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Sgt. Shawn Eden, Quantico Canine Unit, and his working dog Segal participate in an iron dog competition Oct. 23 aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico. Military working dogs and their handlers often collaborate with outside agencies to improve detection training and bite-work training.

Photo by Ida Irby

Father-son canine handlers protect and serve

28 Jan 2016 | Ida Irby Marine Corps Base Quantico

Many fathers and sons share similar mannerisms and facial features. But Shawn Edens Sr., and Shawn Edens Jr. share names as well as professions.

The father-son duo have both impacted their communities by serving as Marines, law enforcement officers and canine handlers.

Edens Sr. served as an active duty Marine from 1988 to 1991. During that time he deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm as a motor transport operator in 1990. Soon after, Shawn Edens Jr. was born. Edens Jr. spent a lot of time with his father as a child, and his father’s love for the Corps influenced his growing interest and passion for the military lifestyle. Edens Sr. never thought it was a guarantee that his son would follow in his footsteps.

“Shawn was so free spirited, and so I never thought he would be a Marine,” said Edens Sr. “He was not a follower and usually did his own thing.” Even so, “He was always laser focused on things that captured his attention, which allowed him to put all his energy into perfecting it.”

As a civilian, the former Marine, Edens Sr., began a career in law enforcement in San Joaquin, California. After serving for 13 years, he worked with his first police dog named Hugo. He received the Malinois as a puppy and named him after his grandfather, Hugo Winkler.

“Dogs are highly intelligent, energetic and most of all very loyal,” said Edens Sr. “I saw the rewards of having a reliable partner in a working dog.”

The Edens’ home was always filled with animals. With that foundation, both father and son naturally gravitated toward working with canines while serving as police officers – Edens Jr. as a military police officer and Edens Sr. as a civilian police officer.

“The day I found out Shawn decided to be a Marine I was very proud,” said Edens Sr. “Today, his mother and I both embrace it, even though his mother originally had mixed emotions due to international conflicts.”

Despite his family’s uncertainties, Edens Jr. said he thought the Marine Corps would give him an extraordinary challenge, which is something that many Marines seek. After 18 years with his family, Edens Jr. ventured off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego to begin a career as a military police officer. He became a canine handler in 2012.

“My dad always told me how great being a Marine was, and I wanted to see for myself,” he said.

After completing military police school in 2013, boards determined that Edens Jr. was qualified to be a canine hander. Marines chosen for this assignment attend school at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas for three months. There, service members learn to properly train dogs using stuffed animals and inanimate objects. Handlers eventually have the opportunity to train with real canines that serve as training aids for basic obedience.

While serving as a police officer, Edens Jr. worked with five canines, to include two while stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Canine handlers are careful not to treat working dogs as domestic animals, but Edens Jr. said that leaving his canine comrades behind when he PCSs feels like leaving a friend each time. According to him, working dogs familiarize themselves with handlers through scent, voice and facial recognition.

“The bond between a working dog and a handler is really strong, especially after working in a combat environment,” said Edens Jr. “After many years canines and handlers reunite and the dog knows who his handler is immediately.”

Edens Jr. is currently training Segal, his 4-year-old working dog, to work with Cpl. Braxton Rico, in preparation for his transition to his next duty station. A new handler shadows the transitioning handler, to learn the personality of the canine and build his own training style with the animal.

Segal is a German Shepherd that is described as an immature puppy with a lot of energy. He will most likely work with the military for less than 10 years.

Ironically, neither father nor son currently have domestic animals due to living arrangements; however, talk about canine training methods is a big part of their conversations. Each agency has laws and restrictions that dictate the responsibilities of canines and their handlers. The two often talk about the best ways to train and work with their assigned canines.

“My father and I always spoke about consistency. Training canines is ever-changing. As long as you remain consistent with the way you train your dog you will have a higher chance of effectiveness,” said Edens Jr.

Marines don’t fall into domestic habits that most people have at home with their animals. Canine handlers work to establish a strictly controlled environment. Canines are seldom given food rewards. They do not lounge in common areas with military police and playtime is limited to maintain discipline.

A typical day for the canine support unit includes obedience training, physical training and detection practice. Running and hiking the trails aboard base is a common fitness routine for canine handler teams. Day-to-day work and activities keep the canines fit and alert. The responsibilities of military canine handlers and their dogs include narcotic or explosive detection support, safety patrols and even community outreach.

“Being an officer is often a thankless job, so often my biggest reward is having a citizen express their gratitude,” said Edens Sr. “I don’t like that some officers abuse their power, but in every occupation there are those who do good and bad. If Shawn were ever to transition into the civilian police force, I know that he would be an officer that people can trust. He has a good heart and wouldn’t abuse his power and that is what I want to see for officers in the future.”

Today both father and son continue to play a vital role as police officers by protecting the communities where they live. Having equal-footed career paths, the pair will likely both retire as police officers. Edens Jr. recently renewed his enlistment in the Marine Corps and his father currently works as the San Diego Sheriff’s Office.

— Writer:
Marine Corps Base Quantico