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How to Become a K9 Police Officer

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Police departments' K9 units have earned admiration for locating crime scene evidence and often elusive suspects. Well-trained officer/K9 teams also search for missing persons, somettimes in forbidding terrain and with few solid clues to guide them. On a lighter note, officer/dog duos frequently perform search-and-apprehension demonstrations at public safety events and community fairs. Viewers' observation of the K9 teams usually results in positive public and media support.

Submit an application to your city's police department. Note that in order to apply, you must be a United States citizen at least 21 years of age, with a valid driver's license and a high school diploma or GED. Prepare to undertake hearing, vision, agility and strength tests, along with several interviews and drug and polygraph tests. Understand that a previous felony conviction will likely disqualify you from consideration.

Complete the department's police academy training. Understand that while training logistics vary, you will benefit from extensive classroom instruction accompanied by real-world scenarios and practical exams. Prepare to learn about applicable laws, arrest and defensive strategies, firearms operation, emergency vehicle handling and criminal investigations procedures.

Accumulate time as a patrol officer. Note that many departments want K9 unit applicants who have completed three to five years of patrol time. Improve your physical fitness level to meet the challenges of K9 unit work. Learn to make fast, logic-based decisions under pressure. Develop the ability to produce good readable reports and present evidence accurately in court settings.

Assess your readiness for the K9 unit. Realize that as a K9 officer, you will work many night and weekend hours, and your family time will be frequently interrupted. Consider whether you are willing to exercise your dog every day and to incorporate your K9 partner's needs into your family events and vacations. Obtain your entire family's support before you commit to becoming a K9 officer.

Apply for the K9 unit. Prepare yourself for an extensive, competitive selection process, especially if you cannot demonstrate prior canine-handling experience. Following your acceptance into the K9 unit, complete a demanding training program with your K9 partner. Accept that you must complete frequent training exercises to keep your dog at the proficiency level necessary for top-quality police work.


A law enforcement-related college degree gives you an advantage in a competitive job market. By completing your rigorous degree requirements, you demonstrate your sense of discipline and problem-solving skills. Your degree also enables you to present a more professional image, which helps to enhance your credibility with the public.

Gain dog-handling experience by socializing dogs at your local animal shelter. If possible, obtain dog trainer certification from a reputable school. This credential presents concrete evidence of your dog-handling capabilities.