My animals and me: police dog handler David Wardell
PUBLISHED: 06:00 05 September 2016 | UPDATED: 11:55 06 October 2016
Hertfordshire Constabulary dog handler talks about his special relationship with his police dogs Finn and Pearl
I have had my German shepherd Finn since he was nine months old. He is now seven. And I’ve had three-year-old Pearl, a springer, for a year. Finn is what we call a general-purpose police dog and is used to search for missing people or property. He is also used for public order and trained for riot situations too. We have a very strong bond – you have to have that in order to work successfully together.
His primary role is to defend me. We get sent to very tricky situations and often have no idea what we are dealing with. Many times people are angry and can turn aggressive. Finn is very good a matching their level of aggression. In fights or disorder or where large groups are gathering, a police dog can have an amazing effect and has often been said to be the equivalent of 20 police officers. The dynamic of the crowd changes – people do not want to go up against a police dog.
Finn is very intuitive. He has been around a long time and has seen it all. He is not scared of anything, even 200 people fighting. He just love what he does.
All our police dogs are trained with reward-based training. It’s our job to find out what their favourite toy and/or food is and all their training is done for that reward. All the training is done for fun. We do a lot of bite work with our general-purpose dogs. When trained correctly this is enormously rewarding for the dogs. But basically at the end of the day we use the dog’s natural instinct and natural survival skills.
Finnn’s nose skills are so good that he once helped me to find my car keys in a huge field of freshly-cut grass. I had no idea where they were but he made very light work of finding them and within a minute showed me where they were. Finn has on numerous occasions saved me, other officers and members of the public from serious assaults and harm but on occasion we have been in a tight spot and I have had to save him from danger.
He did catch the burglar of a famous Hollywood star and then successfully found all the stolen property. We received a big cake (for me) and he received a lovely new toy, some treats and a big thank-you card.
Finn has two very distinct sides. At home you couldn’t wish for a nicer, more placid dog – unless it’s dinner time! He is a model pet who loves nothing more than following me around everywhere and having his ears tickled. However, as soon as he hears me walking around in the kitchen in my work boots he takes on his other character. That character is of a dedicated and highly-motivated working dog eager to please. He is very protective of me and is a great hunter – of naughty people.
Pearl’s job is to search for illegal drugs, quantities of cash, guns and ammunition. Pearl’s first job on her first day of duty after qualifying was in torrential rain. She successfully located a large haul of Class A drugs worth many thousands of pounds and a large sum of cash.
Pearl has only one character. She is very sweet. She loves cuddles, sitting on your lap if you let her, and loves a tennis ball. She has only two speeds – frozen-still like she’s turned to stone, or 100mph. There is no in-between for her. She is an out-and-out search dog. On a recent 5km walk on our rest day, she searched the entire route without being asked. She worked so hard, bless her, that just before we got home I hid a small amount of cash which, even after two hours of searching on our walk, she found successfully.
Both dogs are great with the family. Most police dogs live at home as it’s important to build a bond. When the dogs are retired, the handler generally gets first refusal. I will be keeping Finn; he has earned his place by the fire and is most definitely part of the family.