What goes into the training of a K-9 unit?
Police dog units or K-9 units, are an important and highly specialized part of most police departments. Made up of specially trained dogs and staffed by highly skilled police dog handlers, K-9 units carry out a variety of policing tasks including searching for drugs and explosives, locating missing people, finding crime scene evidence, protecting people, and attacking criminals.
It takes a special police officer to become a police dog handler. It also takes a special dog to become a police dog, some breeds are certainly better than others. Even within the most popular police dog breeds, not all dogs make the grade, which is why most departments use dogs bred and raised specifically to do police work.
Here are the top ten dog breeds used by police departments across the United States and the world, according to multiple dog breeding sites like Hepper.com, Scotsman.com, and PetlifeUSA.com.
#1: German Sheperd
The German Shepherd is by far the most popular dog that is employed by police agencies across the country. The German Shepherd is what most people think of as the perfect police dog. From chasing down suspects, to sniffing out drugs, German Sheperds are proficient at all types of law enforcement duties.
#2: Labrador Retriever
Labradors are one of the most common dog breeds used by police agencies in the United States. Originally bred and developed as gun dogs, Labradors are hardy and intelligent animals that can do almost everything, so it is no surprise that they excel at police work.
#3: Belgian Malinois
The Belgian Malinois is a type of Belgian Shepherd that at first glance, looks similar to their close relative, the German Shepherd. Slightly smaller than a German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois are known for their exceptionally quick reaction time, strong protection instinct, loyalty, and their intelligence, which are all traits that make them one of the most popular dogs breeds for policing.
Boxers have a long history as guard and patrol dogs, having served alongside U.S. troops in both world wars. Since then, they have become a popular breed of police dog. Boxers are intelligent, stable, and friendly dogs that respond well to training and are well suited to police work. In Germany and several other European countries, the breed is used extensively for policing, but they’ve not been as popular with U.S. police agencies, and it is rare to see them working with police here.
Bloodhounds are popular police dogs in the United States and were one of the first breeds to be regularly employed and trained specifically for this role. Bloodhounds are large, powerful dogs with exceptional tracking abilities, and a good bloodhound can track something for days or even weeks after the initial scent. Like the Labrador Retriever, Bloodhounds were bred originally as hunting dogs, and the same traits that made them successful in that role also make them fantastic police K9s.
#6: American Pit Bull Terrier
Despite the negative stigma attached to the American Pit Bull Terrier, many U.S. police agencies have over the past few years been using American Pit Bulls as detector dogs. The reason for this is price. A fully trained imported German Shepherd can cost as much as $20,000 for a single dog, whereas rescued Pit Bulls are extremely cheap. Thanks to a grant program run by police Universal K9, police agencies can have rescued Pit Bulls trained as single-purpose narcotics or explosive tracking dogs, free of charge.
When it comes to mixing with crowds at an airport or train station, climbing all over luggage, and finding even the smallest traces of narcotics, explosives, or other contraband, few police dogs come close to the effectiveness of a Beagle. With their nose close to the ground, they are always sniffing, and their size lets them fit in small spaces. Their ability to be lifted onto conveyor belts or into bus or aircraft baggage holds makes them incredibly useful to most police departments.
#8: German Short-Haired Pointer
Much like the Bloodhound, the German Short Haired Pointer is often used by police agencies to track missing persons or sometimes as a cadaver dog. These non-aggressive and intelligent dogs are renowned for their keen sense of smell which along with their desire to please their handler, makes them an easy dog to train and work with and an excellent police tracking dog.
#9: Dutch Sheperd
The Dutch Shepherd is another very popular dog breed in Europe that is rarely seen in the U.S. Reliable, intelligent, protective, and non-aggressive, the Dutch Shepherd can be an excellent patrol and detection dog. They’re quick learners, enthusiastic workers, and generally much easier to handle than both the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois, making them more suitable in crowded, narrow, or urban areas.
#10: Doberman Pinscher
The Doberman Pinscher used to be one of the most popular breeds of police dog. Over the last 50-60 years, their popularity has declined because of their independent thinking and hesitation. On face value, the intelligent, loyal, and imposing Doberman would seem to be an excellent choice of dog for police work, but police work, quick reaction times are integral. Dogs like the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois that will react instantly on command have grown in popularity as police dogs over the Doberman in recent years.
While some police agencies have the resources to run their own breeding and training programs, most find it simpler to purchase dogs that have already gone through a rigorous training program. These dogs can be bought locally from larger agencies that operate breeding programs or purchased from skilled civilian dog trainers. Some police departments choose to import their dogs from specialized and internationally renowned police dog training agencies in Europe.
Imported police dogs are expensive, but they arrive in the country already trained and ready for work. This practice of importing police dogs has started a popular misconception that police dogs learn commands in other languages so only the handler can give the dog an “attack” command.
The real story is that these European dogs have just been trained using the language of the country that they came from. Because of this, it is much easier for an American handler to learn a couple of words of Dutch, Hungarian, or German than it is to retrain the dog in English.