Me: Tell us about yourself and your dog.
Spc. Colloggero Vignati, Military Police Dog Handler, US Army: I joined the military to protect my country and my loved ones. Coming from where I used to be and seeing where I am now, it’s a complete 180. I wasn’t really such a good person when I was younger. I grew up in a bad neighborhood and my parents split when I was young. I got into a lot of trouble when I was young…When I was 19, I decided I can’t do that anymore. I’ve got to turn my life around, so I joined the Army. I first came in as a MP. From the tests, I was chosen to be a dog handler 3 years ago and it has turned out to be one of the best jobs in the Army.
This is Saxo. He’s a Patrol Explosive Detector Dog and he has been deployed to Iraq. He’s 6 years old. He’s been with the Army since he was about 2 years old. I’ve only been with him for about 8 months. He wanted to be more alpha than his last handler. He really needed a more experienced dog handler, someone to give him a more stern voice. It usually takes about 5-6 months before a bond develops between a dog and his handler. It took Saxo about a month with me. I just spent time with him, working with him. It took hours and hours of working together every day. Repetition helped.
A dog’s always going to protect your back. He’s always going to know you, the difference between you and someone else, and he lets you know that I’m going to be by your side no matter what! All the dog knows is the handler, nothing else. The dog just knows you, your smell, your voice—your everything. You give life to the dog. For example, I was out here (CA) for training for about a month. I was the only one that fed him, got him water, and took him out on breaks, so he knew he’d get everything from me. He’ll respond to other people here and there, just to play around and be familiar with other people–to be nice with others. This is so he’s not so aggressive and can build rapport with others, to not be so mean all the time.
What I love the most about Saxo is how he’s a goofball when it comes to us just playing around, but when it comes to work, he’s all about work. He’s 100% work and talent. He’s trained to attack on command…When he gets real agitated, he doesn’t let anyone get near him or me. When he gets like that, I just let him let it out of his system. I’ll keep petting him. He’ll eventually settle down when he’s tired.
I’ll never forget how Saxo can act like a child sometimes, but he’s really an old man. His favorite toy is a Kong, a little plastic ball. It has a rope on it so we can play tug of war with it. He loves to chew on the ball. He gets the ball when he finds an explosive. That’s his reward. When he does something right, that’s when he gets a toy. I’ll never forget that energy he has, even for being such an old man. He’s getting to be at an age where he’s going to start to decline soon, but he doesn’t want to decline. He’s a tenacious dog. He’s never going to stop!