Police dogs don't learn to sniff out trouble on their own - they're taught by trainers who help them acquire the skills needed for a police force canine unit. Trainers can learn how to work with these dogs at a specialized dog training school with no prior experience, but some start out as law enforcement officers and then acquire the necessary training and experience. A variety of optional certification courses are also available.
Police dog trainers prepare dogs and their handlers for work in the canine (K-9) units of law enforcement agencies. Trainers may be civilians or law enforcement officers, and voluntary certification options exist for both backgrounds.
|Required Education||Vocational training|
|Other Requirements||Additional certification may be required|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||11% (animal trainers); 5% (patrol officers)*|
|Median Salary (2015)||$26,610 (animal trainers); $58,320 (patrol officers)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Police dog trainers usually work for either private dog training schools or law enforcement agencies. Private dog training schools offer classes and personal training to police dog handlers in law enforcement, and they often provide dog-training services to individuals and business owners who have dogs as pets or for protection purposes. Trainers who work for dog training schools can teach handlers and their dogs at a school facility or travel to the law enforcement agency to train them. Some agencies' K-9 departments hire dog trainers as employees to train their police dog handlers on a regular basis or periodically. These types of police dog trainers typically have a law enforcement background, and they have often worked as police dog handlers themselves.
Education and Experience
For police dog trainers who want to work for a dog training school, no formal educational requirements were in place. However, aspiring trainers may want to consider taking courses offered by the schools themselves, which teach individuals how to train police and other law enforcement personnel and their dogs. Some concepts that police dogs learn include detecting narcotics, protecting handlers and conducting searches. Potential dog trainers could also gain work experience around dogs, such as working or volunteering at a veterinary clinic, animal hospital or animal shelter.
Individuals interested in securing a dog trainer job at a law enforcement agency can start by becoming a law enforcement officer, and this process involves earning a college degree, since some local and state agencies, and all federal agencies, require one. Students can pursue different concentrations, such as criminal justice or law enforcement. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that once hired, officers typically undergo training at a police academy. After gaining work experience, aspiring trainers will ideally try to work for a department's canine unit. Working as a canine handler will provide a good foundation in police dog training skills, which can be supplemented by additional dog trainer courses.
Some professional organizations offer certifications for police dog trainers. These designations demonstrate certain skill levels that may be beneficial in attracting future clientele. The National Tactical Police Dog Association offers a Professional Handler/Trainer Proficiency Certification, and both civilian and law enforcement dog trainers can qualify. The North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA) accredits NAPWDA Trainers and NAPWDA Masters Trainers; however, applicants need to be current or retired full-time law enforcement officers in a K-9 department.
Employment Growth and Salary Information
From 2014-2024, 11% employment growth was expected for civilian animal trainers, while 5% expansion was projected for police and sheriff's patrol officers in general, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2015, civilian animal trainers earned an annual median salary of $26,610, while police and sheriff's patrol officers in general earned $58,320, the BLS reported.
If you want to work with police dogs, you don't necessarily have to be a police officer already, but it can help, especially if you want to train dogs at a law enforcement agency. If you prefer to remain a civilian, you can obtain training and employment at a private dog training facility. Volunteer experience with animals and voluntary certification programs will add to your employability in this field.