This Rocky comeback is no movie fairytale

  • Published
  • By Ryan Hansen
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
A fully trained and certified military working dog is valued at anywhere between $20,000 and $40,000, depending on its background and expertise.

For that reason alone, trainers at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog School at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, go to great lengths to help a dog accomplish its training before they decide it cannot make it and put it up for adoption.

The K-9s here at Offutt are no different. In fact, one in particular, MWD Rocky, is an example of how trainers often times go above and beyond to get these furry defenders out in the force.

Rocky was purchased in December 2011 from a kennel in Europe for roughly $2,000. Prior to his purchase, he went through procurement testing and showed the skills needed to participate in dog training school.

"The procurement test consists of environmental stability, reward and search drive, defense and courage testing, as well as bite and threat testing," said Master Sgt. Michael Iverson, 55th Security Forces Squadron kennel master. "The tested traits before purchase are put into action to be molded into military working dog skills."

The German Shepherd then started his journey towards being a fully-fledged MWD in March 2012. But after 49 days of training, Rocky was eliminated and scheduled for adoption.

However, after further review of his test scores, trainers assigned him to a special projects team where they hoped he'd show enough improvement so he could move out to an active unit.

"Rocky showed progress in explosive detection, but the evaluators were concerned that if he was shipped to a field unit, they would not be able to certify him," Iverson said.

Therefore, Rocky was assigned to a MWD supervisor's course where he would serve as a training aid with hopes that further progression could be made. Unfortunately, results were unfavorable and Rocky was eliminated from training in September 2013.

In a last ditch effort to save Rocky, the trainers at JBSA contacted Iverson to see if he would like to work closer with the dog to see if he could get him certified.

Iverson, who served four years at the dog training school and was qualified as a master military working dog trainer, couldn't resist. He went to San Antonio in October 2013 and after evaluating Rocky, he brought him back to the unit.

"I saw the same great characteristics that the purchasers saw, so I brought him to Offutt," he said. "He showed all the traits for a dual-purpose patrol and explosive detector dog."

After bringing Rocky to Offutt, Iverson and his team quickly found Rocky's main training issue.

"The major issue was confusion, probably due to having multiple trainers trying too many different techniques," he said. "Our goal was to simplify things and reteach the basics.

Once the detection basics were retaught, Rocky progressed well due to consistency and simplicity. And in January 2014, he was validated in explosion detection.

"His first certification was memorable," Iverson recalled.

Since then, Rocky has continued to progress. He passed his out-of-cycle explosive validation in July 2014 and after recently being paired with Staff Sgt. Elbert Foreman, he was validated once again in October 2015.

"Working with Rocky is rewarding because you get to see the results of the training techniques you apply and know that you are a very important part of his success," he said.

In what could have been a roughly $4,000 loss for the Department of Defense,  MWD Rocky is now serving as a fully certified, trained and validated explosive detector dog  valued at nearly $25,000.

"I couldn't be more impressed with our defenders taking a dog that was destined to be cast to the side and with expert training, got it certified and into circulation," said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Morris, 55th Wing command chief. "It was a huge gamble, but you can clearly see the costs savings to the Air Force."

The MWD handlers are also continuing to work with Rocky in hopes of certifying him as a dual-purpose patrol and explosive detector dog in the near future.

"Hopefully we can keep advancing him to his full potential," Foreman said.