Po­lice dog squad is on the job

Central Leader - - News - By Ni­cola Wil­liams

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

The 32-strong spe­cial­ist team based in Eller­slie has the ul­ti­mate job for doglov­ing 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.

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.

Good grip: Se­nior sergeant Peter Ped­er­sen pads up for a train­ing ex­er­cise in bit­ing.

Al­ways re­mem­bered: At the dog squad’s Eller­slie base there are memo­ri­als for dogs no longer with them.

Pho­tos: FIONA GOODALL

On form: Se­nior con­sta­ble Chris Har­ris puts his dog Marsh through his paces.

Tracking: Se­nior con­sta­ble Chris Har­ris with Marsh fol­low­ing a scent dur­ing train­ing.

High jumper: Po­lice dogs are trained to get them­selves over high walls.

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