'I hope we retire together!’
Longton-based police dog handler Dave Smith and loyal German Shepherd sidekick Echo were recently voted runners-up in a national policing award helping to locate two frightened young children following a domestic incident. The 43-year-old PC tells John Woodhouse it was just another day's work for him and his pal
Y OU don't do the job to receive accolades (Dave and Echo were runners-up in the Association Of Chief Police Officers' Police Dog Team Operational Or Humanitarian Action Of The Year Award). In fact I'd have trouble actually saying the one we were nominated for. All you're thinking about is getting the thing sorted and it hopefully concluding in the way you want – but of course it's nice for something you and the dog have done to be recognised.
Part of the appeal of working with dogs – I've been a dog handler for 15 years – is the variety. No two days are ever the same. And that's one of the things I like most about it.
I'd been a normal police officer before I worked with police dogs – you have to have that experience. I liked the idea of taking on this role, I think more than anything because I've always liked dogs – we had a couple of around when I was a kid.
I've been working with Echo for 12 months now. He's about three years old and had been with another handler before me. Luckily we just get on well together – which doesn't always happen with handlers and dogs! It doesn't always work. There is occasionally the odd clash of personality! But usually a dog understands the relationship and will respect that.
In fact, as a dog matures and grows it knows the role that's expected from it. It knows when it's going to work, from then on all it needs is a bit of guidance.
Me and Echo aren't just together at work. He lives with me at home as well – in a kennel in the garden. I've got a drugs dog, a Labrador, called Cruz, too. They're happy living outside. It's what they're used to at work. And we definitely couldn't let the drugs dog in the house. He'd just rip everything to pieces, because that's what he's been trained to do! I don't think the wife would be too impressed!
Keeping the dog at home of course helps build up a bond between it and the trainer, but it also means it can have a rest! When a police dog is off duty it's just a normal dog – you just have to be a little bit wary because obviously it's trained to do certain things.
There is a special bond between a dog and a handler. You spend all those years working with a dog – it becomes your best friend.
Without wishing to sound anti-social, you do get used to your own company. When you work with a dog all the time it's like the world is your oyster! Every dog handler is quite happy and confident to work on their own.
An average day can mean anything and everything – missing persons, violent situations, burglaries, crowd control, all kinds of things.
A lot of the time the presence of the dog acts as a deterrent. Especially in a public order situation. People take a look at a German Shepherd and it tends to make them back off a little. Although there's always the odd one who'll have a go.
In the morning I'll arrive at Longton and there'll be a briefing package as to what's gone on in the previous 24 hours. There might be a crime hotspot to patrol, but a lot of the time it's responding to whatever calls come over the radio, ranging from missing children to domestic incidents where people are making threats, which maybe involve knives.
When it comes to the incident for which I was nominated for the award, while you're obviously aware of the emotional side of things, with there being children involved who must have been scared, and the fact that the man could have been hurt, the only thing on my mind at that moment in time was to get it sorted as quickly as possible.
It's like a lot of police work – you get involved but you try not to get involved, if that makes sense. To some degree you have to be a little cold-hearted. It's the only way to deal with it. But you wouldn't be human if there weren't one or two things that played on your mind.
I've been in the force 25 years. I'm hoping me and Echo will retire at the same time! Police dogs tend to go on til they're about seven, then they start slowing down a bit, they might start getting the odd ailment. When Echo finishes I'll keep him as a pet.
Doing this job has added so much to my life. There's no better job than being a dog handler.