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Combat dog has a special job for his country

A breeding stud named Arnold has produced nearly 150 Belgian Malinois pups to train in the Defense Department's canine boot camp.

January 05, 2013|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • Arnold, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, is a stud dog in the Defense Department canine breeding program at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Arnold, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, is a stud dog in the Defense Department… (Darren Abate, For The Times )

Arnold des Contes D'Hoffmann, who joined the Department of Defense in 2008, has never been to Afghanistan or Iraq. But numerous of his progeny have deployed to the war zones and are credited with saving American lives.

Arnold has a unique job description in the American military: He's a stud.

With 149 offspring — and six more expected soon — the Belgian Malinois is one of the more productive males in the breeding program at the military working dog program at Lackland Air Force Base, a sprawling military installation in San Antonio. The program's goal is to produce dogs that have fewer medical problems than the dogs purchased from outside vendors and can stay longer on active duty.

Dogs capable of sniffing out buried bombs, guarding far-flung bases, or displaying aggression on command have been in great demand since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Arnold, in his own fashion, has done his part for national security.

To produce about 100 pups a year, the breeding program has 16 females and three males. Among the males, Arnold, who turned 7 years old last month, is considered a go-to dog when a certain task needs doing quickly and efficiently.

"Arnold knows his job," said Stewart Hilliard, breeding program manager. Hilliard knows dogs. He holds a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience from the University of Texas and has long been an advocate of Belgian Malinois as ideal military working dogs.

Of Arnold's offspring, about half have been found suitable as working dogs, Hilliard said. The same is true of dogs purchased from outside vendors; about half wash out from the rigorous training program because they lack initiative, resist taking orders, or lack a keen enough sense of smell.

"Odor detection is absolutely necessary, that and a passion for playing," Hilliard said.

When Arnold was trained as a working dog, his handlers decided he was so good that his highest and best use would be to create a superior bloodline for Belgian Malinois. When he is not doing his job, he spends most of his days in a kennel.

"If he gets to a chase a ball for several hours, he's had a good day," said Hilliard.

The pups stay at Lackland about nine weeks before being sent to volunteer "foster dog-parents" for nurturing. The volunteers are suppled with dog food, a leash, a collar, a dog crate and several toys; the dogs are assured of medical care at the veterinary hospital on base. Up to nine months later, the pups are returned to Lackland to begin training at canine boot camp.

With permission of the relatives of the fallen heroes, some of the Belgian Malinois from the breeding program are named for a soldier, sailor or Marine killed in combat. A recent pup — sired by one of Arnold's fellow studs, Oori — was named for Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL killed in Iraq and posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor.

The use by the U.S. military of German shepherds, bull terriers, and Doberman pinschers dates to the two world wars of the last century. The Belgian Malinois joined the working dog ranks in large numbers only in the early 1980s, officials said.

About 15% of the working dogs that graduate from the Lackland training program each year are from the Belgian Malinois breeding program.

Some veteran handlers insist that the Belgian Malinois is smarter, more aggressive and possesses a sharper sense of smell than other breeds. The Malinois are known as "maligators" because of their alligator-like jaws that can immobilize a man with a single chomp.

Accounts of the raid by Navy SEALs on the compound of Osama bin Laden say the SEALs were accompanied by a Belgian Malinois named Cairo. Known as a CAD — combat assault dog — Cairo sniffed inside the walled compound for bombs and booby traps and used a teeth-baring snarl to keep curious neighbors at bay while the SEALs searched for the terrorist leader.

When President Obama later met with the SEALs, he reportedly was particularly interested in meeting Cairo. To prevent the commander in chief from being bitten, Cairo was kept in a muzzle at the request of the Secret Service.

Could Cairo be one of Arnold's pups?

The answer to that question, like so many details about that mission, is classified.

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