Inside The Pawsome Police Puppy Training Academy, Where Cute Dogs Become Officers
A new group of young gun recruits have just finished their first week of intense training in the hopes of one day joining the ranks of the NSW Police force.
And while every new litter at the dog unit in Sydney's south is special, this year's recruits are part of a very important milestone.
The five German Shepherd pups, two male and three female, are currently only known as the 'Z' litter. By tradition, every new litter is named after a different letter of the alphabet, and those dogs given names starting with that letter.
The newest litter will shortly be named after a public campaign for name suggestions earned more than 300 responses.
As part of a new tradition, the final names of all five pups will be selected by chronically-ill children at the Royal Children's Hospital in Sydney.
In the 1930s when the dog program first began, one of the first pups was named Zoe -- meaning the dog unit has officially gone full circle, as it returns to the letter Z.
Superintendent Steve Egginton said the force was getting back to where they first started.
"And that's a fantastic position to be in," Egginton told 10 daily.
"We'll restart back to 'A' after this... we've gone through quite a lot of litters over the years with quite some success".
NSW has the largest police dog program in Australia, with more than 100 dogs ranging from puppies to those nearing retirement at seven or eight years of age.
German Shepherds are usually used for 'General Purpose' work, meaning they predominantly track offenders.
But the force also trains Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, Labradors, Border Collies and English Springer Spaniels for explosives, drug, blood and urban search detection.
"It's the work that goes into the development of the dogs right now that is really crucial to the success of these dogs further down the path," Egginton said.
10 daily was there after the pups completed their first day of training and while day one showed early signs of success, the puppy police academy has months of hard work ahead of them before they can officially begin serving the community.
Senior Sergeant David Williamson has been with the program for 19 years and said every litter has been memorable in their own right.
Williamson explained it generally takes about 18 months of training before the dogs become ready for field work, and get matched with their handling officer.
"Realistically it's no different to kids," he said.
"We can only give them the best opportunity and ability to progress, and if they do, that's great".
Egginton said while every effort is put into training each pup, some will eventually not "cut the mustard" in terms of what the force is looking for.
Those dogs are adopted out into the community, while older dogs often end up living out their retirement with their handler.
Williamson and his team will spend the next few months training the pups in important skills from learning how to grip and bite, to tracking offenders.
Their early training course is specially designed to include different surfaces that mimic urban surroundings, including building floors and even train tracks, with a balance of heights and slopes.
And while nearly two decades on the job has taught Williamson that patience and positive reinforcement are keys to success, he said the job was extremely rewarding.
"We actually get to see them grow and become adult police dogs," he said.
"And particularly when you see them test out with new constables you tend to think, 'wow, look what we did, we did that'."
While Williamson is grateful to be a part of their journey from their clumsy first days, he believes his role is still just a "cog in the wheel" and said the work will eventually fall on the handler the dog is matched with to continue developing throughout its career.
Andrew Devlin, a Senior Constable at the dog unit, is one of those handlers.
He said there are a lot of hard hours put in outside of work time to keep training and socialising the dogs.
Devlin and his dog, Ali, finished their General Purpose novice course in November, and have been working together since then.
While Ali is trained in tracking, searching, agility and obedience, Devlin said there's always more growing to do.
Ali is Devlin's first GP dog after he earlier worked as a detection and bomb handler.
Police dogs live with their handlers, and Devlin said it can be emotional to give them up.
"Ali is my best friend. If there's downtime we get out and like to throw the ball around," he explained.
"I work by myself so it can be a lot of lonely times, so it's good to have company".