A police officer dog stands with an officer.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Police Dog Training

Most of us can probably agree that dogs are the best pets on the planet, right? When you combine their loving nature and playfulness with their intelligence, there’s no better animal to have by your side. With that being said, they’re also by far the most useful animals to humans due to their superior intelligence, agility, and working ability. Dogs have all kinds of jobs. Some of which include service and assistance, search and rescue, water rescue, herding, and more, but probably the most important job that dogs have is police work. Are you familiar with the rigorous training police dogs go through in order to be useful to the force?

According to the National Police Dog Foundation, most K9 units don’t take in dogs from the public. What they often do is get them from specialized breeders in Europe, which can make them very expensive to obtain. For this reason, many agencies and police forces will have fundraisers in order to acquire police dogs.

Police Dog Responsibilities

Police dogs, commonly called police K9s, which is a shortened version of the term “canine,” are an important part of law enforcement agencies across the country. Police dogs are used to apprehend criminals, detect drugs, search and rescue missions, as well as bomb detection cases and detecting bodies. As highly trained members of the police force, these dogs are able to recall numerous verbal and visual commands and respond accordingly to many different situations, proving them to be an extremely valuable member of the police force. When it comes down to it, a police dog can prove to be just as valuable to an agency as any of its other members.

Police Dog Breeds

While we recognize the German Shepherd as the standard for police dogs, and for good reason, there are actually a couple of other breeds that are also used as police dogs across the United States. A few of these include:

A Look Into Police Dog Training

Police dogs live with their partner. A K-9 unit stays together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which allows them to establish a strong bond. Like with any working dog, police dogs require obedience training while they’re young in order to set a good foundation so that handlers can then mold their dog into required specializations when the time comes. Dogs will typically specialize in one specific job or task due to the complexity and requirements of each job. On rare occasions, a dog may be able to handle multiple jobs, but this is not the norm.

Different Kinds of Police Dog Training

There are different types of police dog training to prepare dogs for different jobs. The first of these types of training is patrol dog training. These dogs patrol the streets with their handlers, dealing with various aspects of everyday police life from finding and helping restrain suspects to ensuring their handler is protected. In addition to their many duties and responsibilities, these dogs are typically trained to find narcotics.

Drug detection dogs, on the other hand, are trained specifically to uncover narcotics and for that reason only. Bomb detection dogs are very similar in this manner with there being more than 10,000 different smells that they need to learn to be able to recognize. Scent tracking dogs specialize in finding individuals — typically those who have fled or have gone missing. These dogs are very good at finding people thanks to their intensive training.

How Police Dogs are Trained

You might’ve noticed that a large part of police dog’s training consists of scent training to identify anything from different kinds of drugs to missing or wanted people that are on the loose.

At the Philadelphia Police Department, it takes 14 weeks of patrol training in order for a dog to learn just the basics. An additional 2 ½ months of cross-training in either narcotics or explosives can turn a German Shepherd’s nose into a radar detector on the streets.

Scent training is an ongoing training process that begins with a towel. The handler and dog- in-training play with the towel and then the handler hides the towel and instructs the dog to go find it. Once the dog has excelled at finding the towel and it becomes an easy task, the handler sprinkles the towel with either black powder when it comes to explosives training or will wrap it around some marijuana when it comes to drug detection training. The handler will then instruct the dog to once again look for the towel. Over time, the dog learns to pick up on the smell of either drugs or explosives and is able to then identify and find them when they’re instructed to do so. Dogs can be trained to identify any of the following drugs, which include cocaine, crack, heroin, and methamphetamine.

When the dogs identify the drugs, they’re rewarded. They don’t understand the nature of their searches. They simply relish in accomplishing their mission as if it were a game because that’s all it really is to them.

Police dog training is rigorous, but also not to the point that it affects the dog’s health. If you see a police dog on the street, make sure not to approach it or try to pet it, as these dogs are highly trained and you don’t know how they will react when approached by a stranger. These dogs should be considered dangerous if provoked.