Police Dog Facts

By Laura Agadoni

Part of the K-9 unit of the police force, police dogs often wear ballistic vests and badges. But that doesn't mean they are cute and dressing up. Dogs trained to be police dogs are a necessary part of the police force and considered full-fledged police officers, states K9Handler.com, an online community resource for police K-9 handlers.

History of Police Dogs

A K-9 police dog running while on leash.

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Dogs were used in ancient Rome for security purposes, and the Spanish conquistadors recruited dogs to fight in wars. Dogs have found a place in police work for more than 100 years in countries such as England, Belgium and Germany.

In the U.S., canines saw service in wars before they were used as police dogs. Dogs worked in the Korean and Vietnam Wars as sentries, to clear caves and to find booby traps.

In the 1970s, law enforcement in the United States started using police dogs. Police dogs are part of the K-9 unit, a phrase coined in the 1940s during the U.S. Army's War Dog Program. The dogs were part of the Canine Corp, which soon became "K-9."

Dog Breeds Used in Police Work

A Labrador Retreiver on a leash beside an officer.

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Certain dog breeds predominate in police work:

  • German shepherds
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Belgian malinois
  • Dutch shepherds
  • and giant schnauzers

Other breeds, such as the Rottweiler and bloodhound, can be used as police dogs. Still, the German shepherd remains the most popular choice for a police dog because the breed is strong, smart and obedient. German shepherds are typically used for overall duties, whereas the other breeds often specialize in duties that suit their strengths.

Duties of Police Dogs

A German Shepherd training outside on obstacle course.

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Police dogs help with many police duties, such as:

  • Odor detection of narcotics, weapons, explosives and accelerants used for arson
  • Tracking suspects
  • Apprehending suspects
  • and detection of cadavers

People sometimes think of police dogs as vicious attack dogs, probably because one of their first duties in the United States was to break up riots, according to K9Handler.com. Police dogs are sometimes still used for crowd control, but that is not their main role.

Search and Rescue

A group of K-9 dogs beside police officers.

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Trained search and rescue dogs are considered civilians, but they played an important role in searching for victims of the 9/11 attacks. More than 100 search and rescue dogs looked for survivors, without success. They did provide comfort to the first responders on site.

Search and rescue dogs still play a role in searching for missing persons. These dogs don't work in criminal cases, but they play an invaluable role by helping law enforcement agencies.