THEY are the fearless and loyal public servants whose roles include rescuing mountaineers, keeping public order and fighting organised crime.

But even Scotland's much-loved police dogs are not immune to the cuts and economies sweeping through the nation's eight forces as the move to merge them into one continues.

The unprecedented operation will eventually see thousands of jobs go as savings of £1.7 billion are sought over the next 15 years through more efficient working and reducing duplication. Positions from the rank of chief constable downwards are being axed.

Now the focus has turned to the country's dog units, with the number of dogs operating in Scotland to be reduced next year.

While it is unclear at this stage how many dogs will be made redundant, one senior officer warned that when the country's eight forces merge into one single police authority cover must not be compromised, particularly where the dog units are used in year-round mountain rescue search efforts.

Scotland's forces currently have 135 dogs, including breeds such as German shepherds, Belgian shepherds, Labradors and spaniels used in a wide variety of roles from mountain rescue to drug detection.

Dogs that are retired will be found new homes or stay with their handlers.

Superintendent David O'Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents – representing the operational leaders of the new Scottish Police Service – said it was imperative cover is maintained across the country.

He said: "As we're moving from eight police forces to three territorial areas – north, east and west – there will be opportunities to reorganise the available police dogs including drugs, public and explosive dogs; and part of that will be making sure all of the areas continue to be well served.

"There will need to be a particular emphasis on some of the more remote and rural parts of Scotland such as the north and north-east where mountain rescue dogs require to be able to respond to an incident in time.

"Police dogs are involved in rescues all year round."

Strathclyde has 46 dogs – a mix of general purpose dogs and specialist dogs. The force also has two eight-week-old puppies.

Lothian and Borders has 13 dogs; Central Scotland Police has 18; Grampian 15; Northern Constabulary nine; Fife 10; Tayside 16; and Dumfries and Galloway eight.

Police Scotland, the new unified force, comes into being in April next year and will be led by Chief Constable Stephen House, the former head of Strathclyde Police.

A spokesman for Police Scotland said: "One of the main aims of police reform is to increase access across Scotland to the wide catalogue of specialist operational support functions, which includes mounted sections and dog units.

"Currently all eight forces maintain their own specialist functions and if further assistance is needed, for example from mounted policing from Strathclyde Police, it is done through mutual aid request."

He added: "The single service allows for specialist resources to come under one command, distributed at key locations across the country and available to be deployed as necessary based on policing need, wherever it might be required.

"Reducing from eight forces to one will bring efficiencies. It also brings the opportunity to work in a smarter and more effective way.

"The deployment and resourcing models are currently being developed in collaboration with specialist experts from all eight forces, the aim being to provide a better service to the public."