Police pups will become lifesavers

By Connie Osborne Thursday 29 May 2014 Updated: 06/06 12:02

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Buy photos » West Mercia and Warwickshire Police dog handlers Emma Tucker, Paul Ashby and Matt Phillips with their newest recruits Echo, Delta and Luna. Picture by Marcus Mingins 1914023MMR

THEIR big brown eyes staring up at you, wagging their fluffy tails and barking with excitement. You can't help think 'how cute are they'?

But Echo, Delta and Luna are soon going to be anything but cute. They are Warwickshire and West Mercia Police's newest four-legged recruits which hopefully you will be lucky enough to never have to meet.

Standard reporter Connie Osborne visits the force's headquarters to see the bright eyed and bushy tailed trio as they em-bark on a journey from puppy to police dog.

THEY might seem like ordinary 23-week-old puppies but these Belgian Shepherd Malinois will soon be tracking, chasing, and stopping criminals just like police officers.

The hidden heroes will showcase their bravery almost every day. And if it wasn't for their wet noses, four legs, and slobber most women would be weak at the knees.

But these special canines have already been partnered up with their perfect matches - officers who are just as brave as them.

As they are only youngsters they will be getting a helping hand from dog handlers who will be leading them through the streets, bus stations, railway stations and football grounds of West Mercia to get them used to crowds and traffic before their more intense training begins.

They will also undergo basic obedience training which includes the expected sit, stay and lie down and, once they are bigger, they will then learn skills such as tracking a scent and barking on command before the end of the 13 months.

Both the dogs and their handlers will eventually begin a 12-week course where they are taught a number of skills including searching for people or property which may be hidden.

They must show they are obedient both on and off the lead, be under the control of the handler at all times and show courage and determination when detaining a person who is trying to run away, or someone who is armed.

Once they complete the course and pass the tests the dog will be licensed. Just like having a fire arms licence, these dogs need to have one, because the bottom line is they are dangerous when they need to be.

Insp Martin Taylor said the force of a fully-grown dog jumping on you at speed was like 'being hit by a bag of concrete at 30mph'.

"We have to prepare them for all situations such as a public order situation, firearms incidents, as well as going to find vulnerable missing people in the country side.

"Using the sleeve training which you see on the television is just a small proportion for the work."

He said this initial introduction was the foundation stone for the dogs which came into the force in a variety of ways including from rescue centres and from owners who no longer wanted there puppy.

"But we have now moved to an era of buying puppies from reputable breeders.

"It might have all the right breeding and might be the right sort of dog but might not be suitable, the same as a police officer might not be suitable for being a dog handler."

Steve Heathcote, who has 23 years experience in training the dogs and sourcing them, said the breed was replacing the often used German Shepherd because pedigree breeders have bred the working element out of the dog.

Malinois are commonly used in the military in Afghanistan and can also work for longer - up to 11 years before retiring - and eventually rest their heads and leads in the comfort of their handlers home, another officer's house or a game farm.

With a total of 45 dogs in the section covering more than 5,800 square miles and protecting 1.7million people, the force would only continue to use them if it was worth their time and money.

These dogs prove more than their weight's worth by searching a house in a matter of hours where it could take officers days. They save time, money, resources and most importantly - lives.

And sadly the truth is they do risk their lives to protect the public and the officers on a daily basis.

"It is the hardest decision for an officer to let their dog go into somewhere where they know they could be hurt or killed.

"They truly love these dogs but the reality is it is better than losing a human life," said Insp Taylor.

"They know there is a risk to the dog and sadly it comes as part of the role.

"But you have to remember they are not a pet. They are true working dog who genuinely loves doing this every day."

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