Protect and Serve: All About K9 Officer Dogs
Dogs have protected human societies for well over 10,000 years. The first record of dogs defending humans in battle was around 600 B.C., and dogs continued to serve and protect humans all over the world, from the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, to a variety of Far East cultures.
The natural progression of our dependence on dogs led to the first organized police dog program in Ghent, Belgium in 1899. Since then, K9 officer dogs have been an important part of police and military programs throughout the world.
Types of K9 Positions
K9 officer dogs are trained to either be single purpose or dual purpose. Single purpose K9s are used mainly for tracking, personal protection, or backup. Dual purpose dogs are trained similarly to single purpose dogs, with the addition of being able to track either explosives or narcotics (never both). Police K9s can also be trained for specialized duties, such as search and rescue, sentry and attack, and arson detection.
A Breed of Their Own
In order to fulfill their duties as a police K9, a dog must be social, loyal, intelligent, and brave. German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are most commonly trained as police K9s, however several other breeds can fit the bill as well, including Labradors, Bloodhounds, and other types of Shepherds.
A Unique Way of Life
When in training, both officer and dog attend a training school together to learn how to work as a team, also called a K9 unit. Humane handling and positive reinforcement training methods are employed to ensure that the dogs and their handlers develop a close bond. Dogs chosen as police K9s tend to have a high play drive, making it easy for the officers to use playtime with a ball or toy as a reward during training.
Police officers routinely put their lives on the line, and developing strong bonds with fellow officers whom they rely on daily is to be expected. K9 officers are in a unique position among law enforcement in that they work closely with a member of a different species to accomplish their daily goals. To encourage a completely bonded relationship, officers live with and care for their dogs, in addition to the long work hours (often evenings and weekends) required.