Selecting a Police K9 Handler – Unit For Administrators

*Part 1 Selecting the Police K-9 Handler*

I have worked/trained with a multitude of Criminal Patrol Team members from all over the State of Ohio and the United States during my duties. They all have something to say and I am a sponge when it comes to criminal patrol work. I felt I needed to pass this information on to Law Enforcement and its Administrators. This column is based on the assumption that our readers are Law Enforcement Administrators who are starting a new team from the ground up. Any good administrator is going to research before they act on decision making. I hope this article helps them with this process.

The worst mistake Administration can make when selecting a K9 Handler is to base the selection totally on seniority. The selection process should include many interviews. You can start the interview process by seniority and work your way to the youngest unit. The interview process will be a very stressful time for both the administrators and the units interviewing. The end of this column will have a list of questions for Administrators interviewing potential K9 Handlers.

Officer Safety:

Officer safety is a major component when attempting to select a Police K9 Handler. The Police K9 Handler has an added risk when conducting normal business. They must be able to focus on not only their safety; but, the safety of their K9. Their normal business is running backwards focusing on their K9 during a drug sniff of a motor vehicle. This places the speeding traffic at their back if they conduct K9 Sniffs roadside. The average Criminal Patrol Unit has a large ego and may take added risks because of this ego. The interviewing Administration needs to ask the question, “Would you be able to let a drug load drive away because you can’t get back-up? Or, would you improvise and try to do it by yourself?” They need to be able to focus and make smart decisions. A load of drugs or something similar is not worth attending another Law Enforcement Funeral. There is even more added risk when your Department is attempting to secure a Dual Purpose Utility K9 Handler. When Officers find it unsafe to follow an assailant they call K9. The interviewing Officer should be made aware and asked if they were aware of the dangerous position their signing up for.

Team Capability:

Obviously, we are attempting to build a Criminal Patrol Team. Therefore, we need to select a K9 Handler who will be able to work in a team. We do not want a loner to have our Department K9. This portion of the selection process can be evaluated by speaking with the Officer’s direct line supervisor. They will have the best knowledge of how the Officer works with the Team. (This would be his shift of fellow Officers) He or She could be asked, “How do you show Teamwork during your shift? Plus, how will this make you a good Police K9 Handler?” The answer we are looking for is they will go out and work looking to get into cases. As called upon they would assist the other Officers as much as possible or whenever possible. If someone sounds like they may need something they would ask or stop by to see if something was needed of them. This obviously makes for a good team who watches each other’s backs.

Willingness to Learn:

The field of Police K9 Handling is an ever evolving career. The Officer interviewing has to understand they will be continuously learning for the length of their K9 career. Every Officer knows we have to keep educated on laws and tactics. These laws and tactics are doubled when we handle a K9. The Officer must have the willingness to learn. This means they may have to spend their own time after their shift keeping abreast on changes in case law, K9 tactics, etc. If they are to become a good K9 Handler they must sacrifice a lot of their own time for the position. What the K9 does and what they do with the K9 is their responsibility. They should be a flexible Officer always seeking more training and knowledge. Some questions which should be in the interview are: 1. Will you be willing to spend some of your own time learning or updating your K9 Knowledge? 2. What tools do you think you have to update your K9 Knowledge and Tactics? The answer for number two we are looking for is, “Fellow K9 Officers during training, Magazines especially designed for K9 Handlers, K9 Workshops, and there are several password protected websites for Law Enforcement. The bottom line is if they already know everything, according to them, then they are a liability!

Search and Seizure:

The interviewing Officer should be put through a list of scenarios which cover the Officer’s knowledge of search and seizure. The actual scenarios should be a statement of what happened during their traffic stop and they need to explain what they would do and why? There is one scenario which needs to be in every interview: The scenario should be: An Officer calls for the K9, the K9 Unit arrives, and the requesting Officer states what he has. In which isn’t enough reasonable suspicion for your State Law to conduct a sniff of a motor vehicle or detain the suspect. What would the prospective K9 Handler do? Obviously, the answer Administration is looking for is to exhaust all legal actions and then kick the suspect vehicle loose. They should be asked to explain the various exceptions to the search warrant rule. This displays the knowledge needed to handle a Detection K9.

Self Motivation:

The K9 Handler has to be self motivating. They will be out there attempting to locate criminals and no one should have to tell them to get to work. The Officer should understand already the position they are applying for is a prestigious position. There can only be so many K9 Officers at a Police Department. If we all had dogs we would have no one to transport the Suspects. The Officers direct line Supervisor can advise if the Officer is a self motivator. Or, does someone have to light a fire under their bottom to get them going? However, do not take the line Supervisors word is bond. This means the Officer might be so focused on Criminal Interdiction that they do not focus on the smaller things. The Supervisor may have bad things to say about the Officer as a whole; but, they might be a great Police K9 Handler. Keep in mind to look at the total picture before writing someone off for a Police K9 Position.

