The Sniffer Dogs Of London

By Londonist Last edited 39 months ago
The Sniffer Dogs Of London

Photo by Matt Grayson

Cute, furry and adorable may not be how you'd describe your stereotypical Canary Wharf worker. However, when you’re talking about the explosive canine team, you can hardly use any other terms.

Provided by global security firm ICTS, these dogs mean business — no really, they even have business cards. And while they might play a critical role in our safety, they don’t take themselves too seriously; one team of specialist sniffer dogs is even named after characters from Only Fools and Horses.

Head of canine services at ICTS Jed Marshall explains more about the skills required of his 42-strong dog fleet:

“We want the crazy, hyperactive dogs that people won’t want as a family pet as they make very good, inquisitive sniffer dogs. We source about 50% from rescue homes because this is often the best place to find these kinds of dogs — and it ensures they are given a good home and life. Every year our dogs are given an MOT and if they fail this then they are automatically retired.”

Other parts of London also have their own furry A-teams looking after them — with dog squads guarding our universities, searching for suspicious items at airports and even hunting out bed bugs. Let's meet some of them.

Photo by Matt Grayson

Tower of London

Dave Frost and Rogue start the day patrolling the iconic landmark; the pair are only just starting out together, but hopefully it's the start of a beautiful friendship. At the Tower, the dogs and handlers carry out bag searches and assist with vehicle searches. It is a little tricky, however, working with dogs in this particular environment, as Jed explains: “The ravens are of course very important to the Tower and we have to keep the dogs on a lead around them otherwise the kingdom will fall. And I would not like to be responsible for that.”

The search dogs here have their own exercise companions as well; some of the Yeomen Warders who live here take their dogs for walkies in the moat.

Rogue’s likes: He loves working, as Dave explains: “Even, when I got him home at first I had to stop him from searching the whole garden. You want a dog that wants to play as you need to want them to care about getting that ball. These guys will just keep going all day again and again to get that ball — they never get tired.”

Rogue’s dislikes: This fella is so enthusiastic, Dave hasn’t been able to find even one dislike yet.

Photo by Matt Grayson


Due to the nature of the work ICTS does, some companies cannot disclose that they employ the dogs. However, looking back, Jed highlights the importance of his team's presence at several major sporting events:

“During a period of heightened terrorist threat level we were requested to supply a number of explosive search dogs to a London Premier League football club as a visible deterrent and to detect any explosives present. We do not advertise what our dogs are there to do, and of course an explosive search dog looks the same as a drug dog/pyrotechnic detection dog.

“While one of the guys was deployed with his dog at the entry turnstiles he noticed one individual making an obvious attempt to avoid him and his dog. The dog handler alerted an accompanying security officer who carried out a search of the individual and subsequently found a quantity of cocaine.

“The dog would not have indicated on the drugs because it is only trained on explosives. It was the guy's actions, not the dog's, which led to the criminal's downfall. He really wasn't happy when he was told it was a bomb dog and not a drug dog!”

Photo by Matt Grayson

Canary Wharf

Handler Gordon has been working with two-year-old English springer spaniel Molly, for 18 months. Says Gordon:

“She lives to work. She may be too keen sometimes though — one time we were doing an exercise among the public and unfortunately she went straight into a woman’s open bag and saw what she thought was her tennis ball — but actually ended up running off with the woman’s apple.

“There is a real art to being a dog handler — they know what they’re looking for — when Molly has detected something behind her she just starts to absolutely go."

Molly’s likes: It seems the years of working as a gun dog has not escaped her and Gordon says she is a complete workaholic.

Molly’s dislikes: Being groomed. “She likes to keep her hair all floppy,” says Gordon.

Photo by Matt Grayson

Middlesex University

Mark Norman patrols the north London university with his springer spaniels Harry, aged four, and Barney, seven. These are explosive detection dogs and are used for various events including annual graduation ceremonies. They also patrol outside functions hosted at the site, which are diverse in nature but all require a higher level of security. While on deployment at Crufts, Harry took it upon himself to take to the winners' podium while doing a walk-around of the venue.


Bed bugs

Bedbugs are often found in home furnishings — mainly beds, funnily enough — but they can be hard to detect. Commonly cases emerge when people come back from bed bug hotspots like New York and Spain — the pests hitching a free ride in people's luggage. They can also be transported on second hand furniture and in clothes.

Handler Michelle Saddiq recently took Lizzie, a four-year-old springer spaniel cross bearded collie, who is trained to detect bedbugs to a block of flats where several residents had bites. There were signs of bedbug presence in five out of the 52 flats in the block, but these were widely spread apart. Says Jed:

“We were puzzled because the first four people who had the presence of bedbugs in their premises hadn’t been out of town, let alone the country. Also the flats were nowhere near each other.

“In the very last flat Lizzie indicated positively on a lady's knitting bag and upon examination there were bugs present. After asking some questions it appeared she had been to Spain to visit her son who had thought that they had a problem with mosquito bites, but she had in fact been bitten by bed bugs.

“We looked for a link with the other flats and it became apparent that she was the organiser of a knitting circle and had visited all the flats with her knitting bag. The bugs had obviously hitch-hiked to each flat. Unfortunately the knitting circle has been disbanded due to lack of interest. I can’t think why.”

By Rachel Bishop

Last Updated 14 January 2016