A Belgian Malinois police dog during a demonstration in England
A military police dog training
An FBI Dutch Shepherd police dog

A police dog, also known as a K-9,[1] is a dog that is trained to assist police and other law enforcement officers. Their duties may include searching for drugs and explosives, locating missing people, finding crime scene evidence, protecting officers and other people, and attacking suspects who flee from officers. The breeds most commonly used by law enforcement are the German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Bloodhound, Dutch Shepherd, and Labrador Retriever.[2] In recent years, the Belgian Malinois has become the leading choice for police and military work due to their intense drive, focus, agility, and smaller size, though German Shepherds remain the breed most associated with law enforcement.[3]

Police dogs are used on a federal and local level for law enforcement purposes in many parts of the world. They are often assigned to what in some nations is referred to as a K-9 Unit, with a specific handler, and must remember several verbal cues and hand gestures.[4] Initial training for a police dog typically takes between eight months and a year, depending on where and how they are trained, and for what purpose. Police dogs often regularly take training programs with their assigned handler to reinforce their training.[5] In many countries, intentionally injuring or killing a police dog is a criminal offense.[6][7]


Early history

Dogs have been used in law enforcement since the Middle Ages. Wealth and money was then tithed in the villages for the upkeep of the parish constable's bloodhounds that were used for hunting down outlaws.[clarification needed] The first recorded use of police dogs were in the early 14th century in St. Malo, France, where dogs were used to guard docks and piers.[8] By the late 14th century, bloodhounds were used in Scotland, known as "Slough dogs" – the word "Sleuth", (meaning detective) was derived from this.[9] Between the 12th and 20th centuries, police dogs on the British Isles and European continent were primarily used for their tracking abilities.[10]

The rapid urbanization of England and France in the 19th century increased public concern regarding growing lawlessness.[10] In London, the existing law enforcement, the Bow Street Runners, struggled to contain the crime on their own, and as a result, private associations were formed to help combat crime.[11] Night watchmen were employed to guard premises, and were provided with firearms and dogs to protect themselves from criminals.[citation needed]

Modern era

Bloodhounds used by Sir Charles Warren to try to track down the serial killer Jack The Ripper in the 1880s.
German shepherd in use by Schutzpolizei officer and SA auxiliary during the German federal election, March 1933, shortly after the Nazi seizure of power

One of the first attempts to use dogs in policing was in 1889 by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police of London, Sir Charles Warren. Warren's repeated failures at identifying and apprehending the serial killer Jack the Ripper had earned him much vilification from the press, including being denounced for not using bloodhounds to track the killer. He soon had two bloodhounds trained for the performance of a simple tracking test from the scene of another of the killer's crimes. The results were far from satisfactory, with one of the hounds biting the Commissioner and both dogs later running off, requiring a police search to find them.[12]

It was in Continental Europe that dogs were first used on a large scale. Police in Paris began using dogs against roaming criminal gangs at night, but it was the police department in Ghent, Belgium that introduced the first organized police dog service program in 1899.[13] These methods soon spread to Austria-Hungary and Germany; in the latter the first scientific developments in the field took place with experiments in dog breeding and training. The German police selected the German Shepherd Dog as the ideal breed for police work and opened up the first dog training school in 1920 in Greenheide.[14] In later years, many Belgian Malinois dogs were added to the unit. The dogs were systematically trained in obedience to their officers and tracking and attacking criminals.

In Britain, the North Eastern Railway Police were among the first to use police dogs in 1908 to put a stop to theft from the docks in Hull. By 1910, railway police forces were experimenting with other breeds such as Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retrievers, and German shepherds.[15]


Belgian Malinois being trained to attack

Popular dog breeds used by law enforcement include the Airedale terrier, Akita, Groenendael, Tervueren, Malinois dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Bloodhound, Border Collie, Boxer, Bouvier des Flandres, Briard, Cane Corso, Bullmastiff, Croatian Sheepdog, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, German Shorthaired Pointer, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler and English Springer Spaniel, Dogo Argentino.

Training of police dogs is a very lengthy process since it begins with the training of the canine handler. The canine handlers go through a long process of training to ensure that they will train the dog to the best of its ability. First, the canine handler has to complete the requisite police academy training and one to two years of patrol experience before becoming eligible to transfer to a specialty canine unit.[16] This is because the experience as an officer allows prospective canine officers to gain valuable experience in law enforcement. However, having dog knowledge and training outside of the police academy is considered to be an asset, this could be dog obedience, crowd control, communicating effectively with animals and being approachable and personable since having a dog will draw attention from surrounding citizens.

For a dog to be considered for a police department, it must first pass a basic obedience training course. They must be able to obey the commands of their handler without hesitation.[17] This allows the officer to have complete control over how much force the dog should use against a suspect. Dogs trained in Europe are usually given commands in the country's native language. Dogs are initially trained with this language for basic behavior, so, it is easier for the officer to learn new words/commands, rather than retraining the dog to new commands. This is contrary to the popular belief that police dogs are trained in a different language so that a suspect cannot command the dog against the officer.[18]

Dogs used in law enforcement are trained to either be "single purpose" or "dual purpose". Single-purpose dogs are used primarily for backup, personal protection, and tracking. Dual-purpose dogs, however, are more typical. Dual-purpose dogs do everything that single-purpose dogs do, and also detect either explosives or narcotics. Dogs can only be trained for one or the other because the dog cannot communicate to the officer if it found explosives or narcotics. When a narcotics dog in the United States indicates to the officer that it found something, the officer has probable cause to search whatever the dog alerted on (i.e. bag or vehicle) without a warrant, in most states.[19][20]

In suspect apprehension, having a loud barking dog is helpful and can result in suspects surrendering without delay.[21]


Police dogs can be specialized to perform in specific areas.


