Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Military dogs the stars of Airforce graduation

Teaching a dog a few tricks takes a lot of patience and hard work.

So imagine coaching a pup to become a military dog which will provide security for the base and its assets and also be up for deployment to various crises including those overseas.

For Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Thomas Olsen, 24, and fellow LAC Dan Forsyth, 23, the hard work and patience has all paid off, after graduating as new dog handlers for the Royal New Zealand Air Force's military working dog unit.

The handlers, who both hail from Wellington, graduated from the 14-week course at a special ceremony at the RNZAF base in Whenuapai, West Auckland, today.

Their respective canine companions, Koda and Axle, also graduated from the course.

LAC Olsen, who attended Kapiti College, said training involved building a rapport with your animal, teaching obedience, agility and also what to do when apprehending an offender.

"One of the pinnacles of this course is the trust between the dog and the handler. You really need to know your dog."

Being the bad guy during training sessions -- donning a big padded jacket and pants at times -- was a little tough at the start, LAC Olsen said, admitting he had received some "big bruises" over the past few months -- not from his dog though, he is quick to point out.

"When I first did it, I sort of had jittery knees," he laughed.

"It's a good rush though. I did enjoy it."

LAC Forsyth, a former student at Heretaunga College in Upper Hutt, said one of his goals was working to make his military dog, Axle, the best on the unit.

LAC Forsyth and Axle demonstrated how they worked to catch an offender.

Running across the field, the heavily padded man in the hat has no chance against Axle when he refuses to give himself up.

"Don't run away from the dog -- just don't. That's probably the best option.

"The dog will bite and hold and he'll pull down to apprehend an individual. That will give me time to come up and apprehend them ... "

Friends, family members and colleagues attended today's graduation ceremony, to celebrate the unit's new recruits.

- NZ Herald

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