K9 Officer / K9 Handler
A canine officer, also labeled as 'K9 officer' or 'K9 handler', is essentially a police officer who utilizes a furry friend to enhance the job responsibilities. Dogs may be trained to sniff out drugs, locate bombs, find corpses, or take down suspects that try to run from the police. Much of a K9 officer's training may center around learning the dog's abilities, identifying the commands used to cue your dog, and discovering how to most effectively work with your dog as a team.
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K9 Officer Job Description
Knowing how to use a trained canine to solve crimes and enforce laws can put you in an elite class of police officers. As a K9 officer, you do many of the same job tasks as police officers. You may patrol a set route or neighborhood, answer emergency calls, and backup other law enforcement personnel. Since your dog may be trained in one or multiple skills, you may be assigned to crime scenes or police calls that require the canine's unique abilities.
According to the Seattle Police Department, K9 handlers may use their dogs to locate fleeing criminal suspects, search for human remains, and seek out illegal substances. K9 officers should be quick-thinking, able to work as part of a team, and flexible. While you may work alone some days as part of a normal patrol route, there may be days that you work with all sorts of law enforcement personnel on a range of calls or situations.
K9 handlers often work irregular shifts and schedules. Depending on if the canine is trained in bomb detection, drug sniffing, or another specialty, the dogs services may be needed at any time of the day or night. As a result, you may be on-call 24 hours per day. It's likely that you'll be assigned to evening, overnight, and weekend shifts, depending on the needs of your department and unit.
Much of the training required for K9 handlers is similar to the training required for other policing jobs. Most police departments prefer K9 handlers to have an associate or bachelor's degree in criminal justice. You may need to have several years of experience as a regular police officer before becoming eligible for a K9 handler position in your police department.
How to Become a K9 Officer
If you know that you would like to become a K9 handler or K9 officer, you must begin preparations early. The first step is becoming a police officer, as you may need to work as a patrol officer for two years before taking on a canine handler job. While many police departments may not require their police officers to have an associate degree or bachelor's degree in criminal justice, most departments do have this requirement for their K9 handlers. You may even need a master's degree in criminal justice. While earning a degree in criminal justice, you may take courses in basic criminal law, firearms safety, the apprehension of suspects, criminal procedures, and policing procedures.
After earning your degree, you may need to attend the local police academy to become a police officer and spend about six months in the police academy. Some departments require less than 800 hours of training, but quite a few require more. For example, the Sacramento Police Academy is a 24-week program that includes 933 hours of training.
Once you have worked as a police officer for several years and gained experience in most policing procedures, you may be able to apply for a K9 officer opening at your police station. You may be required to attend K9 handling courses at your police academy or at a third-party training center. Southern Coast K9 offers a 12-day Patrol Dog Handler Course as well as a Bomb/Drug Detection Dog Handler Course.
Upon completing the proper training, you may still need to complete a training period with your canine partner. Alongside an experienced K9 officer and police dog, you may go on calls to demonstrate that you and your canine can work together in a variety of situations.
K9 Officer Salary and Career Outlook
Since K9 handlers are often part of a highly-trained and elite group of police officers, they may be compensated accordingly. O*Net notes that sheriffs and deputy sheriffs, including canine deputies, earn an average salary of $59,680 per year. Salaries vary significantly between regions and states. In Texas, for example, sheriffs report an average salary of $60,110 per year (O*Net, 2017). Illinois canine deputies claim a median income of $74,230 per year, and California K9 handlers earn an average of $98,250 annually (O*Net, 2017).
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