Police and military dogs are some of the most well trained canines found in any type of event, competition or working dog group. These dogs learn how to respond to their handler's commands even in life threatening situations such as gunfire, assault and pursuit. Dogs can be used in a variety of types of jobs within police and military work including tracking, suspect apprehension, drug detection, bomb detection and search and rescue teams.
Police dogs, often known by the term K9 units, are not considered to be just dogs, they are actual police officers in most police and military agencies. In some countries if a felon intentionally assaults, injures, attempts to kill or actually kills a police dog he or she could be subjected to the same legal consequences as if they had killed or injured a human police officer. In the same regards police dogs can earn citations and special awards for bravery, public service and service above the call of duty.
For most police offers their canine partner is more than just a working dog. Many civilians and police officers alike owe their lives to the heroism of these extremely well trained and intelligent dogs. K9 units or teams are found in almost all major police divisions and organizations, plus they are often loaned out to other smaller police departments in times of emergency and crisis. In these situations both the dog handler or dog officer and the dog will work the case, dogs and handlers stay together as a team unless there are very unusual circumstances.
Breeds of Police Dogs
Much like the dogs that form search and rescue teams almost any medium to large sized dog could potentially be a police dog. Since there are so many different areas where police departments use dogs, several different breeds are used based on their job description. In some cases such as specific types of bomb or drug detection dogs even small to medium breeds are used. There are also a good number of mixed breed dogs that are selected, often exceeding the purebred dogs in overall performance. These mixed breed dogs may be donated to training programs but have to pass initial aptitude and ability testing, plus they are tested all the way through the training program as are the purebred dogs.
For actual apprehension and police work German Shepherds are the most common breed in use in North America. In other countries Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers and even the large Schnauzers have all been and continue to the used as police and military dogs. Belgian Malinois, a breed that somewhat resembles a German Shepherd is also used throughout Europe and North America on police forces as a regular police dog. Typically police forces look for large breeds of dogs that are capable of restraining a man in cases where the dog is sent in to bring down a suspect or criminal.
Specialty dogs within police units are selected for their specific abilities and traits. For example Bloodhounds and Black and Tan Coonhounds or other types of crosses including these two breeds are often used most commonly as trackers in North American Police forces. In Europe the Schnauzer is also used as an all purpose police and military dog that includes some tracking abilities.
Drug and bomb detection dogs are often smaller breeds that can easily get into small places. Security services and police forces that routinely work borders and airports or ports use several different types of dogs including the very smart, very athletic terrier breeds as well as the Beagle. Since these dogs have been bred for centuries to hunt through wilderness areas, forest and even into holes to find their target or prey, they love walking through stacks of luggage, through lines of people waiting for customs and even through vehicles, buses and airplanes.
Other breeds are used as cadaver dogs and search and rescue dogs. These often include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, Spaniel breeds and Dobermans. In some areas and countries these specialized dogs, as well as general police dogs are bred within controlled breeding programs. In these specialized breeding programs only retired working dogs are used as breeding animals, ensuring that the strong abilities and working traits are passed on to offspring. Some of these programs, particularly those in the United Kingdom, produce outstanding dogs that are known worldwide for their bravery, loyalty to their handlers and overall athletic ability and intelligence.
Training and Practice
Police dogs go through a very intensive training program that typically starts when they are weaned from the mother. Training starts with the handler that will be the human part of the team working closely with the puppy and forming a strong bond and trust relationship. As the puppy grows, the training goes from easy training to more complex and complicated routines and practices.
Dogs and their handlers work together to learn how each other responds and to build the sense of trust. After all the humans lives will depend on how their dog responds, plus the dog's life is also in the hands of the handler. Learning all the different responses, commands and training routines is part of this development. Dogs are tested throughout the training and many of the dogs that start the training program will not be eligible to complete the full program. These dogs are then either used in service dog programs or are found adoptive homes within the community.
The dogs that do complete the training are then assigned, with their handlers, to a specific police force and location. These K9 teams continue to train and practice on a continual basis to keep skills honed, and help both members keep functioning well together.
There are many different states, national and international K9 competitions where police forces compete against each other through timed and judged events. These competitions typically feature everyday activities that a working police dog may be required to complete in a days work. There is a great deal of pride and honor bestowed upon the dogs that win these competitions.