Photo/IllutrationMaru, right, with "colleagues" in the Shiga prefectural police in Otsu (Tomoe Ishikawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion

OTSU--Don't be fooled by Maru's cute looks. The toy poodle is a trained crime fighter and among the latest recruits to the Shiga prefectural police here.

Typically, larger breeds like German shepherds and golden retrievers are used to sniff out evidence at crime scenes or search for missing individuals.

Although privately owned, Maru was among 22 canines chosen by the Shiga prefectural police this spring to serve on the force. It was the first time a small dog has been selected in Shiga Prefecture.

Maru, aged 3, is owned by Ryoji Maeda, 67, a resident of Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, who is self-employed, and his wife, Michiyo, 66.

They described Maru as "clingy" and said he hates to be separated from them.

At a ceremony held April 17 at the prefectural police academy in Otsu to mark the "employment" of Maru and his “colleagues,” the canines showed off skills they nurtured in daily training, such as identifying fabric from a “culprit” from five pieces offered.

Although Maru attended the session, he flopped it when he spotted his owners and got too excited to continue. He refused to be separated from them.

The Maedas acquired Maru around 2015. The dog was initially timid, could not stay still and sometimes bit them.

They decided to send it to the Ritto Dog School in Ryuo, Shiga Prefecture, for training. His trainer, Izuka Takahata realized early on that Maru had an exceptional sense of smell compared with other dogs.

Takahata, 53, trains dogs for the Shiga prefectural police.

“I felt that he (Maru) may have the qualities needed for a police dog,” Takahata said.

Full-time police dog training started for Maru in spring 2017.

It was through sessions to walk obediently and sit for lie flat on the ground that Maru became less timid. He was also trained to scent out specific smells.

Last November, Maru passed the police dog test on his first attempt.

According to the Nippon Police Dog Association in Tokyo, 90 percent of privately owned police dogs throughout Japan are German shepherds and other large breeds.

But Takahata noted that small police dogs have advantages.

“Fewer people would fear toy poodles compared with large dogs,” he said, adding that using them in stakeouts and other investigative duties would make it harder to spot police officers.

Toy poodles and other small dogs are particularly useful in surveying areas covered with grass because they can sniff closer to the ground than larger dogs.

Small canines also have as much stamina as their larger counterparts.

Stroking Maru, the Maedas said they expect their beloved pet to help find people who go missing and perform other important police duties.

“If his skills prove helpful, we will hire more small canines that are privately owned from now on,” said a prefectural police official.