Smaller dogs playing growing role in Japan police operations

YAMAGATA - Due to a chronic shortage of large dogs suitable as police canines, toy poodles and other smaller dogs, which are easier to breed as pets, recently took a big leap as contract police dogs.

Unlike traditional police dogs, which are bred and trained by police, contract police dogs are raised by individuals and households outside the force.

As of the end of 2014, the number of such small dogs had increased to 16 across the nation since the 2010 introduction of a system to use small and midsize dogs as police canines.

Although they may not be the best at intimidating or apprehending criminals, they are increasing their presence in public relations campaigns and other police activities, using their keen sense of smell and adorable looks.

In Yamagata Prefecture this June, Pocky became the Tohoku region's first small contract police dog.

The 5-year-old male toy poodle weighs only seven kilograms, compared to a 40-kilogram adult German shepherd.

Pocky was 2 months old when his owner, Junichi Shibata of Sakata in the prefecture, 68, sent him to Mogami River Kennel, a training facility in the city.

Full of curiosity, the puppy was quick to learn actions such as laying down upon command.

Pocky drew the attention of Ryoichi Abe, 59, the facility's director, who saw the possibility that the dog might be able to become a police dog.

Although the training period was only a year, Pocky demonstrated good performance in three out of four sniff tests, exceeding the pass mark at a screening in May.

According to the National Police Agency, most dogs that are bred and trained by police are usually large dogs like German shepherds and Dobermans.

Seven species of large dogs are currently designated as police canines by the Nippon Police Dog Association, based in Tokyo. These dogs conduct such missions as sniffing out evidence, tracking down and intimidating criminals and helping with disaster relief work.

However, as it costs a lot to breed large dogs, a system to use privately owned dogs as contract police dogs was introduced in 1965.

As of the end of 2014, 157 dogs were registered as official police dogs, which are bred and trained by police, compared to 1,194 contract dogs, which are bred and trained by individuals.