Sniffer & Police Dogs at Work
The work done by sniffer and police dogs covers several different, but equally demanding, tasks. In partnership with their handlers, these dogs can achieve results that machines are unable to. They can get the job done faster too!
What Sort of Dogs are Used?
The type of dog is matched to the type of work. People associate German Shepherd Dogs with police work, but they’re not the only breed used (although they were the first to start as general purpose dogs because of their intelligence, bravery and stamina) Modern policing requires sensitivity, and a dog’s nose is probably the most sensitive piece of equipment available! The nose of a trained sniffer dog is around 2000 times better than a human’s; they are able to detect smells even 10 years later.
Springer Spaniels are one of the best recognised sniffer dogs actively used for the detection of explosives or illegal drugs, narcotics. Border collies, being of a similar size, are also used as sniffer dogs for operational work that includes working in confined spaces. Labradors are frequently seen on duty in public places to sniff for drugs without actually touching anyone. They are friendly dogs with an approachable presence.
Dobermanns, Weimeraners and German Pointers are also used in police work. Most dogs are bred for the job to ensure the supply of a sufficient stock of dogs from proven working bloodlines.
The Sniffer Dog’s WorkRoutine checks are made on containers, vehicles, baggage and people at our sea ports and airports. Where further investigation is deemed necessary, sniffer dogs are released by their handlers to carry out a more active search. The dogs know their job. They methodically cover every section of the area they’re sent to explore. If a dog reacts to a certain area in the vessel, its handler alerts other officers to continue the investigation. The dog is rewarded and carries on working elsewhere once each job is finished.
Dogs are trained to detect specific smells above others but have the ability to identify, for example, firearms too. A sniffer dog that is trained to find drugs will seek smells related to illegal drugs but will respond if it picks up the scent of other known objects or substances. Even when illegal drugs have been deliberately covered with other strong smells, in an effort to disguise them, the dedicated working dog will not be distracted from his task.
Other work that sniffer dogs are used for includes bomb detection, looking for cash, people (search and rescue as well as suspects on the run) Cadaver dogs are trained to search for dead bodies in disaster areas and missing person investigations where it is thought relevant to do so. There have been cases where dogs have identified blood spots that were so small and had been covered by other substances, only a microscope could confirm that they were here. This could be enough. Although all working dogs must be obedient, they need to have the courage of their convictions too and persevere patiently when their handlers may show indecision. This is particularly relevant to search and rescue.
Recruitment and TrainingPuppies are recruited from litters at around eight weeks of age but the overall selection of suitable dogs continues until they are 18 months old. Initial assessments are made on all dogs, followed by socialisation and basic obedience training between the ages of 12-18 months.
Selected dogs are introduced to their prospective handlers and there follows an intensive training period of 14 weeks. On successful completion, the Home Office issues a licence to each pair. Handlers may not swap dogs under operational circumstances.
Handlers will have served at least 2 years as police officers and preferably have previous dog handling experience. They also need to be physically fit. The dogs live with their handler and family, not only to strengthen their bond, but also for practical reasons. As a working unit, the dog and handler will be on call to assist other units when necessary.
Where necessary, dogs are equipped with protective clothing. If sent to chase a suspect, their training ensures that they will do what is required to stop the person until the dog is called off by its handler. These are controlled actions, not aggressive behaviours.
Dogs that work with handlers, whether as police dogs or sniffer dogs outside the forces, normally work until they are eight or nine years old. When their hard working life is finished most retired dogs continue to live with their handlers as family pets. The loyalty and devotion of these dogs does not go unrewarded.