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The police use K-9 units, or police dogs, for a plethora of reasons. These dogs are equipped to handle almost anything you throw at them, and they’re trained like service dogs. This means that they’re trained to handle a specific task, which includes things like tracking or apprehension. Some police dog breeds are even smart enough to have a few training specialties, which means they can track, apprehend, and rescue people.
Police dogs can also be almost any breed of dog. That said, some dog breeds are better suited for police work than others. We’ll take you through what you need to know about a police dog and show you some of the most common breeds.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about police dogs below.
What Is a Police Dog?
Police dogs are dogs that are trained to work alongside police officers, which makes them a unique type of service dog. They track people down, apprehend criminals, and function within K-9 units. These dogs are well-trained and know how to perform several tasks that are relevant to police work.
What Type of Training Do Police Dogs Receive?
Police dogs are not like other service dogs, and their training goes above and beyond the scope of traditional training. In most cases, police dogs are trained to handle several tasks. Temperament and emotional intelligence are also key when considering a police dog’s training.
Below, we list the tasks that police dogs are usually trained to carry out.
- Obedience training
- Off-leash training
- Evidence searching
- Clearing buildings
- Locating deceased individuals
- Scent discrimination training
- Narcotics detection
- Explosive detection
- Open area searches
Depending on the police dog breed, some or all of these training methods might be used.
What Do Police Dogs Do?
Police dogs are trained to perform a few specific tasks, similar to how a service dog is trained to help someone. The training process for police dogs is lengthy and covers several areas of K-9 police work. That said, most K-9 units are only trained for one specific task, with some dogs being able to perform multiple tasks.
The common tasks that police dogs are trained to perform are found below.
- Search and rescue
- Dual purpose dogs
Learn more about each training specialization below.
One of the most common tasks that police dogs are trained with is apprehension. This usually entails chasing suspects and ensuring that they get caught. Dogs that are trained for apprehension are taught to handle suspects in a few ways, which usually include biting. However, the bite is to hold someone in place to ensure that they don’t get away from the authorities. This means that most dogs trained for apprehension aren’t trying to harm the person they’re chasing.
Some common apprehension police dog breeds include the following:
- Belgian Malinois
- German Shepherds
- Dutch Shepherds
Other dogs can also be trained for apprehension, but these are the most common police dog breeds that are up for the challenge.
These dogs are chosen for apprehension because of their extensive breeding history. Over the years, they were trained to be effective at herding large animals. This requires intelligence, agility, and other skills that help them handle aggressive or fleeing humans.
When it comes to finding a scent, it’s hard to beat a dog’s nose. Most dogs have more than 200 million scent receptors in their noses, which is 195 million more than the average human. This means that they can smell just about anything and over long distances. For this reason, dogs can be trained to discover scents in large areas or to detect harmful substances like drugs. Some dogs have such good noses that they can detect the chemicals found in various explosives, even if they’re buried deep underground.
Detection police dogs are found in several areas and are useful for a handful of tasks. They’re commonly found at the United States border, where they catch people who are smuggling drugs. Another place you’ll find police dogs is an airport. At airports, these dog breeds can detect explosives, drugs, or banned imports like fruit or plants.
Police dog breeds are also similar to some military K-9 units. For example, the military shares many dog breeds with the police, and these detection dogs can find landmines and other harmful explosives. Breeds that are suitable for detection include German shepherds, bloodhounds, and Dutch shepherds. That said, most dog breeds can be trained for detection.
Search and Rescue
When people get trapped or need to be rescued, police dog breeds can help. Unfortunately, a large chunk of police work comes down to finding victims of crimes or saving people from dangerous situations. An example of this work was from the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, which required assistance from hundreds of police and search and rescue dogs to find people trapped under the rubble.
Police dog breeds can rescue people who are stuck under rubble but also people who are far from home or lost in the woods. Once a police dog has a scent, they can track that scent over several miles. This is why many police officers who look for someone in the woods are accompanied by a police dog.
Any police dog breed can be a good fit for search and rescue work. However, bigger dogs like bloodhounds and shepherds are better equipped to move through rubble and track people over long distances. On the other hand, smaller dogs, like beagles, can help navigate through tight or cramped spaces.
Dual Purpose Dogs
Revered for only the best police dogs, dual-purpose dogs help police officers in several ways. First and foremost, they accompany police officers on patrol in dangerous areas and may look to protect them. These dogs can also find and rescue people or apprehend a criminal. For these dogs to be successful, they need to have great training. Only the best-trained police dog breeds can make it in this role.
Overall, dual-purpose dogs are trained to perform all of the roles that police dogs are equipped to handle. This makes them one of the most flexible options but also rare. They’re trained for off-leash obedience, building search, tracking, and handler protection.
These are the most common tasks that police dog breeds are trained to complete. Depending on the dog, tasks and training may vary.
