Tuesday 31 July 2018

The E litter, Pet Gunner and Quini's forever home




During their development period all of our pups are introduced to livestock as part of their socialisation. So on Sunday the E litter met up at HQ before heading off to the venue we always use Saundercroft farm.

Pictured from left to right are Errol, Ernie, Eyke, Echo, Eddie and Star. The E litter turned 5 months this week and Star one of our imported dogs from Holland is 7 months.

Star was unable to attend the training session scheduled for his own group later in the week and so I thought it would be good for him to join us on our visit to Saundercroft farm.

He has had some confidence issues and I thought it would be a good opportunity to see if his general confidence is improving. I was pleasantly surprised at how well he did.
Our visit to Saundercroft farm is always one of my favourite development days. Exeter Police dog handler Andi Darbey lives on the farm with her partner Simon and 2 year old son Will. The farm is owned by her mum Jean who kindly allows us to visit.

The objective is to socialise the pups with the different types of livestock and it gives me a very good measure of the general confidence of the pups. It also helps me to identify any pup that could potentially be a problem around livestock in the future and may need further development in that area.

It is very important that our Police dogs are not reactive in and around livestock because searching for offenders and vulnerable missing persons is a big part of our work in this area.

The initial reaction of the pups when they first meet livestock varies from excitement, wanting to chase, barking, raised hackles, uncertainty to backing off. This group showed no uncertainty and were certainly not backing off.

We are lucky to have Andi, Simon and her mum Jean because not only do they let us onto the farm they also play an active part in helping us to introduce the pups to the animals.

It is always entertaining watching the pups and the animals but in our more recent visits it has become even more entertaining watching 2 year old fearless Will charging about and generally gate crashing anything that takes his fancy.

We usually start with the sheep in a field and our strategy is always the same.

We keep the pups on lead a short distance away from the sheep and we prevent the pups from becoming too focused on the sheep by practising exercises such as the sit, the down, looking at the handler and short recall’s on lead using our liver titbits.

Andi uses her bucket of feed to get the sheep to congregate and this stops the sheep charging about and means the pups are less likely to get over excited.

I had Ernie for the day because his puppy walker Dave was a little unwell and was disappointed not to be there.

As you can see from the video Errol got a little bit excited in the early stages.

We don’t rush the process and eventually the pups became generally bored with the sheep and so our is mission accomplished.

Ernie was a little anxious when I picked him up from his puppy walkers for the day and I wonder whether he was worried he was changing home for a 4th time.

He soon settled down when he saw his siblings and really enjoyed the day. Here he is sharing a drink with Echo and relaxing with Star.

Having achieved our objective with the sheep we all made our way down to the calves and cows.

On the way to the cow shed Ernie spotted a cow and some calves in a field and very calmly weighed up the situation.

In the cow shed he was even more chilled out.

Mind you he wasn’t the only one all the pups seemed to take it in their stride.

For some reason Echo found this cow particularly interesting.

As always Will was never far away from the action.

Here are Eddie and Ernie relaxing on the hay bales.

Here is a short video clip of the pups in the cow shed.

It was a hot day and so plenty of water was always on hand.

Errol wasn’t that keen drinking out of this bucket after everyone else had been drinking from it.

So Errol found a larger bucket and tried to practise his underwater swimming inside it. As always that man Will was there again enjoying the action.

Eyke doesn’t seem too fazed by this rather large horse and almost seems to be saying ‘What are you staring at ‘But then we have come to expect that from Eyke.

There is that man Will again. I think his middle name is Duracell.

Then it was off to see the chickens. Echo seems to be saying ‘ Havnt I seen that little man with the blonde hair somewhere before’

The chickens usually get the pups very excited but I think the hot sunny day had taken its toll and they were exceptionally well behaved.

I was extremely impressed with the pups today. They were very confident and other than a little bit of over excitement in the early stages which is to be expected the pups were very steady and sensible.

My thanks to Andi and her family for all of their help and making it such an enjoyable day.
I look forward to coming back again soon.


Because of the success of our puppy program it is many years since we have accepted an adult dog being offered to us from a member of the public. I will always follow up on any dogs offered to us because although it is unlikely that we will need the dog there are many good Police forces who will.

