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When one thinks of a police dog, the first breed to come to mind is usually the mighty German Shepherd. Television, movies, and comic books frequently feature this popular breed in the role of police K9.
But why are German Shepherds used as police dogs?
The German Shepherd makes an ideal police dog due to their trainability, intelligence, athleticism, and work ethic. These dogs are capable of handling the stress of law enforcement with enthusiasm which makes them one of the leading dog breeds within police departments.
In this article we will look at just what makes a German Shepherd best suited for police work and how their breed characteristics contribute to their ability to handle law enforcement work.
We’ll also look at how the German Shepherd was first utilized in police work, the training that goes into a German Shepherd used for police work, and how police departments work with these dogs in various capacities.
Why Are German Shepherds Used as Police Dogs?
Reason 1: Trainability & High Intelligence Levels
German Shepherds have a reputation for being one of the most intelligent and trainable dog breeds out there. German Shepherds aren’t just easy to train; they also tend to have excellent common sense and are great problem solvers which makes them perfect for police work.
While they can be an emotionally sensitive breed, their willingness to please and their ease of learning new things makes them one of the most popular breeds for use in police work.
The brain size of a German Shepherd is around the size of a tangerine, which is quite large compared to some other breeds of dogs and allows the German Shepherd to excel in police work.
Reason 2: Work Ethic
It’s also no surprise that German Shepherds are so popular in police work due to their excellent work ethic.
If treated right, this breed is as loyal as they come, and this makes them a popular choice for police work where they may be asked to go into situations that require a huge amount of trust between dog and handler.
The German Shepherd is also capable of working for long periods of time in very strenuous conditions which makes them ideal for use in police work where they are often required to be in a variety of high stress situations in varying environments on an almost daily basis.
Reason 3: Physical Size & Agility
As a larger breed of dog and one that has a reputation for a strong bite, the arrival of a German Shepherd in an active police scene may give those who are breaking the law second thoughts about what they are doing.
German Shepherds have a bite force of around 230 to 240 PSI, which is similar to that of a wolf. Because police dogs are trained to bite on command, that bite force comes in handy when it comes time to helping apprehend criminals!
German Shepherds are also highly athletic and tend to have great speed, agility, and maneuverability, especially when compared to some other similar sized dog breeds such as the Rottweiler.
Police work often entails the dogs having to engage in short bursts of speed, moving over, under, and through various obstacles and buildings, and leaping towards their targets. The German Shepherd’s ability to easily meet all of those physical demands makes them one of the top choices of dog breeds for many police departments.
Reason 4: Availability & Tradition
German Shepherds are a hugely popular breed even outside of police work, and there are many breeders throughout the world who aim to breed German Shepherds specifically for their use as working dogs in police, military, and service work.
This breed has a long tradition of being the breed people most often think of when they think of police dogs, which adds to their value of being used as police dogs.
Because they the “poster child” of police work and with the abundance of working dog breeders, it’s no wonder many police departments opt to use German Shepherds rather than other breeds of dogs.
How Long Have German Shepherds Been Used As Police Dogs?
The German Shepherd as we know them today originated in the late 1800s as part of a breeding project by Captain Max von Stephanitz who sought to create the ideal working dog.
At the time, dogs were utilized by police in terms of tracking potential suspects, but police dogs were limited in what they were able or allowed to do. German Shepherds really excelled in World War I and their wartime efforts gained them popularity as a trainable and highly intelligent breed and police departments took notice.
While specialized K9 Units began popping up in many European countries as early as 1910, it wasn’t until the 1970s that police departments within the United States began developing their own K9 Units, with the German Shepherd being their breed of choice.
Today, the German Shepherd remains as one of the top breeds used within police departments across the world.
What Can German Shepherds Do As Police Dogs?
German Shepherds are utilized in a variety of ways within a police department.
One of the most well-known ways (and what is often seen on television and in movies) is when they are utilized on police patrols, and you can see them engage with suspects to help officers apprehend the suspect. These are the moments when police would release the dog towards a fleeing or threatening suspect and give them their cue to launch themselves at the suspect and grab them by the leg or arm to help bring them down so police can arrest them.
Another common way German Shepherds are used as police dogs are when they are used to help detect drugs, bombs, or other contraband.
These dogs can be seen in local police departments, in federal police departments, and within airports and other ports of entry to help sniff out anything that shouldn’t be there.
While the above job descriptions are where you will most commonly find German Shepherds in police work, they can also be found within Search & Rescue work to locate missing persons, as well as act as mascots for the police department and assist with community engagement, particularly at schools, parades, or other public events.
How Do Police Departments Train Their German Shepherd Dogs?
The training of German Shepherds as police dogs is no small feat.
These dogs are expected to perform effortlessly and without question while out in the field, so their training really focuses on teaching them the appropriate verbal cues and behaviors that are necessary for them to perform as part of their jobs.
As working dogs, German Shepherds go through intense physical training and conditioning in addition to the various police department-specific skills they are taught. Each police department has their own methods for training their German Shepherds, and the training may also vary based on what job the dog expected to perform (a drug sniffing dog will receive different training than a search and rescue dog, for example).
Watch the below video to see what a day in the life of a German Shepherd police dog is like:
Where Do Police Departments Get Their German Shepherds?
This can vary based on the individual police department.
Some departments have contracts with breeding facilities who will supply them with German Shepherds, whereas other departments will purchase already trained dogs from working dog breeding and training facilities.
Unlike some other working dog jobs, police K9s are almost never adopted from shelters or start their lives as pets before going into police work. These hardworking dogs are most often born into the job and are re-homed elsewhere if they do not meet the criteria or expectations for the departments.
Do Police Officers Get To Keep Their German Shepherds After The Dogs Retire?
Where a German Shepherd winds up after retiring from their police duties can vary from department to department.
Due to the strict training and stress from working as a K9 officer, these dogs require special care and training to help them transition to post-police life.
Some departments will allow the dog’s handler to petition to adopt the dog from the department as a pet, whereas other retired K9s will be sent to rescue groups that specialize in re-homing and adopting out retired police K9s.
In both cases, the new potential owner goes through a rigorous interview process and multiple pre- and post-adoption check ins to make sure the dog is well cared for and safe.
In some cases, the retired police K9 is kept as a department mascot and still attends events for community engagement and media appearances.
Can I Train My German Shepherd To Be Used As A Police Dog?
Since most police departments get their German Shepherds from private breeders and organizations, it is not possible to train your own personal German Shepherd to be a police dog (at least within the United States).
There are other sports that are similar to police work that you can train your German Shepherd in if you have an interest in a working dog, such as Schutzhund (also known as IPO or IGP).
If you are interested in having a German Shepherd for protection reasons, then you can look into protection dog training programs which also contain a similar background to the training programs many police dogs go through.
For the most part, your German Shepherd would be happy just to have the opportunity to accompany you on something like a long hike!
Are German Shepherds Used In Other Law Enforcement Agencies?
In addition to police work, German Shepherds are also frequently seen working in the military, within airport security agencies, or even within agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service where they are utilized to help with conservation and detecting invasive species or wildlife trafficking.
The German Shepherd’s popularity extends beyond just a pet, and they are one of the top breeds utilized by police departments across the world.
Their intelligence, trainability, athleticism, and work ethic make them prime candidates for use in K9 Units and beyond.