Police dogs


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Police dogs are an important part of police work.

They help protect police officers and civilians by detecting drugs, explosives, or other objects that may be hidden on a suspect's body.

K9 units is also used to track people who have escaped from prisons and can't be found with any other means.

This article will discuss the requirements for becoming a police dog handler, qualifications needed to be successful in this position, and why they're so important!

As an aside, K9s are also another term for police dogs - it's meant to be a short form for Canine units. So you'll see us using police dogs and k9 units quite interchangeably.

Police dog duties

Police dogs are used for a variety of police work, and not all are for taking down bad guys.

Their main duties include:

Suspect apprehension

Much like their military counterparts, the most common use of a police dog is to take down a criminal by a very painful bite.

Once these dogs bite, the pain caused is usually so great that any suspect would almost immediately give up just to stop the pain.

Drug detection

Probably one of the more common roles for dogs in the United states, these dogs are trained in identifying smells of drugs and alerting their handlers.

Explosives detection

This is especially the case for any terrorist related tipoffs. A sniffer dog can save hundreds of lives if they're able to find the bombs!

Tracking people or escaped criminals

When criminals escape from prison and hide in remote locations, a dog with a good nose is often used to find out their hiding places.

These tracker dogs can also locate missing (or kidnapped) persons, since their noses can be finely tuned to a specific person's scent.

Search and rescue operations

Perhaps most iconic are the search and rescue operations skill of these dogs.

During the collapse of the World Trade Centers in New York City, countless police dogs helped sift through the rubble to find the trapped people underneath.

All in all, these duties are vital to keeping our communities safe.

Police dog breeds

Like their counterparts in the military, police dogs have equally strict requirements for the dog breeds.

Usually, the police department will select the police dog breed based on what tasks they'll need help with.

For instance, German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois are often used for suspect apprehension because of their willingness to bite on command.

In another example, Bloodhounds and beagles possess strong noses that can track missing persons (or criminals in hiding).

This makes them great trackers for finding escaped convicts or people lost in the woods or desert areas.

That's why you'll see a mix of different dog breeds in police departments - Labradors, Retrievers, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Bloodhounds and the like.

Each breed has its own unique set of skills that can be beneficial to police work.

Police dog training

As is expected, the training regimen for producing working dogs for the police force is tough, and many dogs won't make the cut.

Police dogs are required to be both obedient and resourceful, which can prove difficult in some police dog breeds.

They also need high intelligence so they can learn complex commands quickly!

Apart from the breed, the police departments also consider the temperament of the dog - if a dog is too friendly, it most likely will not pass the training regimen, as can be seen in this example of a German Shepherd.

While most of the training regimen itself is kept somewhat confidential, the basics include positive reinforcement dog training, which has been proven to lead to the best results the quickest.

Apart from that, these dogs are usually continuously trained and tested their entire career to keep their skills sharp.

Another piece of information released by the CIA says that their explosives detection dogs must learn to identify over 9,000 explosive scents!

Most police and military working dogs typically start their life and careers in civilian training programs, and if they show potential to excel, they would be picked to join the military and law enforcement programs.

They also start their training anytime from 12 to 15 months old, so once they pass that age, they might no longer be eligible for selection, barring special circumstances.

Cost of training a police dog

For the full range of training, training a dog to become a full fledged police working dog can cost up to $15,000!

Also, do note that this full range of training DOES NOT COVER the continuous testing of their skills, or their upkeep (food, shelter etc).

Benefits of police dogs on the force

Having these working police dogs in the force can help the officers on the ground in many ways.

Police dogs can often be a police officer's eyes and ears when they're in the field.

They also provide an extra layer of protection for both police officers and civilians from potential threats, such as criminals or escapees with weapons on them.

In fact, police dogs are one of the best ways to keep society safe - having these valuable police dog services is important in maintaining our community safety!

Role of a police dog handler

While this article mainly focuses on the the role of the police dogs in society, we also want to make special mention for their handlers as well.

Police dog handlers are just as important, and often have more qualifications than the police officers themselves.

This is because police dog handler jobs require a lot of training and handling skills.

They need to be able to train their dog for various tasks, as well as handle the animal in high-stress situations.

Many police departments prefer having an experienced police officer become a police dog handler, as it gives them better insight into how to work with the dogs on the force.

It also helps if said experienced officer has experience with dogs prior (either in the military service, or have trained dogs at home).

How to become a police dog handler (aka K9 officer)

If reading all the above has inspired you to want to join the police academy as a police dog handler, then you're in the right section.

The requirements for becoming a police dog handler vary from police department to police department.

For example, a K9 unit in New York City is more likely to face more crime due to city density, and thus might require more experience and qualification before being admitted into the program.

At the same time, a K9 unit in rural Ohio would certainly be more lax due to the sparser population, but require good tracking dogs if people get lost in the wilderness instead.

Please note that the above are examples only, and actual requirements will vary. Please check with your local police academy for more information!

However, there are some general qualifications that are needed in order to be successful in this career field.

Some common requirements include:

  • Being a police officer for at least two years, or being an active member of the military for four years.
  • Having good communication skills and problem solving abilities in order to work with your police dog partner effectively.
  • Must be willing to undergo physical training before becoming certified, as well as be physically fit throughout their law enforcement careers

police dog handler salary

K9 unit police dog handler salary can range from about $50,000 to upwards of $90,000 per year.

The pay usually depends on the police department's budget and how many police officers are in the unit.

Some police departments also offer additional benefits, such as health insurance and retirement plans.

However, the figures above are based on an average from the job listings across different departments.

Check your local police station job posting for more information!


In conclusion, police dogs play a vital role in society by helping keep our communities safe from harm.

It’s clear that they have a lot of responsibility and work to do, so it is essential that their training be done well in order for them to serve the public with all the skills needed.

about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.

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