As my regular readers will know, I love dogs. I’ve never been without a furry companion in my 20 years of living. Currently, I’m the paw-rent of rescue Staffordshire Bull Terrier crosses Phoebe and Frank.
When I heard the Staffordshire Police were recruiting a Staffie, I was absolutely made up. Police Dog Cooper has joined the force and has become one of only three Staffie police dogs in the UK. The breed receives a lot of bad press, but this was a step in a more positive direction for bully breeds. Ranting about the negative stigma around Staffies is another post entirely. I really wanted to interview dog handler Tim Moss in order to promote the breed and help them get seen in a better light. Cooper is the perfect ambassador for the breed.
On Wednesday 20 June I headed down to local school The Co-Operative Acadamy to watch PD Cooper, his handler Tim, furry big brother Henry, with colleague Steve and his pooch do a demonstration. The pupils were so excited, with one child telling me how much he wanted to become a dog handler for the force himself. It was actually something I had considered in the past, too. I was dead set on joining the army as a handler for an explosives detection dog.
Steve showed us some of the equipment they use when out on the job, including the bite sleeves and taser shield. He then demonstrated how he can control his police dog, by showing us how she would approach a criminal and either have a stand-off or tackle them. Handlers can ‘emergency recall’ their dogs, by making a particular sound. They might use this if the person they’re chasing isn’t who they thought they were, or if a child were to intercept the chase. It’s was incredible to see her in action and see such a small dog practically wipe out Tim with the sleeve.
Tim then got Henry out of the car to show off his size. He’s a whopping 42kg, which is only about a stone and a half lighter than me. You wouldn’t want him hanging off your arm, let’s say that.
Then we got to see Cooper in action. Tim took us inside and hid some samples for Cooper to find. What they use for training sniffer dogs in this setting isn’t actually drugs, but cotton wool. Yeah, you heard me, cotton wool. The cotton wool is placed next to, for example, cocaine, for a period of time in order for the scent to be absorbed, then Cooper will identify it.
Tim bought in Cooper and gave him two taps to the chest, which indicated to the pup that he’s in work mode. He circled the room (and did a bit of an excited wee – that’s a staffie thing). He found both samples super quickly and indicated to Tim that he wanted a reward. Tim uses click-based rewards and a tennis ball for Cooper, but dogs like Henry are more likely to be rewarded with ‘a bite’ (tug toy).
Here is a clip of the demonstrations:
After the demonstrations I had a chat with Tim, who has been a handler for Staffordshire police for two and a half years.
Tell me a little bit about Cooper
So, he’s a two year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He’s a rescue from Taunton. We are led to believe he wasn’t beaten or anything like that but he was left on the roadside. Somebody phoned up saying ‘I’m from the RSPCA and this this dog just wandering up and down on the footpath. Can you come and get him?’
They went and got him and he wasn’t chipped or anything. They took him and he was very underweight so they fed him. He was he was much thinner than he is now. Now he’s settling into home life and work life and his life’s been turned around, which is a massive thing.
There are a lot of Staffie Bulls in kennels but what was it about Cooper that made you choose him?
Basically it was down to his drive. He’s got loads of drive he’s very ball-driven. They’ll do some tests with the tennis ball and if he’ll chase the ball then he’s a good contestant to be on our department. Then they’ll start hiding it and say ‘find it’, just see if he’ll realise ‘I’ve got to go find that ball now’. He’s so agile as well so he can jump about four or five foot off the ground.
Why do you think it’s taken Staffordshire Police so long to get a Staffordshire Bull Terrier on the force?
Good question. I think they’ve chosen what they thought was the right dog to choose at that particular time. Cooper is one in five or six hundred, so hundreds of dogs will be tested before one is chosen. So but with a Spaniel or a Labrador, they’ve got it instinctively in them to search for drugs, firearms and cash. So I think they have chosen what was easier for them, rather than the Staffie Bull.
Staffies have got quite a bad media reputation. What was the response to bringing him onto the force?
I’ll be honest with you, I think some people were very reluctant to having a Staffordshire Bull Terrier within the force. It’s something new and it’s something that hasn’t been tried before – there are only two others in the country.
It was a real big thing for them to try because if it were to fail, it was costing money. If we got four weeks down the line, that’s four weeks lost and a lot of money spent. Yet, if I’d had either a Labrador or something like that, they know that would have potentially passed the training.
It is a bit more of a risk and I think that’s why they were a little bit ‘is it or isn’t it going to work’. But the chief has driven this and social media response has been massive. Everybody’s loved it. People have been so supportive, and been proper behind me and Cooper. Even when he goes on holiday, people have said ‘have a nice holiday’. He has nearly 4 and a half thousand Twitter followers in 14 weeks!
Erm, that’s more followers than I have on Twitter…
So what sort of training was Cooper put through to get his licence?
On licencing Cooper was tested on every single drug that he’s trained on. So, they will be hidden in rooms that we would be operationally searching. Sometimes in a little bit more difficult areas where people might actually hide things just to test him.
He’s trained to sniff out cash as well, so they’ll do a £5 note, £10 note, £20 note and £50 note. It’s the ink that smells, so every note smells differently. Then there’s the new cash, so we’ve got to incorporate polymer notes into their training which is harder for him.
With firearms, what they’ll do is they’ll take a pistol down. They’ll take the littlest of springs out and we’ll most probably put that on an engine under a bonnet, because metal on metal is hard to find. Cooper will still ping at the smallest of scents. He can sniff out a two centimetre spring out of a pistol on an engine under a bonnet.
How many police dogs have you handled previously before Cooper?
He’s my first drugs dog. General purpose wise I’ve got Henry, and I had one dog named Indy who was a German Shepherd before them.
What’s Henry’s job?
Henry will catch the criminals, find property and deal with riots and building searches for people in hiding after burglaries. He’s the one that does all the biting really.
How does Cooper compare to Henry?
Totally different. Personality wise he’s got a similar personality. They both know what they want, both know what they want to do and they love to work. With regards to what they actually do, it’s two totally separate roles.
Are you able to tell me any details about any jobs that Cooper’s done recently?
Somebody had seen a man in a field who was a known drug dealer wanted by us. I get there and he’s run off from the police. Then for me it was whether I sent the big dog or the little dog – we knew who he was so there was no point me sending the big dogs. He had already run off. Cooper had done a search and he went and hid underneath one of the hedges where this man had been standing. He found a load of cocaine wraps worth around £3000 and right next to the wraps was a combat knife.
These dogs are so clever. I can’t believe that something most people have as a pet can do a job like this. As well as Cooper working as a Police Dog, is it important for you that he can make a positive change to the way the breed is viewed?
Well I just hope that by having taken him on board and him working with me shows that there’s more to this breed of dog than a lot of people think. What I have noticed, because I live with Cooper, that when I walk down the street you will see people crossing the road. Because I’ve never had a Staffie before, I’ve never seen that. I’ve heard about the reputation and I’m hoping that if he just changes the minds of five or ten people or twenty or thirty people – if it’s hundreds of people, then great. They can see that there is more to Staffies. For me, because I’d never had one before, I didn’t know what was going to be like. He’s so loving and caring. He’ll do anything for his handler. He loves my family. You know. He’s just such a loving nice dog.