Police dogs bravely protect the public and their officer handlers from dangerous criminals, or help scavenge for evidence and contraband undetectable to the human nose. Departments are no less choosy about a canine than they are a human recruit, thus may eschew offers of dog donations. For law enforcement to accept a donated dog, the pooch needs to possess the right characteristics for the field.
Favored Police Breeds
The K-9 units have multiple duties within a law enforcement agency, so departments will look for dogs with skills to fit these areas or crossover canines who can multitask.
- A patrol dog helps to locate and apprehend suspects, either by biting and holding onto the perpetrator or barking to alert human officers of the person's location.
- A tracking dog follows his nose and can locate everything from bits of evidence to bodies.
- A detector dog also uses his nose, and may be seen at the U.S. border searching cars for narcotics or in a high-security venue searching for explosives.
Some dogs have natural instinctive traits making them aptly suited for the task at hand.
- To go on patrol, police prefer the agility, speed and endurance of the German shepherd or Belgian Malinois.
- A bloodhound is the go-to breed for tracking, though other working breeds and hunting dogs can be trained for this task as well.
- Many breeds can qualify as detection dogs, including friendly Labrador retrievers.
What Training Entails
A dog's duties and aptitude for police work will be determined by his trainer. The course to qualify as a police dog is arduous, and the dog and handler must undergo periodic booster training. The dog is run through simulations including being able to find hidden objects in a large area, tracking down a suspect, navigating environments such as schools and subways and detecting bombs. Patrol dogs are trained to attack when told and stop as soon as their handler gives the order.
Police K-9s can even be trained to pick out suspects in a lineup. Sniffing dogs are often trained with an odor specialty, such as explosives detection or finding drugs.
How Police Acquire K-9s
A police dog is essentially an officer with four paws and a tail, so recruiting a new dog is like screening out prospective police academy applicants. Departments need to be choosy because the lives of the public and their officers are at stake, as well as the potential for lawsuits.
Police dog recruiters begin with the assumption that only a chosen few dogs in the United States make the grade for police work. They don't want a dog bred for beautiful conformation in the show ring, but a dog bred with a passion for hard work. Even selecting a dog from a line bred for work doesn't guarantee a good police dog, as each pup has individual behavioral quirks.
Police officers have to rely on experienced trainers to select the most-suited dogs, who show strong prey drive, confidence and agility. Full veterinarian assessments are conducted as well to catch any physical deformities or ailments. Puppies are too young to screen for behavioral traits. Dogs generally are reviewed around 2 years of age.
Police will be wary of accepting a donated dog as they generally look to acquire new canine officers through European breeders who specialize in raising law enforcement animals. They may be more receptive to a donated dog, though, with a good recommendation. This means asking which K-9 trainers in your area work directly with local law enforcement and getting their assessment of the dog's abilities and aptitude. Because the needs of departments can be so varied and the skills of a working dog can be so broad, there may not be a good match.
With a behavioral assessment from a trusted K-9 trainer in hand, you can approach a law enforcement agency's public information office, which will direct you to the person who oversees their K-9 unit. Some large departments have their own K-9 training programs and may be willing to take in a donated dog. Some small departments that don't have extra funds to spend on European imports may consider a donated dog. Some departments may want to take in another dog, but don't have the funds in the budget for required training.