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What you should know before accepting a K9 handler position

Congratulations, you have an interest in becoming a K9 handler. It is always good to hear the various reasons a person wants to become a handler. I have heard many; “I just love dogs”, “I think it would be cool to work with a dog all day”, “I love working dope and a dog will help me find more” or “I need to do something to get off patrol”. I know there are many other reasons a person is attracted to becoming a K9 handler. Whatever your motivation, who am I to judge. However, I do feel it is important that a person understands what they are “REALLY” getting into before they decide to take on this position.

As a K9 handler, you can expect that your life is going to drastically change once you accept this position. Go ahead and assume this assignment is like no other in law enforcement and it is not just going to be you playing with a dog all day. It is actual work that will require your full commitment, and if you have a family, theirs too. There are really two main expectations to drive home to any new K9 handler; First, your free time is no longer your free time. Second, demands are high. Everything else I will bring to light for you will fall under these two expectations.

YOUR FREE TIME IS NO LONGER YOUR FREE TIME

I think back and ask myself, “QAack then to pass on my time. Once you start working dogs your free time is no longer your free time. You can now expect that you will be taking care of your dog full time. Unfortunately, your dog will not really care if you get sick, don’t feel like it, or you are tired. Your free time will now be consumed with feeding your dog, grooming your dog, conducting kennel maintenance, letting your dog out to use the bathroom (this may even require you walking him or her, depending on your living situation), and you will even have to spend time picking up after your dog. This is just the short list of things to be done on a routine basis, or maybe even twice a day. However, this short list does not include your monthly medication administration, veterinary visits, or even caring for your dog if he or she gets sick or injured. All this adds up to less free time for you. Expected family time will decrease and work time will increase. You will make a commitment to your job like no other.

So, prior to committing yourself on taking this position, understand that you will spend more time with your dog than you will with your own family. This is not a piece of equipment you can just hang up after your shift is over or a patrol car that you park in the driveway and not mess with it until your duty time resumes next. You’re going to have to work your normal duty time in addition to taking care of your dog before and after each shift. As you read this, you come to realize that this is a customary task…including your off days. On top of this, you are going to have to add training time and record keeping time. A holistic view of this is my next takeaway.

DEMANDS ARE HIGH

Still thinking it will be a walk in the park? Demands are high for K9 handlers of today. Not only are there more established requirements today than there ever has been for K9 teams, but there is an expectation for today’s law enforcement (including K9) that places us in the public eye more than we ever have been. These demands will place on you, more as a handler as well. Training, paperwork, and availability, yes being on-call. All of this results in demanding more of YOU.

Factor in an average minimum of 4 hours per week of training…But who really does that? Most handlers I know put in a lot more training hours than that. Add the necessary documentation for all the training. We say an hour of training will equal to 15 to 20 minutes of paperwork. Have you ever thought of being called out or having to work over on your shift? Remember that K9 handlers respond to even more critical incidents and are involved in more labor-intensive cases than most other officers. This is going to require more paperwork and longer shifts. I always advise departments to select handlers that are highly motivated for this purpose alone. Getting a dog alone is not going to help an officer get motivated if anything it will give the non-motivated officer an excuse to do less due to the necessity of paperwork and training alone. Adding hours of paperwork between training and deployments is a huge killer for most. Make sure that this is right for you. I didn’t make a mention of this in the first expectation section, but it is likely that most of these training and documentation hours will be conducted on your off days.

The last point I will make before sending you off to accept your next K9 position…or not, is just the level of commitment K9 handlers have to have. This commitment will seem to place the dog as the topmost priority. It is definitely a commitment that is like no other in law enforcement. Sorry to put it like this but it is a matter of fact. Not being able to just go off for the weekend or plan things because of work schedules, training, court, and factor this with the pressure that if you leave, what dog team is going to cover your rotation? What are you going to do with the dog if you decide to take a break? Also, if you do take a break you are just going to have to catch up on training hours when you return. I would often think, is it really worth taking a break with all the catch up I will have to play when I do return? Everything in your life will seem to revolve around the dog.

CONCLUSION

I am not trying to scare anyone from taking this very rewarding career path. This is a path that has ultimately fed my family for over 17 years. Despite any of these points I would not have given up the experience of working two patrol dogs in my career for anything. Hands down the best experience I had in law enforcement was working my dogs. As far as I am concerned, the reward greatly outweighed the cons, but I also understand that these changes do not actually work for everyone hoping to work a dog for an agency. I am blessed to have a family that supported this commitment. Although, working a dog is all cool, many a time people don’t really know what they are getting into as a handler. I see more people waste time taking the position without really knowing what it is all about. Not saying this ends badly all the time, but thinking for what is best for each dog, each department, and each person is best. Just because it seems cool doesn’t mean it is right for everyone. Realizing that this is not for everyone before starting training or bonding with a new dog really is the right path.

I now ask all the handlers out there, are there any other things you wish you knew before you accepted your K9 position? Please share them in the comments section below.

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