The K9 Unit is one of the departments within the police force which consists of the trained police dogs and their officer handlers. Dogs have been an essential component to serving and protecting humans dating back to the Roman times when they would serve as security and companions. In 1888, a search was conducted in London, England for Jack the Ripper. Bloodhounds were enlisted to assist with the search due to their impressive sense of smell and direction. It wasn’t long after this search for Jack the Ripper in 1888 that the European Police Force began enlisting the help of canines.

Becoming part of the K9 Unit

Typically, the Police Department has two options of obtaining a potential K9 Unit dog.

The first way is referred to as “buying a green dog”. “Green Dogs” are usually between the ages of 7 months and 14 months old. These pups have also undergone basic obedience training. “Green Dogs” are then enrolled in a training program that lasts between 4 weeks and 12 weeks. During this time, the “Green Dogs” work alongside an officer to better prepare them for the job.

Photo credit: Andrew Campbell Photography via Foter.com / CC BY

The second way that the Police Department may obtain a potential K9 Unit dog is for them to purchase a pup that has already been fully trained. These dogs will have had to go through basic training as well as various other courses that closely resemble those given by the Police Force.

The Police Department will determine which way they feel they should obtain their pups. They make the decision based on what types of jobs they will have the canine perform as well as how much time and effort they want to invest in him. Police Officers that are assigned as a handler for the K9 Unit have worked very hard to earn such a privilege. These officers have likely undergone various dog training courses in order to properly handle their K9 counterpart.

The K9 Unit training helps form the bond between the dog and his handler. Usually, the handler as well as his canine is required to complete their training and be certified before they are released for active duty. Once they are cleared, they will tackle jobs that relate to bomb threats, drug detection, and basic patrol.

Breeds and Personalities that are preferred

There are two dog breeds that are most commonly used as K9 Unit service dogs. These breeds include the German Shepherd and the Belgian Malinois. However, other dog breeds such as the Labrador retriever, giant schnauzers, and other shepherds are also used in the program. Typically, the canines used in the Police Force are labeled as “working” dogs or “hunting” dogs. These dog breeds are specifically bred for hard work, sniffing out a target, intimidation tactics, trainability, loyalty, and intelligence.

Gender

Both male and female dogs are used throughout the K9 Unit Police Force. The two are typically trained and receive the information at the same pace and are equally capable of performing their commands. However, some handlers have found that they prefer to work with male K9 Unit dogs simply because they are ready for action 100% of the time. Female dogs in the K9 Unit can become a little stubborn.

It is important to mention that every dog is different and they will learn at their own pace regardless of their gender. Most Police Forces will not specifically request one gender of K9 Unit dog over another but; they would rather bring on the best of the best!

Most K9 Unit training programs will not choose to spay or neuter their dogs. They are more likely to leave that decision up to the Police Department that purchases them. However, some training programs may feel it is necessary. Ask the program leader before purchase.

Failing K9 Unit School

You may be wondering if a pup can “flunk out of” or “fail” K9 Unit school. The short answer is “yes” they can. But, what are the reasons behind a dog “failing” their K9 unit program? The two most common reasons are health and injury. For example, some dogs may have a predisposed condition that affects the way they perform their job duties. Alternatively, the dog may not be suited for the intense day to day atmosphere of the Police Force. In these cases, the pup is often used in another area of service work such as providing emotional support for patients or even assisting an elderly or disabled person.

Occasionally, the dog is unable to be placed in any service job. In these circumstances, he may be placed into a foster home until he is adopted into his forever home. However, these dogs have already undergone such intense training that they are typically not in a foster home for very long before they find their forever family.

K9 Unit Dog Training

K9 Unit dogs are either labeled as a “single purpose” service dog or, a “dual purpose” service dog.

“Single purpose” dogs are often enlisted for tracking a suspect or victim; protecting others, or even as a backup for their K9 Unit handler.

“Dual purpose” dogs are also enlisted for tracking, protection, and backup. However, they can also be used as drug detection dogs or as bomb detection dogs.  A “dual purpose” dog is never trained for both bomb and drug detection.

Why are the dogs not trained for both?

