Cumbria Constabulary recruit two new labradors to the force
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 November 2016
Two Labrador pups are the first crime scene dogs to join Cumbria Constabulary. Emily Rothery has been on their trail.
Police have welcomed the arrival of their newest, youngest and probably cutest recruits. But looks are deceptive - they could help to catch a killer.
Red Fox Labrador pups, Sansa and Harley, will be the Cumbria force’s first forensic evidence and victim recovery dogs, trained to find bodies and hunt crime scenes for evidence such as blood.
Over the next 12 months, the sisters will take part in a training programme while settling in with their handlers, Glenn Myerscough and Barrie Cox.
Sansa has been partnered with Glenn, who is based at Barrow, and there is already a remarkable bond between the pair. ‘It’s like having a little shadow,’ says Glenn as we walk through the police station with constant interruptions as people stop to make a fuss of the eleven-week-old pup.
‘Socialisation and experiencing new environments are an important part of her training,’ says Glenn. ‘She will be with me daily getting used to new places, new sounds, different people and other dogs so that she won’t be frightened by any scenario that might arise.’
The next step for Sansa will be an intense course of training with Harley at the Police Headquarters at Penrith where they will focus on scent training using bones from pigs that have died of natural causes. They have a similar scent to humans, apparently.
Sansa is already cottoning on quickly to commands and is beginning to use her phenomenal sense of smell to locate a tennis ball in long grass. ‘Training is done through positive reinforcement, where bad behaviour is ignored and good behaviour is rewarded,’ adds Glenn. ‘I use a clicker, a mechanical device that makes a distinct click which tells the dog that it is doing the right thing. Initially the click is followed by a high-value reward which for Sansa is a tennis ball.
‘We chose Labradors for this specific role because they are steady searchers. I did a lot of research before selecting a highly-regarded breeder of gundogs in Norfolk and with Sansa the signs are already good. I can see that in her drive and willingness to play and search for the ball.’
Sansa will have completed her training in about 12 months and then will be operational, perhaps sometimes working alongside her sister. When fully trained the new recruits will be a huge asset to the force as Glenn explains. ‘The dogs will be able to locate bodies and find vital evidence in a fraction of the time that it would take officers. Experiments have shown that dogs can detect a single drop of blood even when a garment has been diluted with water or cleaned with bleach.’
There is a possibility that Sansa may also be trained as the first dog in Cumbria to work in drowned victim recovery aiding the marine unit in Barrow.
When Sansa is off duty she spends her time at Glenn’s home where she will live in a kennel when older. Glenn, who has wanted to work with dogs since joining the force 15 years ago and has been a dog handler for the last six, works with two other dogs - German Shepherd Bron, a general purpose dog, and a spaniel called Alfie. He searches for drugs, cash and firearms.
‘Police dog handlers usually have two dogs but I’ve got three. I’m also an instructor in dog handling for the force.’
It’s clear that these highly trained canines are more than just to tool to Glenn. ‘I love working with dogs and find that people will come and speak to me when I’m on duty with a dog. I also visit youth organisations, fetes and schools to do presentations. Often the youngsters are hesitant at first but that soon changes when they see Alfie or Bron. It will be Sansa’s turn next. Dogs break down perceptions and barriers and that’s very important.’
Follow Sansa and Harley’s progress on twitter at @policedogunit