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Want to Become a K9 Handler?
Police officers take an oath to protect and serve. Canine officers may not be able to take an actual oath, but they do serve their communities with the same enthusiasm as their K9 handlers. The bond between a K9 and its handler is more than just a man and his dog. They are true partners, both on duty and off. Choosing to be a K9 handler is much more than being a police officer. You invest your time and effort in caring for a highly trained animal. You will be responsible for their care and well-being. It is up to you to oversee their future training. In return, you will receive a partner, friend, and confidante who will have your six in every situation you face, unconditionally and without hesitation.
What Is a K9 Unit?
A K9 unit is a team of dedicated police dogs and handlers who work together as a highly skilled law enforcement unit. A canine officer is paired with a law enforcement officer they will remain with throughout the duration of their career. The team trains together and performs all of their work-related duties as a team. The police dogs will live with their handlers, so they become a true team that can read others’ moves and be more in tune with one another.
K9 police dogs are used for several different tasks in the law enforcement field. This includes suspect apprehension, locating people or their remains, narcotics detection, explosives detection, and handler protection. The TSA, or Transportation Safety Administration, uses police dogs to inspect aircraft and luggage, as well as airline terminals when illegal activity is suspected.
What Are the Requirements for a K9 Police Officer and K9?
There are specific requirements for both the police dog and the K9 police officer or handler. A K9 police officer usually starts their career as a law enforcement officer in some capacity. In order to be paired with a canine partner, they must meet specific requirements. Handling and being able to work with animals is a must. Effective communication and investigation skills are also important. Interpersonal skills and the ability to work well with others are extremely important. Police work requires a level of physical fitness that must be maintained in order to be effective as a K9 handler.
Canine officers are also held to incredibly strict standards. Dogs begin their training early, sometimes as young as six months. They are put through a variety of training sessions where their personality is tested. They must be able to maintain focus, even in a chaotic environment. They must be able to follow verbal commands quickly and expeditiously. The dog must have an easy-going temperament that can adjust to the scenario at hand. Once the K9 has passed all of the tests and evaluations, they will be allowed to take their final test, which is working in the field with their handler.
Different Breeds of K9 Police Dogs
Long ago, bloodhounds were used as tracking dogs. Their very sensitive nose could pick up even the faintest scents. They were instrumental in finding people who were lost or finding the remains of a dead body. Now, it has been proven that there are multiple breeds of dogs that can help law enforcement in various capacities. The most common breeds of police dog include:
- German Shepherds
- Dutch Shepherds
- Belgian Malinois
There are other breeds as well who have shown exceptional abilities when brought in to work with law enforcement officers. While certain breeds are commonly used, it depends on the dog itself as to whether or not it will meet the specific requirements to become an actual K9 officer.
Daily Tasks of a K9 Officer/Handler
A K9 police officer/handler has a list of duties that mirrors that of any other law enforcement officer. There is one key difference. A K9 handler must care for their partner just as they care for themselves. This includes feeding, bathing, and maintaining a clean kennel and living environment.
As a team, the K9 and handler will respond to calls for assistance (emergency and non-emergency). They will secure and investigate crime scenes and interview both witnesses and suspects to obtain any possible evidence. The handler and K9 will perform searches for individuals, illegal items, and any other type of evidence. Writing citations and placing individuals under arrest are also duties that must be performed. Officers must file daily reports, as well as testify against a suspect in court.
K9 officers can receive special training to be used for specific purposes. Narcotics detection, explosives detection, and cadaver recovery are areas where dogs can be indispensable in recovering the intended items or targets.
Steps You Need to Take to Become a K9 Handler/Police Officer
The process of becoming a K9 handler or police officer starts with first becoming a police officer. Applying for an open position and enrolling in the police academy are the first steps. After being fingerprinted and passing a background check, you will need to pass a polygraph test. A physical fitness examination is also required. A medical exam must be completed as well as an extensive interview. Most departments require that an officer have at least a year or two of on the job experience before being considered for K9 duty.
If an officer is interested in becoming part of a K9 unit, they will need to apply for an open position when one becomes available. If approved, the officer will need to sit for an interview and begin training for the position. They will be paired with a police dog and begin to establish a working relationship. On-the-job- training will be provided. Both the officer and the dog will be certified as a K9 unit once training is complete. Officers with a canine partner may be required to join the National Police Canine Association or a similar organization.
Law enforcement officers must complete high school and earn their diplomas. Earning an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in either police science or criminal justice is also recommended. Earning a degree can also improve your chances for advancement within the department. You can also advance to a higher level into state or federal law enforcement positions. The more education you have, the higher your earning potential will be. There are also additional types of training you can take to enhance your education.
Each police department has experience requirements for officers who would like to become K9 handlers. In order to apply for K9 consideration, the mandatory probationary period. In most cases, probationary periods can last up to one or two years. Stricter departments may require anywhere from three to five years of experience as a police officer before you can even apply as a K9 handler. There are certifications and dog handler training courses you can complete if you want to improve your chances of being accepted into the K9 program.
Salaries for K9 Officers
Salaries for a police K9 officer will vary from department to department and state to state. Your location can also have an impact on the available funding for a K9 unit. Across the country and job placement sites, the salary range for K9 officers is approximately $30,000 to $85,000 per year. Patrol officers who perform traditional police work earn approximately the same amount when they first sign on. If chosen as a K9 officer, they will immediately see a pay increase due to the cost of caring for their new canine partners. As time passes and both officers continue to gain experience, their salaries will continue to increase along with the cost of living. Salaries will also increase if a specialization is chosen, like narcotics or explosives detection.
More Than Just a Partner
The relationship between a police officer and his K9 partner goes far beyond just being partners. The saying “man’s best friend” is an understatement when it comes to describing the companionship and bond that develops between an officer and his K9. In many cases, the two are inseparable. They live together, work together, train together and play together. The police dog becomes a part of the officer’s family.
Retirement: From Partner to Pet
Even though the K9 officer lives with their law enforcement officer and their family, they are not considered pets. There is a fine line that must be maintained while the K9 is an officer with the department. Working police dogs must maintain their edge, which requires constant training and supervision. Once a K9 has reached an age where they begin to slow down or if they have received a debilitating injury, they may be retired. When that day comes, the canine officer is given a retirement send-off that is similar to that a human officer receives. At this time, they are relieved of their duties and allowed to live the rest of their days with their handler and their family. They effectively transition from partner to pet.
Is Being a K9 Handler the Right Job for You?
Becoming a K9 police officer or handler is a very rewarding job. You will establish a relationship with your K9 partner that will last a lifetime. It is a full-time position that extends beyond the workplace. If you love animals and enjoy being able to serve your community, being a K9 officer may be the perfect job for you.