Now that you know a little bit about police dogs and their training, we’ll show you some of the most common police dog breeds.
The Top 10 Most Common Police Dog Breeds
K-9 units employ many breeds of dogs. While it’s common to see an abundance of German shepherds on television shows and in movies, this isn’t always the case. This is because some breeds display unique skills that work in different circumstances. For example, bloodhounds are used more for tracking rather than apprehension or detection.
The 10 most common police dog breeds are found below.
- German Shepherd
- Labrador Retriever
- American Pitbull Terrier
- German Short-Haired Pointer
- Belgian Shepherd
- Doberman Pinscher
Learn more about each breed below.
1. German Shepherd
The German shepherd is the dog that everyone thinks of when it comes to police dogs, so we had to place them high on the list. They’re some of the most common dogs to find in K-9 units because of their trainability and calm temperament (unless they’re provoked). Aside from their temperament, these dogs are intelligent, maintain high endurance levels, and remain eager to work alongside law enforcement personnel.
Common tasks that you’ll find German shepherds performing can be any of the duties that we mentioned above. You’ll find them as guard dogs, tracking dogs, and even search and rescue dogs. In the military and bomb squads, it’s not uncommon for the K-9 unit to consist of a German shepherd. They have excellent noses that can sniff out explosives, drugs, and other problems.
The last thing that makes German shepherds popular is their responsiveness. If they’re apprehending someone, they will stop biting or attacking immediately once their handler gives a command. German shepherds are usually around 20 inches tall, weigh about 50 pounds, and have brown, tan, and black coats.
2. Labrador Retriever
Labradors are always one of the best options for police work. These dogs are hardy, smart, and easy to train. They’re typically excited to work alongside humans, and they excel at their jobs. Many Labradors are used for things like bomb detection, patrols, and search and rescue. For these reasons, they’ve become just as effective as German shepherds and just as popular, too.
All types of Labrador retrievers are useful as police dog breeds. Labrador retrievers are also as efficient as service dogs and can handle almost any task that a police agency throws at them. For these reasons, Labradors will likely continue to become more abundant in police agencies.
3. American Pitbull Terrier
This one is one of the most interesting selections on our list of police dogs. American pitbull terriers have just become popular in the United States over the last decade. The reason for their rise in popularity is their affordable breeding price compared to other dogs like German shepherds. Breeding American pitbulls and training them typically costs less than $10,000 for scent work, while training a German shepherd will cost over $10,000.
While the American pitbull terrier isn’t as efficient in all categories as the German shepherd, it has a great nose. This makes it perfect for scent work, detection, and tracking. Many pitbulls are entering canine units across the United States because of several grant programs that encourage police agencies to adopt and rescue pit bulls. This has become effective at bolstering the ranks of K-9 units cost-effectively.
One of the most popular guards and patrol dogs is the boxer. These dogs have been around for decades, and it’s not uncommon to see them serving with military personnel and in K-9 police units. In fact, boxers were used in the military during World War I and World War II. So, they have some experience when it comes to tracking, apprehension, and working in high-stress environments.
When it comes to their behavior boxers have a mild temperament when they’re well-trained in police units. However, untrained boxers are known for being energetic and a bit rowdy. In police units, these dogs are intelligent, easy to command, and responsive. These traits make the dog suitable for most types of police work.
While boxers are common in European countries, it’s important to note that there are not as many serving in US K-9 units. However, their numbers are starting to grow.
Bloodhounds have been used in police work for a long time. What makes the bloodhound special is its nose. Compared to other dogs, they have one of the best noses you can find, which helps the dog track down people, victims, criminals, bodies, and anything else. Aside from tracking, the bloodhound’s nose is useful for picking up on scents that lead to drugs or explosives.
When it comes to temperament, most bloodhounds have a calm demeanor. This makes them easy to train, and they work well with law enforcement. It’s also not uncommon to see them on search and rescue missions or detection jobs to find people who may be stuck or in danger. Bloodhounds are also highly intelligent and easy to work with in all areas of law enforcement.
Bloodhounds get these skills from the way they were trained and bred in the past. After all, they were hunting dogs.
Beagles are another interesting dog that makes our list. What makes the beagle a good police dog is its size and nose. Like German shepherds and bloodhounds, it can pick up the scent of drugs, explosives, and other types of contraband efficiently. You’ll find beagles at airports and other places where security is necessary. These dogs are smaller than German shepherds and usually have short hair.
If beagles are smaller than some other police dogs, you might be wondering why they’re found at airports or other places with tight security. Well, it’s their small size that works as an advantage. Their small bodies can jump over luggage and navigate through small areas.
These traits are also great for search and rescue when rubble is involved. Additionally, beagles are easy to train for police work and service dog activities.
