It’s a chilly evening in Sennelager, and as the sun slowly sets behind the majestic oaks the mournful, soporific notes of the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata can be heard wafting through the windows of the low-level building.
But this isn’t an officer’s mess hosting a musical-themed evening – it’s a dog kennel.
And the “audience” enjoying one of Ludwig’s most celebrated works are Sonic, Urban, Wilson, Bracken, Oscar and a few canine colleagues from 1st Military Working Dog Regiment.
The harmony-filled hour is part of their regular routine; after working hard all day on drills and exercises it’s an essential part of the dogs’ wind-down before tucking-in for the night.
“The animals always come first in everything we do,” says Maj Ken McIntosh, officer commanding 102 Military Working Dog Squadron.
“Every single thing I organise is done primarily with their welfare in mind.
“They are as well looked after as we are; they are our assets and our whole point of being.”
That role has changed recently, however, as the demands of contingency have taken hold.
Where the focus used to be on training animals in support of operations in Afghanistan, now the regiment’s squadrons must be able to reinforce overseas defence engagement, capacity building missions, short-term training assignments and exchange programmes.
And to assist them in this increasingly wide array of tasks the dogs have seen their kit bags updated with the latest in canine protective equipment.
The animal may need goggles (or “doggles”) to protect its eyes during helicopter landings or in sandy or dusty conditions, and it might also have to wear special boots that protect its paws from injuries by dangerous fluids, glass splinters or rough ground.
Ear defenders can be employed on deployments for certain tasks that don’t require the animal’s acute hearing, or during the training phase to gradually desensitise it to the sounds of gunfire and explosions.
In hot climates cooling vests are also used to keep the dogs comfortable and in some situations they will be equipped with stab- and bullet resistant body armour that is fitted to the dimensions of their neck, chest, and torso.
102 Squadron is one of 1st Military Working Dog Regiment’s three Regular sub-units (there is also one Reserve squadron) and each aims to have between 40 and 50 deployable teams consisting of a dog and handler at any one time covering roles such as protection, tracking, vehicle search or drugs and explosives detection.
Read the full story in this month’s magazine.