WILTSHIRE Police's newest recruits face a gruelling test to prove they are not only man’s best friend, but the law’s best friend too.
Puppies Ruby and Breaker are now four weeks into a 13-week intensive training course ahead of joining the force’s renowned dog unit, which includes 12 general purpose dogs, six drugs dogs and two explosives and two firearms dogs.
They have been paired with handlers PCs Cindy Hargreave and Darren Willis, who are also both new to the unit, based at Devizes headquarters, and have already formed a bond with their new masters.
And it’s that bond that will prove vital when Ruby, a German Shepherd bitch, and Breaker, a Belgian Malinois, begin to patrol the streets, according to veteran police dog trainer Ian Partington.
“It’s comparable to the loyalty and trust that pet owners will recognise but in our world we require it to go a bit further,” he said.
“The dogs will have to follow their handler but also may be required to take the lead. “There is also that element of protection, which of course goes both ways, as they will face serious and dangerous situations.
“We try to match the characteristics of the individual dogs to the handlers as best we can.
“For example Ruby is quite young at only 11 months and Cindy has that sympathetic approach to bring her on, while her previous owner was also a woman, so the bond was easier to develop with a female.”
General purpose dogs, like Breaker and Ruby, could be expected to track human scents in the hunt for a fugitive or a missing person or pacify rioters, while drugs and explosive dogs are expert searchers and firearms dogs could be called into the most dangerous scenarios to subdue high-risk offenders.
Wiltshire Police have two dog handlers on duty at all times and their sniffer dogs were among those deployed at this summer's Olympic Games.
Different breeds fit the different roles, according to Ian, but all dogs must be trained to a nationally recognised standard and be licensed.
Ian, a former dog unit sergeant on Merseyside, said the training involves working out what makes the dogs tick – be it food or toys – and using rewards to instil obedience.
He said: “For general purpose and firearms dogs, we tend to go for German Shepherds or Malinois because they are high drive and have plenty of enthusiasm.
“Drugs and explosives dogs tend to be springer spaniels or Labradors, not necessarily because they have better noses, because the differences are minute, but mainly because they can get into areas the bigger dogs can’t.
“We do a lot of obedience work because they must be licensed for safety, control and efficiency. “We use play and reward but you can only simulate so much in training and they will do a lot of their learning on the job.”
The new handlers will also be training after coming to the specialist squad from very different backgrounds.
Cindy was the former community beat manager for Penhill, while Darren arrived from the Salisbury burglary team, but both admit they are dog lovers who have been waiting for this chance.
“I’ve got a greyhound at home so Ruby is a little bit different – very highly driven and full of energy,” Cindy, 40, said. “But its been an exciting challenge. “And it’s a privilege to join the unit and be in a specialist role.”
Darren, 39, has found Breaker has taken time to get used to his new handler.
He said: “He’s coming out of his shell but sometimes you can see he is thinking ‘I’m not sure about you yet.’ “The training is intense but it is brilliant because you are working outdoors all the time. It’s the best job in the police force.”