Unique Training Challenges (and Myriad Benefits) of Police K-9 Units

Regardless of how a K-9 unit is stood-up and maintained, it is almost universally accepted that the return on investment is practically immeasurable.

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Earlier this month, WTVT-TV broadcast a short segment highlighting the rigorous training performed by K-9s and their handlers in the Wiregrass Region of southeastern Alabama. For nearly a week, LEOs and their K-9s from area agencies—including the Lee County Sheriff's Office and the Dothan Police Department—trained in detection of narcotics and explosives as well as the tracking of criminal suspects and missing persons.

Also this month, the Press & News reported that the Corcoran (MN) Police Department's K-9 will return to the streets after training for several months with his new handler following the retirement last summer of the dog's previous handler. K-9 Zeke will now set about the task of patrolling the streets of the town of 6,000 people roughly 25 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

Meanwhile Michigan Live reported K-9 "Denver" and his handler will join in patrol duties—with four other K-9/handler pairings—for the Saginaw (MI) Police Department now that K-9 "Mitch" has retired from service.

All three recent news items highlighted for the public what everyone in policing already knows—K-9 training is continual and ongoing.

Unique Training Challenges

Police dogs generally undergo around four months of baseline obedience training—sit, stay, heel, whatnot—before even moving on to training in general K-9 capabilities alongside their assigned handler. Depending on the assignment and/or specialty of the duo, that can last from a dozen (or thereabouts) weeks to as many as two years.

Once out on patrol, K-9 units must then complete a certain number of hours—usually about 16, depending on the animal's assigned discipline—of documented training every month to meet requirements set by the state POST or other governing body. In addition, there are annual re-certification requirements K-9s and their handlers must meet, usually necessitating specified training.

In reality, handlers work with their four-legged partners in some manner of training capacity essentially every single day whether they're on duty or off.

Return on Investment

Obviously, this represents a massive investment on the part of the agency and the individual officer in terms of both time and money.

The National Police Dog Foundation estimates that complete training of a K-9 in basic patrol duties—essentially detection and apprehension of suspects—can range from $12,000.00 to $15,000.00 "depending on the length of each class." This, of course, is in addition to the cost of just obtaining the dog itself, which can run around $8,000 to $10,000. Then there's the "routine" expense of food, shelter, medical care, and the like.

Of course, most of America's roughly 18,000 federal, state, county, and local agencies don't have that kind of money floating in surplus in the annual budget, so many organizations rely on the assistance provided by groups like the National Police Canine Association, the United States Police Canine Association as well as the generosity of local, state, and regional Police Canine Associations and charitable donors in private enterprise.

Regardless of how a K-9 unit is stood-up and maintained, it is almost universally accepted that the return on investment is practically immeasurable. Police K-9s are able to perform myriad duties a human officer is simply incapable of—from finding lost children in the woods to sniffing out illegal narcotics secreted away in hidden compartments of vehicles on the side of a freeway.

All in, a police K-9 is worth their weight in gold.

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Doug Wyllie Crop Headshot
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