It is no secret that the world of K9 is not the easiest specialized unit to become a part of.
Units all across the country typically only have from 1-6 K9 teams with the exception of your big cities such as NYPD, LAPD, Boston PD, and some of your larger Sheriff's Offices in Florida that may have 10-15 teams or more. Notwithstanding those larger agencies that may have more turnover and positions available, the position of K9 handler can be very difficult to attain.
Your typical working K9 will have a working career of approximately 7-9 years based on the health of the K9, department retirement policies for K9s, department needs, etc.
This means that the turnover for a K9 handler position is about the same; that is if the handler chooses (or the department chooses) not have the handler work another K9.
K9 is a position that it is either in your blood or it isn’t. And when it is in your blood, you never want to leave. Most handlers will work multiple K9s throughout their law enforcement career, often forgoing promotions just to be able to stay within the unit.
With this being said, there are a few things that you can do as an officer to make yourself more desirable to be selected as a K9 handler when that coveted spot does open up within your department.
Here are 3 secrets to becoming a K9 handler:
If you are not a well-rounded officer that is known throughout the department as a trustworthy person who can get the job done; you will not stand out amongst the other applicants.
As a K9 supervisor myself, I am constantly observing and evaluating patrol officers when I respond to calls. I am looking for that officer that grabs my attention in a good way rather than a bad way.
I look for officers that are proactive, that can think on their feet, make good decisions when the stress is high, and are humble about the work that they do.
These are the type of officers that I will keep my eye on. I get to know them and learn their personalities as most K9 units are a very tight knit group of officers.
If the personality does not match, it will never be a good fit.
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In addition to doing good work on the street, introducing yourself to the K9 handlers within the unit is a big step. As a supervisor, not only should I know who you are, but my handlers should know your name as well.
Be the one to volunteer to run a track with the team when they need a body. Take time to ask questions about how they deploy, why they deploy, and what you can do to be a better back up officer for them.
The more that the handlers or supervisors see you and see the effort you are putting in, the better. When the time arrives for try-outs, you will stick out as one to watch because the handlers in the unit will know who you are.
It won’t be the first time that they have ever seen or heard of you.
My third secret follows very closely with my second. Simply put; put in the effort.
What I mean by that is combine everything from the first two secrets and add to it. Show up to training. Volunteer to lay training tracks, hide in buildings, put out detection hides, and any other task that you can be used for.
When you show that you are willing to give up your personal time to show up, help out and learn about what the unit does and how it operates, you will stand out immensely.
Take the time to make sure that you are in the physical shape that you need to be in.
We, as officers, lose any right to be out of shape when we choose this career.
In K9 it is even more so the case. This position is more physically demanding on a day to day basis than any other position within the department.
Most agencies have some sort of physical assessment as part of their tryout process. Learn it, know it, and crush it when the time comes. And then keep it up.
Just because you kill the tryout doesn’t mean that that physical standard then goes away. In my unit we complete the physical evaluation twice a year and we start every training day with an hour of PT.
Your endurance needs to be there to be able to keep up with your K9 on a 2 mile track. You need to be able to lift your K9 over fences and other obstacles. You also need to be able to drag a suspect, with your K9 attached on a bite, back to you at a position of cover.
The physical demands are great and if you are not prepared, you risk your dog, you, or your partners being injured. Or far worse.
The top three secrets to becoming a handler are not really secrets at all, but rather being a good and capable officer. Combine these three things with hard work and drive to get where you want to be and you will put yourself ahead of your competition and in an excellent place to be selected for a new fur missile partner.
Good luck and stay safe.
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