Meet the police dog getting his teeth into new role tackling South Yorkshire criminals

Pc Matt Aris with police dog Bear.
Pc Matt Aris with police dog Bear.

German shepherd Bear has been building up an online following for his exploits tackling criminals in South Yorkshire with his handler. Robert Cumber reports.

Leaping up to nuzzle his handler or lounging in the sun, snapping playfully at flies, Police Dog Bear looks like every animal lover’s dream. But this is one German shepherd you don’t want to get on the wrong side of, as criminals across South Yorkshire are quickly learning to their cost.

He’s only been in the job for a few months but has already earned plaudits for taking down a knifeman and successfully hunting a suspected violent offender who had fled through dense shrubbery, shaking the police helicopter off his trail.

Bear and his proud handler, Pc Matt Aris, form a formidable duo – and the special bond between them is palpable, despite their only having been paired up in April.

Grandfather cycling from Lands End to John O'Groats to thank Yorkshire hospital for saving his grandson's life
“For my first dog, I couldn’t have asked for a better companion,” says Matt, who joined South Yorkshire Police’s dog unit in spring after 18 years as a response officer, attending everything from assaults to burglaries.

“He’s only two next month and is new in service but he’s motoring through and showing all the attributes you would expect from an experienced dog aged four or five.

“He’s so confident in what he does and he’s always champing at the bit to get to work. Everything’s a game to him, and tracking and chasing criminals is like a big game of hide and seek. He loves it.”

Sheffield’s story in pictures, as remarkable hoard of 10,000 cards amassed by a single collector goes on sale
Bear is an all-rounder, who is equally adept at sniffing out drugs, weapons and explosives as he is keeping crowds of football fans under control, but it is his skill at pursuing and tackling offenders which has really caught the eye so far.

Last month, he helped officers pin down a knife-wielding robbery suspect in Sheffield. When a scuffle broke out between the knifeman and the officer trying to arrest him, Bear dashed to the latter’s aid, locking his jaws around the suspect’s leg and holding on despite being grabbed by the neck.

"He got dragged about quite a bit by the guy but he didn’t let go. He did what he’s been trained to do,” said Matt. “Thankfully, he wasn’t injured. He was slightly subdued afterwards but he carried on working the rest of the night and seemed to take it in his stride.”

Only the day before, he had sniffed out a man wanted on suspicion of serious assault, who had given officers the slip by fleeing into dense undergrowth in Rotherham.

“We would almost certainly have lost him were it not for Bear, who found him hiding among thick vegetation on the riverbank, beneath a jacket,” said Matt. “I hadn’t noticed anything but Bear just sniffed around the man before lying down next to him, which was a sure sign he’d found something.”

How ‘Rolls-Royce of the 19th Century’ Yorkshire Coach Horse breed became extinct
Matt and Bear completed an intensive 13-week training course earlier this year, alongside two other new canine recruits and their handlers. Matt, aged 37 and originally from Hampshire, was initially partnered with another dog, who sadly failed to make the grade.

Bear only joined him as a replacement six weeks into the course but quickly made up for lost time. Bear lives with Matt at his home in Rotherham, along with the officer’s two young children and two Dalmatians, with whom he says Bear ‘gets on like a house on fire’.

Bear’s exploits and those of his fellow canine law enforcers, which are regularly shared on Facebook by the force’s Operational Support Team, have earned them legions of fans – but Matt insists he’s not jealous of his partner in tackling crime.

“Sometimes it feels like I’m just the chauffeur and he’s royalty but Bear deserves the attention,” he says. “He’s the one who tracks and stops the criminals. I’m there to hold the lead.”