THEY are at a stand-off, each sussing out their next move.

Dog-in-training Jake is ready to spring. The stick-wielding offender stands a few paces to his right on Charlton Park’s sweeping grounds, taunting him.

Finally, the suspect breaks into a sprint.

Jake’s handler, PC Paul Manley, sets the Belgian malinois on him. Within seconds the animal wedges his teeth in the sleeve of the thug’s 'Michelin Man' padded jacket. He drops his weapon.

“Yes,” bellows Paul, jiggling a ‘tugger’ at Jake to lure him off his target. The dog wags his tail, eagerly chewing on his toy.

The exercise is over, for now.

It may be set up as a game for the animal but more than anyone Paul knows this part of the police dog training programme could make the difference between life and death.

His previous dog, Cass, saved his life twice, disarming attackers who lunged at him with knives on two separate occasions.

“I owe my life to this dog 100 per cent,” he says without hesitation.

“She stopped them without any care that she might be injured. She wanted to do her job and protect 'Dad'. Words can’t express how important these dogs are to us.”

Cass retired last month at nine years old and still lives with Paul, now as his pet. But things could have turned out very differently, he explains, as she nearly lost her life just a few months into her career at two years old.

Chasing a pair of suspected burglars, she was knocked over by a passing car, which had swerved to avoid the two men running onto the road. Paul was told she would not make it through the night.

“I heard a screech and an awful thud,” he pauses, obviously shaken at the memory.

“She was hit at 40miles an hour. She had gone across a sports field, through some woods and I followed her. I clambered through the darkness and when I got to the road, I realised she was under the car.

“They said she would die from internal injuries so I slept with her and the next morning she woke me up, licking my face. She was absolutely fine.”

For all their sacrifices and despite risking their lives daily on the call of duty, in the eyes of the law dogs like Cass – and soon Jake, who in four weeks will face real-life criminals on the beat with Paul - enjoy no more rights or protection than the batons on their handlers’ belt.

For all intents and purposes, they are part of the uniform.

“They put themselves in as much danger as we do,” insists Paul.

“Cass has been my partner, she’s been with me every single day, whatever shift. Police dogs are living breathing things. How can you treat them as pieces of property, like a torch or an ASP? They do the most fantastic job.”

For years now police forces across the country have been arguing that injuring or killing a dog should carry the same sentence as attacking the serving officers they work alongside. Currently anyone attacking a police dog can only be charged with causing criminal damage.

But their calls to give dogs the same protection as their human colleagues are finally about to be heard thanks to the Finn's Law campaign – so named after the Hertfordshire police dog who, along with his handler, was stabbed in Stevenage while chasing a suspect back in October.

The attack made headlines and reignited the debate on police dogs safety.

A petition calling for police animals to receive the same status as officers has now received more than 120,000 signatures and will be debated in Parliament today.

“Finn’s Law is something that has to happen and should have happened many years ago,” insists Paul, who is also a handler to five-year-old drugs search dog, Harry, a stafforshire bull terrier-boxer cross.

Most handlers, he explains, have two animals, a general purpose dog and a specialist dog – either trained in drugs busts or explosives search.

“What happened to Finn can happen to any dog any day,” he said.

PC Neil Parsons of Wiltshire Police could not agree more.

“They are the same as us on duty,” chimes in Neil, who has been a police dog handler for 13 years and was recently paired with 14-month-old malinois Aaron.

They will be headed out on the beat in a few short weeks.

“They’re not property," he said.

"They are really brave, we have stab vests but they don’t have any protection. They will do their job till the end. I don’t think people understand what dogs do for us. They do things human can’t do. They’re invaluable.

“At the end of the day, we’re a team.”

In a corner of the Malmesbury parkland, PC Adam Webb and two-year-old dog-in-training Krieger, are replicating a property search.

A wallet, gun and mobile phone have been concealed among the fallen leaves and vegetation, and the German shepherd is sniffing the overgrown lawn eagerly. “Yes,” whoops Adam every time the dog lies down in front of one of objects without so much as nuzzling it to ensure the evidence is not tampered with. He gets a reward for each prop. In a moment, Krieger will be tested on his ability to disarm an attacker just like Jake.

The key at this stage of the training is to ensure they pick up the correct reflexes.

With disarming, this means always biting and holding the right arm, “because it’s the safest way to detain someone and causes minimum damage,” points out dog training instructor Craig Ogilvie.

“They are expected to make contact and bite them on the lower part of the right arm, and they’ll do it for any weapons, whether it’s a stick, a knife or a knife. They take more risks than the human. They are their body guards most certainly.”

Disarming criminals is only a small part of what these dogs will be exposed to once they are licenced and sent off on the patch with their handlers in four weeks’ time.

General purpose dogs like Krieger and Jake are expected to be prepared for anything, from chasing suspects and crowd control to searching for evidence or missing persons.

The K-9 unit is triforce, which means it is shared between Wiltshire, Avon and Somerset and Gloucestershire Constabularies.

All general purpose dogs, 52 in total, are either German shepherds or malinois - most of them bought from breeders on the continent – for their natural suspicion, protective nature and loyalty. The unit also has 20 drugs search dogs, which are also trained to search for firearms and cash, and 10 explosive search dogs. The vast majority of drugs and explosives search dogs are Labradors, spaniels and staffy crosses.

As triforce dog training manager and former dog sergeant and inspector, Ian Partington has seen countless animals sustain injuries. But one instance in particular has stayed with him.

In 2008, three-year-old German shepherd Anya leapt to the defence of her handler PC Neil Sampson when he was stabbed by drug-crazed knifeman Essa Suleiman in Liden.

Anya was stabbed in the chest, but, despite her own injuries, held on to the attacker until officers could restrain him.

Suleiman was charged with maliciously wounding PC Sampson and another constable but only with criminal damage to police property in relation to injuring the dog.

“Dogs go beyond the call of duty,” says Ian, who looks after his two retired police dogs, Labrador Daisy, who was part of the explosive search team at the Olympics, and spaniel Sophie.

“They don’t have the fear to stop them; they take emotion out of it whatever they do.”

The incident was the last recorded stabbing of a police dog in Wiltshire. But lesser injuries including muscle strain and ligament damage are common place, he continues.

“They pick up a lot of injuries on their normal routine because their job is so physical. And people forget that.”

Today’s Commons debate is undoubtedly a well-earned victory. But there is no guarantee it will lead to a change in the law. Even if it does, it will be a lengthy process.

Regardless, it is a welcome step in the right direction for Ian and his handlers.

“The dogs are officers, just like their handlers,” he says. “And they should be treated that way.”