We spoke to Police Dog Handler PC Claire Todd about her very special staffie! Many thanks to Claire who took time out of her busy schedule to tell us all about Stella and her role within the police.
How did you and Stella first meet?
Stella and I met at West Hatch RSPCA in Taunton in January 2014. Her talent to search for a ball was recognised by Sue Dicks at the centre. Sue had contacted dog instructor PC Lee Webb from Avon & Somerset Police about Stella. I work for Gloucestershire Police and was looking for a new drugs dog as my springer Spaniel Barney was retiring. I went to West Hatch with PC Lee Webb to meet Stella.
Did you know at that stage that she would make the grade as a police dog?
As soon as I watched Stella search and find a tennis ball I was blown away with her search drive and determination to keep going until she found it. I knew straight away she would make a brilliant drugs dog.
What are the most important attributes for a police dog?
A police dog needs a very high search drive and ability, stamina and determination to keep going no matter how long it takes. They have to be environmentally sound, confident in all surroundings. Most of all they need to love a ball. All our training is reward based positive reinforcement training. Our police dogs work for us because they are having fun to them their job is a game, they search and find and receive their favourite ball as a reward. Stella doesn’t realise how important her job is, she just has fun every day at work doing her job.
What’s her personality like?
Stella has a fantastic personality. She is very loving she loves cuddles and gives sloppy Staffie kisses. She is cheeky and fun she loves her big brother German Shepard Quest they are best friends. Stella is older than Quest and when off duty at home she mothers him and cuddles up to him.
What’s Stella’s role within the police?
Stella is a drugs, cash, Firearms recovery and ammunition detection dog. She finds all types of illegal drugs, cash in sterling and euros. She can locate guns and ammunition.
How long did her training last and what was involved?
Stella trained in just 4 weeks (it’s normally a 6 week course but Stella flew through the training). Stella is trained to freeze with her nose next to the substance she has found. It is important especially with powder drugs that Stella does not touch them both for her safety and for forensic reasons. Stella is clicker trained so when she freezes on a substance, cash or gun she gets the click to mark the correct behaviour she then comes back to me for her ball reward. This ensures the ball is not thrown towards what she has found, again to prevent any contamination issues.
What would you say has been her biggest achievement to date?
In 2015 Stella won an Animal Hero Award for Service Dog of the Year. She was nominated after finding £25,000 in cash and her story hit the national newspapers as she was the first pure Staffie police dog. Staffie cross Kos from Avon & Somerset Police was the first ever Staffie Cross to become a police dog.
Following Stella winning her reward we were interviewed live the next day on good morning Britian. It was fantastic to show how amazing Staffies are and from that moment on Stella became an ambassador to show how amazing the breed is.
Stella also appeared on the Dog Rescurers telling her story on national TV. In 2016 we were invited back to the Animal Hero Awards as judges. In 2017 Stella appeared at Crufts with the East Anglian Staffordshire Bull Terrier Display Team in the main area. The team made us feel so welcome they travel around the UK putting on amazing displays every year.
Stella has over 14,000 followers on Twitter and started #StaffieSaturday to celebrate how amazing Staffies are and to try to help find homes for Staffies in rescues. Stella is a Senior Staffy Club Kennel Crusader. She donates her pocket money once a month to support a rescue dog kennel for a Senior Staffie.
She lives with you at home, what’s her favourite thing to do when off duty?
Stella lives at home with me she loves to chill out at home cuddling up to Quest or me or any family member. She loves giving cuddles. Stella enjoys her walks and playing ball in the field. Her favourite day is Sunday as she gets a tin of sardines in sunflower oil mixed in with her Normal food. Sardines are good for shiny coats and joints. Stella gives very fishy kisses afterwards!
Any top training tips?
Best training advice is to make training fun for you and your dog. Positive Reinforcement Training is the best way to train.