Police dog

Police dog
Swedish German Shepherds in action during demonstrations in Stockholm on National Day 2007
Military police dog of the Feldjäger of the German Army
A Belgian Malinois of a police K-9 unit.
Police badge of a New York K9 officer

A police dog, often referred to as a "K-9 dog" in some areas (which is a homophone of canine), is a dog that is trained specifically to assist police and other law-enforcement personnel in their work. One commonly used breed is the German Shepherd, although now Belgian Malinois are popular dogs to use. In many jurisdictions the intentional injuring or killing of a police dog is a felony,[1] subjecting the perpetrator to harsher penalties than those in the statutes embodied in local animal cruelty laws,[2] just as an assault on a human police officer is often a more serious offense than the same assault on a non-officer. A growing number of law-enforcement organizations outfit dogs with ballistic vests,[3][4] and some make the dogs sworn officers, with their own police badges and IDs.[1][5][6][7] Furthermore, a police dog killed in the line of duty is often given a full police funeral.[7][8][9]

Some breeds are used to enforce public order by chasing and holding suspects, or detaining suspects by the threat of being released, either by direct apprehension or a method known as Bark and Hold. German Shepherd Dogs and Belgian Malinois are most commonly used because of their availability (see List of police dog breeds); however other dog breeds have also contributed, such as Dutch Shepherds, Rottweilers, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Giant Schnauzers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and American Staffordshire Terriers.

  • Search and rescue dog (SAR) - This dog is used to locate suspects or find missing people or objects. Bloodhounds are often used for this task.
  • Detection dog or explosive-sniffing dog - Some dogs are used to detect illicit substances such as drugs or explosives which may be carried on a person in their effects. In many countries, Beagles are used in airports to sniff the baggage for items that are not permitted; due to their friendly nature and appearance, the Beagle does not worry most passengers.[10]
  • Arson dog - Some dogs are trained to pick-up on traces of accelerants at sites of suspected arson.
  • Cadaver dogs - Some dogs are trained in detecting the odor of decomposing bodies. Dogs' noses are so sensitive that they are even capable of detecting bodies that are under running water[11] Pioneering work was done by Dr. Debra Komar (University of Alberta) in Association with the RCMP Civilian Search Dog Association[12] in this area. The result was the development of training techniques that resulted in near 100% accuracy rates.[13] Her research has been published in the Journal of Forensic Anthropology.


Popular breeds

  • Argentine Dogo (protect the officer, attack dog, sniff out bombs, sniff out drugs, sniff out food)
  • German Shepherd (protect the officer, attack dog, ground based tracking and air based tracking, locating human remains, locating drugs, locating EODs, locating evidence)
  • Dutch Shepherd (protect the officer, attack dog)
  • Belgian Malinois (protect the officer, attack dog, locating EODs)
  • Boxer (protect the officer, attack dog)
  • Labrador Retriever (sniff out bombs, sniff out drugs)
  • Doberman Pinscher (protect the officer, attack dog)
  • Springer Spaniel (sniff out bombs, sniff out drugs)
  • Bloodhound (Odor Specific ID, trackings, sniff out bombs, sniff out drugs, locating evidence)
  • Beagle (sniff out bombs, sniff out drugs, sniff out food)
  • Rottweiler (protect the officer, attack dog)
  • Giant Schnauzer (protect the officer, attack dog)
  • Bernese Mountain Dog (finds missing people)


Police dogs are retired if they become injured to an extent where they will not recover completely, pregnant, are raising puppies, or are too old or sick to continue working.

Usage by country

Continental Europe overview

Official use of police dogs was recognized as being of value on the European Continent as early as 1859, with the Belgium Police in Ghent using dogs to officially patrol with the night shift.

Germany, France, Austria and Hungary soon followed with dogs becoming an accepted part of the official police establishment. The dogs employed at this time were hard aggressive animals that could inspire fear, protect their handler against attackers and be prepared to tackle courageously anyone found lurking in the ill-lit streets or open spaces. The breeds most commonly used by the end of the nineteenth century in these countries were Belgian & German Shepherds, Boxers, Dobermans and Airedales (imported from England).

The first major step forward in the development of the modern police dog came in the 1890s in Germany where serious attempts had been made to introduce recognised training programmes for the dogs purchased by the police, army and customs authorities. Rapid progress was made in the field of dog training with the development of the German Shepherd Dog as a breed and the formation on 22 April 1899 of the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde or SV (The German Shepherd Dog Society) . In 1903 the SV staged civilian police dog trials that encompassed control, criminal work and nose work exercises. The police authorities were not convinced dogs were cost effective. The primary object of the police dog at this time was still seen as that of deterrent.