If a single pup was taught how to detect bombs as well as drugs then he would be able to alert his handler that he has found an item rather than something more specific. Therefore, certain K9 Unit dogs are trained to detect narcotics whereas others are trained to detect explosives. Depending on which type of K9 Unit dog responds to the situation will help the handler determine the course of action. For example, a K9 Unit dog that detects explosives begins to growl and bark in a specific location. This signal the handler that an explosive is nearby, the area should be cleared and the bomb squad should be called.

German Commands

It is very common for the dogs to be trained using German Commands. Why? The main reason behind this unique training method is because German is not commonly spoken here in the United States. Therefore, the K9 Unit handler will be the only one capable of commanding their K9 Unit dog. While it is true that if a dog is properly trained that he should not accept a command from anyone other than his owner or handler, using commands spoken in German is simply a backup plan.

Why do they use the German language as opposed to any other foreign language?

German commands specifically may have been chosen due to Germany being one of the original areas of service dog training in the world. In fact, some of our service dogs are still bred overseas due to the breeder’s impressive reputations.

Determining who is a true threat

This part of K9 Unit training is primarily reliant on the bond that is formed between dog and handler. The K9 Unit dog will need to be able to read their handler’s body language and emotions in order to properly assess the situation at hand. For example, if their handler is cautiously approaching a suspect then the dog should see this and be on guard for a command. However, if his handler is relaxed as though he is approaching a non-threatening situation then the dog should also be able to see this and feel at ease.

The dog may also be able to assess a threatening situation based on his handler’s body language and rather than wait for a command, he may begin to show his aggressive side by using his stance and even with growling. However, K9 Unit dogs should not attack a threat without a command from their handler to do so.

Lights and Siren training

K9 Unit training programs vary across the country. Whether or not they perform any type of siren or light training with the dogs will vary from program to program. However, the Police Force training that is done after a Police Department has purchased their pup does include light and siren training. It appears that the K9 Unit dogs respond positively to the lights and sirens, most likely because it means that they are “on duty.”

Becoming a K9 Unit Dog handler

To become a K9 Unit dog handler you must undergo extensive training sessions. There are also seminars that are given throughout the year that is often recommended to fine tune your “K9 Unit handler” skills. Hard work and passion for the job are essential to be successful as a K9 Unit dog handler.

The K9 Unit dog handler should be able to confidently perform the various tasks with his canine counterpart. These tasks include human tracking, detecting explosives or narcotics, as well as locating hidden objects in a specific area. The two partners must then pass the Police Force K9 Unit test. This test will require the handler to command the dog to attack, the dog should then attack the person or object, and then the handler will have to command the dog to release the person or object and return to neutral position. It is important for handlers to have control over their canines at all times, but especially during an attack. If the dog does not release and return upon command, the pair does not pass the test.

Teaching the pup to be aggressive as well as loving

Yes, it is possible for a K9 Unit dog to be aggressive and serious as well as affectionate and loving. Many people believe that a dog that is trained for protection purposes is “on the job” all of the time and is unable to relax and be a loving family pet. The trick here is proper training.

If the bond between handler and dog is strong then the dog will have no problem following the commands are given to him by his handler. Therefore, if he is “on the job” and is commanded (in German) to be on alert or to attack then the dog should do so. If the dog is commanded to relax and be at ease then he should do so. In fact, most service dogs will walk; wag their tails, drool, and show excitement and affection unless told otherwise. This is the sign of a well-formed bond between handler and dog.

Difficulties associated with K9 Unit Training

Difficulties can arise during the K9 Unit training just as they can in any situation. Sometimes the difficulty is on the dog (particularly hyperactive, lethargic, or stubborn). Sometimes the problem can fall on the handler (not feeling bonded with the dog, not confident in his abilities as a trainer, or simply not interested in being a handler). All of these situations (and much more) could put a damper on a training session for both dog and handler. Depending on the situation, the proper steps will need to be taken to correct the issue.

Benefits of K9 Unit Training (for the dogs)

  • The dog will have a better bond and understanding of his owner.
  • The dog is more than willing to serve, protect, live and work with his handler.
  • The dog will have above average training skills and manners to handle day to day situations.

Benefits of K9 Unit Training (for the handlers)

  • The handler will be confident in working with his dog.
  • The handler will be confident in his dog’s abilities to correctly perform the command asked of him.
  • The handler feels he is constantly improving his skills as well as the skills of his canine partner.