Gunnar was purchased as a puppy by Natasha and Sean Cornwall from a breeder in North Devon in 2017. ( Not the Gunnar from our puppy program )

They wanted an active dog that would be part of their family but now that he is 12 months old they realise they cannot give him the amount of time and exercise this active dog needs.

Their family circumstances have changed in that Natasha is very busy fostering children and Sean works long hours as a carpenter. Sean gets up very early to give him a long run in the morning and again last thing at night.

During the day Natasha tries to give him attention but cannot give him what he needs. They are anxious for Gunnar to have a more active life and decided they would see if he had what it takes to become a Police dog.

I went to see him at their home in Portland on the 5th of June this year. They were at pains to point out if being a Police dog wasn’t an option they would keep him.

On my arrival he was very protective of Natasha and the house but in a confident way. He relaxed when he realised that Natasha was happy with me and I immediately liked his happy, playful confident demeanour.

I could see that he was a much loved dog and had been very well looked after.

I explained to Natasha there was a lot of water to go under the bridge in terms of assessments and a medical if he was to become a Police dog. I explained that our force didn’t need a dog at this time but that there were many forces looking for a dog.

I arranged to collect him on the 16th of July for further evaluation. As arranged I collected him and he stayed with me at my house for a couple of days while I assessed his potential.

I liked his friendly energetic nature and I loved the way he was happy to play for as long as you wanted him to.

I found him to be a very people friendly dog which is important, his nerves are strong and he has natural nose work ability.

Environmentally I found him to be a very confident dog who is naturally very inquisitive. Here he is at our vehicle workshops showing that confidence and inquisitiveness with my van being hoovered after a new bracket had been fitted.

He is very responsive and is a dog that would quickly form a strong bond with his handler. I assessed his boldness with several courage tests and considering he is still very immature  he stood his ground and stood up for himself.

He was very confident with loud noises and heavy traffic.

He certainly enjoyed playing with my female Ella.

He clearly enjoyed his 2 days with me and Ella. When I returned him to Natalie and Sean I think they were surprised that he would quite happily have followed me and jumped back in my van. That tells   me he is a dog with a natural aptitude to work and a dog who will be happiest if working.

We have arranged for his hips to be x rayed and if they are good working hips I intend to take him into our Police program.

So watch this space for further updates on Gunnar. A lovely dog who I really enjoyed working with over the 2 days.


As reported in my last blog Quini has been released from the puppy program because on xray our vet deemed her hips not suitable for the rigours of Police work but that she will be fine as a pet.

Here she is when I selected her and her brother Quest at 7 weeks from their breeder Walther Vebruggen in Belgium in August last year.

Here they are in my garden aged 15 weeks when I brought them back to my house.

I am happy to report that Quini now has a fantastic forever home with Gus and Sam. Tragically they only recently lost their retired Police dog Jasper aged only 5. Whilst we can never replace a lovely dog like Jasper I am confident that Quini will help Sam and Gus to recover from their loss.

I would also like to thank Mark and Terri Boswell and Karen and Phil Goode for helping to look after Quini during her journey in our puppy program.

As reported in my last blog her brother Quest has passed his assessments and will now be allocated to Mark Stevens for the September Initial Police dog course. Mark’s very successful dog Axel has had to retire prematurely aged only 5 with a spinal complaint.


I have been waiting very anxiously for Ella’s hip and elbow scores to come back from the British veterinary association to see if we will be able to breed from Ella in the future. I am happy to say her hips and elbows are exceptional. Some good news for a change.

From Ella, Larry and me bye for now.

Friday 27 July 2018

Elsa, Quest and Merlin pass their assessments


Elsa, Quest and Merlin pass their assessments to start the September 2018 initial police dog course and celebrate with a swim in the river

Home visits and local training with our pups

Elsa, Quest and Merlin pass their assessments to start the September 2018 initial police dog course and celebrate with a swim in the river

Pictured from left to right are 7-month-old Larry, Elsa and Chris, Quest & Colin and Merlin and Ian.  From the moment we acquire our pups we are developing and observing their working abilities, boldness, general confidence, health, temperament and potential to be a future Police dog.
Today we were assessing their boldness to be Police dogs. We already know from previous training sessions that they are exceptional dogs in all aspects of their training and development.
We have several tests to assess their boldness, but they are not a pass or fail.