The Belgian Canine Support Group is part of the country's federal police. It has 35 dog teams. Some dogs are trained to detect drugs, human remains, hormones or fire accelerants. About a third are tracker dogs trained to find or identify living people. These teams are often deployed to earthquake areas to locate people trapped in collapsed buildings. The federal police’s explosive detector dogs are attached to the Federal Police Special Units.

Hong Kong


The Dutch Mounted Police and Police Dog Service (DLHP) is part of the Korps landelijke politiediensten (KLPD; National Police Services Agency) and supports other units with horse patrols and specially trained dogs. The DLHP’s dogs are trained to recognize a single specific scent. They specialize in identifying scents (identifying the scent shared by an object and a person), narcotics, explosives and firearms, detecting human remains, locating drowning people and fire accelerants.

The KLPD is just one of the 26 police regions in the Netherlands. Every other region has its own K-9 unit. For example, the K-9 unit of the regional police Amsterdam-Amstelland has 24 patroldog handlers and 6 specialdog handlers and 4 instructors. The unit has 24 patroldogs, 3 explosives/firearms dogs, 3 active narcotic dogs, 2 passive narcotic dogs, 2 scent identifying dogs, 1 crime scene dog and 1 USAR dog. They work on a 24/7 basis, every shift (07:00-15:00/15:00-23:00/23:00-07:00 local time), has a minimum of 2 patroldog handlers on patrol. The special dog handlers work only in the dayshift or after a call.

United Kingdom

Documented evidence exists from the Middle Ages[citation needed] showing that money was set aside in towns and villages to pay for the upkeep of bloodhounds to be used by parish constables to track down outlaws and criminals. In fact, during the reign of King Henry I, documents showing the staffing levels of the Royal Palaces refer to the appointment of a constable who, with the aid of a marshal, 'shall maintain the stables, kennels and mews, and be responsible for protecting and policing the whole court'.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the forces of law and order were employed by the Barons and landowners to protect their privileges. Restrictions were placed upon the right to own a dog. Divided into three classes, small dogs, which were unlikely to be a threat to hunting, were unrestricted. Dogs that had natural hunting instincts, such as greyhounds and spaniels were barred altogether, and larger breeds were only allowed if used for security purposes and if their claws were removed. Constables used these larger breeds such as the bloodhounds more for their own protection than the ability to apprehend villains. A point worthy of note is that the bloodhounds of those times were described as “unreliable, bad-tempered and savage " but even then displayed an uncanny ability to track through the marshes and bogs which bordered the highways of that time.

In Scotland bloodhounds became known as "Slough dogs" and it is from this name that the word "Sleuth", usually applied to a detective, is derived. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, people were leaving the rural areas to move into the larger cities and towns. Large country estates were breaking down into smaller units, and with this change came the decline in the popularity of the dog as a hunter and enforcer of the law. At about this point in history, people of all classes began to treat their dogs as domestic pets rather than working animals, and size and appearance became as important as temperament and working ability.

The period of the Napoleonic Wars saw extreme outbreaks of violence and lawlessness in England and the existing forces of law & order, the parish constables and the Bow Street Runners were overwhelmed. As a result private associations were formed to help combat crime. Night watchmen were employed to guard premises with many of these individuals provided with firearms and dogs to protect themselves from the criminal elements. In 1829 Sir Robert Peel established London's Metropolitan Police, the first professional body to police the whole metropolitan area. From 1835 onwards, police forces were set up in the larger boroughs and cities, as well as in the counties, so that by the end of the century, professional policemen were policing the whole country.

One of the first real attempts to use dogs to aid police in the detection of crime and the apprehension of a criminal was in 1888 when two bloodhounds were used in a simple tracking test set by the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan (London) Police, Sir Charles Warren with a view to using them in the hunt for the Victorian murderer, Jack the Ripper. 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.

The attitude in the UK was very much the same as that of continental Europe in the early 20th century; dogs were considered beneficial as long as they did not cost money or require special training, an attitude that still appears to be prevalent in many police departments around the world today. In 1914 official authority was granted for 172 constables in the Metropolitan (London) Police to take their own dogs on patrol with them, a motley crew of sheepdogs, retrievers, collies, terriers, spaniels, mongrels and even one Pomeranian.

In 1908, the North Eastern Railway police who used Airedales to put a stop to theft from the docks in Hull formed the first recognised UK Police Dog Section. By 1910 the British Transport Commission Police had taken over, experimenting with other breeds such as Labradors, Dobermans and finally, the German Shepherd or Alsatian as it was then known.

After the 1914 -1918 war, despite the success of the transport police dogs the police authorities in the UK continued to show a lack of interest in the use of dogs as an aid to police work. On the continent, however, dogs were being used for a variety of purposes with organised dog training centres being set up in various locations. In 1934 a committee was set up to investigate the whole question surrounding the use of police dogs in the UK. An interesting excerpt from The Times dated 15 January 1938 gives an interesting insight into the thinking of senior police officers of the time in regard to the use of dogs. Colonel Hoel Llewellyn, Chief Constable of Wiltshire was quoted as follows:

"A good dog with a night duty man is as sound a proposition as you can get. The dog hears what the constable does not, gives him notice of anyone in the vicinity, guards his master's bicycle to the death, and remains mute unless roused. He is easily trained and will go home when told to do so with a message in his collar".

