We were the first force in the country to use dogs. Our dog section is over 100 years old, and we have 62 dogs assisting our officers today.

Police officers have been accompanied by dogs since the 15th century, when parish constables took their pet dogs on night patrols.

The first experiment with ‘official’ police dogs came in 1888 when Metropolitan Police Commissioner Charles Warren tested out two bloodhounds, hoping they could help catch the infamous Victorian murderer Jack the Ripper. The experiment failed; one bit the commissioner and then both dogs ran off, requiring a police search to find them.

In November 1907, having heard about the successful implementation of police dogs in Belgium, Superintendent J Dobie of the North Eastern Railway Police instructed an Inspector Dobson to set up a similar scheme. Dobson decided to use Airedale Terriers as he considered them strong, hardy and with a keen sense of smell. 

The first British police dog section

The first four dogs, Jim, Vic, Mick and Ben, began patrolling Hull Docks in 1908. The scheme was extended to the Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Tyne docks, all policed by the North Eastern Railway Police.

The dogs were trained at Hull where kennels had been erected and were issued with a coat to wear in bad weather. They were only used at night and were trained to protect the police uniform, indeed to attack anyone who was not wearing a uniform. The dogs would even growl at their own handlers when they were not in uniform.
After the Great War the dog section was reviewed and by 1923 the Hull trainers decided to use the Alsatians, the favoured dog of the German Army. Soon after many railway and dock police forces amalgamated to become the British Transport Commission Police. This new force, the second largest in the country, had 24 police dogs.

A new police dog training centre was established at Inmans Farm, Hedon Hall near Hull. The officer in charge of this new school was Inspector John Morrell and under his stewardship the dog section was increased to 75.

Following Inspector Morrell’s death in 1960, Inspector Herbert Shelton was recruited from another force to fulfil his role.

Early drugs dogs

Inspector Shelton oversaw the construction of a new police dog training centre at Elstree in Hertfordshire. A greater number of dogs could be trained and dog handler posts were established at many stations and docks around the country, including Southampton Docks which formed its dog section in 1962.

It was in Southampton in 1973 where PC 'Spud' Murphy trained his general-purpose dog to detect cannabis. The superintendent was so impressed he obtained a dog, Cap, specifically for this purpose. 

Between 1973 and 1974 arrests by dog handlers rose from 738 to 908 but this did not impress the new Chief Constable Eric Haslam who joined the Force from the Kent County Constabulary. He reduced the dog section to 22 officers.

On 4 July 1974 PC Don Gordon and his police dog, Jim, caught a man stealing cable at Grand Terminus Junction, Glasgow. The man slashed the officer around the face and stabbed Jim before escaping. Despite their injuries the team chased and again tackled the man but received further injuries. The officer required 38 stitches but the man was caught and officer and dog received the Whitbread Shield for their brave conduct, the first and only time a dog handler has won this award.


As a result of budget cuts, the number of operational dogs was reduced and the Dog Training School at Elstree was closed at the end of 1975: the number of dogs was reduced from 52 to 22.

Developments and recognition

The 1980s saw our officers rewarded for their work in the dog section. In 1980, PC Parkinson in Manchester became the first BTP officer to undergo training for detecting explosives when he and his dog attended a course with the Cheshire Police.

Two years later PC Margaret Lyall, stationed at Glasgow, became the first female dog handler in the force.

In 1984, a dog school was built in the grounds of the former BTP Training School at Tadworth. It was built on similar specification to Elstree but on a much smaller scale: there was only four kennels, one vets room and the instructor’s office.

Since 1984 the school has been extended to take seven dogs and a further instructor’s office has been added.

In 1988 Sgt Ablard was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Years Honours list for his services to dog handling within British Transport Police.

Terrorism and drugs

On 21 December 1989 a bomb exploded on a passenger jet, causing it to crash in Lockerbie, Scotland. Two BTP dog handlers, Davy Connell and Alistair Campbell, quickly arrived on scene and started a 33-hour tour of duty. The officers and dogs discovered 23 bodies, and were later joined by dog handlers PCs Callum Weir and Neil Russell who remained on site until the end of the search four weeks later.

Passive Alert Detection (PAD) dogs were first used by the Customs and Excise and the Prison Service, but in 1988 PC Judy Bailey attended a Home Office Training School with her dog Benji in a high-successful pilot for BTP.

In their first two years together, Judy and Benji conducted over 4,000 searches resulting in 1,546 arrests. Other forces have now implemented the same method of training and use PAD dogs.

The move to Kent

In 2010, dog training was moved from Tadworth and the training school was moved to the Metropolitan Police’s Dog’s Training School in Keston, Kent.

The Explosive Search Dogs (ESD) section

From the first attack on the underground system in 1885, through to the atrocities of 7/7, terrorism is an ever-present risk.

The first explosive detection dog in BTP was handled by PC Tony Parkinson at BTP Manchester in the 1980s and this was followed shortly afterwards by a dedicated section of six officers, in Stratford. They dealt with both pre-planned and emergency incidents, within London and the surrounding areas.

After moving to Force Headquarters in Tavistock Place, London, ESD officers dealt with incidents throughout the terrorist campaigns of the 80s and 90s.

As a result of the Madrid bombings in 2004, the ESD Section increased in numbers, from six dogs to 32.

7 July 2005

The first of the new handlers had arrived at Headquarters with their dogs on the 7 July 2005, when suicide bombers attacked London Underground.

ESD handlers helped officers search for any other explosive devices, and searches at the scenes of explosions and bomb threats:

PC Dave Coleman volunteered for the harrowing task of searching the Kings Cross site with his search dog Vinnie, prior to bodies being removed.

PC Smith and his search dog Ross assisted the Metropolitan Police at the scene of the bus explosion in Tavistock Square, where they searched the bus and area for secondary devices among scenes of devastation.

A few weeks later, the dogs' skills were again put to the test at the failed bombing attempts on the Underground on 21 July 2005.

The section today

With 64 dogs, BTP’s Dog Section is one of the largest in Britain. We have 22 general service dogs, 34 explosive detection dogs, and six drug detection dogs.

Most dog handlers have more than one dog and some dogs are dual purpose. BTP dogs are regularly called on to perform duties away from the railway. Dog training is currently centred on the Metropolitan Police Training School in Kent.

Our dog section has the longest pedigree and continues to provide a valuable and reliable service to the railways and the public.