Rico to Ficko: MWD handler makes the switch

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nicholas Benroth
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
When a dog's owner watches their lovable companion develop from a puppy to a full-grown animal, an emotional bond forms.

For Staff Sgt. Ryan Frederick, 23rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, these emotional bonds are supposed to be kept out of their daily job of handling their dog.

"We are told as we go through technical school that we should look at our dogs as equipment and not as our pets," said Sergeant Frederick. "This is harder than it sounds, though. You work with your dog often and spend so much time with them so you naturally build up that bond."

Sergeant Frederick knows this all too well as he and his former partner Rico, a 5-year-old Belgian malinois who is able to do detection and patrol, were separated because of the recent discovery that Rico had developed post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Rico was brought to the veterinarian late last year, which was when they reached the diagnosis," he said. "That's when we discovered that during training for a deployment, a ground burst simulator went off and scared Rico causing him to react with fear or aggression anytime he hears a loud noise."

Sergeant Frederick had been partners with Rico since July 2009 but never received the chance to deploy with him.

"When I found out Rico was not going to be able to deploy, it was a big disappointment," said Sergeant Frederick. "Spending a year training with him to only find out that he can't deploy was a huge letdown.

"After being with a dog for so long making the switch to a new dog is that much harder to handle," said Sergeant Frederick. "Each dog has its own personality and meshing with that can be difficult."

It's up to the kennel master to decide which handler fits with a certain dog's personality. Sometimes this isn't always possible and matches are made based on availability.

Before the problem with Rico was discovered a deployment had come up for another dog in the kennel. When Rico was declared incapable of deploying by the veterinarian, it freed Sergeant Frederick to switch to Ficko.

Ficko is a 6-year-old black German shepherd that is trained in detection. Rico and Ficko have the exact opposite personality Ficko is energetic and is always searching for something new, while Rico is a calmer dog that is vigilant but awaits orders.

"It just so happens that Ficko's handler was injured and I had the only dog that was non deployable," said Sergeant Frederick. "So it made sense to team me up with Ficko for the deployment."

This presented a challenge for Sergeant Frederick, who had to teach Ficko to be obedient and follow his commands within a very small window as the deployment approached.

"Generally a dog takes two weeks for get accustomed with their handler," said Tech. Sgt. David Smith, 23rd SFS MWD handler. "But with Sergeant Frederick being an experienced handler, he took control of Ficko in a shorter amount of time than normal."

Sergeant Frederick and Ficko will be leaving sometime in the spring of this year but Rico will be on his mind.

"We are unsure what will happen to Rico, but we will try and train him to overcome this," said Sergeant Frederick. But if that isn't possible, then he may be looking at retirement.

"We share a special bond because he was my first dog, so if this happens I will adopt him as my own."