Curator Jessica is back with the postal canines of the past and their unusual jobs...

As part of a series of entitled ‘Interesting Sidelights on the Work of the G.P.O.’ this cigarette card covers just one of the lesser known works of the GPO, such as radio and telephone.

‘Dog Detecting Cable Faults’ Cigarette Card. Produced by Lambert & Butler, a branch of the Imperial Tobacco Co. Ltd in Great Britain. 1939. (2010-0427/12)

Here you can see a more unusual job for our canine companions; detecting cable faults! It is hardly surprising with a nose that can detect explosives, drugs and even cancers.

Travelling Post Office carriage following the robbery, 1963. ©Thames Valley Police

In 1963, following the Great Train Robbery, it was suggested that the Post Office should begin investigating the possibility of using guard dogs to protect the mails. It was argued that experience had shown…

‘that virtually all criminals are scared to death of dogs and that whereas a man may be reluctant to defend himself when he is attacked by a criminal for fear of getting injured, a dog will not hesitate to attack the thief at once.’


This suggestion had been previously raised and as then the idea of guard dogs had problems, predominantly to do with housing and the high cost of training and vet bills. It was also stated that they could only see guard dogs to be of use for escort duties on Travelling Post Offices (TPOs) and Bag Tenders, there was little scope for employment of dogs and handlers on Post Office duties.

Evening Standard, Friday February 14, 1964, ‘Rail police to use more dogs to guard goods by Evening Standard Chief Crime Reporter.(POST122/15971)

However, an example of dogs safeguarding the mail can be found with the provision of a Police patrol with a dog escorting the motor mail services between the Sorting Offices and Derby Midland Station in 1963. On the 14th February 1964, the Evening Standard wrote on how rail police were to use more dogs as they found them to be invaluable for goods-guarding work.

QEII 1979 150th Anniversary of Metropolitan Police: Design by Marjorie Saynor. Un-adopted design. (POST 150/QEII/139/33)

The railways were, in fact, the pioneers in the use of Police dogs, first used in 1909 by the North-Eastern Railway Police at Hull. The main value of guard dogs was in patrol work, but the main drawback was accommodation and need to be exercised on long journeys. This could be a potential security risk as the handler and dog would need to leave the goods. In October 1964 D. Weisil from the Postal Services Department stated it would be unproductive to pursue the question any further but it was an idea to keep in mind for future crime prevention.

Nowadays, guard dogs are used by external security companies employed to guard Royal Mail buildings.

But there’s more! Check back on the third part of the postal dog blog soon. Missed the first one? Have a read here.

– Jessica Woolf, Curator