Armies of “sniffer puppies” are being recruited by police forces to help overcome a national shortage of adult dogs.
Eight-week-old puppies are being trained up to detect drugs, cash and explosives amid unprecedented demand for older dogs across the country.
PC Richie Landa, a full-time dog instructor at Cheshire and North Wales Police, said: “There’s quite a bit of a shortage in the UK of older, adult dogs.
“So we decided to buy dogs at eight weeks old from reputable breeders that we’ve used in the past that have given us dogs.
“It’s easier for us to then shape them into what we want them to do in the future. What we put in, we get out so it’s a good result at the end.”
The forces are currently training two six-month-old sibling labradors, Bandit and Jura, to become detection dogs.
While Hampshire and Thames Valley Police recruited two eight-week-old Cocker Spaniels using money seized during drug operations under the Proceed of Crimes Act.
In a joint statement, the forces said: “We work hard to take this money out of criminal hands, so we thought two sniffer dog puppies would be a great way to invest some of it.
“Once he has finished his training, Cash and his brother will be using their noses to keep drugs off our streets.”
Sniffer dogs are typically not deployed on operations until they are 12 months old as they have to become acclimatised to loud environments and learn to distinguish between hundreds of competing smells.
The new push for younger animals comes amid a surge in demand for working detection dogs to be deployed at summer events and festivals following the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
As many as 32 dogs were used at Reading, Leeds and Latitude festivals, while preparations for the upcoming 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, set to be held in Glasgow in November, has also stretched demand, according to one local provider.
“The price of dogs has increased dramatically with the Covid pandemic and there’s a shortage caused by the demand for Cop26,” said Kevin Moar, the chairman of Orkney Drugs Dog and a former dog instructor for the Ministry of Defence and the RAF Police.
Neil Van Der Wee, the founder and director of K9 Deployment, which provides drug and explosive detection services across the UK, added: “There are so many events after the Covid shut down that the organisers are sucking up all the available dogs.
“Everything has just happened at once this year.”
UK Sniffer Dogs, which trains approximately 10,000 dogs a year in scent detection, said police forces should consider licensing pet dogs for operations to tackle the shortage.
Jamie Pound, who founded and runs the company with his wife Gemma, said: “People could actually be training up their own dog. They don’t actually have to be a police officer or a security guard to actually train a sniffer dog.
“There are a lot of people out there, especially my clients who have won competitions, who would do just as good or even a better job than some of these operational dogs out there.
“If there is a shortage of dogs for sniffer dog events we need to start looking at the pet world.”