Northern Ireland

PSNI dogs training to keep the streets free from crime

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Media captionPolice dogs in training to sniff out crime

For Sam the Spaniel, a police career offered a second chance at life.

He was in a pound before being rescued and ending up with the PSNI, where he is now a highly-trained search dog.

For the past year-and-a-half he's been helping police sniff out drugs, cash and firearms throughout Northern Ireland.

It's a dog training programme that is proving very successful as shown by Mike, who was named as the best police dog in the UK earlier in May.

He took first place at last weekend's National Police Dog Trials at Stormont.

His PSNI colleague, and fellow Belgian Malinois Finn, took the runner-up spot, beating off competition from 18 of the UK's most skilled police dogs.

Image caption Sam is now a highly-trained search dog

It was the first time in the tournament's 56-year history that a police force achieved both first and second places.

Despite the success, not every dog is cut out for the police according to Sgt Mark Jordan, who has been working with the PSNI's dog unit at Steeple in Antrim for the past nine years

"A police dog just needs to be very, very agile, very confident in itself and willing to please its owner," he said.

"And sometimes it just needs to be what we would call a bit nuts, and then we're able to gel them into what we want them to do."

While Mike and the other so-called general purpose dogs are no strangers to public order situations, their day to day work involves much more.

"Our police dogs are available 24/7," said Sgt Jordan.

"They would most of the time be used for things like searching for missing persons and people who have mental health issues.

"If we don't get them soon then they're open to exposure and things like that and we have found missing persons like that and saved their lives.

Image caption Mike was named as the best police dog in the UK earlier in May

"In everything we do, it's about keeping people safe."

One of the newer recruits is 11-month-old Zorro.

He is in training, but by the time September comes he'll be a fully operational general purpose dog.

He is learning to track and search for people, how to behave during public order situations and also criminal bite work.

Zorro will have to complete an intense 12-week training programme before he'll be allowed to join his handler on the front line.

The bond between dog and handler is such that the animal lives and works with the trainer full-time.

Sgt Jordan said: "Handlers look after these dogs from when they are a pup until they retire so the bond is very strong.

"It can be very rewarding but also very frustrating work - they do say never work with children or animals.

"Normally when it goes right, it is very rewarding.

"This is probably the best job in the police, but just don't tell anybody else."