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Defence Force dogs with a passion for success

When it comes to the Defence Force’s Explosive Detector Dogs (EDD), what counts is personality.

20 April, 2023

Rita, a Labrador cross, has that attribute in spades, even if her origins are humble. In fact, her background and age are uncertain, having been discovered wandering and taken in by the SPCA.

She now comes under handler and combat engineer Lance Corporal Luke Martin, of Military Working Dogs 2 Section. He thinks Rita may be an ex-farm dog, but she definitely has the right temperament for her new working life as an EDD.

“All dogs go through a selection process, but there’s a real basic test. You take them out into a field with a ball and you throw it. Are they into chasing it? And then you throw it into the long grass and you find out how long it takes the dog to find it. Have they got the drive to keep looking for it?”

In Rita’s case, she kept hunting and hunting for 15 minutes – she was determined.

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EDD Rita and handler Lance Corporal Luke Martin

EDD Rita and handler Lance Corporal Luke Martin

“We also test them in urban environments, to see what they react to. Are they scared of built-up places, or even their own shadow?”

Rita has been a trained EDD for four years and is a pleasure to work with, he says. “Every engineer is going to say, their EDD is the best dog. But Rita was very quick to learn. She’s still eager, still got the drive. She has a personality, she’s not a robot. She’s waiting for me in the morning, knowing she’s going to have a good day.”

He’s worked with other dogs, but Rita is definitely the best, he says.

“She’s very responsive and easy work, and it shows from the start. There’s a whole bunch of commands to get a dog to do a pattern of search, but with me and Rita, it’s like telepathy. I’ll think of something, and she will do it. It’s that bond you create, that mental respect, and that’s what I feel with Rita.”

Rita has deployed to Christchurch during security operations for the one-year anniversary of the mosque shooting, and during a bomb scare at Palmerston North airport in 2021.

And what does she get when she’s done a good job? “An orange ‘chuck It’ ball. That’s payday for her.”