Gregarious, failed police sniffer dog becomes a smash hit as a therapy animal

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Dexter surrounder by smiling police officers

Dexter, a black labrador, was in training to be a drug sniffer dog but he was considered to be too gregarious, too sociable and lacking insufficient focus and concentration to be good enough in the role. However, his gregariousness has been utilised highly effectively in raising the mood of police officers of the multi-agency response team – Pmart. Many of the members of this team have been removed from office-based roles to going into the community, “recording ‘life extinct’ and preparing the bodies for collecting” according to Dexter’s handler, PC Mike Sheather. Grim work.

Dexter surrounder by smiling police officers

Dexter surrounder by smiling police officers. Photo: Times photographer RICHARD POHLE

It’s a great example of how you can match the skills of an individual with the prevailing circumstances to make the most of them. Dexter has a good nose but he couldn’t make it in the role that they’d chosen for him. He is considered to be too good around people and had became withdrawn in his training. He showed signs of distress and was unsettled.

His handler, PC Sheather had the idea of using Dexter as a well-being dog when talking to a colleague. He took his inspiration from dogs used by the US army to combat against stress suffered by military personnel. Dexter can put a smile on people’s faces as the photograph on this page indicates.

A lot of people realise that interacting with a dog, or any domesticated animal for that matter, elevates the mood because it helps to release oxytocin in humans which is often referred to as the “love hormone”. Oxytocin helps to counteract the effect of the stress hormone cortisol.

PC Sheather became more involved with mental health support after suffering from personal grief and loss and being affected by grim crime scenes. He admitted to suffering from what Winston Churchill referred to as “the black dog” i.e. depression, which is ironic because Dexter as you can see is a beautiful black dog.

Dexter is a black dog who lifts people out of depression rather than describes the condition!