Dog, Training

Training Dogs To Be Be Police Dogs – How Does It Work?

Not only is a dog’s sense of smell almost 50 times as strong as a human’s, but his sniffer can distinguish any number of odors. Dogs are tenacious, agile, and strong, and once they are trained, they are able to perform any number of useful tasks. They love to have jobs to do, especially work that harnesses their natural instincts for tracking and catching prey.

With all these attributes, is there any wonder that dogs make exceptional law-enforcement “officers”?

A Brief History of Police Dogs

Dogs have been helping humans fight crime since at least the 1700s when European police began using bloodhounds to track escaped criminals. During WWI, dog trainers in Germany developed a formal training process for canines that taught them how to perform different military tasks, particularly guard and attack functions.

Over the next few decades, this type of military training evolved into police dog training, which quickly became popular in European law enforcement. In the 1970s, the United States began using police dogs, and today they are common sights in just about every city in the US.

K-9 Jobs & Training

Police dogs, also known as K-9s, are highly trained dogs that assist law-enforcement personnel with various specialized duties. Police dogs traditionally have been used to help patrolling officers with chasing and detaining suspects, but today they can do much more, aiding law-enforcement officers with highly complex tasks such as:
Patrol Dog: Accompanies officers on patrol to protect the officer and deter criminals; a dog’s presence often makes people think twice about confrontation. Patrol dogs are also trained in attacking and detaining suspects upon command.

Search: After patrolling, K-9s are most often used for searching out suspects, drugs, evidence, and explosives (work for which their sense of smell and prey drive make them perfectly suited). Dogs can also be trained to search for spent ammunition and recently fired weapons.

EOD Search: Explosive ordinance detection (EOD) is a fancy way of saying “sniffing out bombs,” a service that has, unfortunately, become in great demand. EOD dogs aren’t only being used in police situations, but also by the airlines and the military.

Search & Rescue: In addition to looking for survivors of accidents and natural disasters, SAR dogs can aid the police in finding suspects, missing people or objects.

Cadaver Dog: Another kind of SAR dog, cadaver dogs are trained to find decomposing bodies, even when found buried or in running water.

Essential components of a K-9s training include advanced obedience, endurance, agility, obstacle courses, attack, search, and smell differentiation, as well as specialized training for working in their particular areas of expertise.


Although any dog will, in theory, detect and pursue prey, some breeds just aren’t cut out for the rigors of life with a badge. Terriers and dachshunds, while adept at tracking prey, don’t have the physical presence to take down the bad guys; nor do any breeds that are by nature small, docile, or fearful.

A good police dog must be active, intelligent, motivated, and physically strong enough to carry out his tasks. Certain breeds have proven themselves to be well-suited for police work, based on their skills, instincts, and inherited traits.

Argentine Dogo: Protects the officer, serves as an attack dog and sniffs out bombs, drugs, and food.

Beagle: Sniffs out food, bombs, and drugs.

Belgian Malinois: Protects the officer, serves as an attack dog and locates bombs (EODs).

Bloodhound: Tracks odor-specific ID, locates evidence and sniffs out drugs and bombs.

Boxer: Protects the officer and serves as an attack dog.

Doberman Pinscher: Protects the officer and serves as an attack dog.

Dutch Shepherd: Protects the officer and serves as an attack dog.

German Shepherd: Protects the officer, serves as an attack dog, performs ground-based and air-based tracking and locates bombs (EODs), drugs, evidence, and human remains.

Giant Schnauzer: Protects the officer and serves as an attack dog.

Labrador Retriever: Sniffs out bombs and drugs.

Rottweiler: Protects the officer and serves as an attack dog.

Springer Spaniel: Sniffs out bombs and drugs.

Most police dogs were bred to serve and come from long lines of proven pedigrees. Because police dog work originated in Europe, their standards of breeding and training are thought to be more effective.


K-9s units work in teams of two: the dog and his handler, the police officer to whom he has been assigned. Only officers with exemplary records are considered for K-9 detail, and a great deal of training is involved before the handler can be certified.

The bond between a K-9 and his partner must be deep: Not only does the dog spend his working life with his partner, but he also lives with him in his home, usually growing as close to him as any other beloved family pet.

Police Dogs Have Special Status

It’s important to remember that K-9s are not regular dogs. Like human law-enforcement officials, K-9s have special status. Just as killing a human officer has more severe penalties, so does harassing or assaulting a police dog. Even if you don’t harm the dog, you could be charged with your state’s equivalent of felony animal cruelty, pay a hefty fine, and serve time in prison.

Police dogs are not pets or family guard dogs. Although retired K-9s can be wonderful animal companions, working police dogs are trained to have a high prey drive and require a much more active lifestyle than a household dog.
As far as rights of entry are concerned, a K-9 is allowed anywhere his handler goes, even restaurants, much like a service dog assisting a person with a disability.


A police dog’s career usually lasts about six years. After that, the dog is allowed to retire, most often going to live with the officer, a friend or a family member, and sometimes returning to his breeder for adoption into a home as a family pet.

A K-9’s career can end early if he is injured beyond recovery or becomes too sick to continue to work. If a police dog is killed in action, he is usually given a full police burial, with all the honors normally given to a fine officer killed in the line of duty.