Police dogs, policeman, and thief, New York CityThey are among the most loyal and steadfast officers of any police force. They are highly trained and immensely dedicated. And they are usually the only police officers that are routinely called “adorable.” They are the four-legged officers of the K-9 unit, and whether they are searching for missing children or sniffing out suspicious packages, they are part of a longstanding tradition that extends back thousands of years.

Dogs have been working alongside mankind since they were first domesticated as much as 15,000 years ago. The first recorded use of dogs doing police work was in St. Malo, France in the early 14th century, when they were used to guard dock installations. But it was not until 1888 until the modern police dog first came into being. It was at that time when the London Metropolitan Police Force first used two bloodhounds to track suspects by scent as part of the infamous Jack the Ripper investigation. The Ripper was never apprehended, but the use of dogs as part of the Met continued.

"King Tut," President Hoover's big German police dog

White House sentry “King Tut,” President Hoover’s big German police dog, now makes the rounds of the police sentry boxes in the White House grounds through the night. Shown with W.S. Newton of the White House police

In the United States, police dogs once had the reputation as attack dogs. This is largely because dog were first employed by American law enforcement in riot control situations. Anyone who has seen a German Shepherd in attack mode can attest to the fact that the deep growl and those large incisors can be quite effective as an attitude adjuster.

But in truth, the duties of most K-9 officers generally intend to be much less belligerent. They are often used to search for drugs, weapons, and explosives. Some dogs also fulfill roles in arson investigation, using their highly sensitive noses to locate chemical fire accelerants. Still others are trained specifically as cadaver dogs, and its their job to locate the decomposing remains of accident and murder victims.

Because of their more sophisticated roles in day-to-day police work, K-9 officers undergo training that is in many ways more intense and rigorous than the training received by human officers. Often, this training begins not long after they are separated from their mothers. A police dog is teamed with a human handler, and the dog and the officer will work as a team. To forge a bond between dog and handler, the police dog usually lives with his officer’s family. This not only encourages loyalty, but it helps to ensure the dog remains friendly and sociable.

Alex, the prize German police dog

“Alex,” prize German police dog and pet of Miss Ailsa Mellon, smokes cigarettes n’everything. Alex’s father is the $12,000 prize police dog “Wolfe”

What most civilians don’t realize is that K-9 officer are truly considered full-fledged police officers. Assaulting, injuring, or killing a K-9 officer carries the same punishment under the law as the same crimes committed against human officers. In fact, some law enforcement agencies consider it acceptable for human officers to open fire on a suspect that is intentionally hurting a police dog with the intent to kill it. Dogs killed in the line of duty are afforded a complete police funeral, bagpipes and all.

While many civilians think that the ballistic vests and badges often seen on K-9 officers are merely cute, the fact is that these dogs are both needed and respected by their handlers and other members of their force. Something to keep in mind next time you’re scratching one of these officers between the ears.

Authored by: Ray Allen Manufacturing / K9Handler Team
Photo credit: All photos courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Photos by Harris & Ewing, Inc. and the George Grantham Bain Collection.




  1. Shawna Brown says:

    I understand and appreciate the point . Since I myself am a K9 trainer/handler. The bond formed between human and his/ her K9 partner is ultimate because they trust each otherwith ttheir lives.

  2. Steve says:

    Check your facts: K-9′s are protected by law in almost all states, but not the way human officers are. Dogs are still considered property, and deadly force cannot legally be used solely for their protection.

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