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Work Based Learning role description:

The Police Dog Handler/Trainer

Within the Police service dog handlers are, first and foremost, Police Officers that must have sound policing skills.

Prior to becoming a police dog handler, an officer has to provide evidence that they are of a high calibre within the policing sphere, having spent a period of time in normal policing duties out on the ‘beat’ demonstrating their skills and abilities across the spectrum of policing in today’s modern society. Once they have established themselves as a good all-round officer, they can then apply to join the Dog Section; this normally is around 5 years service.

On selection the new handler / applicant has to go through a variety of tests to establish if they have the qualities, dedication and commitment to become a dog handler. If they are physically fit, mentally attuned to the role, and interested in the canine species, they do not necessarily have to have owned a dog previously or own a dog at the time of applying. They must be able to demonstrate, however, that they are not fearful of dogs and be competent of being around dogs in general and police dogs in particular. They must not be afraid to be bitten by a police dog (with the necessary safety equipment being worn), be pursued by a police dog or of being confronted with aggression from both dog and human.

In order to become a handler the officer’s suitability is assessed under the National Integrated Competency framework – dog handlers from the skills for justice.

Once selected the officer is then introduced to the world of the police canine. The welfare of the dog allocated to the handler is paramount and due consideration is given to the environment in which the dog is housed with the handler.

In some instances handlers (usually experienced dog handlers) are allocated puppies to bring on and mentor whilst in other cases handlers are allocated dogs that have either been brought on through a puppy breeding programme or have been acquired, assessed and tested to perform the duties of Police dog work. Each dog and handler team are trained in accordance with the guidelines as laid down by The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland) (ACPOS) Police dogs working group.

This group is responsible for promoting best practice and setting of standards in relation to all these matters.

Reflective Learning

As a Dog Trainer we are constantly evaluating what we are doing when we are doing it.

We start training an exercise and modify what we are doing depending upon the response we get from the dog we are training.  Sometimes we change our position, the dog’s position, the motivating force (us, toy, food etc.,) or the equipment we use. As a dog trainer we just call that dog training, however, in the work based learning arena it’s called being a “reflective practitioner”.

It is imperative that Dog Trainers realise that they are reflecting back; not only with the dog they have in front of them but of past cases and dogs they’ve worked with. A Dog Trainer cannot progress without this aspect of experiential learning, it would be impossible as no two dogs are the same and no two will react in the same manner.

Although we do it automatically, the importance of reflection in learning at work and awareness of the process, needs to be acknowledged for an individual to be able to carry out any kind of self-accreditation via the work based learning scheme.

Technical and textbook knowledge, though important, is insufficient to prepare individuals to be practising professionals. Knowing how or “knowing-in-action” must also be recognised as important. Knowing-in-action is referred to tacit and intuitive, rather than explicit knowledge, learned through doing rather than in the classroom.  It is the kind of knowledge that underpins much everyday activity, whether at work or not.

Knowing-in-action is vital for Dog Trainers, as, as we all know, ‘real’ world problems tend to be “messy” rather than well formed. Problems with dogs tend to come along in rapid succession depending upon our reaction rather than nicely organised “first solve this problem, then solve that” as is often written in dog training books. Also some problems may well be unique to that situation, in the sense that they do not fit theoretical categories and therefore do not lend themselves to the applications of rules from the profession’s theoretical knowledge base.

When something untoward does happen it is likely to reflect on what’s going on in the midst of the activity itself. It is a consequence of this process that is known as “reflection-in-action” ie., thinking about what we’re doing while we’re doing it and changing the process as we go along.

To be able to put into practice these reflective skills, both during and after the action, is what makes you a truly reflective practitioner.

Donald Schon (1983, 1987)

Comparative Assessment elements:

In general an Animal Behaviour Degree will average 1800 hrs study time on wild animals and some domestic species. Dog specific theory is generally taught at less than 5% of the entire degree and rarely by a dog expert but by a teacher who has no practical experience. Animal behaviour degrees are not an expertise level in dog behaviour, training, theory or otherwise.

All vocational learning in canine work-based roles should be taught by highly skilled people with extensive hands-on experience. Degrees obtained, therefore, provide targeted theory learning in canine behaviour and training as well as extensive hands-on work to prepare the student for their chosen vocation.

Minimum vocational training requirements


The police dog handler will gain experience of being able to demonstrate that they can train a dog to the required minimum standard (under the guidance of Police dog training instructors who have to be accredited by ACPO) for the specific role that they have been selected for.

