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Being a Police Dog Handler

December 8th 2014 | PC Duncan Grey, PC Richie Vinen & PC Dave Bisson

To be a Police Dog Handler a person needs to be fully aware of the enormity of the role, and to have considered how all-encompassing it is and how you’re whole life will change.

Once you have a dog, your main responsibility is for the welfare of the dog, it needs to be exercised regularly, both on and off duty, fed, watered, kennel cleaned van cleaned, given continuous training and play time. As you are the only person who can handle the dog you cannot delegate another to do it for you.

They are not pets they are working dogs and remain so until they retire which is normally around the age of 7 or 8. The handler is then given the opportunity to retire the dog as a pet or it is re homed.

Having completed a 3 month initial training course in the UK at an approved dog training school you return to Jersey and immediately undertake operational duties.

At the moment SOJP has 3 dog teams consisting of 3 handlers each working a GPD (General Purpose Dog) all of which are German Shepherds.

All Three Dogs

The dog teams currently fall under The Operational Support Unit and as the name suggests offer support to all the shifts, and other non-uniform departments.

Whilst the working day of a Police Officer varies considerably from day to day with officers never knowing what each tour of duty will bring, the same can be said even more so for a dog handler as not only do we not know what each day will bring we have the added consideration of wondering if today is going to be ‘the day’ that we get to see if all the skills and training we have learnt can be put to use by deploying our dogs.

With the festive season almost upon us we might expect to see our dogs deployed in a number of different ways such as:-

Large crowds of people, alcohol and high spirits can often be volatile mix and can lead to disorder on the streets. A dog team can be deployed alongside uniformed officers in order to quell the disturbance or assist in targeting individuals for arrest. The presence of a 40kg snarling barking dog can have an amazing almost immediate effect in moving people on or making them think twice about their actions.

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The festive period can often see an increase in persons feeling low and depressed and some may go wandering off and not want to be found, we also find that despite regular drink driving campaigns we still see people getting behind the wheel of a car drunk. This can often lead to the car crashing and then the driver running away from the scene in order to avoid arrest. In both these situations we can use the dog’s extremely sensitive nose to assist in locating those people.

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This can be done in one of two ways. The handler needs to first consider a number of factors before the search commences, such as the time delay from the person going off, the terrain conditions, the time of day or night, and if there are any other persons in the area.

If the person has been missing for a number of hours but believed to be in a certain area, i.e. a wood or a building then we can deploy our dog in what is called an ‘Open Search’, basically the dog is off the lead searching away from the handler with the handler giving voice and visual commands to direct the dog over the search area. This enables large areas to be covered very quickly with the dog using his or her nose to try and find the scent of the person in the air. Once located, either with the person lying down, stood up or even hiding in a tree the dog will then start barking and remain barking until the handler can join him and deal with the person.

The other way, would be by way of attaching a harness over the dogs body and attaching a 30 ft. line to him in order for the dog to ‘track’ the person who has walked off.

If a dog team can get to the last known spot the person was last seen, i.e. the scene of the car crash or the persons back door as quickly as possible then once harnessed up the dog should be able to pick up the ground scent of the person and then follow footprint by footprint until he locates the person. This is a lot easier in rural areas across fields or through woods that are unlikely to have anyone else walk through it than it is through the middle of town on a busy Saturday afternoon.

We can often see an increase in violent crime and thefts from homes over the Christmas period and our dog teams can be very useful in apprehending offenders and even finding stolen property.

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Should a crime of violence take place and a dog team are called upon the offender will first be challenged by the handler to desist from his course of action and give himself up and drop any weapon he might be holding. If that warning is ignored and the offender decided to run from officers then the handler can release the dog to chase after and detain the offender by taking hold of, normally the right arm, but anywhere it can bite and stop that person, the dog then remains holding the person until the handler catches up  and providing the offender is compliant and listens to what the handler is saying i.e. to stand still and drop anything he might be holding the handler will command the dog to ‘out’ and the dog will let go and return to the handler but will remain vigilant to any further movement from the offender whilst the handler moves forward and arrests the person.

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Should any stolen property be discarded by a fleeing criminal in an area difficult to see then again a dog team can be deployed to that area and the dog can be released off the lead and given the command to ‘search’ and the dog will cover the area very quickly and if he / she locates the property will lie down facing the property indicating to the handler exactly where the property is allowing the handler to come over and retrieve it.

The role is can be very demanding both physically and mentally but is also extremely rewarding especially when a positive result is achieved after the deployment of your dog.     

 

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