7. German Short-Haired Pointer
One dog breed that’s on the rise is the German short-haired pointer. These dogs are similar to bloodhounds and have a nose that can track people for miles. Additionally, they’re smart and easy to train. Plus, they have a desire to please their partner. This makes them one of the easiest dogs to train for police work.
Another benefit of the German short-haired pointer is its size. While this breed is similar to bloodhounds, they’re smaller in size, which makes them able to fit into smaller spaces where larger dogs can’t go. This makes it perfect for tracking in woods with rough terrain and search and rescue missions.
8. Belgian Shepherd
The Belgian shepherd was bred as a herding dog and used to help farmers and ranchers organize large groups of animals. Today, these dogs still perform similar tasks, but many have entered into K-9 units within police agencies. These dogs are popular among European police agencies but less common in the United States because they’re less common than German shepherds.
That said, they’re similar to German shepherds in most ways. Their intelligence is about the same, and they’re responsive to commands. The only major difference is that they have longer fur, which makes them less efficient in warmer climates like Florida. However, they’re just as effective as German shepherds in regular climates and work better in freezing conditions.
9. Doberman Pinscher
Doberman Pinschers used to be one of the most popular dogs in police agencies across Europe and the United States. These dogs were popular for many reasons, but the most notable one was their size and temperament. They’re easy to train, big, and equipped to handle most tasks that a police agency will throw at them.
Doberman Pinschers used to be popular, but they’re not as popular anymore. They were popular 50 years ago, but they’ve lost favor because of better-trained Labradors and German shepherds. The drawback to the Doberman Pinscher is their reaction time. Unlike German shepherds and other dogs that react instantly to commands, Dobermans will sometimes hesitate. This is because of their free-thinking mentality.
Despite their drawbacks, you’ll still find Doberman Pinschers in police agencies across the United States and Europe.
When it comes to dogs, only a handful are more fearsome than the Rottweiler. These German dogs were bred for their aggressive tendencies, and they assisted the Germans in several major conflicts. These dogs may have a mean streak, but they’re trainable and respond to commands. This is why many Rottweilers end up in police agencies or military companies. That said, they are less common to find than German shepherds and some other police dog breeds like the bloodhound.
When a Rottweiler is used in a K-9 unit, it’s usually only for one of two things: it’s either for search and rescue or for guard dog work. In most cases, it’s the latter because they deter threats and will apprehend people who break boundaries. These are the same reasons that Rottweilers are useful for military agencies as well.
Police Dog Breeds FAQs
Have questions about the most popular police dog breeds and their important work? Find answers to the most common questions below.
How Much Does a Police Dog Cost?
Trained police dogs are expensive, and police departments invest thousands in their training. Many police dog breeds can cost upwards of $4,000 and double that if the breed is coming from a different country. This is only a small percentage of police dog costs, though, because training and housing are also a factor.
Training a police dog costs about as much as it does to train a service dog. This means that the average police dog can cost between $20,000 and $30,000 to train. If police dogs live at kennels to sleep and eat, those costs also add up but much less than training and initial purchases.
Does the Gender of a Police Dog Matter?
No, the gender of a police dog does not matter. Male and female police dogs are found among K-9 units. Depending on the type of dog breed, some exceptions may apply. Regardless of gender, most police dogs are spayed or neutered to avoid any problems with aggressive traits or heat.
What Happens When a Police Dog Retires?
Police dogs have long careers compared to most service animals. In fact, most police dogs make it to about 10 years of age. Factors that contribute to a service dog’s retirement are whether or not they can keep up with officers anymore, how their scent skills are, and if they’re healthy.
When a police dog retires, they usually go home with their handler and continue life as a household pet. Some police dogs may end up in shelters or other living situations if their handler is unavailable.
Where Do Police Dogs Come From?
Many police dog breeds come from Europe and are bred there, which can drive up the cost. However, this is starting to change. Many police dogs are now bred in the United States, which cuts down on costs and training expenses. Police dogs can come from anywhere in the world, but it depends on the breed.
Do Police Dogs Live with Their Handlers?
Sometimes. Police dogs usually live at a kennel when they’re not on duty. However, it’s not uncommon to see a police dog at their handler’s house. It all depends on the circumstances and the specific dog. The most common scenario is that police dogs will bounce back and forth between the kennel and their handler’s home. When these dogs retire, they usually end up being adopted as pets by their handlers.
Understanding Police Dog Breeds
Dozens of breeds can be used for police work as long as they’re trained well. We’ve covered some of the best police dog breeds, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see some golden retrievers or other types of dogs among K-9 units.
That said, each type of police dog is not the same. Always remember that they’re trained like service animals, so they perform a specific task. These are not dogs that are similar to your household furry little friend, and you should avoid interacting with them unless permitted to do so. While police dogs aren’t vicious to civilians, you don’t want to interrupt a K9 officer at work or put yourself in harm’s way if they’re looking for someone.