Sergeant Craig Moore with trainee police dog Lokee. Photo: Jacqui Rawson.

The canines keeping Nelsonians safe

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If a crime is committed in the region and the offender gets away, who are you going to call?

Likely, it will be one of three sets of canine teams working in the Nelson/Tasman area whose main role is to track and locate alleged criminals.

They also head out on regular patrols with the police safety teams based on the callouts received.

Each team is made up of a dog handler – a police officer who has served on the force for several years before joining the Dog Section, and a dog which is always a German Shepherd.

However, not just any handler and dog are matched together, they’re carefully chosen based on their ability to bond.

“The close bond between the handler and the dogs has to be there, it’s the key to a successful team,” says Sergeant Craig Moore.

Craig oversees the five police dog units in the Tasman District, which includes Nelson, Marlborough and Greymouth.

It’s a long process of training for both the handler and the dogs. Starting from when they’re puppies they pass through three stages of training before graduating at around 18 months old.

The dogs are first assessed and must meet certain requirements to proceed through the training stages – not all dogs have the ability or the right temperament to become a police dog.

Wanting to roll over and have one’s belly rubbed is not one of the characteristics high on the police dog unit’s requirements list.

Most of the team’s training takes place within the district where the handler and dog are based.

Throughout their training, the team will attend three courses at the Police Dog Training Centre in Trentham near Wellington.

Handlers and their dogs always live together, and with a dog remaining in their job until around eight-years-old, it’s not always easy for the handler to part with them.

So, in most cases, the dog retires but continues to be the handler’s pet.

With the police dog units across New Zealand attending up to 40,000 incidents a year, safety is always a concern for both the officer and the dog.

There are recorded instances of deaths, either by accident or through an attack, to police dogs since they were introduced in New Zealand in 1956.