We see K9 dog breeds in movies as they strut around with police officers or on the news leading a search and rescue team.
It did not start in our century, however.
Since the 5th century, dogs and law enforcement officers have worked side by side to maintain national security.
It has since become a norm and testifies to the numerous reasons dogs are loved.
Not all dog breeds can be trained to play this role of a K9 dog, however.
Some dog breeds are preferred over others in joining the police force.
These Police dog breeds are known for hard work, protection, fierceness when necessary, and loyalty to their owners.
The Bloodhounds, for example, were used in 1888 to locate Jack the Ripper.
This laid the foundation for the modern style of canines in the police force.
The use of police dogs isn’t limited to the United States. Countries like Japan and Australia adopted this method.
What dog breeds are best suited as police dogs?
We provide the answer with a list of the 14 best K9 dog breeds that serve and protect both the cops and citizens.
Before that, we shall have an overview of k9 dogs. We will also figure out how they get trained.
K9 Officers: An Overview
As we hinted earlier, the idea of modern police dogs came about in 1888 when bloodhounds helped in capturing Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer.
Bloodhounds were picked because of their strong sense of smell and hunting history.
In the 1890s, Britain and Germany made the use of dogs in the police an official duty.
By the start of the 1900s, other countries had followed suit and police dog training was established.
Now, a police dog has the same right as an actual police officer.
It receives the same treatment and respects any officer would.
Any assault on these dogs would result in fines and a jail term.
Besides tracking people, police dogs also ‘arrest’ criminals in that they hold these law-breakers down till the human officers draw close.
With this in mind, let’s look at how these dogs get trained.
How are Police Dogs Trained?
The first indisputable training process for every prospective canine is basic obedience training.
This is usually done by a handler who stays with the dog even after training to create a bond.
The commands include Sit, Stay, Come.
Every potential police dog must learn to respond to commands with speed, irrespective of its environment.
When it succeeds in this, it then moves to a different level where training is more specialized.
To train these dogs, the police employ two methods known as the alpha/dominance method and the positive reinforcement method.
The alpha/dominance theory was developed by a behaviorist named Rudolph Schenkel and consisted of training dogs like they were in a pack and the owner is the alpha.
The positive reinforcement method, on the other hand, has its focus on rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior.
It is considered the safest method, even by the police force as most departments prefer this over the alpha/dominance theory.
How does a dog become a K-9?
There are no specific ways in which dogs get on the path to joining the K9 unit.
Some start as puppies, others as adults. Some dogs come from other countries and get trained.
After requisite training, the dog takes an oath just as any other police officer.
The handler recites the words and the dog barks in confirmation.
These dogs retire when they are badly injured or reach old age. They could work for 6 to 9 years.
The next section will contain the list of the 14 best police dog breeds we have compiled.
The Best K9 Dog Breeds Who Serve & Protect
As one of the most popular and old police dog breeds, it is only fair that Bloodhounds take the first place.
They originated from Europe with ties in both France and England. They were bred to be hunting dogs and went after large prey like deers and boars.
The American Kennel Club recognized them in 1885.
Their strong sense of smell made them one of the top 10 best K9 dogs as voted by officers.
They can pick up the scent of a missing person and trace them down weeks after the person got missing.
They were instrumental in finding children because of their love for kids and gentle looks.
Bloodhounds were used in tracking down suspicious criminals too, and their testimony is admissible in court.
These dogs are gentle and docile but pose a challenge during training because it is hard for them to focus.
While seen as lazy, Bloodhounds are hard workers.
2. German Shepherd
Next on our list is a dog breed so popular for being in the police force—some refer to it as ‘police dog’.
In many Hollywood movies, these dogs often play the role of a law enforcement canine.
In addition, the German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States.
It originated in Germany (obviously) and was bred to herd sheep.
The American Kennel Club recognized it in 1908.
It isn’t surprising that the German Shepherd has become synonymous with the police force.
It is trainable, intelligent, and versatile.
Its herding history gave it the sense of responsibility and protectiveness, essential traits law enforcement officers need.
Its long strong nose has been used to sniff out drugs, dead bodies, and missing people.
It is one of the strongest dogs in the world and has speed, strength, and courage — all police-friendly traits.
The German Shepherd has also served in the military, led the blind, and even visited the sick to offer comfort.
3. American Pit Bull Terrier
Also known as the APBT or simply the Pit Bull (also Pitbull), this breed recently got into the K9 unit.
Its notoriety and tough history made the police force snob it for years, till its potential began overshadowing its controversial past.
While still feared by the general public and banned in some regions, the Pit Bull has found a place in the K9 unit.
It originated in England where it was bred to partake in the bloody sports of bullbaiting.
After the latter got outlawed, this breed was used in dog fighting too.
The American Kennel Club recognized it as the ‘American Staffordshire Terrier’ in the 1930s.
The American Staffordshire Terrier was later developed to be a different breed.
Due to its sturdy frame, athletic qualities, and speed, the Pit Bull was used in patrolling.
