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Sniffer dogs? This oft used phrase belittles the vital role(s) undertaken by highly trained animals in an operational environment, as explained in this letter to the editor.

The phrase “Sniffer dogs” first came to my attention in the 1970’s via the somewhat lazy tabloid press in UK. I thought nothing of it at the time, but having worked and played extensively in just about any field where a reliable nose on four legs has proved vital I hope to enlighten readers in a tongue-in-cheek fashion as to what separates these wonderful assets from their soi-born counterparts.

Operational dogs basically come in three categories. Extensive descriptions are in the links at the end of this letter but in simple terms I’ll break them down as follows:

  1. Search Dogs (Munitions, drugs etc. Prior to the widespread use of secure means of communication they were commonly referred to as ‘Wagtail’): These are usually very playful by nature and are extremely efficient. This isn’t breed-specific but it’s no accident that breeds suitable for gundog training also make excellent search dogs.


  1. Tracker Dogs (‘Ground Hog’): Self explanatory. Typical breeds for this include Bloodhounds or German shepherd. Where possible it’s important not to let people trample all over a crime scene as the latter can get quite excited & have been known to sink their teeth into just about anyone that has compromised a scent-trail, particularly if the handler is struggling to keep up!


  1. Guard Dogs (‘Snapper’): These are usually bigger breeds, inc Rottweiler & Doberman and can only be handled by their handler. They are particularly aggressive, rather like Popeye with a hangover & low on spinach. I recall a Rottweiler many years ago that was guarding an explosive compound. He (MAX) was a real frightener & stood as tall and as heavy as an adult male when stood with his paws on a chain link fence & had breath that could strip wallpaper! Max made ‘News at Ten’ (the flagship bulletin of the day) after unexpectedly gaining his freedom as a result of a traffic accident that opened the cage in his PPV* while he was being moved. The story (between the chimes of Big Ben) ran along the lines of “A Tiger is on the loose after escaping from….


Sadly Max had to be euthanized when found the following morning due to injuries sustained during the accident.

I hope this proves useful to your readers and offers an insight into the range of skills that are available to the Emergency services & other specialist outlets around the world. The phrase “Sniffer-dogs” doesn’t do them justice…..and I have yet to see a dog that doesn’t Sniff!


James Herriot

22 July 2015

(*’Postman Pat ‘Vehicle. Ideal for moving dogs despite this example!)


Military: http://www.army.mod.uk/medical-services/veterinary/30499.aspx

Police: http://content.met.police.uk/Site/dogsupportunit

Disaster: http://www.iro-dogs.org/en/iro-home/introduction.html

Gundogs: http://basc.org.uk/gundogs

Mad Max: Unfortunately any footage/text that might have been online is no longer available, having presumably been purged after google lost to EU re historical interest/’right to be forgotten’.



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