Dogs are many things. A dog can be a man’s best friend, companion dog, guide dog, therapy assistant, and many more. And like humans, a select few dogs will answer to a higher calling, though not all breeds are suited for work in law enforcement.
Some dog breeds provide assistance and service in local police departments, national military and other law enforcement agencies (e.g. bomb squad, search & rescue, etc.). That being said, let’s explore all the amazing dog breeds that serve and protect more than just their owners!
History of Dogs in Law Enforcement
Did you know that dogs have been actively employed with government police and military for over 100 years? Our furry friends have been protecting society for many decades already. In fact, the very first K9 unit was commissioned in London around 1889.
The first dog breed to work in the K9 police unit was the Bloodhound. Given their incredible noses and the ability to track many miles away, are you really surprised? Back in 1888, one of the most notorious serial killers in human history was on the loose: Jack the Ripper.
Sir Charles Warren, the commissioner of the London police department at the time, was criticized for not using Bloodhounds to help track the killer. He gave in and employed two Bloodhounds (Burgho and Barnaby) to perform simple tracking of the killer at each murder site.
But even before the 1800’s, dogs had been working with the law as early as the Medieval period.
Unfortunately, this did not lead to the capture of Jack the Ripper. By the time the hounds were in full-force, the infamous killer had stopped his spree. While the first modern use of K9 was not successful, it did lead other governments to take a closer look at dogs in law-enforcement.
Pretty soon, countries like France, Germany, Belgium and Austria began training dogs for a K9 police unit. Today, tens of thousands of dogs all over the world help fight crime. Without the use of dogs, performing specialized missions would be more difficult.
Military & Police Dogs
These are the most popular police dog breeds serving humans all over the world. However, there are a lot more local dog breeds that serve mainly in their home countries.
These highly trained police dogs are generally called K-9, which is a homophone of “canine.” This term originated from the name of the Army’s War Dog Program during the second World War. Back then, the dogs of the military were called the “K-9 Corps.”
1. German Shepherd
Services: Military, Police K-9 Unit, Search & Rescue, Bomb Squad
German Shepherds are the third most intelligent dog breeds. Combined with an athletic body, their large stature, muscular frame and agile speed – they’ve become the gold standard for police dogs. The GSD is the breed-of-choice for a reason.
Not only do they have the remarkable physical gifts to be great police dogs, but German Shepherds are highly trainable and immensely loyal. Plus, they can be aggressive when needed.
These herding dogs are generally used in the police force’s “K9 Unit,” as known in english-speaking countries. Their job consists of several duties.
German Shepherds excel in search and rescue (missing or lost people), detecting drugs or explosives, crime scenes investigation or even chasing down people in high-stress criminal chases.
These confident smart dogs learn an arsenal of verbal cues and hand gestures that correspond to a specific task. They’re so highly respected that any attempt to injure or kill them is a criminal offense in most states.
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2. Belgian Malinois
Services: Police K-9 Unit, Military, Navy Seal, Search & Rescue
The Belgian Malinois is the smaller cousin of the German Shepherd. But believe it or not, the Malinois is even more athletic than the German Shepherd due to their smaller physique.
However, they hold many of the same physical and personality traits as their larger counterparts. So it’s no surprise the Malinois have become popular K-9 dogs as well. In addition to the K-9 Unit, this fearless dog breed is used by the military for operations of all sizes.
For example, the Belgian Malinois named Cairo is a military working dog (MWD) used by the Navy’s Seal Team Six. Cairo’s role was extremely crucial in the impressive take down of Osama Bin Laden. So much that President Obama demanded, “I wan’t to meet that dog.”
Their service in the military isn’t a recent event. Back during World War I, these dogs were primarily used as messengers and ambulance dogs. In addition to police and military operations, the Malinois is also used for search & rescue and therapy.
Services: Police K-9 Unit, Narcotics Detection, Search & Rescue
The Bloodhound is not a dog breed you can easily imagine running with the likes of German Shepherds or the Belgian Malinois. And, they won’t. However, they do serve a very specific role for law enforcement – tracking people and narcotics (drugs).
Their ability to isolate a specific odor and follow it over a long distance make them highly valuable dogs. In fact, Bloodhounds arguably have the best nose in the canine kingdom (along with Beagles and Basset Hounds). Their sense of smell is 1000 times better than a human’s.
