Training up a copper's best friend with Herts police

PUBLISHED: 12:03 25 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:50 06 May 2010

Police dog Storm tackles Pc Joshua Smith

Police dog Storm tackles Pc Joshua Smith

POLICE dogs are sometimes given a harsh press. They have a reputation for being vicious, fierce and frightening looking creatures. But the recently merged Beds and Herts dog unit, set up in April, relies heavily on the highly-trained canine detectives to

Ted the sniffer dog

POLICE dogs are sometimes given a harsh press.

They have a reputation for being vicious, fierce and frightening looking creatures.

But the recently merged Beds and Herts dog unit, set up in April, relies heavily on the highly-trained canine detectives to pick up the scent of wrong-uns.

Since the merger, the work of the unit has lead to 385 arrests - around 200 of which were found with the help of the clever canines and their handlers alone.

Insp Steve Mann, who leads the unit, explained just how important dogs were in today's society.

He said: "Police dogs, who all live with their handler, have a very important role in keeping members of the public safe as they go about their everyday life.

"They regularly help catch criminals as well as use their exceptionally sensitive sense of smell to locate drugs, cash and firearms. Their nose is a phenomenon and is 500 times better than ours."

There are 45 dogs and 24 patrolling handlers at the Beds and Herts Dog Unit, consisting of labradors, springer spaniels and German shepherds.

But the latter, whose characteristic expression gives the impression of sharp vigilance, fidelity, liveliness and watchfulness, is the preferred option.

"German shepherds make the best police dogs," said Insp Mann. "The shepherd is an all rounder and can do everything."

Hunting down a stash of illegal drugs or chasing a criminal is part of the daily work of a police dog but getting to that standard takes weeks of training. If a dog doesn't make the grade the police will find them a good home. Training is based on a reward and play method, in which the dog gets used to being presented with a ball after having successfully chased a person or found drugs or explosive material.

Insp Mann added: "The dogs are trained to bite the right arm, take hold and not let go until told to by their handler.

"Use of force is quite high and can cause a reasonable amount of injuries."

To demonstrate the skills of the dogs which fall into two categories - general purpose dogs which search for thugs and missing people or specialist dog which hunt for drugs, guns, explosives and cash - the police staged a number of scenarios for the press.

Sniffer dog Ted, aged seven, searched for cannabis and heroin hidden away under furniture.

Sure enough the dog found the illegal substances within minutes and then 'froze' at the spot until handler Pc Jason Smith threw him a ball.

Scary-looking general purpose dog German shepherd Storm, aged five, was met with a number of serious would-be incidents, involving weapons such as a gun.

He was very quick to get the 'criminal', in this instance Pc Joshua Smith, to disarm his weapon and was used to intimidate the offender until handler Pc Mark Atkinson arrived at the scene.

What is clear is that intelligent police dogs will continue to play a vital role in an increasingly hi-tech society by doing what they do best - catching criminals, sniffing out drugs and weapons and finding missing people.

n The largest cash amount recovered by dogs at the unit is £50,000.

n General purpose dogs - often German shepherds - search for offenders and missing people. It takes 13 weeks to train them.

n Proactive dogs - sniffer dogs - search for drugs, guns, explosives and cash.

n Passive drugs dogs search for drugs in busy public areas, often working in secret. Their handlers are always plain clothed. It takes these specialist dogs six weeks to train.

n It costs £12,000 to equip the back of a police car for dogs.


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