Our Dog Section has one sergeant, 20 constables, two dog trainers and 35 dogs, assisting North Yorkshire Police divisions on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week.
The core functions carried out by our Dog Section include crime prevention and operational patrols; searching buildings and open ground for missing and wanted people; searching and recovering evidence; drugs detection and explosive detection; tracking suspects; tactical firearms operations; supporting community-based initiatives; public order response and high-profile, proactive, intelligence-led patrols.
All of these operational functions actively contribute to public reassurance, response policing and engaging criminality.
The first is a "gift dog" where the dog has been donated to us by a member of the public or purchased at a nominal cost. They will vary in age from 12 months to three years old.
The second method is to purchase a dog from a specialist breeder.
Before the new recruits are accepted they are carefully assessed. Each dog must carry out a series of tests, specially designed to help identify whether or not the animal possesses the necessary instincts and temperament required.
Puppies from an established line of working stock will be placed with experienced handler or puppy walkers and be brought on through the "puppy programme" - this should ensure the pup is raised in a family environment and nurtured through natural puppy development.
The puppy walker or handler will either choose the name of the dog, usually it will be a short name like Sabre, Max or Monte to make calling the dog easier.
The dog is continually assessed and, if all is well and the dog passes all its assessments, it will be paired with a handler.
Whichever route the dog has taken to the initial course, the end result is the same. The dog is trained in all tasks required in order to become a fully licensed operational police dog.
Both dog and handler are carefully selected and trained to ensure all the necessary skills are fully developed.
A serving police officer must have successfully completed an initial two-year probationary period before they can apply to join the Dog Section. A potential dog handler attends a two week familiarisation course. At the end of the two weeks the candidates and the dog training centre staff must decide whether they are suitable.
The course is physically and mentally demanding: The handlers must quickly learn new and varied subjects ranging from legislation to veterinary practices and canine psychology. During the training the dog and handler form an extremely strong bond.
The training is based upon positive reinforcement and harnessing instinctive behaviour patterns.
Throughout training the dog's natural abilities are identified, encouraged and enhanced. Training encourages an animal to use its instinctive drives in a controlled situation and on command. A dog's natural abilities form the basis for many of the exercises in police dog training.
One of the most important natural instincts is the dog's willingness to please the pack leader. For the police dog, this is the handler.
The police dog is constantly rewarded and praised for its hard work and given good food, care, exercise and protection. On completion of the initial course, the dog and handler are assessed and if they have achieved the required standards they are licensed to become operational, as a team.
Training will continue to be a vital part of the team, with emphasis on control, safety and efficiency. Re-licensing will occur annually throughout the working life of the dog, to ensure the required standards are maintained.
All of our police dogs receive holidays alongside their handler. This will usually be spent at home with the handler or in our police kennels.
General purpose dogs are usually retired around seven to eight years old. Specialist dogs are retired at around ten years old. The handler is allowed to keep their dog and many choose to do this. However if this is not possible, the dog will be re-homed with a suitable family for the rest of its life.
Images courtesy of Matt Clark Photography