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Marines from Okinawa and their canines build lasting bonds

Lance Cpl. Stefanie C. Pupkiewicz , III MEF

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan-Lance Cpl. Sky T. Bryson, a military working dog handler with the Provost Marshall's Office, and his military working dog, Renco, take a break from their daily training. Every day, the pair train in one of three areas: aggression, detection or obedience. Photo by Lance Cpl. Stefanie C. Pupkiewicz, 12/8/2008 10:51 AM

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan 12/19/2008-

He waited patiently with his eyes fixed on the bright red ball held above his head. With a high pitched sound and the flick of a wrist, his trainer launched the ball in the air and Renco dashed in pursuit. Smiling, his handler called him back to offer praise and throw the ball for his dog to chase.

But Renco doesn't lead the life of a typical dog.

He is a military working dog with the Provost Marshall's Office, Marine Corps Base; a trained professional who serves as a valuable tool for Lance Cpl. Sky T. Bryson, a military working dog handler with PMO.

Military working dogs, such as Renco, are used primarily to detect explosives or narcotics. With their keen sense of smell, dogs are effective at finding hidden contraband.

When Renco is not sniffing out contraband, he is usually training with Bryson.

Bryson trains with Renco as often as possible to sharpen Renco's skills and strengthen their bond.

Although Renco desires nothing more than his handler's affection, he wasn't always so attentive to Bryson.

Bryson was fresh from training when he came to Okinawa in February.

He did not know which dog he would be getting but was excited to get the opportunity to work with any of them, he said. In March, he was assigned Renco.

At first, Renco did not listen to Bryson, but after a few months of training together, the two became inseparable, he said.

"It takes time and effort to build trust between a dog and his handler," Bryson said. He added that once rapport is built with a dog, they are great to work with.

"It's like working with people if you take all the bad things away," he said. "Dogs are loyal and always have your back."

According to Bryson, the need for a dog to please its handler comes from its beta drive. There are four different types of drives: alpha, beta, play and prey.

Drive can also be used to describe a dog's energy level, he said.

"[Drive] is a natural thing in the dog that makes them want to run, chase things and get excited," he said, while watching his dog chew on the bright red ball that had more than a few teeth marks.

Renco is a high drive dog, Bryson said.

"You've got to be patient with him, he's kind of ADD," he said jokingly. "But, I'd choose him over any dog in the kennel."

According to Bryson, the worst part for handlers is parting with their dog at the end of a duty assignment.

"That's going to hurt when the time comes," he said. "I'm going to try and extend [my tour on Okinawa]."

There are still many months ahead for the pair before Bryson will have to leave Renco behind for a new duty station. For now their days will continue as normal, beginning and ending the same. Bryson will continue honing Renco's skills. His nearly flawless navigation of the obedience course recently earned him praise, play and affection from Bryson, who made it clear that Renco was man's best friend. While the two shared a moment, it was difficult to tell who was more pleased with the attention: Bryson or his dog. The concept of using dogs in the military is not new. Military working dogs were used during the Pacific campaign of World War II to alert foot patrols of enemy positions and camps, according to the Military Working Dog Foundation website. Dogs were ideal for navigating through the dense vegetation of the islands that hid enemy positions. According to the website, service members who went on patrols with dogs suffered fewer casualties than patrols that went without them.

The dogs were trained in a variety of other jobs as well. They were trained to serve as scouts, sentries and messengers, according to the website. Currently, military working dogs, such as Renco, are primarily used to detect explosives and narcotics.

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