Canine units (better known as K9 units) have historically helped security guards, police officers, and even regular families, detect and prevent crimes and disruptive behaviour. Dogs that are trained to work in the security and safety industry have a number of functions, and fill a broad range of roles. These dogs take their jobs very seriously, and teams that work with K9 units are very lucky to have such dedicated professionals on their side.
Not all security dogs do the same things. Some are trained to attack while others are taught how to find bombs or drugs. Below is a basic list summarizing the different types of security dogs.
A guard dog is trained specifically to be a working dog. Guard dogs do not make good pets. That’s because these dogs cannot “turn off” their training. Guard dogs can be trained to work at three levels of security:
Alarm dog – Alarm dogs are generally large, and have a loud threatening bark. They will “sound the alarm” when a stranger approaches, but they are not trained to attack. In many cases, the dog’s bark is so intimidating that it is enough to deter unwanted visitors.
Sentry dog – A sentry dog is most often used to guard the outside of a property, like a warehouse or construction site. The dog is free to walk around on its own without instruction from an owner. Sentry dogs are trained to attack anyone who trespasses, and can provide companies an additional layer of protection.
Attack dog – Trained attack dogs will attack and even kill if given the command by their handler. These dogs are used as K-9 or military service dogs and may work in stressful and unstable environments. Dogs trained at this level are not sociable, and strangers should never try to interact with these dogs.
Detection dogs are trained to screen for explosives and narcotics in busy or populated environments. In addition to having this amazing talent, detection dogs may also discourage threatening behaviour in places like schools, airports, stadiums, malls and concerts.
Protection dogs are more like pets that are capable of protecting and defending their family in threatening situations. While most dogs can provide protective services, only some will actually attack intruders.
Some of the most popular protection dogs include Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Giant Schnauzers. However, the Doberman is the only working dog bred specifically as a protection dog. All of these breeds are generally loyal and like to show their families affection. They can be socialized to play well with children and other pets, but specialists advise owners to establish their alpha role and get these dogs trained as they will naturally assert their dominance. Exercise is also extremely important when it comes to enforcing good behaviour. These dogs need plenty of activity because they are physical animals with lots of energy.
Primary functions of security dogs
As you can see, security dogs are not all the same. They are trained for different roles, and will take on different responsibilities depending on who they are working for. More often than not, they will be hired to fulfill at least one of these objectives:
Locating drugs, weapons or people – With 225 million smell receptors, a German Shepherd can detect a scent 1,000 times better than humans can! K9 units have the ability to locate missing persons, illegal drugs or concealed weapons. Trained dogs know how to communicate with their handlers, and will let them know when they are close to a target.
Criminal apprehension – Some dogs are sensitive enough to detect a rise in danger as a situation unfolds. These dogs are prepared to find and detain criminals at a moment’s notice.
Deterring unwanted visitors – Dogs can be an integral part of a physical security system. Just having a big dog onsite can be enough to keep unauthorized individuals away from private property. Construction companies, data centres, manufacturers, government organizations, and affluent estate owners have all benefited from the services of security dogs.
Security dogs are exceptional workers, but they aren’t cheap. The price of a fully-trained protection dog ranges anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000. The average price is about $50,000. However, that price can reach $200,000+ if the dog comes from a pedigreed bloodline, or has won a significant award in a dog show.
How to be a guard dog trainer
Guard dog trainers raise and train dogs so that they are prepared to work. This career is quite physical because trainers must bend, kneel, lift, and run with the dogs. Trainers must also be able to assess how well dogs are responding to training, and have the analytical skills needed to revise training methods if necessary. Most importantly, guard dog trainers need patience.
Though formal education is often not generally required for this profession, trainers may choose to complete individual courses or a formal training program at the postsecondary level. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers offers two voluntary certifications:
- The Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) credential for entry-level trainers
- The Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge & Skills Assessed (CPDT-KSA) credential for advanced trainers
To qualify for the first certification, a trainer must have at least a high school diploma, meet experience requirements, submit references, and pass a multiple-choice exam. The second designation requires a KA credential, and candidates must pass a skills-based exam.
Trainers may also apply to get their National Association of Professional Canine Handlers’ (NAPCH) Master Trainer certification. This certification requires at least eight years of handling experience, and candidates must have worked with multiple dogs. Applicants also need proof of continuing education, and the written support of other certified NAPCH Master Trainers.
Working with security dogs
To be a security dog handler, you generally have to be a licensed officer, or at least have some security certification. For example, to be a TSA canine handler, you either have to be a transportation security inspector or local/state law enforcement officer. Detection dog handlers can earn anywhere from $47,000 to $98,500 at major U.S. airports, making it a job that is financially and emotionally rewarding.
Those seeking certification to work as a police dog handler may also have access to a police dog trainer program, or their department’s canine unit. This certification ensures that a human and dog team can work in the field, follow best practices, and complete high-risk assignments.
Dogs who provide security services are intelligent, brave and skilled animals. Many dogs are able to successfully protect companies, people or even their own homes, while still being able to socialize and show affection. However, not all guard dogs can switch between playful pup and protective partner. Some dogs are trained only to work, and must be handled with care by an experienced professional. Dogs are versatile (and seldom complain), which makes them good candidates for a variety of work environments. While their services can be costly, they add an invaluable layer of security.