Role Specific Detection Dogs by Stu Phillips

Role Specific Detection Dogs.

This week I was tasked to search a shop for illegal tobacco products. Prior to entering the shop, I was informed that it had been searched twice by tobacco detection dog teams in recent weeks and the shop had been given the all clear, although test purchases had taken place and illegal tobacco had been purchased.

I entered the shop with Griff, one of my new tobacco dogs and he located the hide shown in this video after only 2/3 minutes of searching. It took Police and Trading Standards Officers over an hour to gain access to the hide, which was full of illegal tobacco products. The hide is a professionally constructed concealment, using a hydraulic ram to raise an underground shelving system to floor level. When the hide is lowered it looks like the bottom shelf of a storeroom shelving system. This concealment has been in situ for many months and was present when the shop was searched using detection dogs in recent weeks.

I’ve had Griff since he was 8 weeks old, he’s approaching two years of age and I’ve been training him for the specific role of tobacco detection. Griff has been training to be a detection dog since the day I had him and he has been operational for about 3 months now. Yes, his training has taken 18+ months.

The reason I write this post is not to claim that my dog is better than others but bring awareness as to how we are all training and utilising detection dogs. In my opinion, detection dogs are not being trained for specific roles and are not receiving enough relevant training, well some are, and some are not.

I train my tobacco detection dogs specifically for the role in which they work with Trading Standards, Customs and Police. I must ensure that my tobacco dogs can search shops, domestic accommodation, self-store sites and the exterior of vans and cars. Looking at shops more closely I need to ensure that the dogs can search tiled floors and walls, electric sockets and switches, door frames, window ledges, wall mirrors, toilets, shelving systems and every other imaginable place that a sophisticated concealment could be built within a shop environment. I can’t have a dog walk into a room, run around and then leave, that is not a search, I need my dogs to put their noses on and in everything in each and every room. Yes, it’s time consuming but it is 100% necessary, because I don’t want another dog team coming in after me in a few weeks and finding hides that my dog missed.

The training of a detection dog should be influenced by the requirements of the job.
In her book Training Dogs To Use Their Nose by Adee Schoon, she states on page 28, “You need to know the operational standards for the job you are training your dog for. You need to know how accurate your dog will have to be in order to be useful.”

A few months back I was asked to assist with a tobacco operation, again searching several shops. I couldn’t assist on this particular job and so a detection dog team was brought in from a nearby port. The dog was trained to find tobacco and several other odours and worked daily at the port, searching heavy good vehicles, shipping containers and baggage carousels. A few weeks after the operation I asked the OIC of the job if anything had been found. No, nothing found in any of the shops she said as she went on to criticise the tobacco dog for being useless. But she went on to say something quite pivotal, “it’s a tobacco dog, we knew there was tobacco in there, so it should have found it”. I didn’t have the time to explain the ins and outs of detection dog training, but her view is a view shared by many people. We need to find drugs, get a drug

detection dog in, we need to find explosives, get an explosive detection dog in.

Are detection dogs being trained correctly for the jobs they are required and are we spending enough time to train these dogs. Only yesterday I had a Police Dog Instructor laugh when I told him that it takes me about 18 months to get a tobacco detection dog to an operational standard for Trading Standards work. That same PDI is currently taking a drug detection course where the dogs and handlers will have 8 weeks training. After that they will become operational and will be called upon by Police colleagues when a drug detection dog is required, to search a car on the side of road, to search an attic space in a house, to search an alley way at 3am which is littered with needles and rats running around. Is eight weeks enough?

A few years back I was observing a refresher training day and the drugs dog instructor was placing out SIM cards for a digital detection dog to find. Quite normal to many observers, but the digital dog was being expected to search hundreds of seats in a football stadium. Was this training relevant to the role of digital detection dog and should a drugs dog instructor without any experience in this discipline be having any input to the specialist role of a digital dog?

There are so many questions.

Are detection dogs receiving the correct training for the roles they are expected to work in operationally and will they receive enough of that training. Are handlers receiving enough quality training and is the training being delivered by an instructor who has operational experience and knowledge in the discipline they are instructing. The number of times I hear that an explosive dog instructor is delivering drugs dog training, simply because detection is detection. One of my favourites is hearing that a Police Dog Instructor is delivering training and assessing Fire Investigation Dogs when they’ve never stepped inside a real fire scene. There are many examples like this.

Are detection dogs being utilised correctly and should we be saying no to requests for detection dogs when the dog has no experience and not received any training relevant to that request.

Going back to this video, were the dogs that searched and missed this concealment just trained like other detection dogs, by a trainer that has always trained all detection dogs the same. Or was it handler error made by a handler that normally handles explosive detection dogs and searched the shop the same way they’d search it with their explosive detection dog.

So many questions, but I believe there is too much generalisation in the detection dog world.

If anyone has any questions or would like to share anything with me, please get in touch.




About the author

Stuart Phillips

Stuart Phillips is a multi award-winning detection dog handler, trainer and instructor. In 2009 Stuart formed B.W.Y Canine Ltd, who now provide trained and untrained detection dogs, training and consultancy services to clients in the UK and internationally. 

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BWY Canine

Formed in 2009, B.W.Y CANINE is a leading supplier of specialist detection dogs for UK and international clients. B.W.Y CANINE provides a range of sniffer dog services to a very diverse range of clients for detecting Drugs, Explosives, Firearms and Counterfeit Tobacco. Our clients include Police Services, Trading Standards, Private Companies, NHS Trusts, Oil Refineries and the 3rd largest Port Authority in the UK.

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