The term “K-9” is synonymous with law enforcement. Just about everyone knows that when a police dog is deployed, things are about to get real for the suspect in their sights.
Police dogs are rough, ready, hardworking and dedicated members of their respective police departments. They may have 4 feet and fur, but K-9s are officers, too.
Just like human officers, police dogs face numerous safety risks while on the job. Some of these are predictable, such as injuries sustained while tracking or restraining a suspect.
But there are several other risks that may surprise you.
4 Dangers That Police Dogs Face
1. Budgets That Don’t Cover Necessities for Police Dogs
Every town needs its various municipalities to meet a budget. However, there is a lot of truth to the adage “You get what you pay for.”
A good administration understands walking the line between meeting a bottom line and protecting the blue line, which includes police dogs. A department has to pay for the K-9, of course, but it also needs to reserve funds for training, equipment, payroll and medical needs for the life of the dog.
This is a long-term cost that must be managed carefully and well. An administration that doesn’t provide enough money to properly train or care for the police dog may be shooting themselves in the foot if the dog makes a costly mistake due to lack of training.
Often, public fundraising and organizations such as the Cape and Islands Police K-9 Relief Fund can help offset various costs of owning, training and maintaining police dogs.
Police dogs — like their handlers — are ultimately at the mercy of the budget when it comes to training, equipment and necessities.
2. Poor Handling of Police Dogs
About 99% of handlers of police dogs aren’t just good at their job — they’re great at it. Their dog’s welfare comes before just about anything else, including their own well-being.
However, as in so many other professions, there is that 1% who don’t do the job.
Police dogs depend on their human handlers to give firm direction and provide the necessary training required to do their job as safely as possible. A shoddy or lazy handler puts everyone at risk, especially their dog.
In the past, new stories have broken about police dogs being left behind in hot patrol cars, resulting in their deaths (8 dogs in 2017 alone). This is the ultimate betrayal. Well-trained handlers of police dogs are crucial to the health and well-being of the animals.
3. Inadequate Training of Police Dogs
Police dogs require massive amounts of training that varies depending on the job the dog will be expected to do, including tracking, apprehension and even detection.
Many police dogs are cross-trained, or taught more than one skill. Think about the time it takes to properly train a regular house dog in the basics, such as house-training and basic commands — then quadruple that amount of time.
And a police dog’s training is never done. Good handlers will train with their K-9s every week — or more frequently — to ensure the training remains consistent and ever-present.
A poorly trained police dog whose training isn’t reinforced can make errors on the job that cost lives — including their own.
- If, for example, they do not return to the handler on command, they may rush into a life-threatening situation.
- If they don’t release a suspect on command, the dog may cause more damage to the suspect than necessary.
- Or, if the dog doesn’t apprehend when commanded, an armed suspect may have a chance to open fire.
Handlers also require special training to properly manage their dogs.
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Without continual handler training, the K-9 team will not be as effective and may make dangerous mistakes.
It is on the administrations to ensure proper training of their K-9 teams.
4. Drug Exposure to Police Dogs
As the opioid epidemic sweeps the nation, we see police officers becoming exposed to deadly drugs like fentanyl during apprehension or suspect searches. Although dogs are more resistant than humans to the effects of narcotics, drug exposure to police dogs may be fatal.
“Minuscule amounts of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl … can cause overdoses in the same police dogs that were safe while sniffing for heroin,” warns the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
“University veterinarians, police departments and nonprofit organizations are giving police and emergency medical technicians opioid antidote kits intended for emergency use in dogs and training them how to administer the antidote,” the AVMA says.
Watch this police dog named Flex train — it’s intense:
How to Help Police Dogs
There are several ways you can help local police officers and their K-9 teams:
- Send an email to your local department asking how you can best show your support.
- Look in your area for local police and K-9 support groups. Many will be active on social media.
- Hold a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to your local police foundation.
- Reach out to your local lawmakers and express your desire for proper budget allocation to your local departments. Keep the pressure on to promote change.
Don’t bring food to the police station for the K-9s. While the gesture is appreciated, often these dogs are on special diets or given specific foods.
Unfortunately, police officers also have to guard against contaminated food. Food from an unknown source may be discarded as a precautionary measure, especially for a dog who can’t tell their handler, “Hey, this smells a little weird.”
Final Thoughts on the Dangers That Police Dogs Face
Police dogs are the epitome of dedication, hard work and duty. Their safety rests on the shoulders of their handlers.
It’s up to us to support these dedicated police dogs and their handlers in any way we can.