Dog Handler Careers

How to become a dog handler

What does a dog handler do?

It’s pretty self-explanatory really – a dog handler works with a specially trained dog, as a team, to detect and prevent crime. Think the police force, the Army and the UK Border Force – working dogs are a vital part of keeping the general public safe. If you love dogs and could picture yourself working alongside them five days a week, this could be a job description worth reading!

Working across a number of industries, your day to day activities will vary depending on the sector you choose. For example, in the police force, dogs are used to help track down missing people, search for explosives or illegal drugs, chase armed criminals and control crowds. On the other hand, when it comes to HM Revenue and Customs, dogs will be deployed at ports, airports and sometimes railway stations to search for drugs, tobacco, cigarettes and products that have been smuggled into the country illegally.


Is this the job for me?

If you are allergic or have a dislike for animals, dogs in particular, then probably not. Conversely, if you love working as part of a team, being on your feet and have good observation skills, this might be worth considering. Good dog handlers will need to be patient and confident in equal measures; your job will be high pressure and you will need to be able to make immediate and accurate decisions, quickly. There’s no doubt about it, this job is physically demanding – you will need to be able to keep up with your canine companion in training and on the job, so keeping fit is a must.


What are the working hours like?

As a dog handler, you will usually work between 30-40 hours a week. In all services, you would work shifts on a rota that covers 24 hours a day, seven days a week – as the saying goes, crime never sleeps! It’s worth noting, in some industries such as the police service, you would be expected to look after your dog when you are off duty. This means your four legged friend would live in your home, and you would need to spend time out of work caring for him.  


What’s the salary like?

This is something that depends on both your employer and your experience. On average, dog handlers earn £19,760, however an experienced handler can earn up to £25,000.


Where will I be based?

Again, this will depend largely on the industry you are working in. A lot of the time you may be expected to work outside, in all weathers.


How do I get there?

Although there is no formal set of qualifications needed to work as a dog handler, you will have to meet the entry requirements of the organisation you are planning on working for. For example, in the police force, you will usually be expected to have about three years’ service before transferring. In the army, you’d need to go through basic soldier training before moving over to the Military Working Dog Regiment.

Once you get to the correct regiment, you will then receive specialist training from experienced dog handlers. Whatever industry you choose, it’s likely you will have a routine police check and will have regular on the job training throughout your career. It’s worth looking at the Police and British Army websites for more details about becoming a working dog handler.

If you are thinking of becoming a search and rescue dog handler, the training can take between two and three years. Final assessments will take three days, under a number of conditions and will be assessed by The National Search and Rescue Dog Association (NSARDA) – a standard by which search dogs are trained are qualified in the UK. Again, it’s worth noting that once you pass you and your dog will be expected to take more training throughout your career.


Need more information?

So you’re interested in finding out more? We’ve tried to give you a brief overview, but if you are thinking of taking your first steps into a dog handling career, here are some good places to start –

College of Policing

HM Revenue and Customs

British Army

RAF Careers

Security Industry Authority (SIA)

National Search and Rescue Dog Association (NSARDA) 



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