THEY say you can’t teach an old dog new trick, but when it comes to their handlers it’s a whole different story.
Former Northumbria Police Pc Tom Yeouart was certainly given paws for thought when he took a return trip to Northumbria Police’s Ponteland headquarters.
The sentimental visit brought back lots of memories to Tom, 79, who was the first dog handler with Northumberland County Police, as the force was then known.
He was surprised at how the unit has developed from the two-men-and -their-dogs team to what it is today.
Tom and his Dobermann dog Amber launched the dog section back in 1953 and last week he came back to see how it has developed almost six decades on.
He said: “I remember getting a knock on my door and a message that the Chief Constable wanted to see me.
“I remember racking my brains wondering what I had done.
“But I was asked if I would like to form the dog section and I said I would be delighted.
“Back then it was just me and another handler but it grew gradually.
“There was no money for the section so I had to beg, steal and borrow, including the one van which we used that actually belonged to the finger-printing department.”
During his trip down memory lane, Tom met dog handlers Pcs Sarah Allison and Paul Atkinson and police dog Rico.
They are all on their initial training course to become qualified dog handlers.
Tom added: “The dog section is a ttoally different concept now.
“Back then, it was mainly nose work – searching for criminals, stolen property and missing people.
“It’s very interesting to see how it has changed.”
Dog section sergeant John Sim added: “Although there have been changes over time in the types of dogs we use and the way we train them, the job remains fundamentally the same.
“That is to provide a first-class, front-line service to the communities we serve, preventing and detecting crime and providing reassurance.”
Today, the dog section is made up of five sergeants and 45 Pcs.
All of the officers have general purpose dogs, which are mainly German shepherds but there are also a few Belgian malinois and Dutch herders.
Eight of these dogs have been trained to work with firearms teams.
An additional seven are licensed to sniff out drugs, weapons and cash.
A total of 11 detect explosives.
The dogs and their trainers undergo vigorous training and the dogs are trained to be obedient and must be under strict control at all times.
Commands are either spoken or given with a hand signal.
Police dogs must also be in a fit and healthy condition and are trained to scale a six-foot fence, clear a foot- long jump and complete a hurdle and agility course.
The dogs are trained to bite but will only do this on the command of their owner or to protect themselves or their handler.
All dogs are tested and must have the correct physical and mental attitude and courage to support their handler in violent situations.
The dog will chase and detain criminals who run away, keeping hold of them until told to release by the handler.
The force manages a kennel complex at its headquarters and is always on the look out for suitable dogs to join the unit.
There are sometimes dogs available for rehoming.
For more information, go to The Kennels web page at www.northumbria.police.uk