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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Lynne Doucette

Lynne Doucette

Lt. Lynne D. Doucette is a patrol supervisor and defensive tactics trainer with the Brunswick (Maine) PD. Prior to being the first female promoted at BPD, she worked as an undercover detective assigned to the state narcotics task force.

Patricia Teinert

Patricia Teinert

Patricia A. Teinert has been a Texas peace officer since 1984. She has served as a patrol officer, investigator, and member of a juvenile gang and narcotics task force. She is currently a patrol officer with Katy ISD Police Department.
Women in Law Enforcement

5 Tips for Joining a K-9 Unit

Become one of the few female officers to work as a K-9 handler.

April 26, 2013  |  by Patricia Teinert - Also by this author

Officer Linda Matthew is the Sacramento (Calif.) Police Department’s first female K-9 handler. Photo: Sacramento (Calif.) PD
Officer Linda Matthew is the Sacramento (Calif.) Police Department’s first female K-9 handler. Photo: Sacramento (Calif.) PD

Have you noticed there are more female K-9 handlers in the private sector than in law enforcement? In fact, I found there are very few female K-9 handlers in law enforcement overall. In this first unit-specific installment of my series on joining special details, I’ll take a look at just why this is, and provide tips for how to become one of the few to hold this position.

At first it seemed the low representation of female K-9 handlers in law enforcement was due to the time commitment. The initial training is long -- between three and eight weeks -- and usually takes place out of town. Add in continuing maintenance, refresher training, and daily care, and there is little relief. With the exception of large agencies, K-9 officers are on call 24/7 and rarely work the day shift. The officer’s family must also be taken into consideration because once a dog and officer team up there is little, if any, separation between work and family.

But it turns out the truth is simply there are fewer female officers to begin with, and K-9 positions are very competitive and limited in number. No matter how many officers apply for a K-9 position, odds are there will be more males than females applying. It seems the reason for fewer female K-9 officers is a numbers issue. So don’t allow the numbers to deter you.

If you’re motivated to join a K-9 unit, use these five tips to prepare and achieve your goal.

1. Know what is required to apply for your agency’s K-9 Unit.

Begin with looking up the requirements in your policy and procedure manual. Most agencies require between 3 and 5 years of patrol experience. There is often no “pre-test” or formal training. Practical experience handling K-9s is not imperative, but certainly beneficial. A physical fitness test is required at some agencies.

I found preferred qualifications included aggressive officer who works on his/her own with little or no supervision and is capable of handling stress while making quick sound decisions, good report writing and record keeping skills, and able to communicate his/her evidence accurately in court. I also found mention of an officer who is personable and comfortable speaking to a crowd. (K-9 officers have a unique opportunity for public relations.)

2. Complete some basic research.

Research the difference in patrol, detection, and dual purpose dogs. Know the different breeds, their temperament, how they work, and how they are different. Does your department use dual purpose dogs? Learn and understand what training is required.

3. Get online.

Check with your agency’s K-9 Unit and find out what company they use for their certification. These facilities usually maintain Websites that provide a lot of information about them. Contact the training facility and talk to the trainers.

Follow or join the various police dog associations. These associations not only offer information online and in publications, they offer seminars to their members. (You do not have to be a handler to be a member.) You will find numerous professional sites by simply entering “K9 Officer” in any online search engine.

4. Talk to and get to know officers already in the unit.

Follow up by talking with and riding with someone in a K-9 Unit. Volunteer to assist present K9 handlers in the various training profiles including a canine decoy can be a valuable asset to have when applying for a position.

5. Read, Ask, Review, and Read some more.

Whether your information is obtained from law enforcement publications, books, online articles, trainers, or officers, the more knowledge you build up prior to applying for the position the better.


5 Tips for Joining a Specialty Unit

Comments (14)

Displaying 1 - 14 of 14

Jill @ 4/30/2013 7:32 PM

This is a good article. I am a female Staff Sergeant over my departments K-9 unit. I had to work hard and prove myself over and over again as a handler. One thing you can possibly have in your favor is that over my 15 years of K9 experience I have noticed that a lot of the male dogs bond better with a female handler than a male. My advice is if your interested go for it! K9 is the most rewarding job you can do in law enforcement.

pteienrt @ 4/30/2013 10:39 PM

Thanks for your response Jill. The most difficult part in researching this unit was finding female K-9 Officers for their input.

tracy @ 5/1/2013 7:12 PM

Im a female police officer for almost seventeen years and am currently in k9 school week 4 of 6, it is intense and mentally exhausting, not to mention nine male students and one female! me! but I wouldn't give it up for the world. I did my homework and was up against many other male candidates, I worked hard and got the opportunity. if you believe.. you can achieve! I am a mother of two young children so it is possible, with the right support!

