Meet the detection dogs that are fighting against nuclear terrorism

For this week’s Dog’s With Jobs we are meeting what might be the A-team of the working canine world.

The Civil Nuclear Constabulary dog unit is pretty impressive – they protect Britain’s nuclear power plants and nuclear waste sites against terrorism, sniffing out anything dangerous and stopping any intruders.

They also help out other units with finding bombs outside these units.

We visited Sellafield power station in Cumbria to meet this badass set of dogs. The dogs are trained there but the work of the CNC (Civil Nuclear Constabulary) extends from the north coast of Scotland at Dounreay, to the south coast of England at Dungeness.
Laura Forster, wearing her uniform, sat at a desk
Laura Forster (Picture: Elle Rudd/
Laura Forster is the dog training sergeant at Sellafield. She joined the police 22 years ago and has been working with the dog unit for 20 of those. She tells ‘It’s the best job there is if you like dogs .

‘At the end of the day it’s a lifestyle choice. We are really fortunate within the CNC that people come to us because they want to and because they’re motivated.’

Laura can’t tell us much about the work they do because most of it has to be kept confidential but basically they work with the dogs to help them learn how to hunt out things that could be dangerous.

Be realistic. Unrealistic goals will only prevent you from growing. There are two common mistakes a dog owner can make that will slam the brakes hard on any potential progress you might be hoping for. First, the expectations we place on our dogs and ourselves. The misguided belief that your dog “should” be performing or responding at a certain predetermined level. Another mistake many owners make is having unrealistic assumptions. Many of us assume that our dog understands what we want and that he knows what we’re asking of him. As if that wasn’t bad enough, some of us assume that the dogs failure to perform means he’s either rebelling, stubborn, or just plain stupid.

‘We use general purpose dogs, which are the larger breeds so the German/Belgian/Dutch shepherds and we use those for day-to-day work like you would see in a home office police force,’ Laura says.
Ripley, the explosives search dog wags her tail after successfully located behind a radiator. He is a small ginger spaniel wearing a high-visibility vest with the words 'Search dog' on it.
A very good dog who had correctly located a LOT of explosives (Picture: Elle Rudd/

‘We also use smaller dogs that are specialist search dogs, because of the work we do within the CNC and those are the dogs we really need and are valuable to us.’

During our visit, Ben Graham, one of the squad’s dog instructors took us to Sellafield train station, a small unmanned rail station seated on the Cumbrian coast, for a drill with some of the dogs to explain what happens.

He explains: ‘It’s just a simple area and building search for the explosive dogs. It’s a refresher for the little dogs.

‘They’ll use the area inside, the dogs will search the area and the handlers will control the dogs.

‘The dogs will find the samples that will be put out and we’ll get a good nice indication of them.’

One of the larger general purpose dogs stares into the camera while perched on a bench in it's kennel.
Talk about puppy dog eyes! (Picture: Elle Rudd/

During this live simulation, the team hide explosive materials somewhere in the station and then return and take their dog to sniff out the potentially deadly substance.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Dachshunds were originally bred to fight badgers.

And while the dog unit are all firearms trained, they are accompanied by firearms officers, just as they would be if the threat was real.

Seeing as Sellafield is a relatively small station, consisting of two platforms and with trains running through it only once every half an hour, the station is not shut down and is still accessible to the public.

The next active simulation we are shown is with the general purpose dogs, showing the type of scenarios in which they would be used.

A training officer, kitted out in a large padded suit plays the role of suspect. The dog, a large breed such as a German shepherd, is then run through a variety of situations.
Ripley, a small red and white spaniel, searches the waiting room of Sellafield station during a drill. Her owner is in the room next to her, stood wearing her full uniform. The rest of the unit watch through the windows.
Where, oh where, could these explosives be? (Picture: Elle Rudd/

These include the ‘suspect’ attacking the officer with a weapon, the ‘suspect’ approaching the officer in an aggressive manner and the ‘suspect’ fleeing the scene of a crime.

As with any sensitive situation the dogs need to be ready to appropriately deal with suspects, and even defend their handler from oncoming attacks.

And the value of this highly-trained specialised dog unit does not go unnoticed.

Duncan Worsell, the Assistant Chief Constable of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, tells us about the full reach of the CNC says: ‘Where we deploy them, the dogs are extraordinarily important.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Scientists believe that the world’s first known dog lived 31,700 years ago. This prehistoric dog resembled a large Siberian Husky.

‘Dogs can do things that armed officers cannot do. And whilst this might sound unpleasant, there are circumstances, dangerous circumstances in which we would rather place a police dog than a police officer.

‘For instance, searching a building if you know that there are intruders within the building, but you don’t know how many or where within the building they are, you can use dogs in order to do that.’

As with any working dog, the bond between handler and hound is not only special but vital.

A dog trainer bends over as a large german shepherd bites his arm during a general purpose dog drill. The trainer is wearing a large padded jacket to prevent injuries. The dog swings off his arm and he bites him at the elbow.
Ouch. (Picture: Elle Rudd/

Sarah says: ‘When you’re working your dog, you want to know that that dog will protect you in any situation.

‘The trust must be there. And that’s the trust from you to dog and from your dog to you. They need to trust that you’re going to look after them as well.

‘You’re talking 14 to 16 years, that you’ve got that dog. And the work that you do with it is phenomenal. You ask so much of them, and they give everything in return, they really do.’

Training the handler how to work with each dog is just as important as teaching the dog what to do.

Laura adds: ‘As instructors we don’t teach the dog how to do what it does. We teach the handler to teach the dog what it does, so that they know how to work the dog so that they know what they’re looking for.’

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Man’s best friend? Petting a dog and gazing into their eyes releases oxytocin (i.e the “love hormone”) not only for you, but for them as well.

A dog staring at a ball
Ball! Ball! Ball! (Picture: Elle Rudd/
Neil Henderson is one of the elite force’s firearms officers and dog handlers. He works two dogs – a five year old Malinois cross, Xander, who is a general purpose dog, and a four year old Cocker spaniel cross, Troy, who is a specialist explosives dog.

He adds: ‘The better the bond, the better the team you’ll be together because if you haven’t got a bond with your dog it won’t want to work for you you can try to work it but it won’t work for you.

‘It’s essentially taking a really close friend or family member to work, to work alongside them.

‘And the good thing is because you spend so much time together and you’ve got that bond, you can actually trust them to do the job.’

The Fix

The daily lifestyle email from

Find out more