Despite popular belief, the Bloodhound was the very first to be commissioned by a police unit for their tracking services. In fact, they’ve been working with police since 1889, when they were used to try to track down Jack the Ripper in London.
Today, there are fewer Bloodhounds working in the K9 units, but we have them to thank for the current use of dogs in law enforcement. Without the Bloodhounds paving the way and setting an example, we may not have police dogs today.
Services: Military, K-9 Police, Guard Dogs, Search & Rescue
Rottweilers are such versatile dogs when it comes to serving its people. Famous for being the ideal guard dog, a Rottie will love familiar people but act cautious and alert around strangers. Make no mistake, the Rottweilers are confident and reliable dogs.
Rottweilers are currently used as guard dogs, police dogs, search & rescue, and military dogs. They do it all. With the U.S. military, Rottweilers have had a history of being messenger dogs. For both World Wars, these dogs were sent from base to base to deliver urgent messages.
It’s no surprise why military generals decided to send Rottweilers instead of the other hundreds of other dog breeds available. They’re courageous, loyal and most importantly, dependable! They will risk it all to get the job done.
According to dog bite statistics, Rottweilers are also the 2nd most dangerous dog breeds in the USA. If you’re interested in seeing which breed ranked above them, check this out.
5. Doberman Pinscher
Services: K-9 Police, Protection, Security, Guide & Therapy
The Doberman Pinscher is a large muscular dog with a slim frame and cropped ears. They’re famous for being tenaciously loyal and obedient to their owners. It’s why they make them such great guard dogs. In fact, they were bred to protect.
Dobermans are also extremely intelligent dogs, coming in as the fifth most intelligent dog breed. It’s no surprise why they were given the opportunity. With both the brains and brawn, it’s really a “no brainer” why these dogs were once heavily used by the police force.
Although the Doberman was once a highly popular K-9 option, they’re becoming less prevalent in K-9 units. They’re more of a family guard dog today because they’re much more costly to acquire than other dogs similar in strength and intelligence – such as the German Shepherd.
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7. Airedale Terrier
Services: K-9 Police, Protection Unit, Guard Dogs, Military
Airedale Terriers are the largest of the Terrier breeds, weighing up to 70 pounds. And although Airedales are friendly and kind dogs, they can also be courageous and clever.
With their police-friendly temperaments, Airedales have served as police dogs in the British police force. However, they’re just hunting dogs in America.
Thanks to their high intelligence, exceptional nose and tough wiry coats, they were good K-9 options. Plus, they were easy to maintain. These dogs were specifically trained to attack those not in a police uniform. It eventually became a problem when police handlers were off duty.
In addition, Airedale Terriers were fantastic war dogs for Great Britain during the first World War. They did all types of tasks, including scouting and carrying military supplies.
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Services: Military, Guard Dogs, Patrol Dogs, K-9 Police
The Boxer is one of the most versatile war dogs that Germany has ever seen. They served in both World Wars, used as patrol dogs, guard dogs and messengers for the military. But despite their success in the military, Boxers were bred to be an all-purpose farm dog.
They’re diligent dogs with high instinctive and adaptive dog intelligence. Along with their durability, you have a dog that’s able to get the job done. They were almost perfect dogs for the military!
One of their specialties was in transporting communication wires between groups on the battlefield. These spool of wires connected to their collars and they quickly maneuvered to other stations.
Boxers were serious heroes in their war dogs. Fortunately, they’re mainly family dogs today. However, the German police force still uses them for certain operations today. They aren’t as popular in military now, mainly because of health issues.
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9. Rajapalayam Dog
Services: Police K-9, Guard Dogs, Border Security
The Rajapalayam is an Indian sighthound that’s arguably the most famous and popular dog breed from India. As you may have guessed, they’re popular among the Indian Police force.
Specifically, they’re employed by the Border Security Force and Central Reserve Police Force to guard and protect the borders of Kashmir. These dogs are large and powerful. They don’t like being handled by strangers, which make them great for guarding.
Although Rajapalayams are great local police dogs, they aren’t so much used as them today. State-level Indian police forces mainly use German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers today. Rajapalayams can still be excellent law enforcement dogs though.
