If you feel a calling to protect people and have a love for animals, you might be wondering how to become a K9 officer. K9 (or canine) officers handle police dogs, highly-trained working dogs that are often skilled in finding items or people that are being illegally transported or possessed. Canine units are found in state and large local police departments as well as in federal agencies such as the Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Like other types of police officers, K9 officers protect the safety of the public. They may be responsible for patrolling, enforcing laws, responding to emergencies and arresting suspects for alleged criminal behavior. As a sworn police officer, a K9 officer must demonstrate good judgment, leadership skills, and empathy.
Unlike traditional types of police officers, K9 officers must provide care for their canine partners, including securing the necessary grooming and medical care. K9 officers undergo special training with their dogs to ensure that both the human officer and the police dog are able to respond correctly to a variety of possible scenarios that the team may encounter. Police dogs must be trained in detecting evidence and illegal items and picking up the scent of individuals during a search. For safety reasons, these dogs must also be responsive to commands while on or off a leash and find the balance between being aggressive enough to protect human partners and being so aggressive as to be dangerous to the public.
Because the human K9 officer and his or her police dog work so closely together, they often develop a strong bond. For this reason, aspiring K9 officers must be comfortable working with a dog. Candidates for this career typically begin by getting a good education. Some police departments will accept candidates with only a high school diploma, while others require that applicants have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field from an accredited school. Aspiring K9 officers should apply to the police training academy and develop the skills and knowledge needed to be a successful police officer. Police officers must typically spend at least a couple of years gaining experience as a regular officer before applying to become a K9 officer. To determine if the job will be right for them, candidates may shadow K9 officers before going through the specialized police dog handler training themselves.
The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that police officers earned a median salary of $55,010 per year as of 2010, which is significantly higher than the $33,840 median annual salary of all occupations. For many K9 officers, the career is not just a job, but a calling to protect and serve. If you have a desire to enforce laws and enjoy spending time with dogs, knowing how to become a K9 officer could be the start of a rewarding new career.