Police dog Gus is the sharp end of crime fighting in Northland.

But it was the sharp end of a knife wielded by a man trying to escape from police that nearly ended his career.

And police dog handler Senior Constable Pete Kinane reckons without a doubt his best canine mate saved his life by taking a stab to the lung during the arrest in dense bush nearly three years ago.

Gus' life hung in the balance after the knife went between the tricep muscle, through the chest into the lung. He was helicoptered to an Auckland vet clinic and underwent emergency surgery.

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So the arrival of the first stab-proof vest for Northland's police dogs this week was met with delight by Mr Kinane. He was impressed with the light-weight "Mako" vest which was a snug but non-restrictive fit on eight-year-old Gus.

"I'm stoked. Now with this vest we've given him the best chance of surviving in the worst-case scenario. I know he's well protected with this," Mr Kinane said.

Even before Gus was stabbed Mr Kinane had been championing safety gear for police dogs on the beat in New Zealand.

"I've been waiting for something like this for years. It's a good day for the dog section and not such a good day if you're a criminal."

He reckons if Gus had been wearing such a vest at the time he was stabbed it could have prevented the injury, as the entry point for the knife was where a thick strap was placed on the vest.

Police dogs respond to more than 30,000 incidents each year across New Zealand. The Northland team of five dogs are expected to get their vests as they are rolled out across the country over the next few months.

Gus gets his Kevlar on. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Gus gets his Kevlar on. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Head of the Northland Dog Section Sergeant Bruce McLeod said the "Mako harness" was modelled on a military design used by working dogs around the world.

The vest was fitted with layered Kevlar panels to shield vital organs from stabbing and slashing.

Work was also being done on shields to protect the dogs from bullets. The overall design is made from military-spec nylon and Trelleborg material, which does not absorb moisture and gives the dog protection from blows and kicks.

The vest has handles and reflective panels which would be helpful on jobs at night.

Strength-tested buckles on the vest could also be used for winching the dogs in and out of helicopters. It is also possible to attach a camera to the top of the harness.

Mr McLeod said the vests were designed to be put on the dog at the start of a shift and left on. The dogs would be monitored during the hot summer months in Northland to see how they coped.

The harnesses are designed by Hamilton-based specialist Sabre Tactical NZ and are made in New Zealand. A total of 120 vests will be distributed throughout the country.