10. Bouvier des Flandres
Services: K-9 Police, Search & Rescue, War Dogs
Originating from Belgium, the Bouvier des Flandres is a powerful and big dog that’s been serving in wars and Police forces for decades. Though they were bred to be all-purpose farm dogs, they evolved to be so much more. Bouviers first began their military careers during World War I.
They did everything – from delivering urgent messages to pulling ambulance litters. The Bouvier des Flandres was so active during war that so many Bouviers lost their lives in the line of duty. In fact, they almost went extinct because of it.
After the first World War, organizations and groups began to revive the breed in France, Netherlands and United States. Once again serving their duties, Bouviers participated in the Second World War. Afterwards, they almost went extinct – again!
11. Akita Inu
Services: K-9 Police Unit, Guard Dogs
The Akita Inu, also the national dog of Japan, is the courageous and protective breed currently used in the Japanese police force. But their most famous trait is their unwavering loyalty. You can bet they’ll fight by the side of their handler till the end.
They’re known to be a little territorial and protective, which make them excellent guard dogs for police and families. Akitas are also exceptional at sensing danger or any suspicious behavior. Their ability to gauge a threat is amazingly accurate.
With appropriate training, they have transformed into Japan’s premiere police dogs. Because they are famously loyal, they work very well with their handlers. Outside of Japan, Akitas aren’t as popular in law enforcement. But with Japan leading the way, we may see further adoption in other countries.
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12. Giant Schnauzer
Services: K-9 Police, Air Force, Search & Rescue
Giant Schnauzers, the largest of the three size variations, are unique military and police working dogs. For instance, they’re one of the only breeds to serve with the Air Force.
These giant dogs were used as working dogs for the Air Force back in the second World War. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that they were brought back to the military organization. According to Air Force Sgt. Kelly Webster, dogs are trained like new recruits to the Air Force.
They learn special skillsets like odor detection, enclosure searching and obedience. Although the Air Force thought they weren’t suited for this type of work, they decided to try again after the war. Today, Brock is the first and only Giant Schnauzer to serve with this force in a few decades.
Other Law Enforcement Breeds
Not all dog breeds in law enforcement are part of the military and police force. Other dog breeds may not have the physical capabilities for field operations, but have other special skills.
Here are the other dog breeds that help with law enforcement – just not with militaries and police K-9 forces. They deserve just as much recognition!
13. Labrador Retriever
Services: TSA, Bomb Squad, Search & Rescue
If there was an all-purpose dog, the Labrador Retriever (commonly known as the “lab”) would be it. Labs are the most popular dogs because of their friendly and passive personality.
They’re ideal for law enforcement because they’re highly obedient dogs (ranked 7th for intelligence). As a result, they’re mainly trained for tracking. While Labradors are super friendly and great for families, they aren’t the most ideal security dogs.
There’s a reason why they don’t serve guard dog roles! However, Labradors more than make up for it by helping the blind, tracking down bombs and participating in search and rescues.
According to Summerville Police Department, Labs are generally used to detect explosives or narcotics by sniffing it out. This makes sense because they have decent noses. They’ll physically scratch or bark at where the bomb is located.
Services: TSA, Bomb Squad, Sniffer Dog
When you think military or police dog, the Beagle is rarely the first dog breed that pops to mind. They’re kind and loyal dogs, physically known for having long droopy ears.
Because of their sense of smell, Beagles have been used for sniffing out illegal substances in airports all over. In just the USA alone, Beagles are responsible for seizing over 180,000 pounds of prohibited foods being smuggled into the country!
Don’t let the lack of intimidation and small size of Beagles make you think they aren’t essential in serving numerous agencies around the world. They are amazing dogs with a big heart, but an even bigger nose, so to speak.
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15. Dutch Shepherd
Services: Search & Rescue, Tracking, Security
The Dutch Shepherd is like the German Shepherd’s cousin from the Netherlands. It’s not a coincidence that both serve a higher purpose. They’re both eerily similar in both color and size, but have different temperaments that lead to different roles on the police force.
Dutch Shepherds were originally bred in rural areas to become the “all-purpose farm dog.” However, due to their size, intelligence and athletic ability, they’re perfect for certain work.
According to the American Dutch Shepherd Association, these dogs are used for tracking, dog sport, herding, security and occasionally in the police force. They aren’t featured breeds in the police force, such as the K-9 Unit, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing with other tasks.