The reason they are not pass or fail is because we already have a good idea about their boldness having watched them growing up and meeting all of the various environmental day to day situations that they have encountered.
The first test involves the dog running free through woodland when a strange figure suddenly steps out from behind a tree and takes the dog by surprise. We know that most dogs will instinctively take flight to some degree.
But we are assessing their ability to recover and to see if they support their handler who goes over to interrogate the individual. Here is a video of 16-month-old Elsa’s reaction.

The helper Ian left it very late before stepping out and gave Elsa very little time to evaluate what was happening. Normally we like the dog to have more time but Elsa’s recovery show’s what a strong dog she will be when she is fully mature.
Next up was Merlin who is just 12 months old. I was very impressed with Merlin because he is a very friendly, immature and playful dog and I wasn’t sure how he would react.

I fully accept that when a dog is 2 years old and fully mature they are much better equipped mentally to deal with a test like this and so in our evaluation we do take into account the age of the dog undergoing the test.
Regardless of the age of the dog once the dog realises there is nothing to worry about a full recovery should take place. If a dog is unable to recover then they are not going to be suitable to be a Police dog.

Here is Larry my 7 month old dog showing extremely strong nerves and confirms what I already know ie that he is going to be a very hard serious male when he matures.

The next test involves the dogs again running free through woodland. On the floor lying motionless is a dummy made up of flowerpots and as the dog approaches the dummy is suddenly hoisted up into the air.
As in the previous test we expect the dog to show some flight while it works out what the threat is. We then assess how quickly the dog recovers and shows the confidence to investigate the dummy.

All 3 dogs showed good nerves and recovery in dealing with this situation.
The final test involves the dog seeing a stranger running off into a large dark shed. We are looking to see if the dog has the confidence to go into the dark shed and negotiate obstacles on the floor such as polythene sheets, wooden pallets before locating the person and barking at them.
Here is Quest confidently negotiating the shed and giving powerful confident assertive barks at the helper.

Needless to say all 3 dogs passed with flying colours and now await allocation to their handlers for the September course.
On the day of the assessments it was an extremely hot day and so we took the dogs down to the river for a swim to cool off.  

The other dog on our September 2018 Police dog course will be 12 month old Dutch import Peppe .  Peppe is presently being puppy walked by Graham Attwood and his family. As previously reported Graham is the Instructor for the Initial course. Here is Peppe with Graham’s daughter Polly.

Peppe will still need to pass the boldness tests but Graham has been training Peppe and is very confident in his ability to be a Police dog and start the course.

Home visits for our puppy walkers and guidance on walking and exercising their pups

Pictured above are puppy walkers Sue and Andy with Errol preparing to cross the busy main road where they live in Lewdown.
Over the past 6 weeks I have been visiting all of our younger pups to see how they are getting on at home and to see for myself where the dogs are being walked and exercised.
As the picture of Errol above illustrates it is extremely important that I know what is happening at the home of our puppy walkers and to know that the puppy is being walked and exercised in a safe environment and that the pup is at all times under the puppy walkers control.
Andy is pictured here receiving instruction on schooling Errol on a long line to teach him to ignore other distractions that they might meet on their travels.

In this article I will outline the input that we give our puppy walkers to ensure they are confident in walking and exercising the pups and some photo’s of my visits.
Throughout most of the last 6 weeks it has been extremely hot and so I kept the visits reasonably short.  I intend to do another follow up visit to see how the walkers are getting on with the routines that I have shown them as soon as the temperatures drop.
 Errol certainly enjoyed himself.

When we got home Errol headed straight for his cool mat.

These extremely important home visits are in addition to the fortnightly group training sessions that we provide to all of our pups and puppy walkers.
In our fortnightly sessions we teach them control exercises such as the sit, down, heelwork, recalls, retrieves and the sit and down stay.
They are also taught other control exercises such as training  their pups to remain in their vehicle until the lead is attached and they are given permission to get out.
Here are the E litter on their first training session.

