Regular exercise is vital for both dog and handler.

“Lack of activity destroys the good conditioning of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” ~ Plato

K9 handlers across the country are challenged daily with high stress deployments. Dealing with the stresses takes a mental and physical toll on both the handler and dog. By finding ways to reduce the unnecessary stresses, dogs and handlers are one step closer to a healthier and productive future.

Each deployment has heavily weighted factors that strongly affect the desired outcome of the incident. The handler and dog’s training, knowledge and experience are just a few variables that play a pivotal role in the decision making and approach on each deployment. However, a crucial variable that is often overlooked is the physical fitness level of both the handler and dog.

This article is not intended to guide K9 fitness exercises or healthy diets, but rather to spotlight the need for implementing fitness plans in the demanding position of K-9 handlers. The benefits of maintaining the handler and dog’s fitness are sharpened skills, coordination, ability, vision, reaction time, focus, endurance and much more.

Health benefits: Handler and Dog

The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. With the documented and medically proven benefits that exercise provides, every K-9 team across the world should be taking full advantage of it. Canine teams should train harder and improve their skills in all that they do. Incorporating exercise into team training provides the best health benefits to handlers and dogs. Exercise and fitness have identical health benefits for both the handler and dog. A closer look at some of the many benefits reveals that fitness:

  • Boosts mental capacity
  • Reduces stress
  • Increases performance
  • Promotes better sleep patterns
  • Increases energy
  • Strengthens muscles & bones
  • Limits injuries
  • Sharpens skills
  • Increase confidence
  • Creates strong well-being
  • Improves agility
  • Acclimates teams to an environment
  • Decreases reaction time
  • Improves focus

K9 fitness is important for situational readiness.

“There are numerous ways to incorporate quick exercise for both handler and dog…”

For the handler and canine partner to achieve the greatest health benefits, experts recommend some type of aerobic exercise three or more times a week, along with muscle strengthening and stretching at least twice a week. With the amount of time handlers spend with their dogs, this strategy could easily be incorporated into daily lives.

Strategies to Achieve Success: Handler and Dog

The importance of health and fitness in everyone’s lives is clear, but finding the time in the busy and hectic lives of law enforcement officers is difficult. However, K-9 handlers are fortunate in having jobs that allow them time to train with the dogs. Most K-9 units train weekly or bi-weekly, in addition they are also provided time during their shift to perform brief training exercises. It is during this time that handlers can incorporate exercise into the training. Whether implementing exercise into weekly training, in between calls for service, or both, providing fitness for the K-9 team is vital to the health and longevity of the team.

There are numerous ways to incorporate quick exercise for both handler and dog, for example, conducting tactical movement with the dog and performing sessions of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, burpees, lunges, or 50-yards dashes for quick and effective results. Not only does this squeeze in precious exercise time, but it also builds obedience and the relationship within the team. Handlers can also do the same for their dog by conducting short training sessions on a regular basis, such as obedience, tactical movement, fetch and retrieve drills, agility, article searches, area or building searches, and even bite work. These drills provide physical exposure and control exercise for the dog, and keep the handler’s skills sharp.

The key is for handlers to get their dog out of the car and training as often as possible without over-training or exhausting handlers or the dog, because responding to an active in-progress call, drug or bomb searches may be necessary. Teams should be creative and diverse with the exercises chosen and should keep all sessions brief and positive. The goal is to provide K9 fitness and exercise correctly for the whole team, and ultimately provide important health benefits in a work setting.


For many active handlers, fitness and exercise is already a part of the daily routine; however, many handlers have busy schedules consisting of family, work, court, details and other responsibilities, and they are unable to find the time to exercise. By applying short, consistent, physical exercise into K-9 weekly training or in between calls for service, handlers and dogs can soon acquire the benefits that exercise provides. As the great Greek philosopher Plato said, “Lack of activity destroys the good conditioning of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.”

Authored by: Scott Clark
Photo credit: Kenny Holston 21 / Foter / CC BY-ND and Kristine Gunter / Foter / CC BY-ND
Police K-9 Magazine is a contributor to This article was republished with permission, courtesy of Jeff Meyer.

Scott Clark has been a police officer for the City of Coral Springs (FL) Police Department for 14 years, the past 11 years of which he has been in the K-9 Unit. He has been working and training patrol and detection dogs for the past 6 years. He is a certified State of Florida FDLE K-9 Team Instructor, K-9 Unit Head Trainer, SWAT K-9 Team Leader and Handler, Firearms Instructor, and has trained numerous K-9 teams in South Florida. He is currently working his second duel-purpose patrol/narcotics dog, K-9 Mik.




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