Police Dog Breeds: Canines Catching The Bad Guys

Police dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Man and dog work together side by side for thousands of years. As human society changed and developed, so did dogs by keeping pace and becoming more and more involved in as many aspects from man’s life as possible. Dog doesn’t only offer companionship, but it also does different chores and fulfills different missions.

Some of the most sought, hardworking and appreciated dogs are police dogs. There are several police dog breeds that can track delinquents, discover illegal substances and objects, plus performing other tasks that cannot be completed by humans with such ease and accuracy. Training is necessary, but some types of dogs are born for working with the police.

Police dog Sheriff's dept

Police dogs were first used in Europe. During the 18th century and over the time multiple people from Europe started using quadrupeds in the service of the law. Bloodhounds used to track down and catch criminals, but on a much smaller scale than in our days.

World War I was a good enough reason for countries such as Germany, Belgium and England to begin extensive dog training programs for military purposes. The United States of America started implementing this strategy in their law enforcement system only in 1970. Even in our days, Europe is the one that holds supremacy when it comes to working with Police K9 in order to solve cases.

Qualities and attributes of a K9

A dog that works for the police is especially trained for assisting policemen in their investigative chores and during important missions. These types of dogs are called Police K9. This denomination is a homophone for “canine”. This term is also used in other countries and it is also referring to a specific dog, namely the German Shepherd Dog. This is because German Shepherds have been used as police dogs since the beginning and they were sometimes the only breed accepted to collaborate with the law-enforcement personnel.

During the post-industrial era, the only dogs that used to appear in movies portraying police officers belong to the same dog breed. In our days, German Shepherds are still doing police work, but they are not the only dog breed that police works with. In addition, almost all types of police dogs have German or Romanic origins.

Dogs used for intimidation purposes

Most often, police dogs are trained to guard an agent or to follow, intimidate and catch the suspects that try to run away or hide from the other agents. The modern K9 are not vicious animals. Through training, they learn to enjoy their work. They get used with tracking and other police maneuvers due to long sessions of dressage, which involve lots of tips and tricks. Last but not least, they involve treats. They only listen to commands coming from police officers.

Police dogs

Their purpose is not to bite, but to grab and wait until an agent comes nearby and commands it to release its prey. This means that a dog uses its jaw strength to immobilize a suspect if he or she tries to run way or escape somehow. In most cases of this kind, the suspect is threatened by officers that in case he or she doesn’t stop, a dog will be released. This threat is usually enough to intimidate a villain into surrendering itself.

Conversely, some police units have other strategies. The intimidation process begins even before the suspect is in sight. This is more of a prevention method for the villain to run and escape. Therefore, barking and grabbing are still involved if surrendering doesn’t occur.

Distinct types of detective dogs

The Bloodhound is an example of dog breed used in search and rescue type of missions. However, it is not the only dog breed that can do great in such situations. Locating suspects or even finding persons declared missing, as well as missing objects are among its attributions. Moreover, the Beagle is especially appreciated and useful in detection of drugs and explosives. Its sense of smell is so extraordinary that it can locate illegal substances while people move quickly in their way to catching a flight or similar situations.

The advantage of a Beagle is its looks because most people don’t mind such a small and harmless dog. In addition, dogs that work with the police can be trained to become arson dogs, which can find traces of accelerants. Basically, dogs can detect any type of smell, but some are specialized on a certain niche. Except arson dogs, there are also cadaver dogs that are obviously very good at find the exact location of a dead person by smelling that particular odor. These dogs know how a body in the decomposing state smells like, so they have this amazing ability of finding it.

What is even more impressive is that cadaver dogs can smell a person’s dead body even if it is somewhere under water. Their efficacy is quite amazing.

K9s in the bosom of one’s family

Although K9s aren’t raised to be good companions, they are usually part of a family. That family is in almost every case the family of the agent who uses it on a daily basis. They remain sociable and pleasant thanks to the interaction with multiple good people that ensure a safe place. A police officer and a dog train and work side by side, as a team, therefore they have to trust each other and communicate efficiently.