It also participated in rescue missions and detection.
4. Belgian Malinois
The Belgian Malinois is similar to the German Shepherd so much that people mistake both dog breeds.
Like the GSD, the Malinois is a common K9 breed.
It originated in Belgium where it was a shepherd dog.
It was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1912, first as the German Sheepdog, then as the Belgian Sheepdog.
These dogs played similar roles as German Shepherds in the police force.
They apprehended criminals, sniffed out bombs and drugs, and also partook in search and rescue missions.
You might find them in airports detecting bombs and drugs.
It is smaller and less aggressive than the GSD, making it easy to have them in a place filled with strangers.
The Belgian Malinois is easy to train, confident and protective, other reasons it is a valid member of the K9 unit.
The Rottweiler is a well-respected guard dog that has played the role of security in many households.
It was also one of the earliest police dogs and also served in the military.
It is a native of Germany, though its ancestry goes back to Ancient Rome.
In its early days, it drove cattle and pulled carts.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Rottie in 1931.
Rottweiler’s main role in the police force was that of the protection of officers.
Rotties also helped in apprehending criminals as it would be hard for anyone to challenge this intimidating dog breed.
Sniffing out drugs and getting on search and rescue missions can be done by this breed as well, but it isn’t the main duty.
Critics are sometimes concerned about the aggressive tendency of the Rottweiler, but good training can help curb it.
This is a confident, loyal, protective, and strong breed, a wonderful part of law enforcement.
6. Doberman Pinscher
Dobbie, as fans affectionately call it, is a natural guard dog and a popular member of the K9 unit.
Like the German Shepherd, Dobbie has been a favorite of Hollywood movies and shows featuring police dogs.
It was developed in Germany by a man named Louis Dobermann who was a tax collector.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Dobbie in 1908.
Though not as popular as the GSD or the Bloodhound, this breed had its place amongst the cops.
Its main role was chasing and holding down escaping criminals.
It has strong stamina and speed, making it difficult for anyone to outrun it.
It hardly takes on a sniffing or detecting role as its forte lies in athletic prowess.
Its slim frame also makes it faster than many other canines, thus, joining the ranks of the fastest dog breeds in the world.
While it may sometimes be used to sniff out drugs, that job is best left for Bloodhounds and German Shepherds.
7. Labrador Retriever
In recent years, the Labrador Retriever has maintained its rank as the most popular dog breed in the United States.
A lovely companion for both new and old dog owners, Labs are prominent in many households.
What many don’t know is that this breed also serves as a police dog.
A native of Newfoundland in Canada, Labradors were developed to retrieve fish for fishermen.
They were also companions to these fishermen and their families.
They became popular in the United States after the Second World War, getting to the top in 1991.
Their recognition by the American Kennel Club happened in 1917.
Like the Malinois, they patrol airports and sniff out contrabands and bombs.
They also stayed in ship harbors for the same reason.
They are favored because of their intelligence and eagerness to learn.
Labs are one of the most trainable breeds—a task even first-timers can carry out.
They possess other traits that make any dog breed good for the police. These traits include loyalty and confidence.
The Labrador that works has a slightly different appearance from the household version.
8. Bouvier des Flandres
The Bouvier is not a commonly known K9 dog breed and probably has no movie or show with it as a feature.
However, it has served enough as a K9 dog for it to appear on this list.
It started as an all-around farm dog from Belgium.
Its tasks included herding cattle, pulling carts, and guarding the livestock against danger.
It was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1929.
The Bouvier is an easy-going dog but has a tendency for aggression that can be an advantage for the cop who needs a fierce canine assistant.
Few can resist the growl of this breed.
While not much is said about it sniffing drugs or going for search and rescue missions, we can say with certainty that it acted as a guard dog for officers and can also go after criminals.
In the latter case, it should be trained to withdraw chase on command lest it injures the criminal.
9. Giant Schnauzer
Another breed with the tendency for aggression, the Giant Schnauzer is a newbie in the American K9 unit but is a regular in some other countries.
It originated in Germany in the 17th century and was called a giant because of its size.
It had the job of guarding, driving cattle, and working at butcher shops.
The Giant Schnauzer was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1930 but remains unpopular in the United States.
Its size and fierceness make it a good nemesis for escaping criminals and a formidable guard for officers.
The authority of the officer would further be enforced by an 80 pound canine at his side.
Like the Bouvier, it should be properly trained to prevent it from injuring a criminal.
It can also take the roles of sniffing drugs, tracking down suspects, and missing people.
Its persistence, loyalty, and alertness make it good for search and rescue missions too.
This is another newbie to the K9 unit.
Before it began its ‘career’ as a police dog, the Beagle hunted hare in England in the 16th century.
The origin of its name and its ancestry is unclear, but we do know it was popular in its early days, even becoming the companion of Queen Elizabeth I.
It almost got extinct in the 17th century but was saved by men like Reverend Honeywood and Thomas Johnson.
It was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885.
