Canine Officer: Job Duties and Education Requirements

Sep 23, 2019

Graduation from a police training academy is necessary for a career as a canine officer, but several years of law enforcement experience may also be required. Learn about the training, challenges and job responsibilities to see if this is the right career for you.

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Canine officers typically have the same educational and training requirements of regular officers, except they go through additional dog-handler training arranged by their department. Before embarking on this career, understand how you'll need to train for it and what additional duties you'd have as a canine officer.

Essential Information

Canine officers are policemen or women who work with dogs instead of human partners. They patrol the streets, apprehend criminals, and handle their dogs as the specially trained canines perform tasks humans can't, such as detecting explosives, drugs and other illegal substances. Being a canine officer isn't for everyone; the position demands more from the officer than having a human partner.

Required Education High school diploma; bachelor's degree for federal positions
Other Requirements Completion of police training academy
Projected Growth (2018-2028)* 5% for all police and sheriff patrol officers
Median Annual Salary (2018)* $61,380 for all police and sheriff patrol officers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties

Canine officers--sometime referred to as K-9 officers--perform some of the same duties and tasks as standard police officers. They patrol the community to prevent and respond to crimes, perform investigations, locate and arrest perpetrators and guard prisoners. Some of the differences for canine officers come in the form of the care they give their canine partners, including grooming, feeding and caring for their health.

More importantly, officers paired with dogs must work with them in a variety of scenarios, such as searching for cadavers, explosives, narcotics and accelerants. Handlers must make sure that their dogs are obedient and follow commands both on and off of the leash, and that they are capable of performing a building search as well as a search for lost and missing persons and felons. In the event that a piece of evidence is lost, a canine officer may work with the dog to search for it. Police dogs also protect officers from attacks, so they must be trained and handled to maintain the right level of aggression without becoming overly violent.

In addition to local police forces, canines and their handlers are used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, Homeland Security and the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Education and Physical Requirements

Canine officers, much like police officers, should have either a high school diploma or a college degree with a majority of courses focused on police science, police evidence and law, criminology and general law. Police training academies also provide training to qualified candidates. Prior law enforcement experience is needed to gain experience and qualify for the canine handling role. Federal agencies may have higher thresholds or different requirements, such as knowledge of customs laws, for their canine officers.

Some physical education classes may be useful to help canine officers keep up with and effectively train their canine partners. Agility, strength, stamina and vision tests may be required of aspiring canine officers. Officers partnered with dogs must be able to make quick decisions and adhere to existing laws and regulations.

Canine officers must also undergo specific training to handle their new partners. Most agencies establish their own system for training the dogs and the officers, so the educational steps and locations will vary. Once the initial training has been completed, a canine officer will continuously work with his or her dog so it remains in excellent shape mentally and physically.

Salary and Employment Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual salary for police and sheriff's patrol officers was $65,400 as of May 2018 ( The BLS notes, however, that canine patrol officers receive additional compensation due to the specialized nature of the work. Per BLS reports, the employment of police officers and sheriff's patrol officers is expected to increase as fast as the average from 2018-2028; however, candidates may face stronger competition for the more limited number of canine officer jobs.

A canine officer's job is to perform routine police procedures with a trained canine partner, also ensuring they are in optimal health. These officers go to the police academy, pass examinations, obtain the required education, and complete specialized training to work with police dogs.

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