The working situations are not always stressful and they depend on the type of ongoing operation, but things can get violent in no time, so a dog must be stopped before doing something harmful. This is when the agent’s firmness and vigilance intervene. In order to emphasize the role of a police dog in the police work, people took a series of measures to ensure their protection. These include bulletproof vests especially made for dogs and laws that punish anyone who hurts a dog. In some jurisdictions dogs are considered police officers, so the punishments are the same regardless if the victim is a man or a dog.

Sense of smell, strength and stateliness

A police dog has the kind of sense of smell that is considered an indispensable weapon. The sense of smell of a dog is one hundred times more developed than the sense of smell of a man. A dog doesn’t only smell odors that are unknown to the human nose, but it also has the amazing ability to distinguish and discern which the searched one is. Often traffickers try to hide the odor of drugs by hiding them in towels soaked with perfume or other strong olfactory substances.

Dogs aren’t fooled so easily, so the traffickers cannot get away. Strength and stateliness are two of the others most important qualities of a K9. Sometimes, a dog’s job is to just attack villains and put them down. They are in charge with mentally disarming the offender, fact which often prevents confrontation between a police agent and an aggressor. A dog is stronger and more agile than any man, so it can put down anyone when in need.

Exceptional and capable dog breeds

Dogs come in a large variety of shapes and sizes, but not every breed is good enough to work with police agents. There is probably no Bichon cop in the world and that’s a good thing. Most police dogs are German Shepherds or Belgian Shepherds, but among the best police dog breeds are also Labrador, Bullmastiff, Golden Retriever, American Pit Bull Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Doberman, Boxer, Rottweiler and Setter, except the ones already mentioned before, namely Bloodhound and Beagle.

The German Shephered dog

The attributes of a police dog should be intelligence, courage, aggression, endurance and so on. Most dogs used by the police are not castrated and males because this ensures a higher degree of aggressiveness, which is carefully handled and directed towards clear targets. Training dogs to become great cops is expensive, especially for Western countries. However, the investment pays off when these dogs discover loads of prohibited substances that worth more than you can imagine.

Different training stages for police dogs

At first, each police dog must become an expert when it comes to obedience. It learns commands that any companion dog knows how to perform in order to show its allegiance and obedience towards its handler. In this way, a human partner cannot fail to control a dog under any circumstances. Secondly, each police dog should be taken out to socialize with other people, preferably in crowded, noisy and agitated places because it needs to learn how to stay calm and focused in every environment.

The endurance and agility lessons help any dog to maintain its body shape by climbing stairs, jumping from heights, overcoming obstacles and so on. When a dog has learned all these lessons and it has built a strong relationship with its human partner, it will be subject to a second stage of dressage, namely the specialized ones, such as detecting drugs, bombs, weapons, dead bodies and others. This stage is not necessarily harder, but it might be lengthy.

Understanding police dog logic

Some people often wonder if dogs that can trace drugs are addicted to drugs or if they like the taste of drugs since they are so eager to find them. The truth is that dogs have no interest in drugs, but they associate drugs with their favorite toy or with treats thanks to extensive training sessions. A professional trainer teaches a dog to associate the smell of drugs with its favorite toy or treat.

Usually, he or she uses a towel that is impregnated with the smell of drugs. Dogs love to chase, bite and fight for their toy, so they are actively participating in the game. The trainer must hide this towel repeatedly and give treats to every dog who finds it. Subsequently, other substances are introduced to cover a wide range of drugs. Similar training strategy is used for dogs to detect explosives.

6 detective dog breeds explained

German Shepherd dog

The German Shepherd Dog is one of the most popular dog breeds that work with the police, both in Europe and USA. There is almost no police unit that does not have at least one dog belonging to this breed. A German Shepherd Dog is recruited by the police because it is a great investigator and it is very easy to train compared to other canine specimens.