Beagles are small scenthounds, two qualities that gave them an edge over other breeds.
It can patrol airports without making people uneasy and get into areas a person or a bigger dog may not access.
It has the advantage of stealth and speed too, traits that help it track without getting caught.
Beagles are used to sniff drugs, track criminals, detect bombs, and locate cadavers.
It hardly plays the role of guard or goes in pursuit of criminals.
The Beagle is fast becoming a popular K9 dog breed because of its immense success in airports.
11. Airedale Terrier
Unlike the aforementioned breed, Airedale Terrier is a large dog breed and is dubbed the ‘King of Terriers’.
Besides being part of the police force, it also participated in both World Wars.
An Airedale Terrier named Jack made history in the 1st World War by sacrificing his life to get an important message to his battalion.
He got a posthumous award for his bravery.
The Airedale is the biggest terrier and is a native of England.
It was bred to hunt and was first called the Bingley Terrier till the Kennel Club in England accepted the name Airedale Terrier as the official name of this breed.
It got recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1888.
It is not a popular K9 dog bred, but it is used on occasions by the US and English police forces.
It sniffs out bombs and drugs due to its excellent sense of smell and also played the role of patrol dog.
12. Cane Corso
The Cane Corso has the warrior genes running down its veins as it descended from Roman war dogs.
It isn’t surprising that it features on this list.
The Cane Corso originated in Italy and is a mastiff dog.
In Italy, it played the roles of guardian and hunter and helped in the farm till the advent of mechanized farming.
It was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2010.
With an impressive weight of over 100 pounds, the Cane Corso is a striking (and let’s face it, frightening) protector.
Though not as fast as many other dogs on this list, it has a strong bite.
Thus, it is used for patrol work and protection.
It isn’t a popular dog breed in the US, but that may change in the coming years as it continues to impress with its hardworking reputation.
The Briard is not a breed that looks like a competent K9 member as its shaggy coat makes you think more of cuddles than combat.
However, it has the qualities necessary for the police role.
It was bred as a protector of livestock and participated in the 1st World War.
There is a warrior underneath this dread.
The Briard originated in France in the 8th century. It was once known as the Chien Berger de Brie.
In 1928, the American Kennel Club recognized the breed.
As formidable guard dogs and watchdogs, Briards are loyal, courageous, and watchful.
Far from being a couch potato, it is an active breed.
It can also be trained with ease and is highly intelligent.
In some countries, it goes on search and rescue missions, tracking, and as service dogs for those struggling with PTSD.
It is a unique and different K9 dog, much unlike the GSD.
However, it needs a lot of training as it can sometimes be stubborn; (but let’s face it, which dog doesn’t?).
14. Dutch Shepherd
The last dog breed on our list is the Dutch Shepherd.
Though not popular in the United States, it has proven to be a valuable K9 dog.
It originated in the Netherlands where it served as a working dog.
It took on roles like herding livestock, pulling carts, and being watchdogs.
It was similar to the German Shepherd at some point in history but became distinct after some time.
It remains a rare breed today.
The rarity notwithstanding, Dutch Shepherds are used as police dogs and guide for the blind.
They sniff out bombs and drugs and are easier to handle compared to the German Shepherd.
While these dogs did not make the initial list, they are police dogs as well, either in the United States or other countries. They include:
- Golden Retriever
- German Shorthaired Pointer
- Border Collie
- Belgian Tervuren
- English Springer Spaniel
What is the best dog for police work?
The best dog for police work depends mainly on the specific role.
A breed that excels in search and mission rescue may not be good at patrols, and vice versa.
What does K9 mean for Police?
K9 is a nickname in the police force that refers to police dogs in their entirety and the police dog unit.
What do police dogs do?
Police dogs work with human officers to sniff out drugs, bombs, and dead bodies.
They also go on patrols, track missing people, apprehend criminals, and protect officers.
Do police dogs wear bulletproof vests?
Police dogs do not use bulletproof vests except it is a dangerous mission.
Bulletproof vests cost high and aren’t enough for all K9 dogs.
Do K9 dogs go home with their officer?
After work hours, police dogs go home with their officers to forge a better bond with them.
This bond makes training and work with the handlers easier.
Can I get a police dog?
If you can handle the dog breed and you can cover its cost, then it is possible to get a police dog.
Some rescue shelters have retired police dogs you can adopt.
Are police dogs aggressive?
Police dogs are not generally trained to be aggressive but will protect their handlers if need be.
Do not pet or try to touch a K9 dog on duty as it could be interpreted as a sign of aggression.
Do police dogs retire?
Police dogs are expected to work for 6 to 9 years. After that, they retire.
In some places, they even get a pension. Police dogs also retire if badly injured.
We owe a lot to K9 canine officers for their effort in maintaining security.
Their various roles have helped reunite families to their missing loved ones, get justice, and promote national peace.
A dog is man’s best friend in many ways, including keeping everyone secure.
In this article, we’ve looked at some of the best K9 dog breeds.
Let us know your favorite and which one we might have missed.
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