They may be small, cute and simply adorable, but 10 Labrador puppies have an exciting future ahead of them helping save human lives and solve crime in some of the most extreme locations in the world.
Breeder and trainer Gareth ‘Gaff’ Elliott, from Scampton, supplies adult dogs that are capable of searching for missing people buried in earthquakes or lost in jungles, sniffing out drugs and even money, and detecting the causes of fires.
He is looking for volunteer fosterers to take in his latest pups and put them through their paces to help prepare them for some big adventures.
Former RAF Police dog handler Mr Elliott wants the dogs to be exposed to noisy children, traffic, crowds, music and the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life to make them tough and “bomb proof”.
The dogs are supplied to the military, government agencies, police and fire services worldwide.
Mr Elliott, who runs Vikkas Canine Services International, said: “One of our dogs carried a woman out of a jungle and another dog we supplied served as a fire investigation dog in Merseyside and now has the same role in Melbourne, Australia.
“Another of our dogs went to Antigua where the authorities have had big successes in seizing drugs.
“In the last 18 months we have been really busy. We have sent 28 dogs to Malaysia, 23 to Oman and six to the Cayman Islands.
“They are so good at their jobs that criminals place a massive bounty on their heads.”
Mr Elliott said that the dogs use their hunting instinct to search for a target odour they are given – whether it be drugs, money, explosives or people – and are rewarded with a ball if they succeed.
He added: “We train cadaver dogs to look for dead bodies by starting them off with pieces of pork or human teeth.”
But a crucial part in training the dogs to perform extraordinary duties in often extreme conditions in the nine months or so they spent in foster homes as puppies.
Mr Elliott said: “They need mental stimulation and everything thrown at them to toughen them up.
“They need noise and chaos and children are ideal for the experience.
“One of the hardest places for dogs is in customs, on board a ship or in a prison.
“They will be scared by things that happen around them but the important is how they deal with it.
“We currently have 10 puppies that need foster homes to get the experience they need in order to go on an become effective working dogs.
“Their father Hunter is a now a tracker dog with the Royal Oman Police.
“One of things we do when we are training puppies is put down corrugated iron sheeting which they have to cross to get their food – the noise is terrific and the sheets are moving as they bound across them.
“We carry out assessments and home visits of prospective fosterers and if approved we provide them with food, advice and veterinary care and a list to follow.”
He added: “We regularly visit to see how the dogs are progressing. Generally, there’s quite a low percentage of dogs who become working dogs because we have really high standards that the dogs must achieve.
“With one previous group we managed 70 per cent, which is extremely high, and a lot it is to do with using dogs that are carefully selected.
“We watch them to assess their character from the day they are born and we look for certain traits – whether they are always exploring or mischievous or laid back and it’s about matching those traits to the job they could do.
“Once they come back to us from foster care, we make the decision as to whether they are going to be suitable or not.
“If they don’t make the grade they are offered first to fosterer as a pet and we ask if we can breed from them in future.”
Mr Elliott, who has been involved in training dogs for more than 40 years, said: “I am proud of what the dogs do.
“There’s extreme satisfaction in following it through from start to finish.
“Of course, there’s a little bit of you that’s sad to see the dogs go but the overriding emotion is of pride that the dog is doing an incredible job, extremely well, often in difficult circumstances.”
Anyone interested in fostering should call 01522 514267.