Here is Ernie practising his recall with Dave.

Puppy walker Mitzi demonstrating that she can maintain control over a very young Quest until the lead is attached and he has permission to alight from the vehicle.

In our fortnightly training sessions we also teach them operational exercises such as searching for people, searching for articles, following trails and puppy bite work.  Here is Henry letting me know that he enjoys this exercise.

Here is Star in the early stages of his tracking training already showing a natural genetic aptitude for this exercise with his low nose, determination and concentration.

The fortnightly training sessions are voluntary but they are extremely popular and it is very rare that any of the puppy walkers miss the sessions. These sessions are crucial in developing our pups and they allow me to see if they have the necessary characteristics to become a Police dog.
The sessions are also an opportunity to discuss any training or behavioural concerns the puppy walkers may have. Here are Bill, Henry, Star and Larry on a recent session. 

Here is Ben and Lola after their last training session with Stuart and Karol.

On this training session Ben was not in the slightest bit worried coming across this character in a field.

Although our fortnightly sessions are extremely important the home visits are probably even more important because we need to know that the puppy walkers are coping at home and that they are walking and exercising their dogs in suitable locations.
The objective of the home visits was to give the puppy walkers hands on advice about walking their dogs in a controlled and safe manner and to see where they exercise and walk them.
Here is Rob and Eyke walking very nicely on a loose lead. This hasn’t always been the case because Eyke has a propensity to want to chase cars, birds, trains, pedal cycles and anything else that moves.

The types of pup selected for Police work tend to be very strong characters who are very determined, energetic with very strong prey drives and so dealing with this type of behaviour is quite common.
Eyke is pictured here having transferred from his lead to his long line for some training and control in the local park. He has just retrieved his toy and Rob has got him to leave the toy on command. He has his foot on the line to stop him jumping up.

It was a bit too hot to continue in the open field and so we retreated to an area in the shade. I positioned him next to a very busy path used by cyclists, dog walkers and children making their way home from school.
The objective was to correct him for lunging at passing pedal cycles, other dogs and trains that passed behind us.
I was armed with a water spray and predictably he didn’t react to anything that passed us. This is nearly always the case if the dog knows you mean business. We were then mobbed by the local school children making their way home.

Up until the pups reach 16 weeks of age the priority is to socialise the pups and during this period we tend not to worry about lead control. They are given freedom on the lead to meet and investigate as much as possible to build their confidence in dealing with day to day situations.
With the pups that we have imported from other countries such as Germany, Belgium and Holland It is a different story because we are not allowed to bring them into this country until they are 15 weeks old because of the Rabies laws.
Usually they have not received any socialisation when they arrive and so they invariably need a few weeks to make sense of their new environment and they will need several months to catch up on all of the socialisation that they have missed.
Here is 6 month old Dutch import Sydney with puppy walker Phil at Perranporth.

We did some lead and line work on a very warm day then it was back to Phil’s for Sydney’s favourite activity a hosing down and towelling session.

What I have found with pups that have missed the vital early socialisation  provided their characters are genetically strong they will catch up and not be affected long term.
It just means that our puppy walkers have to work harder and longer in the socialisation process. There are certainly no issues with Sydney’s confidence and social skills. But then that is hardly surprising because Phil takes him everywhere and he is a celebrity in Perranporth town and on the beach.

Once they have been well socialised we then bring a measure of control because even at 5 to 6 months people can be alarmed seeing a large dog charging towards them off lead and if the person is put in fear of being bitten then an offence is committed against the dangerous dogs act.
The measures of control that we bring in include getting the pups to walk on a loose lead and to stay close on the training line whilst ignoring all distractions.
Here is Ernie walking nicely on the lead with Dave.

Here is Ernie staying close to Dave walking in the local park having transferred from the lead to the long line and he is not reacting to a football being kicked around.

Once they have received their early socialisation we want our pups when out on a walk with their puppy walkers to learn to ignore other dogs and distractions and to refrain from sniffing dog smells or marking territory.
This is a big step for the puppy because up until now it has been allowed to interact and do what it wants.
It is surprising how quickly the pups catch on provided that the handler or puppy walker is consistent in applying it.  Here is Lola walking in a controlled manner with Karol in a Plymouth park.

