Puppy recruits start their Met Police career at Keston training unit
PUBLISHED: 11:23 16 May 2013 | UPDATED: 11:23 16 May 2013
Police officers are not usually required to carry tennis balls, but at one Bromley-based training unit it certainly helps.
For the past 60 years puppies have been born, bred and sent out for duty from the Metropolitan Police Dog Training Establishment, found in the winding country lanes of Keston.
At the age of eight weeks, the purpose-bred pups are taken from their mother and assigned to their handler – who should become a firm friend for life.
The two live and train together for more than a year, before taking to the streets as part of the Met’s Dog Unit.
Insp Andrew Whiddett has been based in Keston for around two years and says that 90 per cent of the dogs trained at the unit make it as police hounds, though there are the odd exceptions.
He said: “We are looking for a dog which will work for eight years.
“If they are not motivated by our reward based training then they would be much happier as a pet.
“In that sense, the dogs pick themselves.”
The unit deals with a number of breeds, ranging from labradors and German shepherds to cocker spaniels, springer spaniels, and even a mix between the two, a sprocker spaniel.
Each dog has different qualities that makes it ideal for police use, with German shepherds trained to detain criminals and pick up human scent.
“It’s different dogs for different jobs,” says Insp Whiddett. “Spaniels come from the gun-hunting world where they are trained to find dead animals.
“So it’s not that hard to change that to searching for drugs, cash or weapons, because they can all come hand-in-hand. These dogs are hard-wired to do it and they want to do it because they find it rewarding.”
A litter of six eight-week-old German Shepherds were allocated to their handlers last week, a momentous occasion for any member of the Dog Unit as most will always remember their first dog.
Pc Robert Eldridge and his pup, Luna, will be based in Catford and serve the Bromley area when she is fully trained. Cradling the pooch in his arms, his new partner marks the beginning of a long-term ambition for him.
“Since I joined the force I had it in my mind that I wanted to be part of the Dog Unit,” said Mr Eldridge. “Luna is fantastic and such a fast learner, this is the start of a very long journey but I’m a big dog fan and I already have one at home.
“Luna will grow up separately from my other dog because she’s not my pet, and I’ve had discussions about how the two will live at home.”
Around 100 new pups are born each year in Keston, with the majority of them German shepherds. The first 16 weeks are crucial as they learn more than 80 per cent of what forms their temperament.
Tests such as dropping empty food bowls test their reactions early on, according to Mr Whiddett, who says it’s not a bad thing if they run away.
“If they run away from the loud bang that’s actually good,” says Mr Whiddett.
“We want them to escape danger, but it’s good if they go back to investigate the noise. We want them to naturally deal with the unexpected.”
You can follow the progress of the unit’s puppies by following a series of Youtube videos called Puppy Police Academy, at facebook.com/metpoliceuk.