Canine Officer Careers – K9 Job Description

Canine Officer jobs (aka K9 Officer) are offered to police officers who have received training to work with specially trained police dogs. These dogs are able to detect illegal substances, bomb-making material, concealed weapons, smuggled agricultural goods and other contraband, as well as cadavers and smuggled humans.

The exact responsibilities of a canine officer will depend on the work environment since many types of law enforcement agencies utilize the skills of K9 officers. Larger cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have their own canine units, as do many State and Federal agencies. Federal Agencies include Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

For example, a canine officer with the TSA may be assigned to patrol airports to monitor baggage coming in and going out to detect illegal drugs or contraband. A Border Patrol Canine unit may be posted at border crossings to search for illicit substances, explosive devices, or detect persons trying to enter the country illegally. Canine officers may also be called upon to assist with cases of missing persons.

Canine officers are often called upon after a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, such as hurricanes. For example, after 9/11, NYPD K9 officers were enlisted to help search the debris for possible survivors under the rubble. They performed similar work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

K9 Officer Salary 2019

According to the BLS the average salary for K9 Police Officers is $61,270 1 and the median annual wage at the local level is $61,210; $67,190 in State government; and $76,770 in Federal agencies 2.

K9 Officers are basically specialized police officers so that their salary and benefits are similar to that of regular law enforcement personnel. As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, canine officers are included in the Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers salary data.

Now, you may wonder how to become a K9 Officer? Read on…

K9 Officer Job Requirements

The general requirements to become a canine officer depend on the specific department in which you plan to work. For the most part, K9 Handlers begin as regular police officers and, after accruing a certain level of experience, receive specific training in canine handling. Only upon successful completion of the training and the passing of an examination, may candidates begin to work as Canine officer.

Candidates will need to be in excellent physical condition and proficiency in a foreign language is an asset in many urban departments as well as Federal agencies. Candidates must also have no criminal history and possess a valid and unrestricted driver’s license.

Canine Officer Education and Training

Since K9 Handlers come from the ranks of regular police officers, the educational requirements are generally the same. Candidates for police officer jobs must have a minimum of a high school diploma, although more and more agencies at all levels are requiring at least some college or an associate’s degree. Many community colleges and four-year universities offer coursework in law enforcement and criminal justice. In many instances, work at the Federal level requires a bachelor’s degree.

The CBP, which employers the greatest number of canine officers of any law enforcement agency in the U.S., has three training locations for canine handlers: The Canine Enforcement Training Center in Front Royal, Virginia; The National Canine Facility in El Paso, Texas; and the USDA’ National Detector Dog Training Center in Orlando, Florida. The CBP Canine Enforcement Training Program trains dogs and officers not only for the CBP but for other state and local K9 units as well.

Canine Officer Career Opportunities

The primary responsibilities of Canine Officers include the following:

  • Monitor and investigate suspicious activity and hazardous conditions in their patrol area.
  • Provide public safety by maintaining order, responding to emergency situations, enforcing motor vehicle regulations, and directing traffic flow.
  • Inspect public places such as airports, train terminals, office buildings, and border areas to detect the presence of illegal substances, explosive materials, hidden bodies, and contraband.

Advancement into a senior or supervisory role is dependent on experience and level of education. In general, those who pursue a bachelor’s degree or higher will be the most eligible for promotional opportunities. Advanced education and excellent job performance may also qualify you to apply for positions with various Federal agencies.

Take a look at other great Criminal Justice Careers.

Footnotes & Sources

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates​

2. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages – Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

10 comments… add one
  • Tina

    Do any of the departments let you be a k9 handler if you have a dog of your own at home?

    • balko

      No, you’re not allowed to have a dog of your own than the provided K-9 dog.

      • jeff

        That is not true at all , you may have multiple dogs living at your residence , depends on the size of the house and many times you could have someone come out and look at your place to make sure parameters are sufficient .

  • unrelated

    what are the steps in becoming a k9 officer?

  • fred

    what is the occupational outlook for this career

  • ben

    Can you have whatever type of dog you want?

    • lake

      no you can not most dogs can not live up to the expectations of a K9 officer my father uses German shepherds and that is what im going to use they are very good working dogs and can meet very high limits

  • Kadie

    HI, I am a high school student and am wanting to learn more about this career. Does anyone know if you need a college degree and what colleges I should go to for the education needed?

  • Arun s

    Just curious. In wake of the latest school shooting in Florida, would the presence of a K-9 unit have helped prevent the incident?
    I often see the SROs bring in dogs after it occurs to ensure the absence of further threat. Why not before such occurrence in a more proactive stance? Their presence may be a good deterrent as well, would it not? I appreciate a response and hope I’m not off base. Cheers!

    • Nathan

      Speaking as an active handler if there is an active shooter I’m leaving my dog in the car. We can go in to shoot but sending my partner on someone with a gun is just a suicide mission for him.

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