You can see in this picture Lola is getting ready to accept the challenge from a dog that launched barking at her.

Because she was about to react Karol slid his hand down to the collar and gently bounced her 3 times until they had passed the other dog and carried on their way without incident.
We don’t want the walks to become boring obedience routines and so the handler or walker should always build regular stopping points into the walk where the puppy can relax, play, investigate smells, mark territory or toilet. These are natural things for a dog and are necessary to release anxiety and stress.

In effect what the puppy walker is doing is taking ownership of the walk and not following the pup around.

Walking on a loose lead

The lead is a single non slip lead attached to a broad leather collar to prevent any potential strain or jolt to the puppy’s neck.
The basic rule is always unless the lead is slack we do not proceed forward. In the early stages as we go to move off the puppy will invariably charge forward.
As this happens we hold the end loop with both hands to minimise being jolted as the puppy gets to the end of the lead. We don’t jerk or pull on the lead and immediately move forward at speed or turnabout and go off in the opposite direction.
We then immediately move forward at a good pace overtaking the pup encouraging it along with us with HAPPY EXCITED PRAISE and slipping in the odd titbit.
 Here is Ben and Stuart on their first training session.

I’ve highlighted this because handlers are always quick to correct the puppy’s mistakes but don’t really emphasise the correct position as excitedly as they should because this is what helps the pup to learn where you want him/her to be.
I was very impressed with Stuart and Ben on their first session.

Eddie had a good training session with Alaina despite the heat but I didn’t manage to get any photo’s of the walk. Here is Eddie back at the house with Alaina and Ryan.

We will continue to employ the tactic of about turn directional changes encouraging the puppy to catch up and praising as the pup gets back alongside us. We include sit’s and stand’s in the routine for a favourite titbit which is usually a liver treat.
The lead is kept in the left hand and if a correction needs to be given the right hand comes across and a check back is given with both hands. The handler then immediately picks up the pace, let’s go with the right hand and proceeds forward on a loose lead.
Here is a short video of Eddie repositioning his paddling pool.

I encourage the puppy walkers when taking their pup out on the lead for a walk to take a small rucksack with them to hold the training line, toys, water and a few titbits in their left hand pocket.
For the puppies that react to distractions such as other dogs and ignore a verbal or lead correction then the walker will also carry a distraction spray in their right pocket.
Here is Ernie and Dave fully prepared and off on their walk.

With regard to encountering other dogs or distractions the handler must always be 3 steps ahead of the puppy by always scanning ahead. The handler must get in a firm ‘No’ the moment the puppy spots the distraction.
The handler must ALWAYS expect the dog to react and be immediately ready to correct the puppy BEFORE it gets into the zone as firmly as is necessary to get an immediate response.
Karol and Lola demonstrating how to walk in a relaxed but controlled manner.

For those puppies that are not affected by a check back then a stronger correction is needed such as a spray or other aversive and it must be delivered very quickly and firmly. The handler must NOT shout or become excited or aggressive in any way.
The secret is always to be on the move and when giving a correction do so assertively, quickly and do not stop. This communicates to the pup that you are owning the walk and in full control of every situation.
Whether a spray or noise aversion is used or a lead check back we make a big play of the right hand going for the spray or moving towards the lead for a check back. The puppy sees all of this in his/her peripheral vison and very often complies without any action needing to be taken.
The important thing to remember is that walking on the loose lead must not become a chore. The puppy must feel that he/she is going to an area for fun and enjoyment and that being with you is enjoyable. You have your titbits and his/her favourite toy with you at all times.
Here is Echo with Paul and Michelle enjoying quality play time at one of her favourite play areas on her walk.  

Walking on the training line
The training line is a 15 foot line with a hand loop at one end and another hand loop down by the clip onto the collar. When we walk forward if the puppy is on the left we hold the loop in our left hand and if on the right we transfer to the right hand.
The objective when walking on the line is to condition the pup to be no more than 2 metres ahead of the walker and not to allow the pup to lag behind.
Here is Stuart and Ben demonstrating walking on the line perfectly for their first time.

