Meet police dog Fang.
The eager two-year-old Labrador is the latest drug detector dog recruit by Tasmania Police to be based in the north.
Dog handler Senior Constable Jareth Anderson said, “It’s a working bond, it’s very important to make sure the dog respects you and you respect the dog”.
“They are amazing animals and they’re doing something that’s helping us create a safer and more resilient community so therefore they need to be appreciated for the unique skills they can bring,” Mr Anderson said.
Fang and Mr Anderson have been working the beat from June 19, and already the partnership is making an impact.
“He’s kicking some real goals, I’m very impressed with this dog,” he said.
Fang started his career with 10 weeks of training in South Australia, with the last three weeks under Mr Anderson.
“He is probably one of the best dogs I’ve ever had.”
Fang was one of the many dogs from Australian Border Force in Victoria.
By the time, Mr Anderson had Fang by his side, he had already undergone testing to check whether he had what it takes to be PD Fang.
But what makes a good drug detection dog?
“It needs to have the drive for hunting and seeking, for us especially it needs to be very food driven. It needs to be more interested in receiving food than playing,” Mr Anderson said.
Tasmania Police used food for incentives rather than playing, which is another training methodology, he said.
Other traits include being alert and responsive, as well as not too stubborn or boisterous.
“Primarily we want it to love food, which is not hard with Labradors.”
While all dogs would undergo some training before they reached their police dog handler’s care, they were taught and imprinted with the different knowledge as if they had received nothing, he said.
Fang faced a wall of hollow blocks filled with containers, nose in the air, ready for action.
Following the guiding hand of Mr Anderson, he quickly moved his nose over the containers, deciphering between the masking scents of coffee, dog food and rabbit poo, and illicit drugs.
As soon as his honed-in nose picked up a hint of cannabis, he planted himself on the ground, tail wagging, rapidly poking his head at the container.
After his eager, and accurate, display, he was rewarded with tasty treats before moving on again.
Fang had been taught to recognise “the big four” – cocaine, amphetamine, heroin, ecstasy and cannabis.
But other drugs would likely be added to his repertoire as he continued learning, Mr Anderson said.
Several times a day, the team-of-two would conduct training sweeps of the wall, between searches, walks and other training.
But after a long day, he had a comfortable, warm bed to relax in.
It was part of the classical conditioning used by Tasmania Police.
Dogs were introduced to a stimuli, such as a drug odour, and that was paired with a response, like sitting and rewarded with food, he said.
“It’s important for us … and our reputation, that our dogs are as accurate as possible.”
“We know we’ve trained our dogs to detect odour and when they detect that odour, they sit because they know that they’re going to get their food reward.”
PD Fang’s new handler
Mr Anderson is not new to handling dogs.
He discovered his dog handling career path in the police service while he was working in southern traffic in Hobart in 2008.
An advertisement for expressions of interest for detector dog handlers in a police newsletter caught his eye and he applied.
“I stuck with it and tried my best, and I was lucky to be one of the four chosen to pick up a position as a new dog handler,” Mr Anderson said.
He has had two detector dogs before Fang, with Yuli, one of his former partners, spending his retirement with Mr Anderson and his family.
“He gets all the perks that goes with [retiring] lounging around the backyard, digging holes and enjoying chewing on things,” Mr Anderson said.
“I looked after him and he looked after me. He worked hard and I rewarded him for that.”