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How to Become a Police Dog Handler: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a police dog handler. Research the job duties and the education and training requirements, and find out how to start a career in police dog handling. View article »

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  • 0:04 Police Dog Handler Career Info
  • 1:14 Finish High School
  • 1:36 Earn a College Degree
  • 2:05 Law Enforcement Training
  • 2:31 Apply to K-9 Division
  • 3:02 Undergo Canine Training

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Video Transcript

Police Dog Handler Career Info

Police dog handlers are members of specialized units in law enforcement that work with canine counterparts to accomplish tasks such as apprehending criminals and detecting explosives, contraband, and drugs. Because police dogs almost always live with their handlers, only officers who genuinely love animals and have a high interest in working as canine team members would thrive in this position. K-9 handlers usually earn more money than officers of similar rank due to extra responsibilities and training.

Education and experience requirements can vary by law enforcement agency. Regular training is common for police dog handlers and their canine partners. Police dog handlers are issued specialized training and practice tools like a bite suit. Police work can be physically and mentally stressful. This occupation also has a higher-than-average rate of on-the-job injury. Police dog handlers can expect shift work, including holidays. They can also expect to be offered or assigned overtime.

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that police officers in general earned a median annual salary of $60,270.

Finish High School

For many local and state law enforcement positions, only a high school education is required. In high school, students may want to focus on personal fitness through physical education classes and joining a sports team. Students may also want to consider taking foreign language classes in German. Police dogs are often obtained from Germany, and their commands may be given in their native language.

Earn a College Degree

Some local and state law enforcement agencies require that their officers possess some college education, while all federal agencies require a bachelor's degree. Colleges and universities offer associate's and bachelor's degrees in relevant majors, such as criminal justice, criminology, law enforcement, and administration of justice. Some federal agencies may have specific major requirements or require a certain amount of work experience in addition to a bachelor's degree.

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Law Enforcement Training

Prior to working in any officer position, local and state recruits must attend a police academy for basic training, which usually takes a few months. Recruits are given classroom education, as well as hands-on training in firearms usage and first aid response. Federal agents must also undergo a training period, which involves a longer process than for their local and state counterparts and varies according to agency.

Apply to K-9 Division

Police dog handlers are usually expected to have a few years of experience working as a police officer or federal agent before being qualified to work in the canine unit of their department or agency. Applicants for a police dog handler position may have to complete oral and performance tests as part of the application process. Once testing is completed, the final selection process is usually based on evaluation of an officer's overall job experience, interest, and performance history.

Undergo Canine Training

Once selected for the K-9 unit, police dog handlers participate in a formal training period with the dog to which they are assigned, as well as with other dog-handler teams. This training may include search, detection, and tracking activities. After the formal training is over, handlers usually continue ongoing training with their dogs on a regular basis to maintain skills and learn new procedures. Additionally, K-9 teams can often participate in competitions that display their skills to the public. Prizes are awarded and help keep K-9 dogs and handlers active.

To recap, aspiring police dog handlers must first become police officers by completing the necessary training through their local, state, or federal agency. After that, they can submit to the canine unit and complete additional training.

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