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VIDEO: Spaniel ‘super sniffers’ on tail of Pup Idol success

Saturday 8 March 2014

The search to find West Midlands Police’s next Pup Idol is hotting up as the Canine Class of 2014 heads for ‘boot camp’!

For the last nine months ‘O’ litter Springer spaniels Oasis, Odem, Oriel, Olivia and Oxo have been socialising with puppy walkers at homes across the region.

The volunteers have been busy honing the pups’ inquisitive nature, keeping them stimulated and familiarising them with environments they could be called to search during their careers like shops, parks, and railways.

But the five Pup Idol contenders are now in full-time training with dog handlers as they bid to become the force’s finest sniffer dogs.

The latest video shows the super cute quintet on location at stately home grounds in Solihull where they were tasked with uncovering a suspect package hidden in undergrowth and given “familiarisation” flights on board a police helicopter.

West Midlands Police Breed Scheme Manager Dave Raymond, said: “Before the course we developed the dogs’ search instincts using tennis balls – but now they’re training full time we teach them to detect the scents they’ll be sniffing out when operational.

“For Olivia and Oxo – who are primed to be drugs sniffer dogs – that means Class A drugs, amphetamines and cannabis – whilst Oasis, Odem and Oriel are taught to detect other material as they train to be specialist search dogs.

“The course lasts eight weeks during which they’ll complete searches in buildings, streets, open spaces and vehicles. It’s also important our specialist dogs are comfortable travelling by air in case we need to get them to a distant scene quickly so, whilst they’re young, we get them used to the motion, sights and sounds of the helicopter.  

“All of our Pup Idol contenders are progressing really well and I’d expect them to pass their licensing test with flying colours.”

Licensing is a pass-fail canine exam overseen by an independent assessor.

Each dog’s search skills are evaluated across a range of tests and search environments – but even after passing the dogs are continually monitored and undergo 20 days of refresher training a year and have annual re-licensing tests.

Dave added: “It’s a very high standard…it has to be. Dogs can’t just scrape through the licensing because when operational, especially the specialist dogs, their nose and search ability could be the difference between life and death.

“All the pups have bonded well with their handlers…that’s crucial as they need to work as a team. The handler has to understand their dog, recognise its behaviour and know the signs that it’s potentially latched onto a scent.

“You can have excellent dogs and experienced handlers that don’t bond – though that is rare – and as these dogs are allocated handlers a couple of months before the course that shouldn’t be an issue.”

Pup Idol II’s candidates are girls Olivia, Oriel, Oxo and Oasis, plus sole boy representative Odem, who were born into ‘O’ litter at the Dog Unit’s Balsall Common base in the early hours 8 December 2012.

They are the force’s future search specialists and are being trained to help police hunt for weapons, drugs, cash, stolen items or explosives – and the evidence they uncover is often crucial in securing court convictions against criminals.

Last December, police spaniel Oscar sniffed out 3kg of cocaine valued at £100,000 hidden in a car stopped on the M6 Toll, whilst canine colleague Enzo uncovered 30 wraps of crack cocaine stashed behind dashboard and driver’s door panels of a car pulled over in Digbeth on February 3. Several men were arrested on suspicion of possessing Class A drugs with intent to supply.

Three-year-old Springer Jo-Jo – a recent graduate of West Midlands Police’s breed scheme – has also scored some notable sniffing successes.

She located almost a kilo of heroin hidden stuffed in a whisky tin during the search of a shed in Tyseley last October, and on January 30 found eight wraps of cocaine that had been dumped in a rubbish bag at a home in Erdington.

Dave Raymond, added: “There are currently 29 spaniels operational in West Midlands Police; they regularly find hidden items not immediately obvious to officers and which would otherwise take much longer locate…or not be found at all.”

West Midlands Police runs the largest, most successful police dog breed scheme in the UK – launched in 1994 – with more than 80 per cent of dogs going through the training programme becoming operational.

Only the best dogs are kept to police West Midlands’ streets – some dogs are sold to other police forces whilst ones that don’t make the grade are sold as working dogs (farms etc) or given to good homes.

It’s also achieved Assured Breeder accreditation by the Kennel Club in recognition of its commitment to dog welfare.

Litter mate Olympia has been chosen as a breed bitch, whilst Oscar and Oreo were sold to Northumbria Police and puppy Orville is now with the City of London constabulary.