Police dog squad is on the job

With the dog squad on the scent escaping justice is unlikely.

By NICOLA WILLIAMS – Eastern Courier  in Auckland, New Zealand | Thursday, 28 August 2008

The 32-strong specialist team based in Ellerslie has the ultimate job for dog-loving police officers, using their four-legged colleagues to catch crims.

German shepherds are chosen for their combination of skills.

They are bred at Trentham in Wellington and training starts when the pups are eight to 10 weeks old.

Sergeant Dave Templeton says food treats are used to reward the pups when they obey commands.

At six months they go to a two-week puppy training course before fulltime training with a handler.

“Training never ends. When they are operational there is a whole raft of ongoing training to keep them up to speed,” Mr Templeton says.

They learn to track scents by following pieces of food.

“It’s then made harder and scenario-based,” says Mr Templeton.

Each handler’s working companion is also their pet.

“They are a very close member of the family. They blend in well at home and are pretty social,” officer in charge Peter Pedersen says.

He says you can see how much they love working as they leap enthusiastically into the van for each shift.

FIONA GOODALL/Eastern Courier
ON FORM: Senior constable Chris Harris puts his dog Marsh through his paces.

The dog squad attends about 7000 incidents a year.

Vacancies are few but when they arise they look for officers with at least two years’ policing experience and a love and affinity with animals, says Mr Pedersen.

The officers describe it as a hugely rewarding job.

“I like catching crooks and the ones you can’t catch the dogs can,” says Mr Templeton.

The dogs eat a high performance diet like an athlete and have an average working life of about seven years.

They have distinctive personalities with different strengths and weaknesses.

Despite being trained identically they end up tracking in different ways, each having different attributes that make them more suitable for certain sorts of jobs over others.

When on a lead the dogs pull stronger and faster when the scent is fresh, so police know the person has recently been in the area and might still be near by.

They also have specialist narcotics and explosives detector dogs.

A recent development is using dogs to track blood.

Chemicals have a destructive effect on samples and dogs are able to find blood without contaminating the sample.

“It’s an evolving field internationally,” says Mr Templeton.

“If it’s got a scent you can teach them to find it,” he says.

Mr Pedersen says during demonstrations a dog will be given the command to chase and bite the arm of someone posing as an offender and the next minute be friendly and receptive to pats from children in the crowd.

The job is a dynamic career that doesn’t feel like work because their love of dogs makes it more like a hobby, he says.


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