Bearing in mind that this was a statement from a pro-dog man of the times, is it any wonder that the authorities failed to understand the true worth of the dog in the role of law enforcement for a number of years to come.

In order to establish the best breed to be employed as a police service dog, the 1934 committee set up an experimental Home Office dog training school in Washwater, near Newbury, adjoining Lord Carnarvon's Highclere Estate. It concluded that a multi-purpose dog, trained to carry out all disciplines, was not possible, and that tracking and other work would have to be divided. The committee reported in 1937 that the experiments at the dog training school showed that the best breed of dog for following a scent was the bloodhound, and the best breed of dog for general patrol purposes was the Labrador. Experiments had been done in crossing Fell Hounds to Labradors and Otter Hounds to Bloodhounds, but both sets of crosses left something to be desired. As a result of the committee's conclusions, recommendations were made that Chief Constables 'consider' the use of dogs in police work, and it was once again left to the individual chief police officer to decide the worth of employing dogs in his respective police force. In 1938 two specially trained black Labradors were introduced into the Metropolitan Police as general patrol or 'utility' dogs, however, they were transferred in 1940 to the Cheshire Constabulary. With the outbreak of the Second World War, any further efforts to introduce dogs into a policing role in the UK were abandoned.

The end of the Second World War brought a crime wave to the shores of the UK, generally attributed to the presence of returning servicemen. It also brought the appointment of Chief Constable of the Surrey Constabulary to Sir Joseph Simpson K.B.E., a man who had a lifelong interest in gundogs and who saw clearer than most the possibilities of adapting the natural abilities and qualities of the dog to the specialist requirements of the police service. By good fortune, the Surrey Constabulary also employed an officer who had taken part in many of the unrewarding experiments to try and prove the value of the trained dog in police work; his name was Sergeant Harry Darbyshire.

This liaison set in motion the first positive effort to convince the Home Office and Police Forces throughout the UK of the true worth of a well-trained dog. With Darbyshire's enthusiasm and idea's and Simpson leadership and influence, the Surrey police headquarters at Mountbrown in Guildford became the epicentre of breeding and training of the modern police dog. Within a short space of time the Surrey police dogs were touring the country giving demonstrations to other police forces, whilst at the same time, Sir Joseph Simpson was bringing his influence to bear on the Kennel Club and other senior police officers. Slowly, they began to understand and appreciate the potential value of the police service dog.

After a careful study of the work carried out by Harry Darbyshire, Sir Joseph Simpson reached a number of important conclusions on which further developments and progress were to be based. The most far-reaching of these was to discard the accepted notion that all police dogs should be divided into two classes, tracking dogs and criminal work patrol dogs. The evidence pointed to the fact that some breeds of dogs were capable of being trained to carry out both disciplines. He also concluded that there should be a more rigorous selection process when accepting dogs for police work, the first step towards the notion that the police service should breed their own animals in an attempt to produce the ideal police dog.

1946 also saw the formation of a small dog section within the Metropolitan Police, an important event in itself as the Metropolitan Police, serving the capital city and with the largest deployment of manpower has always been an influential component in the policing tactics of the UK as a whole. Six Labradors were purchased from Yorkshire farmers and deployed in South London, quickly proving their worth when on their first night on patrol they were used in the arrest of two American servicemen after a purse snatch. In 1948 a new breed of police dog was used on the streets of London for the first time, the Alsatian Wolf Dog, later to be known as the Alsatian or German Shepherd Dog had arrived. The first of this breed in London was called 'Smokey' and such was the impression that he made, that a further twelve Alsatians together with another seven Labradors were purchased. The Metropolitan Police Dog Section was growing so rapidly that a central dog training school was established at Imber Court and by 1950 the total number of trained dogs in the force numbered 90.

The popularity of the police dog was being echoed all over the UK with police forces both large and small employing dogs and handlers on their strength and setting up dog training schools to cater for the ever increasing number of dogs being used.

The value of the police dog has been recognised by all to such an extent that there are over 2500 police dogs employed amongst the various police forces in the UK with the German Shepherd still the most popular breed for general purpose work with the Belgian Shepherd Malinois catching up fast, proven when a Belgian Malinois female called Metpol Kairo Demi bred by Steve Dean of the Metropolitan Police, handled by PC Graham Clarke won the 2008 National Police Dog Trials with the highest score ever recorded.

