Police K-9 Unit
The police K-9 unit is a vital part of law enforcement efforts including search and rescue, forensic evidence, bomb, and drug operations. We can often spot these patient and regal dogs sitting quietly in the back of a police cruiser boldly marked K-9, or patrolling an airport, sniffing luggage and people for illegal drugs or bomb evidence. Most of us have seen images of Labrador Retrievers, German Shepards, and other dogs with their handlers searching the rubble of the Twin Towers in New York City after 9/11, and more recently, in Haiti and Japan after the massive earthquakes and Japan’s devastating Pacific Tsunami. In disaster recovery efforts, these dogs have proven themselves endlessly useful in finding survivors who, without the sharp nose of a highly trained dog, would otherwise be lost. Similarly, cadaver dogs, who go through different training than search dogs, are brought in later to find human remains in rubble, forests, fields–just about anywhere remains could be hidden.
K-9 Handler Training
When handlers and dogs train together, they typically attend a training facility for several weeks. Both the dog and the handler learn how to operate together in a K-9 Unit. The handler learns how to train and work with the dog, and the dog learns, among other things, what to do when given certain commands from the handler. Trainers and handlers use positive reinforcement, so when a dog on the job is searching for methamphetamines, what they are really looking for is a favorite toy to play with. This is why some types of police dogs, like drug sniffing dogs, should have a strong interest in playing with balls or other toys, so that instinct can be utilized in training. Once they complete their training and join (or form) a K-9 Unit, they continue training several hours each month for the duration of the time they are on the job. Getting some form of dog obedience training or experience along with an education in criminal justice or law enforcement, will make you a more viable candidate for this position.
While at the training facility, handlers will learn how to care for and live with their dog, in addition to obedience training, aggression control, tracking, trailing, narcotics detection, and agility, among others. Because police departments get their dogs from many different places other than the United States, such as Germany and the Czech Republic, the dogs often follow commands in the language native to their country.
Working with K-9s means ongoing training for both the handler and the dog. It requires dedication, physical fitness, firm yet gentle control, and the ability to handle the noble responsibility of being a police officer in addition to being a member of a K-9 Unit. Keeping records of the dog’s daily activities as well as any other reports and documentation is imperative. Working with animals is very rewarding; working with animals to bring about justice, take criminals off the street, and protect citizens is that much more rewarding.
Search and Rescue Dogs
Cadaver dogs are specially trained to find human remains. They can find items as small as a tooth in a field. In one case, cadaver dogs found a body buried ten feet underground in an earthen dam, with rotting meat buried a few feet above in an effort to confuse the search dogs. Not only did the dogs find the body buried under several feet of packed soil (and rotten meat), they had a large tract of property to search as well.
Trailing dogs are trained to find a specific person using a scent article and a starting point where the person was last seen. They can trail a person on roads, through grass, water, and woods, as well as other surfaces. During canine unit training, the dog is taught to follow scents on objects or in the air.
Water Search Dogs
Water search dogs are trained to find submerged bodies. They work by scenting the gases that come off a human body and float to the surface. They ride with their handlers in a boat and after they indicate the probable area of the scent, divers can search more effectively.
Forensic Evidence Dogs
Drug Dogs are used to find illegal drugs like narcotics, marijuana, and methamphetamines. They search cars, buildings, people, and can even find illegal drugs buried in the ground.
Bomb Sniffing Dogs
Bomb sniffing dogs are trained to find gunpowder and related explosive compounds. They too can detect these scents through material such as wooden crates, plastic suitcases, or steel buildings.
The Institute for Canine Forensics
Police Canine Unit training requires dogs and their handlers to attend a training facility, where they learn how to perform their Canine Unit duties and work together. A lot of time and effort goes into training dogs and their handlers for a Canine Unit, but they are a worthy and valuable resource for law enforcement across the nation. They are often trained for specific purposes in addition to the general patrol dog, who helps apprehend criminals and protects the handler. Once they finish the initial training, police K-9s patrol and live with their handlers. This time spent together helps strengthen the bond between K-9s and their handlers.
The Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF) is a non profit organization located in northern California. ICF focuses on canines and canine forensics, meaning dogs that are trained to find forensic evidence and human remains. Their website offers a multitude of fascinating articles, stories, and videos relating to canine forensics. ICF is focused on “developing advanced techniques regarding the use of canines as a forensic tool, to better assist investigative and cultural resource management agencies.” ICF and their dogs are beneficial to archeologists and law enforcement alike. These special dogs have helped unearth buried mysteries up to thousands of years old. Some of the dogs have helped archeologists find Native American burial grounds, others have helped mark the boundaries of old cemeteries or assisted in solving historic mysteries like where the famous Donner Party camped out for months in the deep snow. When searchers (either archeologists or law enforcement) aren’t sure where they should begin searching for human remains, but know the general area, they can use forensic dogs to help. Not only do the dogs help find answers to questions that would otherwise go unanswered, they provide valuable information relating to canine olfactory abilities.
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Police Officer Training Facts
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Learn more about how to become a Border Patrol Agent.
Did You Know?
Police Officers By the Numbers
There were about 661,500 police officers, sheriffs, and detectives in 2008.
Almost 9 out of 10 worked for local government. The rest worked for state or federal police agencies.