There are numerous different specialised fields in police dog work. Police dogs fall into 2 broad categories, General Purpose Police Dogs of which the primary role is that of an operational Police dog referred to as General Patrol dog, and Specialist Dogs.

It is feasible to dual train Police dogs in some of the specialist fields. Once the standard basic level has been achieved and the handler has been assessed and licensed to work the dog then they have to be annually re-licensed to continue to work the relevant dog in the skills attained. They also have to have continual allocated training days and refresher courses (dependant on specialist skills of the dogs) throughout the year in order to keep the licence valid.

Theory / academic knowledge

Policing skills to become a regular Police officer

2 years probationary period

General Police dog training: novice handlers to achieve ‘standard’ level

Initial course

Experienced handlers with ‘run on’ dogs

Experienced handlers re-handled dogs

Specialist Police dog training

Explosive search dogs

Initial course

Person scanning (passive) Explosives Dogs

Initial course

Pro-active Drugs detection dogs

Initial course

Person Scanning (passive) Drugs dog

Initial course

Pro-active Drugs detection dogs/ Firearms /Currency detection dogs

Person Scanning (passive) Drugs dog/ Firearms /Currency detection dogs

Cadaver dog (Human Remains detection dog)

CSI (Crime scene Investigation detection dog)

SAM dog (Scent Article Method dog)

Firearms support dogs

Search and rescue dogs

ACPO Instructors Course General Purpose Dogs

ACPO Instructors Course Explosive Search Module

ACPO Instructors Course Drugs Search Module

Practical experience / courses attended


General Police dog training novice handlers to achieve ‘standard’ level Initial course

Normally 13 weeks' duration for novice handlers (can be extended)

Experienced handlers with ‘run on’ dogs

8 weeks (can be extended)

Experienced handlers re-handled dog

2 weeks (can be extended)

Specialist Police dog training

Explosive search dogs initial course

Course lengths can be varied in accordance with guidance within the ACPO Explosives search dog manual

Person scanning (passive) Explosives Dogs Initial course

8 weeks basic

Pro-active Drugs detection dogs initial

6 weeks basic

Person Scanning (passive) Drugs dog initial course

8 weeks basic

Pro-active Drugs detection dogs/ Firearms /Currency detection dogs

8 weeks basic

Person Scanning (passive) Drugs dog/ Firearms /Currency detection dogs

8 weeks basic

Cadaver dog (Human Remains detection dog)

Varied basic course

CSI (Crime scene Investigation detection dog)

Varied basic course

SAM dog (Scent Article Method dog)

Varied basic course

Firearms support dogs

Varied basic course

Search and rescue dogs

Varied basic course

ACPO Instructors Course General Purpose Dogs

4 weeks

ACPO Instructors Course Explosive Search Module

4 weeks

ACPO Instructors Course Drugs Search Module

3 weeks

Classroom skills and presentation skills (prerequisite before attending Instructors modules)

2 weeks

Mentored learning

Observation of / attending training / classes

Instructed learning one to one / group dependant on progress of handler and dog

As above

Overview of minimum skills and experience required:




The Police dog handler has to learn a huge array of knowledge during an initial basic courses that they attend in order to not only understand how to train and work a dog, but also in its specialist field, in the use of the dog in its chosen role, the law and legalities of working Police dogs in the public domain.

Human Rights

Standard operating procedures

Health and Safety legislation

Risk assessments

Diversity issues

Cultural issues

Policing skills

Law and legislation

Conflict management

Powers and polices use of dogs

Operational deployment of dogs

Use of force

General principles of training of Police dogs

Animal welfare


Theory of scent


Searching with dogs

Bite work

Health of dogs

Kennel management


Dangerous dogs

Victim recovery

The police dog handler has to be able to demonstrate that they, and the dog, have the necessary practical skills to work in many varied situations and circumstances within the Public domain.

Minimum Standard level working to advanced level within 1 year

Using all of their learnt Policing skills to quickly decide on the appropriate course of action needed to resolve the given situation or how best to use the resources available to them and capabilities of their dog.

In general terms, the General patrol Police dog is used for tracking offenders from crime scenes, be it in the city, urban or rural having to deal with varied terrains, searching buildings and open spaces, dealing with disorder situations, violent situations and keeping order in potential volatile circumstances, being able to patrol and work the dogs in normal environments, in the presence of members of the public

Spatial awareness when training

Awareness of other dogs, handlers or objects in the area whilst working with a dog so as not to stress the dog by banging into things or moving across the path of another dog.

