There is a ton to know when it comes to police K9s. What do police dogs do? What breeds make the best police dogs? How are K9s trained? Do they get paid for their service? In this ultimate guide to law enforcement dogs, we answer all your questions and more. So, let’s get to it.
Police dogs are highly trained service dogs that assist law enforcement personnel in a variety of specialized tasks. They undergo a lengthy training process in order to become experts at their jobs and ensure they can assist their human partners at an elite level.
Police dogs can either be single-purpose, meaning the K9 has one specific job, or dual purpose, meaning the K9 is trained for multiple tasks. The most common K9 jobs are suspect tracking and apprehension, narcotic and explosive detection, and search and rescue (SAR).
K9 police dogs are phenomenal at sniffing out bad guys, thanks to their highly tuned noses. When dangerous criminals are on the run, police dogs are often used to help law enforcement officers find the suspects. A K9 may follow a scent trail that covers miles of land before ultimately locating the target. Police dogs are trained to apprehend bad guys with their mouths. A police K-9 will bite a suspect’s arm or leg, holding him in place until the police officer can physically make the arrest.
Police dogs are often tasked with sniffing out narcotics and bombs. Narcotic detection dogs (NDD) are police K-9s trained to detect 5 basic narcotic odors: marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and MDMA. Explosive detection dogs (EDD) are trained to sniff out a variety of explosive materials. Both of these specialized K-9s are commonly utilized in searching buildings, security checkpoints, vehicles, pedestrians and packages.
SAR dogs are trained to locate and help their handlers rescue missing persons. SAR dogs can be utilized after natural disasters strike—such as earthquakes, avalanches, or tornados—to find both alive and deceased victims. SAR dogs can also be utilized in non-disaster situations, such as if a child goes missing or a hiker gets lost in the wilderness. Thanks to the athleticism of these working dogs and their incredible olfactory systems, SAR K-9s can cover large areas of land in a relatively short duration—a helpful tool when searching for missing.
Not every human is meant to be a police officer, and similarly, not every dog is meant to be a K9 police dog. Police dogs are specifically bred to perform at high levels and excel at difficult tasks. Here are the most common dog breeds that excel at law enforcement work.
By nature, German Shepherd Dogs are smart, courageous and confident. German Shepherds have a penchant for guardianship, with a strong willingness to put their lives on the line for their human counterparts. To top it off, these super-smart dogs have incredible strength, speed and agility, making German Shepherds one of the most popular breeds for police work. German Shepherds are commonly used for patrol purposes, but can also double as a scent detection dog.
Belgian Malinois are extremely hardworking and versatile dogs, known for building an unbreakable bond with their handlers. To the eye, these dogs have an incredible elegance to their solid musculature. Like German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois are herding breeds. For hundreds of years, Belgian Malinois were bred to help their owners herding livestock. Thus, it’s fitting that Belgian Malinois are often utilized for apprehending criminals.
The Dutch Shepherd originated in the Netherlands, where it diverged from its cousins—German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois—in the 1800s. Alert and intelligent, Dutch Shepherds are competent police dogs that are used for a variety of challenging tasks, including tracking and apprehension, scent detection, and search and rescue.
Labrador Retrievers have an appearance that is less formidable than breeds like German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. Notably, Labrador Retrievers have amicable faces and floppy ears—an appearance that lacks the intimidation factor needed for patrol work. Instead, Labrador Retrievers are used for their scent detection capabilities. Labrador Retrievers are hunters by breed, and thus finding explosives and illegal drugs is like playing a game for them. Labradors are also commonly used in search and rescue work.
There is a reason bloodhounds are dubbed “sleuth hounds.” In short, they are incredible at finding humans who are lost or hiding. With their powerful legs, bloodhounds have great endurance allowing them to track scent for miles over difficult terrain. Bloodhounds are very vocal breeds, a beneficial trait for search and rescue work. When bloodhounds find the target scent, they’ll let out barks and howls to alert the handler of their find.
Fact #1: Police departments have used K-9s for more than 100 years. Formal police training started around 1899 in Ghent, Belgium.
Fact #2: K-9s typically begin serious police training when they are 12-15 months old. At this age, dogs are mature enough to concentrate on a task for an extended period.
Fact #3: Some police dogs are fitted with titanium teeth. Their natural teeth may suffer damage throughout their careers and metal choppers ensure a durable bite.
Fact #4: It costs more than $20,000 to fully train a police K-9.
Fact #5: On average, a police dog’s career lasts 6-8 years.
Fact #6: Police dogs debuted in the United States in 1907 in New York City.
Fact #7: A trained German Shepherd police dog’s bite has a force of 1,500 pounds per square inch.
Fact #8: Most police dogs retire by the age of 10.
Fact #9: Many states have laws that protect police dogs from assault by the public, with penalties including jail time.
Fact #10: Not all police dogs are bred to be police dogs. Some K-9s are adopted from animal shelters and trained to greatness.
Police dogs generally do not receive paychecks. However, their basic expenses, like food and medical care, are covered by the department. The police dog’s handler may receive a stipend to cover additional costs.
Prior to getting paired with a handler, a police K-9 typically has 8 months to more than a year of training. The handler-K-9 team then trains for an additional 3-6 months. It’s worth noting that a police dog never really stops training. Even when the dog is in service, the K-9 should always be honing its skills.
Most retired police K-9s will spend the rest of their days with their handlers, enjoying a life of relaxation and leisure. If handlers cannot take care of retired K-9s, loving families will adopt the ex-police dogs.
Most police dogs get rewarded with a tennis ball, Kong, or other chew toy upon a job well done. For example, if a K-9 is deployed to search a vehicle for narcotics and finds them, the handler will often toss a tennis ball to the police dog upon successfully completing the search.
Police dogs read human body language in order to know who they are to bite. Police K-9s understand which person is a threat by looking for an individual displaying aggressiveness. Furthermore, the K-9 handler makes sure the police dog is fully zoned-in on the correct target prior to unleashing the dog.
Many police K-9s wear ballistic, stab-proof vests to prevent them from being injured in the line of duty. Brady’s K-9 Fund is a non-profit organization that donates state-of-the-art LOF Defence Streetfigher body armor to police dogs in need. We believe K-9s should never hit the streets without a quality level of protection.
Most police dogs learn commands in a foreign language, like Dutch or German. K-9s are trained in a language other than English for a couple reasons. First, many of these dogs are bred and raised abroad in countries like Germany or the Netherlands where English isn’t the primary language. Second, most criminals don’t know how to give police dogs commands in foreign languages. By training the dog in a different language, it adds a layer of security for both the K-9 and handler.
If you would like to help protect police dogs in the line of duty, please go to our donations page or click on the button below. Every donation goes toward providing K-9s with a LOF StreetFighter K-9 vest. No contribution is too small.