German Shepherd dog

In addition, it is also a versatile dog, since it can learn to detect forbidden substances and to attack villains. Moreover, it can be used for solving murder cases or for finding missing persons as well.


The Rottweiler is a canine specimen that is considered a perfect match for almost every job description in police. It is strong, obedient, loyal, alert and loves action as well. It always wants to be in the middle of things. A Rottweiler is often recruited in teams of investigators who solve crimes, severe offense cases or drug trafficking, but it can also be trained to take care of policemen, protecting them from any possible danger.

Rottweiler in the police car

Because it is an active dog, its attention span is also impressive and it can stay focused for a longer period of time compared with some other dog breeds.

American Pit Bull Terrier

Famous for its aggression towards people, the American Pit Bull Terrier is an excellent candidate for a position in the police. It is very dangerous, agile and strong and it has very good tracking skills. All these constitute advantages when it comes to working in the law-enforcement domain. It might not be the most patient dog possible, but it is fast enough to take action in extreme situations and to react immediately when it is necessary.

American Pit Bull Terrier infographic

Such dog specimen is much faster than a human and it can sense presence before a human notices that particular presence that could be dangerous.

Find out all you need to know about this breed by checking out our article on the American Pit Bull Terrier.

Doberman Pinscher

The Doberman Pinscher dog breed is excellent for the police. This is because it has multiple skills suited for a job in the law-enforcement department. It is alert, obedient, strong, committed and very determined. These qualities make it a very good guard dog, but also a very good action dog that can be brought along with intervention teams.

Doberman Pinscher police dog

Pressure is something that it can handle very well and it can also stay focused on a target or while waiting for a command from its superior. It’s not the type of silly dog that would ruin a perfectly planned operation.


A dog from the Boxer breed is impressive just by looking at it. One can tell that Boxers were made for working together with the police thanks to their athletic and powerful body conformation. However, their appearance is not the only element that qualifies them for a job in the police department.

They are very brave and confident, thus they are predominantly trained to attack criminals and other persons suspected for committing illegal actions.

Boxer dog

They cannot be used as passive dogs because that would be a waste of their potential and attackers. They respond very well on command during intensive situations too.


The Bullmastiff type of dog is born to be a cop because it naturally meets all the qualities for this demanding job. It is a canine specimen that doesn’t require long dressage sessions or often meetings with a professional trainer. It is an innate guard dog and since it has a very well developed sense of smell, it also qualifies for being a detection dog.


Drugs, explosives and other forbidden substances don’t represent a challenge for a Bullmastiff to find. It is powerful, a quick learner and it is very devoted as well, facts which make it an exceptional police dog.

If you think this is the right breed for you, make sure that you’re not getting into more than you’re ready for and check out this article on the Bullmastiff.

Conclusions for detective K9s

Dogs that work for the police have a certain seriousness aura that surrounds them. Such dogs can be looked at as heroes when they successfully fulfill a mission, but they can hardly be seen as cute little pooches. The families that take them in and watch over them are usually very fond of them, but they keep a certain level of earnestness between them and these dogs. This is not something intentional, but since dogs respond to human emotiveness, they might become too vulnerable to be both great cops and companion dogs.

Therefore, a canine specimen with an important job has the degree of police officer and it should be treated as such.

Since police dogs can accomplish different types of tasks, they are useful for many departments. Just as people go to school before they find a job, so do police dogs. The only difference is that they receive practical training only, using dressage methods that are common and that would work in any dog.

However, intelligent police dogs are fast learners and some can specialize for doing multiple things, not only tracking drugs or intimidating possible suspects. Therefore, K9s are wonderful assets to any police officers or police stations and they certainly deserve all the appreciation and respect in the world.

Want to know which breeds are perfect for the Secret Service? Check out our great article on Secret Service dog breeds.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.