Rrespect marches to puppy consultant David Concepcion-Garcia, who then places her on her back to see if she's willing to be under a handler's control. She fidgets a bit, not too comfortable with being held on her back. Next, Mr. Garcia backs away to see if she's willing to come to him again after he held her down to test her social dominance.
When she does, Mr. Garcia picks up Rrespect and holds her for 30 seconds to test her elevation dominance. He then tosses a wad of paper, followed by a tennis ball, to test her retrieving skills. The evaluations conclude with tests of the puppy's touch, sound and sight sensitivities, and her hunt drive. The consultant places about a dozen kibble in a cardboard box and watches how Rrespect uses her scent to find the treat.
At 12 weeks, foster consultants use information from the aptitude tests to place the puppies. Foster parents must live within two hours of Lackland because they must bring the puppies in for monthly medical evaluations and go on monthly hiking trips with other fosters in their dog's litter. Fosters also must have a fenced-in backyard and cannot have any children under the age of 4 or more than three personal dogs.
The program provides a carrier, food, toys, bowls, collars, leashes, veterinary care and guidance, which includes helping to set realistic expectations for the type of dog they will have in their homes.
"You're not getting a Lab," Mr. Garcia said. "The drive is 100 times greater. We like to set expectations and give our fosters every tool we can."
Months before Rrespect began her pre-training, she showed signs of her future in her foster parent's home. She was Mrs. Dietrich's third foster military working puppy. Mrs. Dietrich's second puppy, Oopey, is now in military working dog training. Still, when Rrespect first entered the house, Mrs. Dietrich was surprised by her intelligence, problem-solving skills and focus on a toy, a sign that breeding program consultants associate with her prey drive. All are characteristics of the Belgian Malinois breed, which make them perfect military working dogs, handlers say.
"The first time I put a toy on the floor, I was amazed at the energy she went at this toy with," Mrs. Dietrich said. "Twenty minutes later, she looked up at me. For 20 minutes, all she could think about was that toy. She parades around the house all the time with her toys. It's called practicing possession.
"I'm either laughing my head off or having a headache every minute with her. There is no in-between."
Names for military working puppies come from lists supplied by the DOD Military Working Dog Veterinary Service Hospital at Lackland, which generates a list fromsuggestions made by the general public at DoD Military Working Dog Veterinary Service
. Names of fallen military working dog handlers or previous foster parents are given priority, however.
One dog in the "R" litter, Rromano, was named after a former foster parent, Col. Joseph Romano. Colonel Romano and his wife Karen fostered a military working dog while he was commander of the 37th Training Group at Lackland. He now monitors security coordination and special programs for the Secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon. Their dog, Vviper, is now a working dog for the 802nd Security Forces Squadron and was a breeder for three litters in 2010. Colonel Romano said his wife treated Vviper like a child.
"His sense of smell was phenomenal," he said. "Couple this with his bite and quickness, it was clear Vviper would be one **** of a military working dog, as long as Karen didn't turn him into a domesticated pet."
The puppy named after Colonel Romano is showing similar signs that he also will succeed as a working dog, said his foster, Kevin Cody. Mr. Cody works with the Transportation Security Administration at the San Antonio International Airport.
After having their dogs for six months, Mrs. Dietrich and her husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Dietrich, and the other foster parents said goodbye to Rrespect and the other puppies in December when the dogs returned to Lackland for adolescent training or pre-training, a sort of high school for the military working dog.
This is often a time of mixed emotions: pride of sending the dog to learn an important job mixed with the sadness of sending them away.
"Sometimes it's like sending off a hyper child to day camp," Mrs. Dietrich said. "Other times, it's really heartbreaking. But you know they're going to be doing what they love. You know they're going off to do something they're going to really enjoy. You want them to succeed, and you're excited to see what they're going to do with their lives. You're raising a little soldier, and it's your way to support the military.
"Look at that dog," she said as Rrespect sniffed in the grass. "That dog wants to be doing that. She doesn't want to be sleeping on the couch."