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FACE OF DEFENSE: Devil's Handler

by Jonathan Lally

Devils Handler_Graphic 1-1



Devil took off like a bullet chasing his prey to protect his handler. The prey ran down the field, only to have Devil launch at him, ensnaring his arm in a vice-like grip full of sharp canine teeth.

People from all over the world watched in utter silence, as the prey—better known as the decoy—attempted to dislodge Devil, but to no avail. A sharp command given, Devil immediately released the decoys arm, then started an intense bark, in almost rhythmic bounce, at the decoy. Devil and his handler had the world looking at them, and the handler wondered in awe how they came to be on the world stage.

An adopted wild, disobedient furball in Los Angeles started it all in 2008. That furball was the catalyst which set Josh Lininger on a path leading him to represent the United States in a world competition for the training of German Shepherds.

Chief Warrant Officer Josh Lininger, with Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, talked about how before he got Devil, he had that wild furball who helped him get involved with the sport. His job involves managing the Mission Systems Sustainment Lab, where they support mission systems for the fixed-wing aircrafts in the cyber field and providing technical support.

Lininger grew up with dogs and always had a passion for them. This German Shepherd he had adopted during his early days in the Coast Guard needed some training.

“This dog was starting to rule my life,” said Lininger. “The trainers I had were heavily involved in dog sports and that piqued my interest because it was dog training on another level.”

From the moment Lininger got help to train the dog, he looked into other programs and dog sports with the elements he liked. Around 2010, he finally found a German Shepherd club to be a part of while in college through the Coast Guard’s two-year Advanced Education program, which allows Coast Guard personnel to attend college to complete a degree.

The German Shepherd clubs initially started in Europe around 1968 but have expanded to a world-wide platform. They are known as the World Union of German Shepherd Associations, which nearly half a million lovers and trainers of German Shepherds are involved in some manner.

These clubs evolved into a world-wide competition for dogs, their owners and handlers to represent, not only their home countries, but also their skills in protection, obedience and in tracking. The top dogs and handlers compete in regional competitions and the best from there qualify to participate in national and international level championships.

The more involved with the clubs he became, the more he knew he needed a high-performing dog built for the competitive field, that is when Devil came into the picture.

Lininger and Devil took on these challenges for the competitions. Lininger said, he and Devil did well in the regionals and therefore went forward to nationals, where they again performed very well.

The top five handlers and dogs from each country earn a spot to compete at the world championship. The WUSV world championship is specific to German Shepherds. Devil and Lininger were one of the top five teams to win in the national level and will be competing in the October 2023 world championship in Hungary.

There are three phases to the training and competition: obedience, tracking and protection. Each of the phases have particular qualities and criteria to be met where judges critique and rank the competitors on during the competitions.

Lininger said he trains nearly every day on different elements of the phases to help hone those skills with Devil. From the obedience to the tracking the two of them have a bond of trust that goes beyond just the training. He also considers factors like the type of field a competition will be on so he and Devil can work on the phases on different terrain.

“Tracking is the most challenging and most underrated phase in the sport,” said Lininger. 

He said it is a great opportunity for the handlers and the dogs to truly bond, and work closer together, in different fields, and in different locations. He said tracking is either embraced or not, but if it is, tracking becomes one of the most rewarding.

“It was an incredible feeling, shocking for sure, especially since it was our first year working together,” said Lininger, mentioning his dog and the other members of the team he is part of. “Then reality kicked in about how much more training we were going to have to put in. We were going to have to train smartly and prepare for a big competition in a big stadium in another country. To have to the opportunity to represent the country is amazing and a dream come true.”

But it’s not all work and no fun for Devil and Lininger. There is an element of bonding that takes place between them on a daily basis that just helps level up the trust between them.

 “It’s not about just the training,” said Lininger. “I like to hang out with my dog when we’re not training. We go to the beach, go for car rides and he’ll even go to the store with me. I don’t see how you can get there without that good bond.”

Whether during training or in a competition that bond, that level of trust between them, becomes unbreakable and the key for them being able to perform at such a high level.

While in the training field, Devil kept his grip on his prey—the decoy—who attempted to dislodge the dog, which is part of the protection training and phase of the competition. Devil’s grip was solid and relentless until the command was given to release.

Then in an almost bounce like manner, Devil barked and rhythmically bounced relentless at the decoy until Lininger arrived next to him giving Devil the command to stop.

Devil and his handler, a fierce team on the field, a closely bonded pair prepare to face the world, on a large stage to represent their team, their nation and their skills to other competitors and spectators from around the world.


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