Andrea @ 5/31/2013 5:12 PM

reading this article and reading the comments have really made me optimistic! I'm a college student with a dream to someday be in the k9 unit! and im a female so Thank you so much! This article made me feel like its possible :)

pteinert @ 6/25/2013 12:43 PM

Andrea, The gender barriers in law enforcement have been broken time and time again by many quailified, determined, and strong willed females. Do not ever set your goals by what others say you can and cannot do. You may not achieve all of your goals, but let it be by your mindset and your physical abilities not someone elses thoughts or beliefs.

Kelli @ 7/12/2013 9:34 AM

I have been a Deputy Sheriff for 6 years now and have loved doing what I do. Our department just received a grant for our very first K9. I am one of four females in a department of 100 males!! I am very well known for being a great deputy, so in speaking with my Sheriff I have and am the only female to apply for the job.
I am a single parent of a 16 year old girl, and believe it or not I have a great deal of time on my hands. So having a K9 partner would fit perfectly into our lives.
I have been doing a great deal of research in just what to expect when having a 4 legged partner!! I am meeting up with another female handler this week to get her story on her and her K9!
I have a firm understanding of just how much of a commitment it is going to take and that even some times will not be paid for all the duties we will be performing. I am willing to go the extra mile to make this K9 position be the very best for our department to set the path for others to follow in years to come.

Tracy @ 8/10/2013 8:36 PM

kelli, good luck! let us know how it goes!! me and my boy have been on streets now for couple months, it's so exciting, but definitely a lot of work!!

Jonas @ 9/4/2013 1:43 AM

Interresting article and comments. Makes me wonder why you don't have more female handlers!?

In my K9-we are 11 handlers and 3 are females. A good handler is a good handler, regardless of gender. We have the same requirements as commes to being able to work solo, physictest and reportwriting.

Go for it!
Brother in blue, K9-unit in Sweden

Marcel Fernando @ 2/4/2014 8:15 AM

I believe girls are most potentials than boy if she work with hard and patients. Thinking ideas with an aspiring with partners in works easy to manages his potentials never been reacting even she is hard their works in his mind is its ok i wll survive.

brianna brickey @ 6/3/2015 7:50 PM

My name is brianna brickey i am 18 years old and looking to join a k-9 unit when i get older ny advice is greatly appreciated. also will it help me out if i have had prior experiance witha former police /security k-9? my reason for asking is my neighbor has a former securitey dog and i work with him on basic comands and have found comands that she hasnever used before works really well with his and i was just woundering if i should get started early working with k-9s that have prior experiance and getting in shape woould help out a lot with the job also and i do have most of the other skills that i needsome istilleed to work on but i will workon them ifyou have anyadvice it would be of great help. thise arttical was verry helpful than yu fro you advice.does it help to be motivated by someone saing you cant do it or you are not cut out for the job.

radly sato @ 10/21/2015 12:01 AM

hi my name is RADLY SATO and i am 18 finishing up high school and i want to join the k-9 unite i would love to have any advise from any of you good people who have the experience in it.
thank you.

kristine @ 10/28/2015 10:04 AM

this is very helpful yes i am only 12 but i dream about becoming a k9 cop i have A,B unroll and i love working with dogs i've been growing up with dogs .and when i get one i always train it .i really love dogs and i really want to be a cop so i said why not i try for both and try my hardest to be a k9 cop when i am old enough and do my best in school to get there in life every day when i come home from school when i finish my homework i turn on the TV and watch cops that's like the only show i watch so i already know a lot about drugs and all the bad stuff that comes on the show i like that show a lot .when i first started watching made me want to be a police and then i realized the k9 division has both working with dogs and being a police

Josephine @ 2/23/2017 8:07 AM

I am turning 18, and I want to be in a K9 unit, any suggestions or advice on how to strive towards my goal?

Tanya @ 8/30/2018 6:31 PM

I am proud to say that I am the first female K9 handler (explosive detection) at my agency. My new 4-legged partner and I just finished training and will begin hitting the streets next week. The training was not easy and very mentally draining. I think I added some stress knowing that I had to work harder than my male counterparts because I had to prove that females can become good K9 handlers. With that being said, this is just the beginning. I am determined to be the best K9 team at my agency. The skies the limit. What advice would you give to a newly appointed K9 handler? I would love to network with other handlers, if anyone is interested.

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