K9 handler learns from her canine student

Handlers practice controlled aggression training with military working dogs in order to deal with hostile people.

Senior Airman Nicole Meyer, 386th Expeditionary Security Force Squadron military working dog handler, rewards Nido, a Belgian Malinois, after training at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 19, 2018. Meyer graduated from the military working dog technical school approximately a year ago and was assigned Nido after being notified of her deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton)

Handlers practice controlled aggression training with military working dogs in order to deal with hostile people.

Staff Sgt. Conner Patron and Senior Airman Nicole Meyer, 386th Expeditionary Security Force Squadron military working dog handlers, work Nido, a Belgian Malinois, as Tech. Sgt. Eric Hoffman, 386 ESFS kennel master, watches at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 19, 2018. Handlers practice controlled aggression training with military working dogs in order to deal with hostile people. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) --

Moments ago, the joys of playing with a rubber toy were all he could think about; but now his posture has changed. 

Senior Airman Nicole Meyer, 386th Expeditionary Security Force Squadron military working dog handler, deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, waits patiently and reassures him the training will begin soon. 

Nido, a Belgian Malinois, is ready to work. 

This is Nido’s third deployment, second to his current undisclosed location, and Meyer laughs joyfully describing how he clearly remembers the location. 

“Oh he definitely remembers,” she said. “Like the vehicle search pit, it’s not always the most exciting thing in the world but he knows what he has to do and you can tell.”

Speaking for Nido in a melancholy tone which sounds smaller and more child-like, Meyer says “we are going to the pit today aren’t we.” 

It is a testament to her bond with Nido, that she can instinctively describe his emotional reaction to the location before they have arrived. 

This is Meyer’s first deployment as a handler. She graduated from the military working dog technical school approximately a year ago and has worked with dogs for a few months before she found out she was deploying and assigned Nido, a more experienced and confident dog.

Meyer said the differences between a seasoned military working dog and a younger dog is as different as the colors black and white. She compared her first dog Buster to a toddler, young and energetic but new. 

“It’s pretty much like when you get to your first (station) as an airman first class and you’re linked up with a staff sergeant,” she said. “That’s Nido, and Buster was that airman first class.” 

Meyer says Nido doesn’t require as much hands-on instruction which has helped her overcome self-doubt, allowing her to build trust in her furry companion.

“When I first picked him up, I doubted myself a lot. I thought I had to intervene when I didn’t have to and presented things to him I didn’t have to,” she said. “The handler that previously had him (said) just watch him, so I gave him the leash and he did it on his own." 

She said she would hover over top of him, like a helicopter parent. She would direct him to objects that either didn’t require being searched or that Nido hadn’t indicated as an object of interest.

“He’s taught me to trust him and let him do his thing, read him and if he needs help he will let me know he needs help,” Meyer said. 

She learned to be patient with him and stay calm, which built a bond allowing him to communicate to her. She speaks about this bond with reverence, indicating that it may be an experience only understood by other military working dog handlers.

“I just learned it travels down leash,” she said about how her emotions can affect how the dog performs. “He teaches me, ‘hey don’t get stressed, relax, be cool,’ because the stress will travel down the leash. If it travels down the leash it will go to him and he’s like ‘what are you doing, calm down.’”

The bond between Meyer and Nido is obvious to those who are looking. He’s constantly focused on a need for gratification, that can only be provided by his master. 

The special way she ruffs up his fur.

The high pitch and cadence change in her voice when she’s praising him from afar. 

The calm and subtle way she says yes, giving him permission to take his reward. 

There is pride in her voice and a twinkle in her eye as she speaks about her friend.

“Nido, he’s a cuddler, he’s sweet, he loves attention, he loves to please his handler and it’s cool how he flips that switch from protection to patrol,” she said.

“Yes they are (security) tools, but they are dogs and as a dog they have needs,” Meyer said. “They need to breathe and eat, but they also need to be comforted, they need attention, they need love.”