Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) service dogs take part in several training sessions every day to ensure they remain in tip-top condition. The dogs learn best through playing, so they really enjoy their training. However, it can get quite intense, even for their handlers.
The dog handlers of the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) Western Prefecture train their dogs in a number of different locations throughout Estonia. One such place is dog handler Marje Piiroja's warehouse facility in Sindi, Pärnu County.
After being involved in dog sports for many years, Piiroja joined the PPA as a dog handler. The training sessions she runs in Sindi sometimes involve three dogs at a time - one from the PPA, and two of her own pets. However, she does not teach the kind of specialist skills PPA dogs require to her domestic animals.
The training sessions are very playful and provide the dogs with a great opportunity to develop their skills. According to Piiroja, not all dogs have what it takes to make it in the PPA, but there are some telltale signs to look out for during training sessions.
"You can't always tell. There have to be signs of development. If we can see that a dog is learning something every day and making progress, then you can be pretty sure that it's going to become a good working dog," said Piiroja.
"Dogs come to us when they are eight weeks old, so they are still quite tiny. As soon as they are weaned off their mother, then straight away it's off to training. Their active working life will hopefully be eight, nine or ten years. There may occasionally be some concerns, if they pick up an injury for example. Then they might have to retire early," Piiroja explained.
Being a dog handler is also no walk in the park. If a service dog gets injured while on duty, handlers need to be able to pick them up and carry them to safety. For handler Birgit Sanga, that means lifting her dog Jackie, who weighs in at a hefty 40 kilograms.
Piiroja's PPA dog is a sniffer or detection dog. He has been taught to identify a range of different scents and searches for them diligently during his training sessions.
However, other PPA service dogs have different specializations.
Ruu, who trains in Muraste, Harju County with his handler Hannaliisa Jõffert, is a patrol dog and is also trained to catch those suspected of committing crimes.
"We also do some (scent) tracking work and, in the future, he will do some drug detection," explained Jõffert.
"Every month we go on a five-day training course. Ruu really likes going to school. He gets to play a lot and do plenty of exercise," Jõffert said.
Editor: Michael Cole