Different types of environments in which dogs have to work, health and safety issues, risk assessments, appropriate training equipment, right protection for helpers, bite sleeves, covert sleeves, safety equipment

Environmental awareness when training

A high awareness of events happening during training is crucial, for example knowing who is coming into the area time of day / night conditions that the dog needs to work in, pedestrian and vehicle movements.

Weather conditions, varying terrains and within, what types of environment wind / rain / heat / temperature / ice snow.

Terrain being used / time factors

Dog-related theoretical

Dog-related practical

Dog-related operational

Indicators of wellness

Indicators of stress

Body language

Facial expression

Visual signals

How dogs learn

Conditioning and counter-conditioning

What they are

How they relate to dog training


House training

Crate Training


Play fighting

Dominance and submission

Eating faeces

Destructive behaviour

Car sickness


Introduction to an established dog

Basic dog care and management



Grooming and nail care


Exercise requirements

Basic anatomy and physiology

Basic first aid

General Patrol Dogs

Bite work

Test of courage / chase and detain / standoff / stick attack / gun attack / handler attack

Play / prey / defence drives in the dog

Basic Dog Training





Walking on a loose lead

Motivation and control

Person search and indication

Heeling on / off lead

Article indication non contact

Stop (either stand, down, sit)

Quarter and search

Send away and re-direction

Scent discrimination

Training more than one dog

Motivating the unmotivated

Instilling self control in the uncontrolled

The dog and the law

Aggression in the dog

Towards other dogs

Towards people

Over food

Towards the vet

With toys

Breed characteristics and temperaments


Fitting and use of leads harnesses

collars and specialist equipment


Use of basic agility equipment Hurdle, long jump, 6’ scale

Practical agility

Tracking human scent / disturbance

Specialist dogs

Drugs / paper money / firearms & shells / component parts of / firearm oils & fired cartridges

Explosives varied

Body parts

Body fluids / blood

Scent discrimination / articles / clothing

Personal scent

Indicators of wellness

Indicators of stress

Body language

Facial expression

Visual signals

Socialisation and Habituation

Touch desensitisation

How to motivate

Technical dog training skills

Advanced dog training skills

Basic dog care and management

Equipment usage

Collars, leads and harnesses, specialist equipment, head cameras

Training tools, eg., clicker

Aversive conditioning

Appropriate use of collars

Delivery of rewards, timing

Consistency of voice and tone delivery

Different substances / safety and control

of samples / security and risks involved

Behaviours moderating advice

House training

Crate / cage / pen Training


Play fighting

Dominance and submission

Submissive urination

Car sickness


Destructive Behaviour

Introduction to an established dog

Introduction to other pets

Introduction to other animals

Dealing with Aggression in the dog

Breed characteristics and temperaments

Understanding ‘desired’ and ‘undesired’

Displayed behaviours exhibited

Handler behavioural skills positives and negatives effects on the dog

Play / prey / defence drives and switching between


When training you need to be aware of change as and when it happens and be able to deal with it, for example if a dog is brought for training session on a flat collar with training lead and on the next on a check chain and lead.

Environmental changes / distractions

Change of environment too soon

Conditioning to same environments

Changing and testing dogs’ capabilities in varied working conditions.

Ancillary Work Based Learning Skills

As well as being an established Police Dog Handler / Trainer, the candidate may also have a plethora of other dog training skills, attended many courses and achieved many awards on a personal basis with their own dogs.

They may have qualifications outside of the dog training arena that contribute to their competence, confidence and skill as a Police Dog Handler / Trainer and, under the Work Based Learning ethos, these should be acknowledged and recognised as achievements to date within the profession.

Accomplishments and Qualifications

Training course providers

Personal (Work Based) Achievements

Cambridge Institute for Dog Behaviour & Training

Animal Care College

Guide dog training

National Association of Security Dog Users

Home Office police dog training

The British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers

Other courses are also available

KC Competition obedience

KC Beginner

KC Novice

KC A B C comp-C

KC Agility

KC Working Trials




KC Field Trials

KC Bloodhound Trials

KC Herding Tests

Search & Rescue Cert

KC Accredited Instructor

The Kennel Club (KC) standards are some of the best in the world and to compete and win is an acknowledgement comparable with other high standards of training knowledge as in the horse world and international competitive events.