Building a Bond with Your K9 Partner

Building a Bond with Your K9 Partner

The day a K9 officer meets his or her partner is a day that a lifelong bond is formed. It isn’t difficult to understand why—though they’ve got a badge and a set of crucial skills, at the end of the day, K9 officers are waggly-tailed, lovable companions that just so happen to be pretty big badasses, too. Building a bond with your K9 partner could save your life. It’s for all of these reasons that K9s are growing in demand in police departments in the United States and throughout the world.

Building a Bond with Your K9 Partner
IMAGE: PC Terry Arnett and crime scene investigation cadaver dog, Smithy. Inspector Russ Evans with explosives dog, Huggo. PC Darryl Marsh with drugs dog, Dusty. Operations dog handler with general purpose dog, Drake. PC Darryl Marsh with Ska, a General purpose and Firearms dog. SOURCE:

Police dogs have a long history in law enforcement, used since the Middle Ages. Today, these brave officers are trained in various high-stakes police jobs, from protecting their handlers to sniffing out drugs to identifying explosives. Of course, these dogs are also vital in searching for missing people, with German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois dogs among the most common breeds employed for human search applications.

One of the things that make K9 police work possible is the dedication and patience of the dog’s human handler. It’s extremely important that a deep bond is forged because, as all officers know, teamwork can prevent life-and-death situations. Forming a bond between animal and officer is vital. Without trust, mutual respect, loyalty, and understanding, the critical jobs listed above would not be possible.

What Is It Like to Have a K9 Partner? 

There is a Lot of Training

  • One of the things many people don’t realize is that, though some breeds are more naturally suited to police work than others, there’s a ton of training that goes into the job. Each and every police dog and handler requires hundreds of hours of training to get things right, and dogs must be recertified every year. And, among handlers, this is generally an around-the-clock job, as police dogs live with their partners at home—and most wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are a Lot of Long Nights

  • Another thing many people don’t realize about K9 work is that it requires a lot of middle-of-the-night missions. Dogs who are trained to track work much better at night than people, which means that trainers must be willing to not only work through the night when training but also respond to calls at all hours once the K9 has been officially sworn into the department.

There is a Lot of Care Required

  • Police dogs are natural athletes, too, so handlers must ensure that they get enough exercise and stay fit enough that they can conquer big missions. On top of that, working pups expend a lot of energy, and their jobs depend on it, so they will usually need a specially formulated diet.

There is a Lot of Love

  • One of the things that K9 handlers love the most about the job is that they get to work with their dog every day. If you’re a dog-lover, you know how amazing that sounds! Indeed, these animals may be serious when they’ve clocked in, but, like you, they need affection, love, and handler-dog playtime when they’re off-duty.
Building a Bond with Your K9 Partner
Image: Creative Commons CC0

Building the Unbreakable Bond

If you’re considering entering into the K9 unit or working with these brilliant animals in some capacity or another, you probably won’t need to work too hard to build a bond. The fact of the matter is, handlers know their dogs have dangerous jobs, but, at the end of the day, they’re simply (sometimes spoiled) family pets.

As you can see from the information above, handlers and K9s spend a lot of time together and often come away from their training experience with a natural bond—and that’s a perfect thing when it comes to law enforcement, where closeness and mutual respect mean more success overall.

Here are some ways handlers work to strengthen the crucial bond with their furry, badged buddies:

Off-Duty Playtime

  • Dog handlers know that to earn the adoration and loyalty of their partners, they must make time for playtime. Something as simple as tossing a ball to your K9 dog can help lay the foundation for a long, fruitful working relationship and friendship. It’s essential to teach working dogs that they can relax and play at home but that there are specific scenarios where they must be professional.

Off-Duty Outings

  • Taking your dog with you on special off-duty missions is a great way to build your mutual love and to introduce him to exciting, new scenarios. Many handlers take their dogs to public places—stores, parks, community fairs, etc.—to train them around people and strangers and to strengthen that bond. Most police departments allow handlers to take their dogs with them on vacation as well.

Integrating at Work and Home

  • Most people know not to pet working dogs when they spot them out in the wild while on duty, but dogs were bred for affection and should get plenty of petting and playtime at home. Be sure to give “off-duty” time at the department as well so that your fellow officers can get to know your pup, too.

Get Lots of Exercise

  • As previously mentioned, most police dogs are natural athletes and will need to release their energy periodically. Integrating your K9 into your exercise routine, whether that is a long hike or a jog at the park, will help make your bond even more unbreakable and make your pet love you even more if that’s even possible.

It Takes Time and Energy

Though working with a K9 partner is one of the most rewarding paths in law enforcement, it doesn’t come without sacrifice and hard work. Not all officers are cut out to be handlers, and not all pups are cut out to be K9 workers. Generally speaking, officers who are already “dog people” and who are willing to put in the time, love, and energy for their partner will be the most successful in this field. The reward comes in the form of slobbery kisses!


“Building a Bond with Your K9 Partner”

Guest Writer: Mark Hedman, CEO of LA Police Gear,

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