Helping our canine friends to excel in security
While you may think of them as man’s loveable best friend, dogs are playing an increasingly vital role in global security operations. We are at the forefront of this movement, setting the exceptional British canine training standards that have been adopted across the globe.
This expertise was highlighted during a recent BBC Crimewatch Roadshow, which showed how the G4S Canine Security Services centre is helping to crack down on the increasing use of a hallucinogenic ‘zombie’ drug called Spice – a once legal high that was criminalised in May 2016. The centre is one of the few organisations in the UK that holds a license to train using real samples of narcotics and explosives.
“A lot of companies out there are not allowed to hold live substances, and they will train on pseudo scents,” says Lee Deighton, G4S Canine & Training Manager. “For me, live samples are the only way to do it – if you’re training on the real stuff you know the dog will find it.”
This effective training method is one of the reasons why our dogs perform to such a high standard, but there are many other features that make the operation unique.
Starting life with just one trainer and 10 dogs, the Bedfordshire-based centre was set up in May 2010. Today, the 1,200 acre world-renowned facility has five expert instructors, 200 dogs deployed around the globe, and ties with police forces, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), HM Prison Service and the National Association of Security Dog Users (NASDU).
“In the UK we run five prisons, with drug detection dog handlers deployed in each of those. We also train and deploy detection and general-purpose security dogs and handlers to go out and work on a multitude of contracts,” says Deighton.
“Overseas, we currently have dogs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Belgium, Turkey and Cyprus.”
The contracts are managed by the local G4S management teams, with the UK centre providing assistance and ongoing quality assurance. Dogs are trained to the British standard before being sent overseas, while instructors fly out to train the local handlers.
Developing the globally recognised British standard is a key focus for the UK team. “The Canine Manager, the Senior Instructor and I sit on the board for NASDU,” says Deighton. “I also sit on the board for the recently released BSI standards: BS 8517-1, Code of practice for the use of general security dogs and BS 8517-2, Code of practice for the use of detection dogs.”
A uniform standard is also under discussion with a number of organisations to bring about greater consistency in dog handling and training.
“This would mean that everybody works to the same standard, whether it’s the police, military or G4S,” explains Deighton.
The instructors, who come from a mixture of military, police and civilian backgrounds, are at the heart of the training programme. “The five of us have collective experience of around 100 years in different organisations,” says Deighton.
G4S is also approved by the MoD to train ex-service personnel as part of the Enhanced Learning Credits (ELC) scheme. “To be approved you have to go through lots of rigorous testing, and we’re one of only two canine companies that are allowed to do this for the MoD,” Deighton explains.
Together, the team runs an always-on training programme, with 40 dogs consistently in kennels on site. The different animal classifications, ranging from security to narcotics and explosives detection, mean the training regime is varied, but strict. Detection dogs undergo around 12 weeks of initial training to get them up to the benchmark standard, and return to the centre on a monthly basis for continuation training. But it certainly isn’t ‘one size fits all’.
“Dogs are all very different, as humans are. So although there is a strict regime, it has to be adapted to each individual,” says Deighton. The animals come to the centre from all avenues, including rescue homes such as Battersea Dogs & Cats, breeders and trainers, as well as other countries. Species can also vary significantly, although gun dogs, German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are common.
While variation is characteristic of the instructors, animals and training methods – and vital to our success – the ethos of the centre has remained constant: health and happiness for each and every dog under its care.