New Zealand Police Dog Unit
The New Zealand Police service has 21 dog sections from Whangarei in the north to Invercargill in the south, comprising approximately 110 general purpose police dog teams.
In addition, the section also operates ten narcotic detector dog teams and three explosive detector dog teams.
The dog handlers
All Police dog handlers are experienced police officers with approximately five years policing experience behind them before they join the Dog Section.
All training courses are conducted at the Police Dog Training Centre at Trentham (Wellington).
The quality of the training provided by the Dog Training Centre is well recognised in both New Zealand and overseas. Assistance has been provided to set up dog sections in several Australian states. Another important part of the centre's operations is providing training to other Pacific countries.
Police also train drug detector dogs for the New Zealand Customs Service and Department of Corrections, and Explosive Detector dogs for Aviation Security Service. The Dog Training Centre has also trained New Zealand's first accelerant detector dog for use in arson investigation.
The training philosophy employed by the Police is based on positive reinforcement. The type of dog the Police look for is one that is well socialised to people, places and things, is even-tempered and has a high retrieve drive.
The dogs' roles
Police train German Shepherd dogs for the general purpose role, and predominantly Labradors for the specialist roles.
General purpose Police dogs
The training of a general purpose dog is based on a three-stage qualification process and takes approximately eight months. Dogs live at home with their handlers.
Police use German Shepherds because of their size, temperament and trainability. Half of the dogs Police train are gifted or bought from the public. The Dog Training Centre also has it own breeding programme which provides the remaining dogs needed.
Drug Detector Dogs
Police mainly use Labradors for this specialist role of locating illegal drugs.
The Police also train many of their general purpose dogs to carry out other roles. These include:
- Search and Rescue work including avalanche rescue
- Deployment with the Armed Offender Squad
- Firearm detection work
- Drug detection in smaller centres that do not have a specialist dog.
In 2008/2009 a working group investigated the use of vests for Police Dogs and a trial was conducted using a vest used by Australian Police. The investigation found that the vests would not have offered any protection to any of the dogs killed in New Zealand or any of the serious injuries suffered by dogs in recent years.
Over 80% of patrol dogs in New Zealand are involved in tracking (often long distances) and in all weather conditions, and injuries to Police dogs occur when least expected.
The investigation found that vests would seriously compromise the effectiveness of New Zealand Police Dog Teams due to the conditions that they work in. However, we will continue to look into advances in protective equipment and practice for dogs and their handlers.
A dog's best defence is its natural speed, agility and strength accompanied by safe deployment practice by the handler.
There is a high level of public interest in the health and well-being of our dogs. The safety of Police dogs is of the utmost importance to us, and this is reflected in the very low numbers of injuries and deaths to our dogs when compared to the very high number of incidents they are involved in.
In 2009/2010 dogs were injured on only five occasions. Four of those were minor injuries and one was serious.
Some statistics on New Zealand Police dogs
In 2009/2010 police patrol dog teams responded to over 36,000 calls for service and apprehended more than 7,000 suspects.
Police detector dog teams were also deployed to assist police operations in narcotic, explosive and firearms detection.
A comparison of statistics shows just how far the Dog Section has come. In 1958, dogs were called out 55 times. By 1968, call-outs had risen to 1,645.