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16. German Shorthaired Pointer
Services: DEA, Narcotics Tracking, TSA
The German Shorthaired Pointer (or GSP) was originally bred as a skilled hunting dog with powerful legs. They’re quick, agile and versatile on both land and water.
Friendly by nature but extremely hard working, the German Shorthaired is an ideal dog breed for law enforcement – but maybe just a little to friendly for the police force.
Today, German Shorthaired Pointers are employed in special law enforcement organizations all over the world. The world finally realizes how great they are!
They specialize in tracking illegal substances and are widely used in air transportation security (TSA). You’ll also find the GSP dogs working with detectives, tracking evidence at crime scenes.
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17. Basset Hound
Services: Bomb Squad, Narcotics Tracking
The Basset Hound is one of six basset-type dog breeds to come out of France. Like the others, Basset Hounds are “scent hounds” – and a really good one too!
With short legs and droopy ears, these hounds most resemble a cross of a Beagle and Corgi. But don’t let their silly looks fool you, they’re highly capable dogs. In fact, the short legs keep them close to the ground (and scent), while the ears help collect odor particles.
At first glance, you already know this dog breed lacks the athletic ability to compare with the GSD. They are known for their acute sense of smell instead. Specifically, Basset Hounds excel in tracking “ground-scents.” Few breeds can even compare.
And although they’re not as popular as the Beagle (used worldwide), Basset Hounds currently serve in a few countries as an explosives-tracking dog. They’re also used for narcotics tracking in France.
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18. English Cocker Spaniel
Services: Firearms Tracking, Bomb Squad, TSA
The English Cocker Spaniel is one of the most versatile dog breeds to work with the law (outside police and military). They’re sneaky athletic, but are actually known for their nose. In many European nations, they track illegal firearms and explosives for transportation security.
One of the coolest things the English Cocker Spaniel does is sniff out dirty money at airports. They are preventing money laundering. For example – at the Milan Malpensa airport, this dog was able to sniff out a man carrying an unreported $40,000 USD in his suitcase.
If that’s not enough for you, Cocker Spaniels are apparently learning how to perform CPR on humans in Madrid. Given their good size and eagerness to learn, it’s really no surprise they’ve excelled as multi-purpose dogs in law enforcement. What incredible dogs!
19. Springer Spaniel
Services: Bomb squad, Narcotics tracking, Search & Rescue
The Springer Spaniel is a top-notch working dog and was originally bred to be an all-purpose hunting companion. One of the best temperament traits of the Springer is their willingness to obey and please. This makes them reliable dogs for law enforcement.
These dogs are relatively small and compact compared to other dogs working with law enforcement. However, they have a powerful wet nose capable of effectively tracking many things.They have a lot of skill in tracking too.
Springer Spaniels are capable of using their nose to pick up slight nuances of wind and their pattern changes to find the target. It’s really incredible stuff! This skill was especially important for hunting game, but now it’s being used to catch criminals and save lives.
Police Dogs Around the World
It’s safe to say countries all over the world believe in the K-9 system and that dogs can help law enforcement tremendously. Here are just some examples of how countries use their dogs.
- Australia – Dogs help with security duties at airports and are actively helping the police force.
- Belgium – Belgium dogs help with detecting narcotics, human remains, fire accelerants, explosives and people. Dogs have been especially useful during the aftermath of earthquakes when law enforcement need to sift through the debris.
- Canada – They help with evidence hunting and tracking people and/or suspects of a criminal case.
- Denmark – Dogs participate in crime investigations by searching for biological evidence. They’re employed in search & rescue teams and help patrol for the police. However, there are only male German Shepherds on Denmark’s K-9 police unit.
- Hong Kong – Dogs help law enforcement with crowd control, search & rescue, poison and explosives detecting.
- Netherlands – The K-9 team in the Netherlands focuses on scent detection and tracking of explosives, firearms, human remains, fire accelerants and narcotics.
- India – Specially trained dogs in India help with border protection in some areas around India.
- Italy – Italian dogs are an integral part of the government’s anti-drug and explosives department. They’re also active in search & rescue teams and often patrol the streets of some Italian cities.
- Russia – Dogs not only help the police force in Russia, but they also help with special operations within the army. They’re often hunting down dangerous fugitives when called upon.
These are just a few examples of how dogs are serving around the world. The truth is, there are so many more countries that use various dog breeds for a wide array of tasks in law enforcement.