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Garda dogs come up to scratch in trials to sniff out trouble at courts

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Garda Suzanne O’Connor with Holly, the unit’s Sprocker spaniel

Garda Suzanne O’Connor with Holly, the unit’s Sprocker spaniel

Garda Suzanne O’Connor with Holly, the unit’s Sprocker spaniel

The Garda Dog Unit yesterday put some of Ireland's best pooches through their paces for a training course.

Elite members Toby, Bella, Holly and Elsa were tasked with finding items hidden around the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin's Parkgate Street, including the high-security Special Criminal Court.

The exercise was a refresher for the unit's dogs, who are put through four such courses each year.

The dogs embarked on their searches and were then given treats to reward their detective work.

Three-year-old Holly, the unit's only Sprocker spaniel, a cross between a Cocker spaniel and Springer spaniel, was first to complete the course.

She is "100pc" the unit's best dog, according to her handler, Garda Suzanne O'Connor, who is attached to Kilmainham Garda Station.

"I have 100pc confidence in her. She's the best."

Explosives

She is Gda O'Connor's first explosives dog and can expect to be working in the Dog Unit until she reaches the small-dogs retirement age of 10 or 11.

Bigger dogs like German Shepherds, which Gda O'Connor has had previously, are usually retired at eight or nine.

Holly has been involved in real-life searches before but is more routinely used for security clearance.

The main Dog Unit is based in Kilmainham and there is another in the Southern Region covering Cork and Limerick.

The unit celebrates 60 years in existence this year. It has grown to become an integral part of An Garda Siochana, assisting in searches for suspects of crime and for evidence that may have been discarded.

Most of the dogs are there for detection, trained to locate drugs, explosives or to help recover missing persons.

The unit's German Shepherds are used in a wide variety of operations, including tracking people, the identification of property, chase and detain, protection and public-order control.

Labradors or English Springer spaniels specialise in the detection of drugs in indoor or outdoor situations.

Their extraordinary sense of smell enables them to pick up human decomposition, blood and bodily fluids. They are also used in the recovery of firearms and detection of explosives.

Belgian Malinois are used in "conflict resolution" to secure a person in a very serious situation.