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How to become a Dog Handler

how to become a dog trainer

What does a Dog Handler do?

The police, Army, RAF, HM Revenue and Customs, the fire service, search and rescue organisations and private security firms all offer opportunities for dog handlers who are experts in training dogs. These work with a specially trained dog and are responsible for its care and control.

In the police force dogs play a part in routine work such as patrolling at football matches, and in specialist work such as searching for armed suspects, or drugs and explosives detection.

In the Army, dogs are used in protection/guarding roles or in detection roles - searching for explosives or drugs etc. They are used in most branches of the Army; entrants joining the Royal Army Veterinary Corps can become dog trainers.

In the RAF the dog’s main role is to guard aircraft on military bases and in hangars. Entrants have to join the RAF Police to become dog handlers.

HM Revenue and Customs use dogs to find illegal substances such as drugs and explosives at ports and airports. They now also use ‘cigarette dogs’, trained to deal with the increasing problem of tobacco smuggling. The dogs work with one handler, but are kept in kennels. Some experience of working for HM Revenue and Customs is needed before becoming a dog handler.

The fire service sometimes use dogs to search burning and collapsed buildings for signs of life.

Search and rescue organisations use dogs for mountain and cave rescue.

Private security companies may use dogs to assist in the protection of property.

What's the working environment like working as a Dog Handler?

The hours can be long and variable, and include weekends, evenings and nights. In all services shifts are worked on a rota that covers 24 hours, seven days a week. In the Army and RAF, it is common to be called out at any time to deal with an emergency, and long hours are typical if involved in an operation.

A lot of walking and running is involved. Most of the work is outdoors in all kinds of weather and terrain.

Customs and Excise officers are employed at ports or airports, checking passengers, luggage and cargo.

What does it take to become a Dog Handler?

To be a dog handler you should:
  • like dogs and have an affinity with them
  • have some experience with dogs, either as a handler or having owned a pet
  • be happy working alone with your dog but also be able to work in a team
  • be patient and self- confident
  • be able to work with minimum supervision
  • be physically fit and strong
  • have sufficient facilities at home to accommodate your dog
  • have a stable home life - your family should agree to having a working dog around the home
  • be responsible, alert and observant
  • be able to judge a situation well and react instantly.

Dog Handler Career Opportunities

There is a lot of competition for this work. There are not many positions, and there are usually long waiting lists.

Promotion is the same as for any other role in the organisation. Exams must be passed to become a sergeant in the police, or a warrant officer in the army and RAF. Those above the rank of sergeant in the police and corporal in the Army and RAF would not normally work as dog handlers.

Further information

Find Working Dogs training near you

Courses to help you become a Dog Handler