They've been well groomed, and now they're ready for action.

On Thursday, several new members of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry's canine program received their badges at a ceremony in Thunder Bay, Ont., signaling that they are finished their training, and are ready to begin work as official law enforcement dogs.

The dogs are an invaluable tool when it comes to sniffing out hunting and fishing infractions in the field.

"I'm impressed with the dogs.  I'm very proud of the handlers. I think what they do is an amazing job," said Grant Rieder, the staff sargeant in charge of the Ministry's canine unit. 

canine conservation officers

Canine crime-fighters Rex, Gauge, Maya and Rebel are all trained to help conservation officers find evidence. They're seen here with their canine handlers, at a badge ceremony in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

"I've been handling and training dogs for going on 30 years and what I see here with the Ministry of Natural Resources is incredible. These dogs are a very valuable tool and they're required, they're needed, and the benefit to having a dog working for the Ministry is just — you can't put a dollar value to it. They find so much stuff it's just amazing."  

The canine unit is made up of half-a-dozen dogs strategically placed across the province, and three new recruits are replacing older dogs that have reached retirement age, said Rieder.

Before they start work, the dogs go through a 16-week training course, which starts with obedience and agility. From there, they learn to follow their nose to uncover evidence, such as hidden fish, wildlife and gunpowder. They're also trained to track down people who are missing. 

"We call it work, but for the dogs ... really it's just a big game," said Andy Heerschap, a conservation officer and canine handler based in Thunder Bay, who's two-year-old yellow Labrador retriever Rex received his badge at the event on Thursday. 

Rex and Andy Heerschap

2-year-old Rex plays a game of tug-of-war with his handler Andy Heerschap, as a reward after discovering a bag of fish hidden in this boat, as part of a demonstration at a Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry office in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

Heerschap, who has been a canine handler for nine years, said good fits for the program tend to be high energy dogs, who love to play ball — their reward for a job well done. 

The dogs typically work for between five and nine years, he said. 

The Ministry's canine conservation officer program has been running for 27 years.