The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this section, discuss the issue on the talk page, or create a new section, as appropriate. (January 2022) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

Police dogs are retired if they become injured to an extent where they will not recover completely, pregnant or raising puppies, or are too old or sick to continue working. Since many dogs are raised in working environments for the first year of their life and retired before they become unable to perform, the working life of a dog is 6–9 years.[23]

However, when police dogs retire in some countries they may have the chance to receive a pension plan for their contribution to policing. In 2013, a pension scheme for police dogs in Nottinghamshire, England was introduced, wherein the police force offered £805 over the span of three years to cover any additional medical costs; the dogs were also allowed to be adopted by their original handler.[24]

In many countries, police dogs killed in the line of duty receive the same honors as their human partners.[25]

Accusations of brutality and racial partiality

The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this section, discuss the issue on the talk page, or create a new section, as appropriate. (April 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

A 2020 investigation coordinated by the Marshall Project found evidence of widespread deployment of police dogs in the U.S. as disproportionate force and disproportionately against people of color. A series of 13 linked reports found more than 150 cases from 2015 to 2020 of K-9 officers improperly using dogs as weapons to catch, bite, and injure people.[26] The rate of police K-9 bites in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a majority-Black city of 220,000 residents, averages more than double that of the next-ranked city, Indianapolis, and nearly one-third of the police dog bites are inflicted on teenage men, most of whom are Black. Medical researchers found that police dog attacks are "more like shark attacks than nips from a family pet" due to the aggressive training police dogs undergo. Many people bitten were not violent and were not suspected of crimes. Police officers are often shielded from liability, and federal civil rights laws don't typically cover bystanders who are bitten by mistake. Even when victims can bring cases, lawyers say they struggle because jurors tend to love police dogs.[27]

Usage by country and region

Main article: Worldwide usage of police dogs

See also



  1. ^ "About K-9s". National Police Dog Foundation. Retrieved 22 May 2022. K-9 or K9 (a homophone of canine)
  2. ^ "What Do K-9 Police Dogs Do?". American Kennel Club. 3 September 2021. Retrieved 22 May 2022.
  3. ^ "What Breeds Make the Best Drug Dogs". 3DK9 Detection Services. 28 October 2020. Retrieved 3 June 2022. German Shepherd Dog. The typical breed associated with law enforcement work.
  4. ^ "K9 Unit: Duties and Responsibilities". New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Archived from the original on 3 August 2017. Retrieved 22 May 2022. They are expected to follow both verbal and hand commands of their handler.
  5. ^ "FAQs". AMSOIL Northland Law Enforcement K-9 Foundation. 2021. Retrieved 22 May 2022.
  6. ^ "18 USC 1368 – Harming Animals Used in Law Enforcement". United States Code. 26 October 2015. Retrieved 26 May 2022 – via OneCLE.
  7. ^ "Police dogs and horses to receive special protections in South Australia". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 26 August 2013. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  8. ^ "Police K-9 Unit". Central Falls, Rhode Island Police Department. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  9. ^ "sleuth (n.) – Etymology, Origin, and Meaning". Online Etymology Dictionary. a figurative use of a word that dates back to late 14c. meaning a kind of bloodhound
  10. ^ a b Peña, Melvin (1 July 2014). "Police Dogs: Just the Facts". Dogster. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  11. ^ Beattie, J. M. (2012). The First English Detectives. The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750–1840. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-969516-4.
  12. ^ "Casebook:Jack The Ripper". Atchison Daily Globe. 17 October 1888.
  13. ^ "The Origins of Police K-9". Archived from the original on 18 February 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  14. ^ "History of the Police Dog". Archived from the original on 30 May 2012. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  15. ^ "The Dog Section". British Transport Police.
  16. ^ "How to Become a K9 Officer: Career and Salary Information". Criminal Justice Degree Schools. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  17. ^ "Dogs of all nations : Mason, Walter Esplin, 1867– : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive". Internet Archive. 1915.
  18. ^ Grabianowski, Ed (3 May 2004). "How Police Dogs Work". How Stuff Works. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  19. ^ SitStay. "Police dog training 101". sitstay.com. Retrieved 2 November 2018.
  20. ^ "The K9 Unit | Police Dogs and How They are Trained". SoundOff Signal. 8 September 2016. Archived from the original on 27 March 2019. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  21. ^ Peralta, Jessica (27 November 2019). "Longtime Westminster police officer, K9 decoy gets new partner — finally". Behind the Badge Foundation. Retrieved 11 May 2022.
  22. ^ Hardesty, Greg (5 February 2020). "Meet K9 Iggy, the Orange County Sheriff's Department's first gun-detecting dog". behindthebadge.com.
  23. ^ Hartov, Oren. "Proactive Deterrence" (PDF). K-9 Cop Magazine. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 May 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
  24. ^ Olsen, Kevin (2013). "English police force sets up retirement plan for dogs". Pensions & Investments. 41 (24): 8.
  25. ^ "K-9 Burial Protocol "The Rocky Protocol"" (PDF). www.sheriffs.org. National Sheriffs' Association. 22 May 2014. Retrieved 16 May 2017.
  26. ^ VanSickle, Abbie; Stephens, Challen; Martin, Ryan; Kelleher, Dana Brozost; Fan, Andrew (2 October 2020). "When Police Violence Is a Dog Bite". The Marshall Project. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
  27. ^ Remkus, Ashley (2 October 2020). "We Spent A Year Investigating Police Dogs. Here Are Six Takeaways". The Marshall Project. Retrieved 20 February 2023.

Works cited