Public Speaking & Professionalism:

The general public focuses on the K9 Units. An example would be 10 Police cars could drive into a Gas Station one of which is a Police K9 Car. The other people at the Gas Station gravitate towards the Police K9 Car to ask questions. Therefore, the subject you select for K9 Officer will be in the public lime light daily everyone will focus on them all the time. We want someone who will act in a professional manner and appear professional. This includes the vehicle they drive. We call our Police Cars our mobile offices. Have you seen some of these mobile offices? You can’t even see the radio console from the empty candy wrappers and coffee cups. The Officer we select should be professional and appear professional. One way to check this is after the interview or during the interview to have a supervisor take a walk past their Police Car. Every Police Car is a little dirty with some signs of the lived in look. What we are looking for is the Police car that has not been cleaned for six months. With the way the economy is today the general public is looking at us more than ever. We ask them yearly for increases in taxes, levies, etc. How will it look to them if the Police K9 Unit we just spent $40,000.00 on, including the car, was viewed as disgusting or unprofessional? Word spreads fast when it is about money and the Police. Try to pick the most professional officer you can with the totality of the circumstances.

Also, speaking of the general public, they love to see K9 Demonstrations. This can be a way to grow the program through donations. Which means the Officer you choose as your K9 Handler must be able to speak in public in front of large groups of civilians who know nothing about Police K9. The question definitely needs to be asked of the potential handler, “Can you speak in public in front of large groups of people?” If they cannot you may need to put them on the back burner as your second K9 Unit.


Ask the Officer if he is aware of the added family burden of caring for a large Police K9. Has he talked to his family about having a Police K9? Do they understand that a Police K9 is not like having a family dog? You as the administrator may even want to take a trip to the Officer’s Home and speak to the family about what adding a Police K9 to the household entails. They need to understand having a Police K9 is just the same as adding another small child to the household. It is another mouth to feed, a kid who can’t go to the bathroom in the house, and someone who can’t be left home alone to fend for himself. Also, there will be no more last second take off for the weekend vacations. Care would need to be taken to kennel the dog at an approved kennel. The Officer should also have sufficient property to allow a large K9 to exercise and have room to move.

Before my list of potential questions during the Police K9 Interview I need to get one point across. I believe rotating K9 Handlers is a very bad idea! What I mean by rotating handlers is allowing a handler to work for three years (Short period of time) and then rotating another person into the K9 Handler position. We have just spent how many thousand dollars training this handler? Then we decide to throw this away and start all over again? Why not continue the knowledge building of the current handler? This is a bigger asset to the Department. It is also a lot better in Court to be able to state, “I’ve been a K9 Handler for 5 years, 10 years, etc. If you have someone else who would make a great K9 Handler add another K9 position!

Potential List of Questions for Police K9 Interviews:

1. Why do you want the K9 Position?

2. What does the K9 Position mean to you?

3. How long do you plan on being a K9 Officer?

4. What are your plans for the rest of your career?

5. How would you keep abreast on changes in K9 Case Law and Tactics?

6. What tools do you have or could you have to update yourself on K9 Case Law and Tactics?

7. Would you be willing to spend some of your own time on increasing your K9 knowledge? (Case Law // Tactics)

8. How do you show teamwork during your normal duties now?

9. Would you be available for call-out if given the K9 position?

10. Do you understand the care of the K9 is your responsibility 24/7?

11. Do you understand how much work having a large K9 is?

12. Do you have any other animals at home? If so, how will you cope with the entry of a large K9 into the family?

13. Have you spoke to your family about the position you applied for?

14. Does your family understand Police K9 and the amount of work it is?

15. Do they understand the stress placed on the family when a large K9 is introduced into the household?

16. What did they say?

17. Do you have enough space for a large K9 in your household?

18. How will you house or store the large K9?

19. Will the K9 have enough space for proper exercise?

20. Are you able to speak in front of large groups of people?

21. Do you think you are able to perform demonstrations in front of large groups of people?

*Your Scenarios will vary from State to State with regards to Search and Seizure. However, the scenario which has to be given is the following:

-The Task Force received reliable intelligence that a large load of drugs is in a certain vehicle coming into the area. They give you the vehicle description, driver, passengers, etc. They advise to find your own probable cause for the stop. You locate the vehicle, stop the vehicle for a traffic violation, and make contact with the vehicle. The vehicle has three suspects inside presumed armed and dangerous. You then have a rash of serious calls and have no back-up what so ever available. What would you do? *The answer we are looking for is to set the ego aside, gather intelligence, kick it loose, and call the next jurisdiction. Or, exhaust all means of back-up including the Task Force who put it out, gather intelligence, kick it loose, and call ahead of it. Then go home safely at the end of their shift! A load of drug is not worth dying over!

The next two parts of this series are on the way! I hope this Series assists Law Enforcement in putting together a good Criminal Patrol Team.