Any police officer would be pleased with a shift that sees them tackle a prolific burglar after a chase through fields late at night, not least when it’s only their third-ever shift.
That was the high standard Lancon Nouchka had been set.
The malinois (Begian Shepherd) bitch is celebrating the end of her first year as a police dog with Lancashire Constabulary ...and she started in style.
Nouchka, partnered with PC Simon Harwood, not only tracked down the suspect, beating the police helicopter to it, but also located the clothing worn in the incident that was stripped off during the pursuit.
Nouchka is one of the force’s 20 general police dogs amazing their trainers on a daily basis with the impact they can have on police work.
The dogs are bought by the force from specialist breeders. They can cost up to £2,500 and undergo an intensive 13-week initial training before continual training on the job.
“We work them hard,” says dog instructor PC Anna Woods. “They train every day, in agility, tracking, searching for people or property, all sorts.”
Zeus is one of Nouchka’s ‘classmates’ and looks not too dissimilar to a well-groomed wolf.
He bounds around the police unit’s Hutton base showing off the agility he has learned in the past year. PC Woods added: “A dog is quite simple, they like to play so the reward is a ball, a biscuit or a bite.
“It’s all reward-based training, making the dog want to do it because it’s play. It’s called operant conditioning.”
Without hesitation PC Woods slips on a hessian-wrapped sleeve and holds it out in front of her.
She is demonstrating Zeus’s abilities, to tackle her with a bite but quickly stand down.
As she shouts at the dog, the three-year-old Dutch herder runs full speed at PC Woods, almost knocking her to the ground as he jumps to bite the sleeve.
But he stops just as quickly, at his handler’s command.
Clearly not many people would be daft enough to try to take on a dog with as much power.
“I’ve had a bloke shake my hand after being caught by my dog. For hardened criminals they’re seen as an occupational hazard,” says senior dog instructor PC Simon Harwood. “Even they think the dogs are brilliant.”
From early in the new year Zeus will be one of six police dogs stationed in Blackpool, with handler PC Pete Crowther.
“The dogs can be involved in anything and any normal police work, their handlers are police officers first and dog handlers second,” explains PC Woods, who has a German shepherd, Baz, and a springer, Crackers.
“They’re trained to do anything from searching for vulnerable missing people or outstanding criminals to general police work.
“For me having them to find missing people is the best bit, you know that it’s saving lives.”
Zeus has been trained as a drugs dog too, to find not just illegal substances but also cash and weapons.
PC Crowther said: “I’m looking forward to being in the area and working with other officers, getting involved with normal jobs as well as drugs.
“It’s great going out with the dogs. I’ve had a job where two lads had broken into a pub.
“I pulled up and opened my boot, Zeus started barking and they came straight out.
“They said they heard the dog and just gave up.”