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How do you become an explosive/drug dog handler?
January 8, 2013 3:19 AM   Subscribe

Specifically, what career progression do these folks usually follow? What training, schooling, and preparation is required to progress in this field? What is the entry-level job for this career path?
posted by denverco to Law & Government (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
They're police officers, mostly. State, or those localities large enough to afford that kind of thing. They can also be officers of federal security or law enforcement agencies like the FBI, ATF, ICE, TSA, etc.

Look up the hiring guidelines for law enforcement agencies, and you'll answer your own question. A college degree is helpful, and something in the criminal justice field is fairly common. Military experience is also quite common; a lot of cops are ex-military.

Once you're in the department/agency, there are going to be a variety of career paths available. Maybe you want to go out for homicide, or vice, or whatever. You can do that. K9 units are just one more option there. Exactly how you get from entry-level grunt to the K9 unit is going to vary widely depending on the department/agency, but the first step is to get yourself hired as an officer. Once you do that, there's no obvious reason you couldn't wind up in a K9 unit a few years later.
posted by valkyryn at 3:36 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was going to say what valkyryn said. Only thing I can add is that the people who get selected for these special assignments/training/etc. are usually good cops. So get a job as a police officer/deputy/highway patrol and then be the best one in the dept. Then you are more likely to have the dept. spend the money on you for the additional training.
posted by eleslie at 5:17 AM on January 8, 2013


Valkyryn and eleslie have it. Another career option for dog handling would be on an urban or wilderness search and rescue team, which some people do as volunteers, some people do connected with federal agencies and others do connected to a fire department or standalone rescue team. Similar to PDs, FDs usually have their training requirements posted publicly.
posted by skyl1n3 at 5:25 AM on January 8, 2013


Just to say basically the same thing -- my friend is a search-and-rescue dog handler in California and she was a police officer (at an airport) for years before doing what she does now.
posted by trillian at 8:02 AM on January 8, 2013


This probably varies from department to department, but my police officer former neighbor said that getting accepted into the K9 program was highly competitive, and he had been trying for years. There are simply a lot of officers who like working with dogs.
posted by TungstenChef at 11:05 AM on January 8, 2013


The K9 program is very highly competitive. It's difficult to even try unless you come out of the military with experience. However, another way of getting the experience is to go the search and rescue route. You'll want to find your state's Urban Search and Rescue team, and ask if there's a volunteer group that the K9 handlers are a part of to practice together. (Professional SAR dogs require about four hours a week of logged practice, so a lot of times to make it easier, the pros will band together and practice together.) If you're actually in Denver, message me, and I can find out if there's a recommended group near you.

If you're looking for groups that are good, you'll find two or three things that are common to them. The first is that they ONLY dispatch when asked to by authorities, they never ever decide to go out on their own. A lot of the groups that get the most media coverage will decide themselves to go into a disaster area and then will spend a lot of time talking to the media, purportedly because the "official" search response isn't serving the needs of smaller communities well enough because it's bound down in paperwork. What they're really doing is creating a mess for the people in those smaller communities which will then have problems with FEMA, or they're putting themselves into danger that they don't know about and will then need to be rescued using resources that should be helping the actual victims, or they're messing up someone else's assigned search sector for some priority (missing children, etc.) and possibly preventing help from getting to that priority.

The next thing you'll find is that they require official training and have an extremely clear and specific training requirement for each requirement, whether that be handler, flanker, or support. The specific official training is the FEMA SARTECH. Everyone who comes out with the group that I was with will be required to acquire their SARTECH III certificate (which can be done on the FEMA website after paying a fee) and then start training and buying equipment for SARTECH II, which is required before being dispatch-able and consists of a two day program where physical fitness, preparedness, and skills like navigation, map reading, and communication will be tested. The search team leader MAY be a SARTECH I but should at least be a SARTECH II. If the leader of the search team does not have a SARTECH certificate, it is not a good team to gain experience with, period. Their dogs will also be independently certified to specified standards; these vary by state/region/team but they are always published, leveled standards with expiration dates and the dog must re-test and the test must be witnessed to be dispatched.

Last but not least, at least one of the people will be a part of the statewide Task Force. These are the people that do this task professionally ... they need to practice and to maintain their physical fitness and health. They have access to the most interesting training resources and have connections with law enforcement.

As an example, the group that I stumbled upon and practiced with (before work took over my life) was Search Dog Network. Note that there are at least five TXTF-1 members, and of the rest, half have military or police experience or other related skills and certifications. Over half of the non-professional members are part of the CERT. Over half of their membership is "in training" to be deployed, as many (like I) wash out due to personal reasons. If you decide to join a volunteer SAR group, to learn the skills correctly, their member list should look something like the one on that site. Other good groups in Texas include Alamo Area Search and Rescue, and Travis County Search and Rescue. Note the difference between their sites (which focus on training) and Texas Equisearch, which (in my personal opinion) is a poorly run media hound that frequently interferes with crime scenes.
posted by SpecialK at 12:50 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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