Police Dogs


Dogs used by police agencies are trained for specific purposes, and the breed of the dog normally determines the duty assigned to it. Strong, aggressive breeds such as German Shepherds and Rottweilers are normally chosen as patrol dogs. These dogs are the biters of police canines, and they are used for the apprehension of criminals, crowd control, and for the protection of their handlers. They are trained to bite on command, and they are trained never to bite a suspect who is standing still and complying with a police officer’s commands.

Canines make excellent partners. They’re very loyal and will go to great lengths to protect their handlers. To better assist canine officers, their patrol cars are equipped with a remote controlled rear window or door that operated by a device attached to the officer’s gunbelt. A push of a button (above photo) opens the door allowing the dog to come to his partner’s aid.

Patrol dogs are trained to bite as a game. During their training, they are taught to bite a suspect who is wearing either a padded sleeve on one arm or a full bite-suit. The instructors make biting a game for the dogs, so it is fun for them to sink their teeth into their suited prey, and they are rewarded and praised for doing so.


Patrol dogs are not trained to be mean. They just want to play in the way they were taught – by biting. I have seen some K-9s that liked to bite so much they would bump a suspect with their nose, hoping he would move so they could bite him.  One particular dog that comes to mind  buried his nose in a suspect’s crotch and then  nudged gently – his way of trying to get the guy to move so he could bite.

Less aggressive breeds, such as Golden and Labrador Retrievers make excellent narcotics- and explosive-detection dogs. Narcotics-detection canines are normally taught to detect four kinds of drugs, such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. But they can be trained to detect others, including mushrooms and various pills. They can be taught to aggressively alert police officers by scratching around the area where they’ve detected the drugs, or they can be taught to sit, on their discovery – a passive alert.  For obvious reasons, explosive-detection dogs are taught to alert passively.

Search-and-rescue dogs are trained to find people by using their keen sense of smell. Dogs have the ability to detect several scents at once. Where humans smell a pot of stew cooking, dogs differentiate the individual ingredients – onions, carrots, meat, etc. It is this remarkable ability that allows the canine to focus on one particular scent – dismissing the unimportant ones – and follow the target smell to its source. Hiding drugs in coolers beneath piles of dead fish won’t fool a trained narc dog. Tracking dogs are also used to locate cadavers. These dogs can find human remains on land or in water. Any police dog can be trained to track, but the dog best suited for this job is the Bloodhound.

Bloodhounds are large, extremely affectionate dogs that will relentlessly follow a track. Some police-canine handlers prefer not to use Bloodhounds to track dangerous felons because the dogs are so friendly. It is not unusual to see a Bloodhound find a violent criminal and then attempt to lick or cuddle with the crook.

Any police dog can be cross-trained to serve other purposes but, many handlers prefer to use a dog for one specific purpose, except in the case of tracking and biting.

I’ve found bad guys tend to surrender a lot faster when they’re facing a snarling police dog whose bite is much worse than his bark.

15 replies
  1. Lee
    Lee says:

    Hi Gina. It’s so good to see you in this corner of the world.

    Preliminary autopsy reports can be available to a detective the same day the autopsy is conducted. If the detective elects to attend the autopsy, he/she can learn things as soon as the pathologist discovers them. Reports like toxicology; however, take a few days, maybe weeks.

    DNA testing takes a minimum of a few days. No less than three. It’s a safe bet to say detectives probably won’t learn those results for several weeks. This also depends on the backlog of cases waiting to be tested. That’s probably going to be the biggest holdup.

  2. Gina Robinson
    Gina Robinson says:

    Hi Lee–I just found your blog. Thanks for sharing your expertise! Your posts are so informative. Just what I’ve been looking for. I ordered your non-fiction book yesterday. I hate that I have to wait for it, but my local bookstores were out! You may have covered this topic in the book, but I’m very curious about how long it takes for detectives to get the results of autopsies and DNA tests.

  3. Peg H
    Peg H says:

    Hey Lee,

    Now you’ve hit on one area where I really know my stuff. I’ve been involved with many areas of dog training. May I add some more information here?

    Some of the more recent breeds that are now used for police, military, and security work are Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervurens, Belgian Sheep dogs, Dutch Shepherds, Bouviers and even Briards.

    Why are there fewer Dobermans being used for police work? I couldn’t say, although one thing that comes to mind is that some communities have them listed under breed specific dog laws as dangerous which could make the liability of having one in a department too costly.

    Search and rescue dogs are now found in many breeds, some you wouldn’t expect to be SAR dogs. Such as some Terriers and small breeds. 9/11 and the Mexio City earthquake proved the advantage of having smaller dogs who could maneuver through tight spaces the larger breeds couldn’t.

    Beagles have also proven their worth as bomb sniffing and narcotics dogs and are used frequently in our airports and on border patrols.

    One can also add Coonhounds and several other scent hounds to a list of tracking dogs used today.

    So as writers we have a lot of breeds we can choose from when we add a dog to a story as our hero’s partner.

    🙂 Peg H

  4. BeckyLevine
    BeckyLevine says:

    My parents ran their veterinary clinic for 30+ years, and the police dogs were some of their favorite patients. They knew how to listen and were smart enough not to be afraid of what the “nice doctor” was doing to them!

  5. Lee
    Lee says:

    Bill – That’s one of the things canine trainers look for in a dog, their intensity and ability to stay focused. It’s like turning on a switch. One reason they can turn on the intensity so quickly is because during their training they’re constantly praised and played with when they do they do something good, like finding dope or biting a faux bad guy. I mean the praise and play time is way over the top excitement for the dogs. It nearly killed us, but the dogs loved it, and that’s what they expect in the field.

    Actually, I think the dogs trained us. I still believe the dogs are the ones on the smart end of the leash.

  6. Bill Cameron
    Bill Cameron says:

    I saw a drug dog demonstration once was that was very eye-opening. The dog was a German Shepherd. He sat calmly as his officer talked about his training. Just looked like any ol’ big friendly dog. Then they set him to search for a small bag of pot they’d hidden in the room.

    Yow! Not only did the dog move fast, but his energy was palpable. When he moved past me, I could almost feel it. Then when he found the pot, oh what a racket he made. And yet, he just barked. It was intimidating, but I think he was always in control.

    Still, intense!

  7. Lee
    Lee says:

    No, I’ve never seen a Doberman used in police work, but that’s not to say they aren’t. In fact, they’re listed on several patrol dog websites as a desirable breed.

  8. pabrown
    pabrown says:

    Regarding the type of breed used for the various jobs, I heard that Dobermans are used, but I never actually see any on the job, so to speak. Certainly the Doberman has all the desirable characteristics – loyal, brave, strong and very intelligent. Have you ever known any police forces that use Dobermans? Ever hear any reason why they wouldn’t be used?

  9. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Interesting post, Lee.

    Some of the guys in our department have been after the Chief for a few years now to get a canine. It’s really not practical for our department, though. I told the chief that the day he gets one it’s the day I walk out. If they can afford a dog, they can afford to put me on full time!

  10. Krista
    Krista says:

    Great blog! I think you’ll have a lot of mystery writers hanging out here.

    I’d love to know what databases are commonly available to police officers when they check out someone. For instance, if an officer had reason to check someone’s background, what would he/she find if the person had never been arrested or had a run-in with the law?



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