Snarling, barking, teeth gnashing as they hurtle after a suspect – you could be forgiven for seeing why police dogs have sometimes had a bad reputation.
But according to South Yorkshire Police’s PC Brian Grange, a dog handler with the force for 12 years, there are countless jobs a police dogs can do and results they can get that would simply be impossible without them.
He said: “We were called to an armed robbery. We got there first and we found a man in his underpants covered in blood – he’d been hit by a hammer.
“The criminals had run off, but we looked on the road and the dog indicated two balaclavas.
“We recovered them and using DNA on the items they found the robbers and now they are in jail for six and eight years.
“Until a machine can replicate a dog’s nose, they are always going to be able to find things no-one else can.”
Rapid response is key in these situations, PC Grange adds, as the scent on items lasts just a few hours.
He cites another example of a dog being used to sniff out cash at a drug dealer’s house.
Sweeping the house, the animal tracked down a pile of cash beneath a stairway carpet – £70,000 in notes.
Searching further, the dog was able to uncover another £70,000 in the loft – making more than £100,000 that police could seize under the Proceeds of Crime Act, and the offender was jailed.
The dogs have to be trained for each currency – because euros smell different to pounds, which smell different to dollars because of the different types of inks.
But it is not just hunting for people and property. The force also uses dogs to sniff out explosives, to find blood or human body parts and to unearth drugs.
PC Grange has had three-year-old Digby, an aggressive German Shepherd, for 18 months on the force – and he has bitten a suspect three times.
His first bite came after tracking down a burglar who had abandoned his stolen Land Rover in heavy snow and made off on to live rail lines.
Using Digby, PC Grange found his trail on the lines and requested Network Rail close the line.
He then tracked him into a pitch-black tunnel and the hour-long hunt was concluded when the suspect tried to bolt from the shadows at the sight of Digby rushing towards him – a bite on the shoulder and he was promptly arrested.
The animals can also be a deterrent.
“On New Year’s Eve, I had a report of 50 people fighting.
“I got there with Digby and though the fight was over, it looked like it was about to kick off again.
“I got out the car, opened the boot and the dog was going bonkers.
“Most people then think ‘all right then’ and go home.
“The only people who get bit are persistent offenders.”
The force currently has 35 dogs in total across a mixture of disciplines, but cutbacks mean that number is set to fall to around 25.
PC Grange added: “But a dog is cheaper than officers. They pay me a couple of hundred to look after him. There are some costs involved in training but to hire an officer you have to pay wages and it will cost a lot more.
“Every day, a police dog is used in a situation where we wouldn’t have had success if it wasn’t for the dog.”
Responding to some of the criticism levelled at police dogs from the public, he added: “They are not machines. They are unpredictable and you have to be mindful of hazards, glass, live wires.”
PC Grange added: “Occasionally the wrong person gets bit – and you have to minimise that as much as you can.
“You get people saying they have bitten innocents or you get complaints from members of the public saying it’s not proportional.
“Sonny Jim is maybe 15, he gets bit and gets scarred for life.
“You get outcry from that but you don’t take into account the fact that he was out robbing cars.
“You can’t please everyone – someone will say it’s not proportional.
“But at 2am, if I see a dark figure running down the street in the pitch black, or sneaking around trying car doors, am I going to send him? Of course I am.
“Maybe it turns out later he’s a 14-year-old.
“You make split second decisions.
“If you see a bloke punch an old lady and then run off, you have to make a snap decision – do I send the dog?
“It gets looked over in the cold light of day. But you have to make the decision there and then and it’s not clear cut sometimes.”