Pet Education, Training & Behaviour Council

List of Roles: Police Dog Handler

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.

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 Timescale
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

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
  • Corrections

House training
Crate Training
Play fighting
Dominance and submission
Eating faeces
Destructive behaviour:

  • Car sickness
  • Barking

Introduction to an established dog
Basic dog care and management:

  • Vaccinations
  • Nutrition
  • Grooming and nail care
  • Parasites
  • 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:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Recall
  • Stand
  • 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

Dog-related practical

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

Dog-related operational

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


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

Personal (Work Based) Achievements

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.

Reflective Learning

As a Dog Trainer, of any kind whether that’s club or professional, adult dogs or puppies, 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” i.e., 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.