A police dog handler is an experienced police officer whose partner is
a dog. These officers train, work and live with their canine partners.
These officer-dog teams do specialized police work. For instance, the dog's
tracking skills are used to find and apprehend suspects who flee crime scenes,
as well as missing persons.
The teams also check areas for illegal drugs or explosives. They also help
stop crimes in progress.
Other duties include searching for illegal alcohol, crime scene evidence
and lost property. They also provide VIP protection, search and rescue services,
crowd control and help with community relations.
A police dog handler's career begins after a number of years of experience
in the police force. Police departments across North America have different
prerequisites for K-9 handlers.
Upon joining the unit, each officer is assigned a partner. From that point
on, the dog handler is responsible for the training and care of their dog
-- both at work and at home.
As a result, a dog handler must have a stable home and a fenced yard. Patience
and responsibility are also essential for this job.
"Initially, a training period is needed before the dog and handler hit
the street," says K-9 cop Gary Pavone. The training starts with basic obedience,
both on leash and off, and then goes on to teach commands like sit, stay,
heel, come and down.
"It progresses from there to include building search, area search, evidence
search, handler protection and tracking," says Pavone. "Dogs are also trained
to respond to hand signals."
The training never ends. K-9 handlers and their dogs are required to attend
regular sessions of patrol maintenance training, averaging around 20 hours
This is a physically demanding job, as dogs and their handlers sometimes
travel on foot for long distances over rough terrain.
These officers play a key role in promoting police work in the community.
This often means taking their dogs to schools or gatherings of civic groups
to talk to people about the work they do.
Unlike standard patrol officers, dog handlers are responsible for patrolling
entire cities or large rural areas with little or no supervision.
Dog handling is a good career for people who have a lot of initiative and
work well independently.
Dog handlers generally work eight-hour days, five days a week. However,
this career often involves night shifts, and off-duty dog handlers may be
called in to work during emergency situations.
As with any job in police work, a dog handler must be willing to relocate
to where the jobs are. This could mean a move across town or across the country.