Some of the first personnel called to investigate the scene of a crime or disaster are often K-9 police officers and their canine companions.
K-9 police officers are law enforcement professionals who partner with highly-trained police dogs to execute police duties. These police dogs are a valuable asset to many police departments around the country. K-9 units help identify substances or criminals that an average police officer wouldn’t be able to track.
In addition to local law enforcement departments, K-9 police officers also work for federal law-enforcement agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Police dogs accompany officers during a standard work day, including taking part in traffic stops, responding to crime scenes and more. Police dogs accompany their K-9 police officers at all times, becoming part of the officer’s family during the dog’s service.
A majority of police dogs are German Shepherds, but the breed can vary. Many police dogs hail from Germany and learn basic training commands in German.
There are a few types of police dogs:
- Detector dogs: Some police dogs help law enforcement detect illegal substances, such as narcotics and explosives.
- Patrol dogs: The S. Police Canine Association refers to patrol dogs as “find and bite dogs,” trained to search for criminals and hold them until police officers arrive.
- Scent-specific dogs: some dogs use their amazing sense of smell to track evidence or individuals. These types of police dogs are usually trained to use scent in one area, such as cadaver search or a missing person, and focus on that specialty for their entire career.
How to Become a K-9 Officer
A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is one of the first steps you can take to become a K-9 officer.
After a few years working as a sworn law-enforcement officer, you’d sign up for additional training to become a K-9 officer, including a rigorous training camp with your canine partner.
K-9 officers are often U.S. military veterans and have at least two to four years of police work under their belt.
Police dogs learn how to detect certain items, including narcotics, electronic devices, explosives, and cadavers. The police officers learn patrol protocols, “including how to release your dog, call for backup, track criminal suspects, exchange a leash for a weapon, and bringing their dog to heel” after a suspect is apprehended. Canines start their detection training when they’re 1-2 years old.
Salary and Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2017 that police officers and detectives earn a median annual salary of $62,960. But because becoming a K-9 police officer is such a specialized and training-intensive process, K-9 officers usually earn even more per year.
The BLS also reported that in 2017, police detectives and criminal investigators, which K-9 officers fit into, earned a median annual salary of $79,970. K-9 officers are also often reimbursed for the costs of caring for their canine companion.
As the U.S. population continues to grow, so will law enforcement agencies across the country. The field is projected to grow by 7 percent by 2026, adding more than 50,000 jobs to the workforce.
Become a K-9 Police Officer
If you love dogs and would like to pursue a career in law enforcement, a role as a K-9 police officer could be ideal for you. Take the first step in becoming a K-9 officer with Alvernia University’s fully online B.A. in Criminal Justice. With this degree, you’ll learn key skills that you’ll carry with you into a career in law enforcement, including criminal law, critical thinking, and current issues in criminal justice.
Learn from faculty with real-world experience who have your success in mind, and you can take advantage of our fully-online format, allowing you to continue working while you advance your career. Get started today at Alvernia University.