Hanford Veterinary Hospital Blog
A Unique Bond: All About K9 Officers And Police Dogs
Humans have relied on dogs for a wide variety of jobs and duties throughout the over 10,000 years of history we share. Dogs have served critical functions in our society such as hunting, herding, guarding, guiding, and more. In our modern times, the police dog embodies all of the wonderful qualities of service, protection, and loyalty that make dogs so special to humans.
K9 officers are in a unique position among a police force. Not only are they required to fulfill their duties as officers of the law, they work in close partnership with a member of a different species to accomplish this. How they are trained and what goes into this partnership is the perfect example of how closely connected humans and canines have become, and how much we need and rely on each other.
But First, Some History
Although dogs have been used in law enforcement since the Middle Ages, it wasn’t until 1899 that the first organized police dog program began (in Ghent, Belgium). The idea slowly spread over Continental Europe, and in 1920 the first police dog training school was opened in Greenheide, Germany.
What It Takes
When an opening for a new K9 unit (officer and dog team) becomes available, there are usually quite a few interested applicants. Although many officers are qualified for the job on paper, not everyone has the flexibility, independence, and fierce dedication required to be a successful police dog handler.
A K9 officer’s family must be supportive in order for the unit to be successful. The police dog lives with the officer, so he or she is never truly “off duty”, as the dogs must be exercised daily and cared for just like any other pet. This is in addition to the evening and weekend work hours that are typically expected of a K9 unit.
K9 Officer Training
Police dogs are trained to be either “single purpose” or “dual purpose”. Single purpose dogs are trained to provide backup, tracking, and personal protection services, while dual purpose dogs do all of that, plus detection of either explosives or narcotics.
Dog and handler attend a training facility together so that they can learn to work with one another as a functional K9 unit. The handlers are taught to use positive reinforcement (typically a reward involving playtime with a favorite toy) as a means to train the dog.
Decoy training is an important part of a police dog’s work. An officer who is skilled in decoy training plays the role of “criminal”, running, moving, and prompting the dog in various ways to see him as a bad guy and to respond accordingly. A good decoy participant is essential to the proper training of a police dog.
The Best Breeds
German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois are the most common breeds used as police dogs. Other types of shepherds, as well as Labrador retrievers, giant schnauzers, and most recently pit bull breeds, are also used for police work. Any dog that becomes part of a K9 unit is required to be intelligent, social, and have a natural drive to play with balls or toys, as this is used as their reward for a job well done.