All British police dogs, irrespective of the discipline they are trained in, must be licensed to work operationally. To obtain the license they have to pass a test at the completion of their training, and then again every year until they retire, which is usually at about the age of 8 when the majority settle into a life as a family pet with their handler. The standards required to become operational are laid down by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) sub-committee on police dogs and are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that training and licensing reflects the most appropriate methods & standards.

Many British police services now source the majority of their replacement dogs from within specialized police dog breeding programs designed to ensure that the dogs are bred with strong working ethics & health as a priority. The Metropolitan Police has the largest police dog breeding program in the UK supplying not only the capital city, London, but many other parts of the UK & the world with police service dogs.

USSR and successor states (Russia, Ukraine, etc.)

Police patrolling on foot have long sporadically used attack dogs, generally exceptionally big German Shepherds, bred to weigh at least 35 kg and generally 40+ kg. These are kept on a leash at all times and required to wear muzzles, removed only when needed to pursue and detain suspects. They are trained to remain calm, docile, and unfazed by crowds and noise, retaining a perfect calm on public transportation. Such dogs may react to any and all stimuli only if ordered to do so. They are a common sight in cities and are rarely if ever perceived as unnerving by the general public.

Crime scene investigation units and patrols seeking dangerous fugitives have also been known to use dogs for tracking. Interestingly enough, these units also use German Shepherds, which were chosen as the all-purpose police and army breed. These practices have remained common in most of the Soviet Union's successor states.

See also


  1. ^ a b Palmer, Brian (2008-07-18). "So Help You, Dog - How does a canine cop become a "sworn officer"". Slate. http://www.slate.com/id/2195529/. 
  2. ^ "Statutes protecting Police Dogs". Police K9. http://www.policek9.com/html/statutes.html. 
  3. ^ "Protecting Police K-9s with ballistic vests". Police Dog Protection. http://vestnpdp.com/index.html. 
  4. ^ Wright, Ryan (2008-07-24). "Police dog receives new bulletproof vest". The Mississippi Press. http://www.gulflive.com/news/mississippipress/index.ssf?/base/news/1216894503312760.xml. 
  5. ^ Huggins, Paul (2007-08-03). "Decatur's first police dog buried with his badge at training center". Decatur Daily. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-32530168_ITM. 
  6. ^ "Officer Down". Police Special.com. http://www.policespecial.com/inthelineofduty/2008/K9-Andy/K9-Andy.htm. 
  7. ^ a b Sisson, Paul (2008-01-15). "Canine commemoration: K-9 Units pay tribute to Stryker, fallen Oceanside police dog". North County Times - Californian. http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2008/01/15/news/coastal/2_01_311_14_08.prt. 
  8. ^ Moxley, Tonia (December 16, 2008). "Police dog given an officer's funeral". The Roanoke Times. http://www.roanoke.com/news/nrv/wb/187837. Retrieved 23 December 2008. 
  9. ^ "Nitro the police dog receives a hero's sendoff". CTV Canada. 2006-02-06. http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060206/nitro_funeral_060206/20060206?hub=Canada. 
  10. ^ BBC Magazine 2005.
  11. ^ K9 Centre (Australia).
  12. ^ Canadiansearchdogs.com
  13. ^ L. Oesterhelweg et al.. "Cadaver dogs—A study on detection of contaminated carpet squares". Forensic Science International. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2007.02.031. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T6W-4NFRV0V-1&_user=1460874&_coverDate=04%2F09%2F2007&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000052796&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=1460874&md5=5aa38e5f6e47749376fb471159cc0628. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • police dog — n. 1. a dog, esp. a German shepherd, specially trained to assist police 2. popularly any German shepherd dog …   English World dictionary

  • police dog — police dogs N COUNT A police dog is a working dog which is owned by the police …   English dictionary

  • police dog — police′ dog n. 1) dch a dog trained to assist the police 2) dch German shepherd • Etymology: 1905–10 …   From formal English to slang

  • police dog — noun any dog trained to assist police especially in tracking • Hypernyms: ↑working dog * * * noun, pl ⋯ dogs [count] : a dog that is trained to help police find criminals and illegal drugs * * * poˈlice dog [police dog] noun a dog that is trained …   Useful english dictionary

  • police dog — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms police dog : singular police dog plural police dogs a dog used by the police …   English dictionary

  • police dog — dog used by the police (for following scent trails, etc.) …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Police Dog Unit (Hong Kong) — The Police Dog Unit, also known as the PDU, is a specialist force of the Hong Kong Police Force under the direct command of the Special Operations Bureau. It specialises in the training of police dogs in explosive detection, drug detection, guard …   Wikipedia

  • police dog — po lice dog n a dog trained by the police to find hidden drugs or catch criminals …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • police dog — po lice ,dog noun count a dog used by the police …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • police dog — /pəˈlis dɒg/ (say puh lees dog) noun any dog used or trained to assist the police …  

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