K9 Units are composed of law enforcement officers partnered with a highly-trained canines. These specially trained dogs are bred or chosen for their intelligence and strong sense of smell. These dogs can help when pursuing fugitives, searching for missing persons, and during narcotics or weapons detection. The officers who handle these canines are more than merely dog handlers; they develop unique relationships in which the canine becomes a trusted partner. K9 Officers usually maintain 24-hour control over their canines.
K9 Units are essential to many police organizations and have become very popular throughout the country. In addition to the versatility of these canines, they serve as watchful and sensitive guardians for their handler and members of the public. Many of these dogs become so attached to their partners that they may rescue them from a firefight or a flaming building.
K9 Unit Job Description
K9 Units jobs involve performing the following duties:
- Detect the presence of illegal substances, dangerous chemicals or explosives
- Pursue and apprehend fugitives
- Track and rescue missing or kidnapped individuals
- Locate bodies that have been buried or submerged underwater
- Detect evidence
- Maintain the functional proficiency of canines and handlers through ongoing training
- Identify individuals who have come into contact with controlled materials
How To Become a K9 Unit Officer
The initial step in becoming a K9 Unit officer is to apply for a job with a law enforcement organization. Most agencies possess stringent qualifications that include at least a high school education and excellent physical condition. Many larger police organizations expect candidates to possess an associate’s degree or higher. After successfully completing the application process, recruits will attend a police or training academy.
Once commissioned as a law enforcement officer, new recruits must serve as patrol officers or in other entry level jobs. After several years of probationary duty, officers who wish to join the K9 Unit may apply for available jobs. There may be an involved selection process to join the unit, especially if the candidate does not possess prior experience in the care and handling of a dog. If selected, K9 Unit members will be partnered with a canine that they will be responsible for, both on and off duty.
In order to properly bond, the officer and canine must complete a rigorous training program that may last several weeks or months. Many K9 Units insist upon ongoing training at regular intervals to ensure that the dog retains proficiency. The United States Police Canine Association recommends four hours of maintenance training a week, but many departments have instituted their own training recommendations.
K9 Unit Salary
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t reveal specifically what K9 unit police officers earn, it can be assumed they earn more than other officers with similar rank and experience due to their increased responsibilities and training requirements.
As of May 2021, the BLS reports that police officers earned an average salary of $70,750, while those at the top of the pay scale (90th percentile) earned about $102,530.
Many agencies compensate canine officers for additional time spent caring for their canine partner, the cost of cleaning, and the cost of ongoing training.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures for police and sheriff’s patrol officers. Job growth projections from the US Department of Labor-sponsored resource, Projections Central. Figures are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2022.