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Victorian Prison Service Dog Squad

A Visit to the Victorian Prison Service Dog Squad


The Management Committee of the German Shepherd Dog Club of Victoria (GSDCV) were privileged recently to pay a visit to members of the Victorian Prison Service Dog Squad based at Barwon Prison, which is located just outside of Geelong in western Victoria. The visit was made as part of an ongoing effort by the GSDCV to establish and maintain relationships with Government organisations at both the State and Federal level who use German Shepherd dogs as working animals in their line of work.

The Victorian Prison Service Dog Squad is primarily concerned with prisoner recovery and escort, and the detection of drugs either through passive prisoner/visitor search or open search of prison facilities. German Shepherd dogs have proven their ability to meet the multi-purpose requirements of the Prison Service and make up fourteen of the twenty-five dogs currently in service. The dogs are distributed across each of the main prison facilities located at Barwon, Castlemaine, and Ararat, and one additional dog is always on duty at the Prison Service Head Office in Melbourne. Each prison has a minimum of one dog on station as a siege dog when prisoners are out of their cells.

The Prison Service when looking to recruit German Shepherd dogs are primarily interested in identifying large dogs with good retrieval instincts. The formal recruitment process generally involves answering initial public enquires via telephone interviews, which is then followed by selective physical assessments of potential recruits first at the owner’s home and then within the prison facility. Individual handlers have a large say in the recruitment of the dogs that they are going to work with.

German Shepherd dogs are generally recruited between one and two years of age and after training will generally have a working life of five to six years with the Prison Service. The average age of those dogs currently in service is between three and four years of age, and with the general lower level of physical activity that these dogs encounter, when compared with their peers in the Victoria Police and RAAF, it is not uncommon to find dogs working through until their tenth or eleventh year. The dogs see out their final days as loved elderly members of their handler’s family and generally die within a year of their retirement from the Prison Service.

A typical working day for these German Shepherd dogs involves:
-  0600hrs-Security check of prisoners once they have been released from their cells that is followed by a check of the cells themselves for hidden drugs.
-  1100hrs-Administrative duties and on call for the rest of the day. Ongoing training and exercise is fitted in each day during available free time.
-  1700hrs-The dogs go home with the handler and are treated as a loved family member.

The GSDCV Management Committee hopes that by actively developing and nurturing a closer relationship with the Victorian Prison Service Dog Squad, like that already developed among peer organisations such as the Police, SES, and RAAF, will assist the ever ending effort to promote the German Shepherd dog as a working animal. The GSDCV anticipate being able to provide long term assistance to the Victorian Prison Service Dog Squad through the sharing of information on breeding and training, and assistance in recruiting suitable dogs.

Andrew Cuthbertson