MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
“That’s a good boy Rocky” cooed Cpl. Angelo Melendez, military working dog handler from Philadelphia. PA, petting his German shepherd affectionately. Rocky barks back and playfully licks at his handler. “He likes it when you talk to him like a baby.”
It’s hard to believe Rocky is the same bomb-sniffing, Improvised Explosive Device detecting, attack dog capable of vehicle extractions and patrolling the base. In conjunction with Marines from the Provost Marshalls Office, Rocky helps to ensure the safety of all residents of Camp Pendleton by providing security and sniffing out different dangers.
“Some people work with machinery or with a computer, but this is a living, breathing tool we use, "Melendez said.”There’s no other job like it in the Marine Corps. I really can’t explain the feeling I get when I come to work and actually work with my dog … it’s a privilege."
In order to complete the mission successfully, dog and handler must work together and their bond must be unbreakable. Handlers generally spend between 8-14 hours a day training with one another.
“He sees me in the morning and knows it’s game time,” Melendez said. “His ears go back, his tail starts to wag, he starts running and spinning around in his kennel, and he starts whining because all he wants to do is come out and play with daddy. It’s one thing when you go to your house and have that, but to go to work - I could work 24/7 and not have a problem with it. I don’t even mind coming in on off-days and going for a run or a hike with him.”
Most new handlers initially work with an experienced dog who knows the commands and the job in general; however, Rocky came to Melendez straight out of K-9 school at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX.
“When you have a new dog and a new owner, there is bound to be tension in the beginning,” Melendez said. “But we’re both laid back; he can lay down right next to me and just relax, and that’s one of the things that will build the bond between dog and handler. Every handler learns to love their dog; if you can’t, then this job is definitely not for you.”
Officer Brandon Owens, chief trainer for the K-9 unit and a civilian police officer on Camp Pendleton, watched Melendez and Rocky grow and develop as a team from the beginning.
“He has an exceptional relationship with Rocky,” Owens said. “Rocky doesn’t only listen to him because he has to, he does it because he wants to, and that goes a long way. That’s a key thing we look for in a dog/handler relationship."
“HUT!” Melendez shouts and Rocky instantly stops in his tracks and heels to his “daddy’s” side, making him not only man’s best friend but a Marine’s best friend as well.
Whether deployed or in a garrison environment, K-9 military working dogs are an invaluable asset against the war on terror. One of the most important aspects of these four-legged heroes’ mission, is their determined, but most of all, compassionate dog handlers.