Police And Search Dogs

Highly trained dogs are used by police forces throughout the world, for patrol duties and crowd control. They are trained to track and pursue suspects and taught how to arrest law breakers. Police and security dogs patrolling building sites and vital installations are generally more effective in the prevention of crime than sophisticated burglar alarms.

Increasing drug abuse and acts of terrorism throughout the world have prompted police and other law enforcement agencies in many countries to examine critically the methods and systems employed to combat these evils. The Royal Air Force Police of Britain, with many years of experience in the use of police dogs, are leading the world in training dogs to detect narcotics, arms, ammunition, and explosives.

Since the late 196os, when a German Shepherd Dog and a Labrador were first successfully trained and employed as drug detectors, the Royal Air Force Police have undertaken the training of servicemen from other forces and countries in this specialized role. As terrorist activity throughout the world became an almost daily occurrence, successful trials established that dogs, and in particular German Shepherds, could be reliably trained to detect explosives. Subsequent training was extended to include the detection of arms and ammunition. Today, Royal Air Force Police search dogs, or sniffers as they are affectionately termed, are in service with the Royal Navy, the United States Navy and Air Force, and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, and search-dog handlers have been trained for many other countries.

Police dog breeds:
Any good working dog is potentially suitable for search work. Most commonly used are German Shepherds, Labradors, and other gundog breeds such as German Shorthaired Pointers, Irish Water Spaniels, Flat-coated and Golden Retrievers, and English Springer Spaniels. There is a popular, but erroneous, theory that a drug dog becomes addicted to the drugs which it is trained to detect. Neither are 'bomb' dogs addicted to gelignite or TNT. The only Addition utilized in search-dog training is the dog's desire to retrieve. That Desire provides both the incentive and the drive necessary to train the dog. Although the actual conditioning process is simple,  great  patience  and understanding is required  in building  up concentration and agility in a potential search dog, which will have to adjust to many environments, such as airports and  aircraft,  docklands  and  cargo ships,  freight  sheds  with a multiplicity of cargo, private accommodation, and open fields and hedgerows.

Breed qualities:
Dogs selected for intense and painstaking training in the search field must display certain qualities before they can be accepted. Although certain breeds lend themselves to such duties, success depends upon selection of individual dogs within the breeds. Any potential dog must have had a sound environmental education, with less emphasis on obedience training and more on developing a bold, friendly and well-adjusted animal. In order to fulfill the requirements for detection work, a dog must have moderate to low body sensitivity, which means it takes knocks well, and moderate voice sensitivity, responding to various voice tones. It must also possess strong hunting and retrieving instincts, combined with boldness, physical strength, and potential agility.

Certain inherited characteristics make certain breeds ideal for search-dog training. The German Shepherd Dog, for example, fits in every way the image of a police dog, having medium body sensitivity. It is a popular breed from which correct selection can be made, and it is highly receptive to training. Retrieving is an acquired behavior pattern in the German Shepherd.

The Labrador Retriever is another successful search dog which normally causes no apprehension to the public. It has highly developed olfactory instincts, moderate to low body sensitivity and a more independent nature than the German Shepherd. Retrieving is an instinctive behavior pattern, and the Labrador usually has well-developed hunting instincts.

Individual characteristics of certain gun-dog breeds also have a bearing on selection for search-dog training. The Hunter, for example, should display determination to search without a visual incentive, and while it may not retrieve, it should have the desire to pick up. Similarly the Retriever should distinguish itself by its determination to fetch, and though it may require a visual incentive it should be eager to carry and be possessive with the prey.

Training search dogs:
As in all aspects of dog training, the training of search dogs, irrespective of the selected scents they are required to search for, must be based on firm yet sympathetic understanding of the workings of the canine mind. The success of specialized training lies in creating the correct incentive, harnessing the drive and channeling it to a useful end. Coupled with a sympathetic and thoughtful handler, the result is a highly effective team ready and able to assist the various law enforcement agencies in their fight against crime.
Dogs which are accepted for police-search duties undergo a fifteen-week course. During training the team spirit is forged between the animals and their handlers, based on patience, determination, integrity and affection on both sides. The outstanding factor is patience. All search dogs undergo a routine monthly veterinary inspection; from the age of seven years, when they are nearing the end of their working lives, they receive a thorough six-monthly inspection to ensure that they are still in good health and able to carry out their duties. At about eight years of age a search dog is retired, the handler usually buying the dog, which has justly earned a quiet retirement.

Gift dogs:
All dogs trained and used by the Royal Air Force Police have been donated by the public, man y dogs coming from leading show kennels. It is indicative of the high standards at these kennels, specializing largely in producing show stock, that first-class working dogs can emerge.

High standards for potential canine recruits are set by the Royal Air Force Police. Each year the Service requires some fifty trained dogs. To reach this figure two hundred dogs will be tested, approximately half of that number will enter training, and of these less than half again will qualify. The recruited gift dogs - German Shepherds and Gun-dogs - are all pedigrees aged between ten months and two and a half years. Potential gift dogs are examined by expert inspectors in their own homes. Such inspection is the first hurdle in this unique recruiting program, which aims to keep the worldwide police-dog strength of the Royal Air Force at around 8oo. After a dog's pedigree and age have been established, a strict acceptance test is carried out covering the animal's build, movements and general health. Sadly, even the finest family pet can sometimes prove unacceptable when judged against the high standards required.