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Focus on Service

What It Takes To Be a Navy Dog Handler

Sailor brings her love of dogs into the Navy

Cheli Matlock was a mother working more than fifty hours a week and taking college courses online in her hometown of Florence, Alabama. However, she knew she wanted something more.

Although, working at a grocery store might not have been the worst job, it was not something Matlock loved. She had to make a big change in her life and it had to involve something that she was passionate about.

"I have always been obsessed with animals, especially dogs," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Matlock. "Anytime I saw a dog, I knew the breed of it. So I guess it was just natural that I wanted to do something with dogs."

She decided to weigh her options. Becoming a veterinarian would require more years of school. She thought about working as a police officer in the K-9 unit. She found out she would have to be a regular police officer for a few years before she could even apply to be a police dog handler. That is when she decided to go talk to a recruiter.

I knew I wanted to be a canine handler from the day I went to my recruiter's office."
-PO2 Cheli Matlock


"I went through boot camp, then through 'A' school. In 'A' school, they ask who wanted to do K-9. Each class might not have a slot open for K-9 because it is a 'C' school. We had two slots open and everyone that wanted to do K-9 went to a board. Later on, you found out whether or not you got selected. Out of five of us, there were two of us that got selected. Then right from 'A' school, I went to 'C' school."

A typical day for Matlock starts at 0315 at Naval Base San Diego. After gearing up, she gets her K-9 unit, checks her patrol vehicle and heads down to stand guard mount. Afterwards, she drives back to feed the dogs and clean their kennels. Then, normally, she will take her assigned dog, Emma, and find a place on base to practice her training.
Photo collage of PO2 Matlock.


"We [B640] all have the same base job, as in we're still law enforcement, but we have a totally different aspect of it," explains Matlock. "We have an animal to take care of every single day. Even when we're off, we're not really off. If something is wrong with your dog, you have to come in. For instance, when the dog needs to go to the vet or needs extra training."

At first look, Matlock and Emma may seem like opposites. Emma's pitch black hair contrasts her handler's blonde hair and blue eyes. While the Belgian Malinois is just starting out in her naval career, Matlock has been in for four years and is contemplating on whether she will make this a career. The duo has been working for less than a year, but Matlock had been waiting for the opportunity to work with an explosive patrol dog since she got to San Diego.

"I just kept asking for an explosive dog because you are more likely to get things like deployments," said Matlock. "All our dogs are detention dogs, either drugs or explosives. We also have dogs that are dual purpose. Emma is explosive and patrol. She's only two years old, and is actually the youngest dog in the kennel right now."

Other than making sure the dogs are fed and clean, handlers are also required to exercise with their dogs at least three times a week, and train them daily. She encourages other Sailors interested to find out more about the program.

"Anyone can become a K-9 [handler], doesn't matter what your rate is," explains Matlock. "Anyone that wants to do K-9 can come to our kennels. We have a kennel-support personnel qualification standard (PQS) for it. You basically have to help us feed [dogs], wear the bite suit, and know all the emergency procedures."
Photo collage of PO2 Matlock.


After Sailors complete the necessary requirements, they must get command approval to be sent to the K-9 school.

Matlock admits that being a dog handler is no easy task, but for her, the experience is very rewarding.

"I get to work with dogs all day," she says, with a smile. "Its hard work, our dogs are like children. They can be bad like children, and they know what they can and can't get away with. But, I love it."