Police K9s- A Glimpse Inside

Police K9s- A Glimpse Inside


by: Kayla Vester

Being the wife of a Police K9 handler has proven to be very taxing yet extremely rewarding all at the same time!  Apparently being a CVT (Certified Veterinary Technician) means I’m in charge of bringing home all of the dog’s medications and food, nursing his injuries, cleaning his wounds and even bathing him regularly.  Nonetheless, I can’t help but love the 90 pound German Shepherd that has inhabited my home for the past 2 years.  I have learned so much about police dogs since my husband acquired one that I decided to interview his trainer Scott Claybaugh to build an informational piece to answer some common questions that people typically have regarding police dogs.

Where do police dogs come from?  Dogs used for police work are generally imported from Belgium, Germany or the Netherlands.  Each country contains numerous trainers that all run their own dog sport clubs.  Some clubs specialize in police dog training and others focus on just sport dogs or Schutzhund, which is German for protection dog.

Are different languages used to train them? While the majority of police dogs are trained using either Dutch or German commands, the language used is chosen based on each trainer’s discretion.

Can just anyone purchase a police dog?  Technically speaking, anyone can purchase a dog from overseas.  That being said, any reputable dog club will generally perform interviews to make sure you are supplied with a dog that will meet your expectations and needs for what you intend to utilize them for (police work, sport dog, Schutzhund, etc).

What kind of work do police dogs do?  Police dogs are trained in several types of work.  They are used for drug detection to seek out and find narcotics.  They can also be utilized for building searches, tracking, and apprehension of fleeing suspects.  Perhaps their most important task, however, is called defensive handler.  The dogs are trained to defend their handler against any potential threat.  Remember the story in the news about the officer that was being drug into the woods by male subjects and was saved by his K9 ?  THAT’S defensive handler!  Out of all of these training areas, drug work and tracking are the hardest on the dogs!  One dog searching a school for narcotics is equivalent to a human running a marathon.  Who knew?!

How much do police dogs cost? Police dogs can cost anywhere from $5,000-$25,000 depending on what type of dog the police department is looking for.  Generally speaking, the “cheaper” dog comes with a minimum amount of training and usually knows basic obedience commands.  They call this type of a dog a “green dog” and will require a significant amount of training before he/she is able to work on the force.  On the other end, the more expensive dog will come fully trained in narcotic detection, tracking, defensive handler and apprehension.  They get off the plane and are patrol ready!

Are police dogs trained and tested regularly?  YES!  Certification regulations and training requirements will vary state to state, however the state of Illinois requires a mandatory minimum of 16 hours of training per month with a K9 trainer.  Illinois also requires the dogs to pass an official certification test every year with 90% accuracy.  The test must be administered and overseen by a certified sport dog trainer and certifier.

At what age does training start and when are the dogs retired?  Training begins very early; as early as 8 weeks of age in most cases.  Police departments will usually purchase a dog between 2 and 3 years of age.  Statistically speaking, 2 ½ years old is the average age for police dogs to be certified and actively working.  Police dogs are retired when they start to lose their “drive.”  This usually means they become reluctant/unwilling/unable to work and perform their duties.  Many are retired due to hip/joint problems.

DID YOU KNOW?  Police dogs should be trained on all surface types including dirt, grass, cement, water and even slick floors.  They also have to be able to work out in the open and in closed, confined spaces.  It’s easy for dogs to chase after fleeing suspects, but it is important for police dogs not to fear the suspect that fights back; they must have the drive and courage to stay in the fight to protect their handler!  They also should be desensitized to loud and strange noises (especially gunfire), falling objects and shouting/yelling.  Due to the fact that dogs lack depth perception, two of the hardest things for police dogs to overcome during training are going up/down open staircases and tackling their natural fear of heights.