Harry has successfully served his probationary period, becoming 1 of Lincolnshire’s 19 police dogs. At just a year old & too aggressive for his family to cope with, he had been taken to The Croft Veterinary Centre in Newcastle-U-Lyme to be put down. The vet. kennelled him instead, approaching Chaz to try to sort out a viable future for the young dog. Chaz made his initial assessment of the admittedly rather head-strong dog, deciding that he could be ideal for the Lincolnshire police. After just 2 days with Chaz, Harry began a residential assessment at the police dog training school in Lincoln.

A Few Good Dogs
There is a shortage of sound canine candidates for police work. The life is wonderful, for the right dogs, but less than 10% of those offered are suitable. Volunteered dogs are assessed on their reactions to strangers & other dogs. A well balanced temperament is particularly vital, given their future public working environment. There is also a ‘play’ assessment; a dog who won’t play won’t be easily taught to do the biz. (Harry would probably have got top marks in this section!) The dogs are also checked for travel sickness, a definite no-no to a police K9 career. A veterinary examination, which includes an x-ray of the hips, is also part of the assessment. A weak back-end is a common problem in GSD’s & police dogs have to be able to negotiate a 6 ft high scale as part of their agility training.

Changing Partners
The Lincolnshire police dog section is located in a purpose-built unit on the Lincoln Showground. The unit’s sergeant does most of the initial assessment of dogs proffered for police work. If feasible, this is carried out on the dog’s home territory in order to get the best picture of its background & behaviour. Those accepted are then assessed at the dog school by the unit’s dog training instructor. The latter has ultimate responsibility for training & assigning each dog to a compatible handler. Harry passed through these initial assessments with relative ease, but his initial partnership turned out to be a short-lived affair. Police dogs share their handler’s home & Harry’s first partner’s family couldn’t get on with him. P.C Donaldson was next in line for a replacement dog; Harry hasn’t looked back since their meeting.

His Past Future Perfect
Harry’s new partner & his previous dog, Simba, had had a very successful partnership; twice winning the county cup for the most arrests in a year (in ‘98 & ‘99) Harry is fortunate to have been paired with such a dynamic partner & all seems to be progressing well. He flew through his basic training in just 8 weeks (out of a possible 13) & became officially accepted as a bona fide police K9. Had he not succeeded, MBF would have taken him back into care. As MBF supporters, we can feel happy with our small but vital part in securing Harry’s promising future life; a life he so nearly lost. Harry has returned our favour too. Sergeant Sewell, who runs the unit, donated £100 to MBF on behalf of Lincolnshire Police. We’re happy for Harry and also very grateful for this generosity.

On The Right Track
Harry took to some aspects of his training like a duck to water. Sgt. Sewell describes Harry as having a ‘bit of a mean streak’, needing very firm handling to keep him in order. This is very well illustrated by Harry’s introduction to the joy of criminal work (or is it more p.c. to say suspect work?) The problem didn’t lie in teaching him to bite onto the padded arm, more in coaxing him to release it on command. He also tends to track a bit wide in windy weather, but he’s getting there.

All In A Day’s Work
Police dogs have a growing number of specialised roles. The GSD is usually the chosen breed, being a multi-skilled dog. Their main functions are public order maintenance, (football match rowdies, night-club brawlers & the like) searching (checking a designated area for people or property) & tracking (following a ground-scent to find people or property). A verbal warning has to be given before a dog is released to search an area. A suspect can expect to be bitten if attempting to escape or acting aggressively. Sending in & calling off a dog is at the handler’s discretion. Dogs are also being used alongside fire-arms units. They learn to ignore blanks being fired around them whilst training. Dog-handlers aren’t armed but a dog can be used to control a disarmed suspect, or to encourage disarming.

No Ordinary Canines
One thing that is instantly obvious on meeting Harry is that he is totally focused on his partner.  He rarely averts his eyes & seems to respond instantly to the slightest body movement. With a wilful dog like Harry, this is a tribute to the time & skill that has gone into his training; it is also an essential requisite, given the nature of the work they do together. One thing that surprised me, reinforcing the reality that these are no ordinary dogs, is the fact that if their handler is away from home for any reason, the dog boards at the unit rather than staying with the family. The handler has to have an unquestioning acceptance as pack leader by his dog. Kennelling the dogs at the school ensures consistency of handling, maintaining the balance in the relationship. There are several all-weather kennels plus a grassed exercise area for in-mates. The block also has a kitchen area & even boasts a dog’s shower! Although a police dog lives with his handler, he actually belongs to the police force—food-bowl, lead & all!

The Down Side Of It All
As with any job, there is always a down side. For a police dog this is probably the risk of injury and the wear & tear of physical work. The dogs are well looked after, having regular veterinary checks and vaccinations. Handlers choose their own dog’s food from the wide range available. There are both meat and complete foods to suit taste or tummy.  Maintaining a high standard of fitness and agility is seen as vitally important in preventing unnecessary injury. No rigid policy exists on retiring dogs at a set age, it all depends on the health of the dog in question. When retirement is necessary, many dogs continue to live with their handler. After the lifestyle it has been used to, a sedentary, solitary retirement is not always feasible. Some dogs move to a slower-paced second career, such as in the prison service. Lincolnshire Police has an average turn-over of 3 or 4 dogs per annum, due to old-age, ill-health or injury. Averting the latter is a prime concern.

More Than Work
Life in the police force seems to suit Harry, using all the innate talents of a German Shepherd Dog. The dogs accompany their handlers on PR duties in addition to their policing roles. Schools and W.I.’s request visits and the demand for ‘displays’ in summer puts week-end leave at a premium. There are also area and inter-area competitions, helping to keep a check on standards as well as adding a competitive spark. Lincolnshire awards 3 trophies annually—the most arrests; the most outstanding act and one for overall prowess. Perhaps we’ll see ‘Hugh Donaldson & Harry’ engraved on one of these trophies? Harry’s life is looking pretty good to me!

Many thanks to Sergeant Sewell, PC Donaldson & Harry for their time and patience and also for showing me around the dog school.