To achieve this if the puppy goes more than 2 metres in front we stand on the line saying the word ‘No.’ If the puppy lags behind we just say ‘Come along ‘with a tug if necessary and keep going.
We tend to use the line if we are crossing open areas such as a park or across moorland or other open areas. Once the puppy becomes really proficient and trustworthy the line can be allowed to trail on the ground without being held and in the fullness of time completely discarded.
Using the line also seems to help the puppy with its loose lead walking.
Here are Paul and Michelle on their way home with Echo after their play session.

When walking the pup on the line and the puppy walker sees a potential problem ahead such as another dog there is a loop built into the line at the point where it attaches to the collar and it is a simple matter of working down the line taking hold of the loop and then walking as if on a normal lead.
Here is a picture of Eddie transfixed with bubbles on my visit in his garden.

The procedure is the same as on the lead ie taking hold of the neck loop by the collar and quietly walking past the distraction. If the puppy does look as though he/she is going to react a firm ‘No’  and bounce the pup 3 times as you pass the distraction. 
Once the problem is passed it is a simple matter of allowing the line to slip through the hand until then holding the end loop at the other end of the line again.
We are basically conditioning our pups to understand that they are only to interact with their puppy walker and to ignore all other distractions.
Here is Ben relaxing and looking chilled out at home but don’t be fooled he is a real handful on his walks.

To enhance this new arrangement the puppy walker must factor in lots of verbal praise when the pup is doing as it should and to include titbits and play sessions to ensure the pup wants to be with them and are not seeing it as boring and unenjoyable.
Here is Errol doing his impression of a Meerkat in the garden after our session.

Whilst doing schooling work on the line we do lots of short recalls for a tug or toy and this creates a strong habit which after a period of time becomes ingrained and is like an automatic reflex reaction.
Even with the measures I have outlined there will be occasions when some pups cannot control themselves particularly if walking towards fleeing sheep or livestock.
Here is Gunnar when he was with me being conditioned not to react to livestock.

Very often a verbal warning, a line correction or a recall for the toy will suffice in preventing a puppy to chase livestock.
Regular schooling on the line usually results in the puppy become bored and disinterested in livestock but it does take time and patience.
All of our pups are introduced to livestock on our farm visits and after some early excitement they usually become bored and ignore them. ( Show Pic 36A)
For the few dogs or pups who have had all this input and still ignore all corrections or inducements on the walk I will hold the loop with both hands and give a firm ‘No’ and when the pup ignores the ‘No’ the pup will no doubt get a nasty shock as it hits the end of the line.
I then change direction and carry on as normal. If hitting the end of the long line doesn’t do it and with some of our more determined ones it doesn’t then I go after the pup with my spray and leave him/her in no doubt chasing sheep is definitely a very bad idea.
Chasing livestock is not an option for a Police dog or any dog and must be controlled at all costs. I accept that a dog will probably chase if left to their own devices but if it chases in the presence of the handler then that is more an issue of the dog having no respect for its handler.
On the line walks I will stop for play sessions and games such as searching for his/her toy. Throwing the toy in areas for the pup to search enhances his/her searching skills and because it is on the line the puppy cannot run off teasing you with the toy.
Here is Echo playing retrieve with Michelle on her walk.

The puppy needs to see you as someone who is enjoyable to be with while at the same time providing leadership and security.   
This article is just a snapshot of the schooling work I carry out with our puppy walkers. Not every pup is the same and so there are lots of alternative approaches or strategies that can be employed.
For example, we do get some pups that are just too determined and strong when they reach adulthood for some of our puppy walkers to control.  In these instances, we will often use different aids such as halti’s, figure of eight leads, or canny head collars.  
I will be conducting further home visits on all of the pups when this hot weather abates to see how the puppy walkers are all getting on.
I was extremely impressed with all of our puppy walkers during my home visits. All of the pups were clearly very happy in their homes and reacted well to the schooling lead and line instruction.
My next blog will include our E litter on their farm visit this week.
My female Ella has had her hips and elbows X rayed and they have been sent to the BVA to see if they are of sufficient standard for breeding. Fingers crossed.
Looking at Ella charging around the river Otter they don’t look too bad to me.

See you next time.