‘General Purpose’ Police Dogs


Parish constables often took their dogs to work for company in the 15th century, but the first use of dogs by the police is believed to be in 1888 when two Bloodhounds were used during the Jack the ripper murders.

In 1914, following experiments in Germany and elsewhere, the MPS introduced 172 dogs of various breeds to accompany officers on patrol. That year an officer and dog were commended for saving a person from drowning in a lake (and the dog got a new collar!).

In 1938 two Labradors became perhaps the first true police dogs patrolling in Peckham. Following the Second World War, six Labradors were re- introduced to combat crime and in 1948 the first German Shepherd Dog was used by the MPS. The dogs were very successful and numbers grew until, in 1950, there were 90. The Dog section was then based at Imber Court, Surrey.

In 1954 the current MPS Dog Training Establishment at Keston, Kent, was opened, where all dog training courses take place.

Since then the DSU has been at the forefront of Police Dog training, constantly looking for new ways to use the special abilities of dogs to improve officer and public safety, and detect and prevent crime.

Today, around 250 Dogs of various types are currently working across the MPS.


Most initial and refresher training takes place at the Dog Training Establishment, Keston, Kent.

Other practical training is done in the workplace.

The dogs are trained throughout their working life, which is usually 7½ to 8½ years, in order to maintain safe and effective performance, and each year the teams are assessed formally.

When they retire, the dogs usually stay with their handler as a pet.

The staff undergo specialist training to become Instructors and to deal with dangerous dogs and dog related legislation.

Dogs and handlers from all over the country and many parts of the world attend the MPS Dog

Training Establishment for a variety of courses.

The department uses tried and tested dog breeds such as German or Belgian Shepherd Dogs, Labradors and Springer or Cocker Spaniels. Some dogs are bred at Keston, whilst others are donated (up to 24 months old).

The General Purpose Dog

This title doesn’t do the dog justice as it implies a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’. In fact as far as possible the dog needs to meet a high standard in all its disciplines. Failure can result in not recovering vital evidence, missing a suspect or even a life being put into danger. I served in the Metropolitan Police dog section for over 21 years, and as a trainer I was very conscious that a handlers responsibility includes putting the dog in the best position to use its natural abilities and training. So, below is a list of skills expected from the modern police dog;

Finding property

Finding people

Public Order

Criminal Work

Bolt on skills either – human remains detection

                                    – firearms recovery

                                    – firearms support

Finding Property

The dogs are trained to find and indicate any property with fresh human scent on it. How fresh is a matter for conjecture and depends on the dog’s skills and the environment, so certainly a few hours and perhaps up to 24 hours.

Typically the dog will be searching for car keys (thrown by drivers trying to avoid arrest), weapons used in assaults and stolen property. When found the dog should point with it’s nose, but not touch, to preserve any forensic evidence.

Finding People

The command used for searching is the same whether you are looking for a missing child or a 6′ aggravated burglar. Essentially it is a game of hide and seek and we have two methods we can use;

Tracking – Following a ground scent over a variety of surfaces,'General Purpose' Police Dogs - Regan's Dog Training since I work in NW London it is important that my dogs are confident over concrete and tarmac as well as grass. In fact once you have trained your dog over hard surfaces grass becomes a luxury! The dog should also indicate any property discarded by the suspect.

Seeking – Searching using air scent, where the dog is given the command and released to search guided by the handlers voice & hand commands, to ensure a methodical and thorough search.

Public Order

As has recently been demonstrated dogs are a valuable asset when dealing with large scale public disorder. Dogs are used in teams, never isolated, in conjunction with foot officers.

Criminal Work

This is where the dog is released to detain a suspect;

Recall – the dog is recalled before he reaches the criminal, who continues to run.

Stand – off – this is where the criminal stands still as the dog approaches, the dog should then circle and bark, not bite.'General Purpose' Police Dogs - Regan's Dog Training

Chase – the criminal continues to run and the dog bites and holds until the handler joins them.

Stick attack – criminal will either stand still or run at the dog whilst brandishing a stick. The dog will bite and hold until joined by the handler.

Gun attack – the dog is sent to bite and hold whilst the criminal is shooting a firearm, dogs are trained on pistols and shotguns.

Bolt – on Skills

In addition to the above skills the dog and handler are also encouraged to learn one of the following skills, or as in the case of Tas (my third dog), she had two bolt-on skills.

Victim Recovery (human remains detection) – we have been training this skill for at least 30 years, it is a discipline in which the'General Purpose' Police Dogs - Regan's Dog Training handler does 80 % of the work. After listening to the evidence in the case, the handler will use their fieldcrafting skills to identify the likeliest spots for burial or discarding of remains. This is fascinating work which I have done with two of my dogs working all over England, as well as Wales and N. Ireland. Although sombre work, the ability to bring some closure to grieving families inspires you to give everything you can to the task.

When I did my basic VRD course with Tas, another handler (Alan Chapman) and myself began to experiment with blood detection. Along with Stewart Judd (an instructor down the dog school), we trained our dogs to detect and indicate blood, and then tried out a number of variables to see how the dog’s performance was affected. For instance outside the blood will dry and form a crust making detection harder, however, simply spraying with a mist of water rejuvenates the scent for the dog. Since that time ‘blood detection’ has been taught to all VRD teams and has become a very valuable tool.

Fireams Recovery – In 1995 a handler (P.C. Gerry Dowling) decided that training a dog for the specific scents of a firearm would be very useful. Myself with Jipp ( my first dog) were among the first to be trained , it is an unfortunate fact of life that this has become a vital skill in London nowadays. Interestingly a number of dogs trained in this also began to detect prohibited drugs as well, since the two were often found together.

Firearms support – This is probably the most demanding of the bolt – on skills, the dog and handler are trained in skills specifically designed to support armed officers in searching for armed suspects.

These dogs need to be quiet and have very good control, whether searching buildings or countryside, you will be expected to send your dog to a specific point and then search. Whilst doing this the handler will be in cover behind armed officers, or tracking with a team of armed officers behind and beside you. I have trained two of my dogs in this (Tas & Leo my fourth and current dog), and believe me the consequences of a mistake brings your training into sharp focus!

Obedience & Agility

You don’t need to be told that these skills are based on a solid foundation of obedience & agility. All the above skills are trained and tested throughout the year and any failing in standards whether on efficiency or safety will see the dog withdrawn from service. It is said that the best way to develop a bond with your dog is to engage in hunting games with it. Well, a police life gives the dog a fantastic variety of activities and hunting games. It is also a role that is changing, as with firearms recovery & blood detection, handlers can recognise a need, and will train their dogs to fulfil that need.

For me though, the most impressive attribute of my police dogs is how well they adjust to my home life. All my dogs have been balanced and well behaved at home, both during and after their working life.

I have worked four police dogs, and trained many others, two dogs were bred by the police and two were gifts. Three of these dogs were G.S.D.s and one Malinois bitch (my favourite saying was ‘I wish I could get my missus to look at me the same way that she does!’). All of them I have been happy to train with my kids playing ‘hide and seek’ in the woods.

We are often told in an ideal world we should project a calm and assertive approach, it is to the dog’s credit that we may be assertive but they forgive us when we are feeling far from calm.

This is a brief explanation of the dog’s role, and hopefully gives an insight into one of the police services most valuable tools.

Regan Skinner MBIPDT

Published in B.I.P.D.T. Journal Summer 2012


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