off before the dogs are gently encouraged to sniff all around the wheels and the mechanism before moving on to his pockets and clothing . They are rewarded when they find 3g of cannabis hidden in his shoe and the appearance of the squeaky ball dispels any nerves about the chair .
Photos from top left : Dog handler Wilkes with his three-year old black lab and dog handler McColvin with her 18-month-old springer spaniel .
Andy Baskett , HM Prison Service national dog trial champion , with Penny , best search dog in the country
Nikki with puppy Charlie , dumped by the roadside at 12 weeks but now getting used to the prison environment to prepare him for training .
Charlie has the opportunity to encounter Paul ’ s wheelchair after the older dogs ’ training has finished .
DOG CHAMPIONS Andy Baskett has been a prison officer for 32 years , and a dog handler for 17 of them . Between the changing line-ups he steps out from the corner where he has been watching , encouraging and giving some subtle feedback to the officers , to explain what ’ s
going on . He ’ s been training dog handlers for four years , alongside his colleague Martin , and has been the HM Prison Service dog trial champion for seven years – a fact that ’ s revealed by team members who clearly value his expertise enormously . However reluctant he is to blow his own trumpet , he ’ s immensely proud of his labrador who has been ‘ best search dog in the country ’ for the past four years .
The training programme covers the whole of the South East and includes 70 handlers and 100 dogs , he tells DDN . The dogs are mainly found at rescue centres and dog dealers ’ premises and are often the ones rejected by families for being too naughty or challenging . This energy and ‘ prey drive ’ can convert successfully to working for the reward of a ball , and an ‘ interview ’ with a pup can take the form of testing reactions with a ball . ‘ We want it to use its nose , so we play with a tennis ball and then hide it ,’ says Andy . ‘ They have to scent it out , and if they can find it , they can hunt out drugs .’
THE BEST BREEDS Labradors are the favoured breed for becoming a passive peoplesearching dog , ‘ because we want a dog that looks friendly . Whether people are old , young , disabled – everyone likes labs , the Andrex dogs . They look friendly but they have a hunt drive .’ Collies are ‘ too smart ’ as they don ’ t see the point of searching the same person twice in a training exercise , but a collie-lab cross can make the best dog with a mix of both breeds ’ traits . The more hectic springer and cocker spaniels have all the right traits for searching areas so are the best choice for active roles , he explains .
Once matched with their new handler , the pup goes to live at their home so that they are with them night and day . Everything – kennelling , transport , upkeep – is paid for by the service , and their training can begin right away if they are old enough , which is generally about 15 months . The service usually takes dogs up to two and a half years old , ‘ but we ’ ll take them older if they have the drive ’. Sometimes they meet them as puppies , such as a recent prospective recruit who was found
Suddenly the dog tenses and remains completely still , rooted to the spot , focusing intently on the last man ’ s pocket . He has indicated , successfully , that there ’ s a gram of coke in it .
dumped by the roadside . The life ahead of them represents the most amazing transformation of fortune .
Each handler will get two dogs , a passive lab and an active springer , says Andy , and the dogs always belong to the service . The passive dogs usually work for five to six years and the active ones eight to nine years , at which point the handler can choose whether to keep the dog or rehome them with friends and family .
When they begin their training , the passive dog will learn to search in different prison environments and will have to get used to noise , including gates crashing . They will learn to search prisoners , prison visitors and sometimes staff as well , in pop-up searches .
The six-week training course ( four weeks for the active dogs ) leads to a year ’ s licence from the Inspectorate , for which they must have completed searches of a minimum of 30 people , and the development training is ongoing . They learn to search for cocaine , heroin , amphetamines , cannabis and NPS ( mainly spice ).
Watching the dogs and handlers train together demonstrates the remarkable bond between the two . Afterwards , while the dogs are rewarded with ball games and socialisation with the team , the dog handlers tell me that of many years working in the police , this recent role is ‘ the best job ever ’. DDN
With thanks to Charing Sports and Social Club