courses, scouting for suspects, building search methods and controlled aggression. Patrol training also takes approximately 60 days.
Breed and Temperament
There is no specific breed requirement for EDD team dogs, although you most often see German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds or Labradors. Other breeds such as Weimaraners, German Shorthaired Pointers Vizslas or even Beagles are also used as EDDs.
“It’s really more the temperament of the dog that matters. This also determines the type of work the dog will perform as each dog is evaluated to see where it fits best. Rex is a bit skittish and will defend more than he will attack, so he was a great choice as an explosives dog,” said Himes.
The Rewards of Service
Now seven years old and suffering from arthritis, Rex is retired from his EDD work and lives with Himes in Johns Island, S.C. Handlers are often allowed to keep their retired dogs through a formal written request to the State Department. A veterinarian must examine the dog to confirm that it should be retired, the State Department must agree, and the handler must have the proper living environment for the dog.
According to Himes, Rex is enjoying his well-earned retirement and happily handling his new role of companion and friend—with no danger attached.