Updated: Apr 10, 2020
The new series "Q & A with..." is a Q & A style blog post providing an insight into the different sectors of the canine industry. Today I caught up with Jo who is a police officer in the dog unit of Police Scotland and Jo's favourite colleague- police dog Heidie.
Q. What’s the best way to start the day?
I start with a coffee then I take my dogs for a walk, I have two black labs as well as Heidie the German Shepherd. I walk them separately as the labs are older and Heidie needs to be on the lead. Then I get organised for the day getting the kids pack lunches ready and to school.
Q. How long have you been in the police and more specifically, the dog unit?
I joined the police in August 1996 as a police officer before joining the dog branch in September 2018 so I have been in the dog branch for 18 months. It really is the best job ever, it sometimes feels like you are getting paid to walk a dog and I have to say Heidie is my favourite colleague.
Q. How did you get into the role of a dog handler and what skills would be required in order to be successful in the dog unit?
I was a police officer 11 years and then transferred to the traffic branch, I loved that. I also applied for the mounted unit but I was unsuccessful at the interview stage. I went back to being a normal police officer and two years later a job came up in the dog branch, I applied and I was ultimately successful!
I would say if you need to have a good understanding of dogs, part of the selection process involves tests on dog handling and they check how you are around dogs in general. You need to take a fitness test- chasing after the dog and handler and you must also take a bite- obviously with the padded sleeve- so they know you are not scared of dogs. To be successful in this role you would need to be a good all round police officer as that if your primary job after all, the ability to communicate clearly and have good knowledge of dogs.
Q. Can you describe a working day?
There is a lot of travelling, there are only 25 of us (in the dog unit) covering the whole West of Scotland- that’s from Oban down to the English borders and across to Stirling. For example, just the other day there were 3 of us on shift in total covering the whole West region. This often means that by the time the we get there the tracks have been walked on by members of the public and it is harder for the dogs to track the scent.
Q. What are the most common questions you are asked about your job?
How many baddies has she caught and has she bitten anyone!
Q. How many baddies has she caught?
In the 18 months we have been working together she has caught 4 bad guys! A lot of the work we do involves searching for vulnerable and missing people- we have found a few!
Q. How old is Heidi?
She is 3 years old, 4 on May the 4th!
Q. What kind of reaction do you usually get when you bring out Heidie?
Usually “Oh! She’s lovely!” then I ask her to bark and it’s “Oh!! She’s horrible!!”
Q. What is Heidie specifically trained for?
Heidie is a general purpose police dog- we do bite work, search, searching for missing and vulnerable people, property search, anything with human scent on it. She also does crowd control and public order.
Q. How old are the dogs when they start their training?
Usually between 1 year and 18months old.
Q. Can police dogs be rehomed when they retire?
Yes! They usually retire at 8 years old and there is a long list of people who want to rehome them as well as the dogs that don’t pass their police dog training. Heidie will retire with me, I couldn’t imagine giving her up!
Q. Do Police Scotland take outside dogs or rescue dogs on?
Yes, Heidie was quite late starting her training at 2 and a half years old, she was with a family but Heidie isn’t an easy dog, she is a worker and gets easily bored. She was offered back to the breeder who often breeds dogs for Police Scotland but as she was already dressed by that point the breeder offered her to Police Scotland. We do take dogs that are often too much work for families, as long as we know their backgrounds and they pass the tests. Often we get calls from the dog home with dogs they think would be suitable for Police Scotland.
Q. Are there specific dog breeds used for this style of work? What other dogs are there in the police unit?
Yes, we mostly have Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds. The Malinois can work a bit longer than the GSDs can and they are also lighter to lift over fences and often they are a bit easier to train. Heidie is a German Shepherd.
Q. Do you become the dog’s owner?
Yes, she lives with me all of the time, Police Scotland provide a kennel. Heidie will retire with us!
Q. Does Heidi have more than one handler?
No, just one handler. So, when I am off, so is Heidie.
Q. Lastly, how does Heidi like to spend her time off and how do you like to spend yours?
We tend to just go for nice walks, usually out for a couple of hours, I like to go places where I am unlikely to run into other dogs as Heidie is not very good with other dogs. Often on our days off my husband will split a packet of Wotsits between the three dogs- she loves Wotsits!!