By Aspen Reid
Special to Independent Newsmedia
Luke Air Force Base’s 56th Security Forces Squadron military working dogs participated in the 2019 Desert Dog Trials Saturday, April 6 at Scottsdale Stadium.
Two teams of MWDs ran in the trials which included obstacles such as jumping and running through a tunnel, scaling a six-foot wall, attacking decoys and being carried by their handlers. The event has been held each year since 2003.
Teams were judged based on how well the dog listened to its handler, its efficiency in navigating the course, and its ability to ignore distractions, among other things.
“We were graded on things like how well our dogs completed an obstacle and verbally outing [calling] the dog off of a bite,” said Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pedroza, 56th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler. “We also received more points if our dog was able to navigate obstacles without the assistance of a handler. As handlers, we received less points if we didn’t remain behind cover.”
Ms. Pedroza said she has been working with her MWD since January for the competition. Airmen and their MWDs spends hours training and preparing for the trials each year.
“Handlers were selected based on their ability and availability during the trials,” Ms. Pedroza said. “Those who competed this weekend actually gave up their time off to compete.”
Participating in events such as the Desert Dog Trials helps train the dogs and handlers for deployment situations, Ms. Pedroza explained.
“Events like these help expose the dogs to as many different scenarios as possible and give the handlers different tools on what they could possible expect state side or down range,” Ms. Pedroza said. “Seeing these scenarios encourage us to set up similar ones to advance the training of our dogs.”
MWDs aren’t the only competitors in the Desert Dog Trials. Fifteen different police stations, correction offices and sheriff departments also come out to show off their skills in the competition. Though MWDs are trained differently for deployment environments, a lot of the skill sets are the same.
“There are 53 teams that competed this year,” said Rod Mamero, Arizona Law Enforcement Canine Association public information officer. “Though not all the teams compete in every event.”
Ms. Pedroza explained this year was a new and unique time for her. Having only been paired with her dog, Frida, for the past six months comes with more challenges then a team who has been together for years. This is her third time competing in the Desert Dog Trials.
“Frida is a privilege to work with,” Ms. Pedroza said. “The last two years for trials I had competed with a different dog. Competing this year was a mixture of nervousness and excitement.”
With all the teams competing, placing high proved difficult, but Staff Sgt. Cameron Mcfadden, 56th SFS MWD handler took the top spot in narcotics detections.