Dog Handler

The Job and What's Involved

Dog handlers work with their dogs to help prevent and detect crime or to find lost and missing people. A dog handler and his or her dog train for a specific purpose. Various organisations use working dogs. They include:

- The Police
- HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
- The Armed Forces
- Fire and Rescue services
- Prisons
- Private security firms

In the police service, dogs are used in several different ways:

General purpose - tracking offenders by following a scent trail left on the ground; searching for people in buildings or open areas; searching for hidden, lost or stolen property; chasing and detaining offenders; and protecting their handlers and others in dangerous situations.

  • As guard or patrol dogs.
  • To control crowds, e.g. at sporting events.
  • To search for weapons, drugs and money.
  • Locating dead bodies, either buried or on the surface - e.g. in aircraft or rail accidents.

HMRC uses dogs at ports, airports and large stations, for:

  • Detecting drugs, tobacco, cigarettes and money.
  • Detecting foods that are brought into the country illegally, such as honey, meat, fish and dairy products.

Dogs are used in the army and the Royal Air Force (RAF) for operations in the UK and abroad. They can play an important in:

  • Protection - camp security.
  • Detection - searching routes, areas, vehicles and buildings for arms, explosives and drugs.

In the fire and rescue services, dogs have three main purposes:

  • Helping in Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) operations in the UK and overseas, particularly to find people who may be in collapsed buildings.
  • Helping to search in the UK for missing, lost and injured people.
  • Finding where an accelerant has been used in an arson attack to help the fire to take hold.

In the prison service, dogs have several purposes:

  • Patrolling the perimeters of prisons to maintain security.
  • Searching inside prisons for drugs, weapons and explosives.
  • Checking visitors for illegal drugs, weapons and explosives.

Private security organisations may use dogs for:

  • Patrolling and guarding property to deter damage and criminal activity.
  • Personal protection and handler defence.
  • Security at building sites and events.
  • Detecting drugs and explosives.

Dog handlers use a series of commands and signals to indicate what they want their dog to do. Both handler and dog will have learnt these skills during training.

Many working dogs live with their handlers. In these cases, handlers are responsible for exercising, feeding and grooming their dog. Handlers also transport their dogs to and from work. In many cases, when dogs are retired from work, they continue to live with their handlers and the handlers' families.

Hours of work vary between organisations. They can be long and variable, often including evenings, nights and weekends. Self-employed handlers tend to work longer hours.

Dog handling involves periods of standing, usually a great deal of walking and sometimes running. Most of the work is outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions.

Dog handlers may start on at least £15,000 a year. More experienced dog handlers and specialist dog handlers, e.g. those with dogs that can detect drugs, may earn around £20,000 a year. Some may earn up to £25,000 a year.

Dog handlers in the police, HMRC, the armed forces, fire and rescue services and prison services are paid according to the salary scales of their employing organisation.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Dog handlers are employed throughout the UK.

Many dog handlers in private security are self-employed and are hired by security companies. The number of private security organisations has grown in recent years and there is considerable demand for dog handlers.

Both The National Association of Security Dog Users (NASDU) and the National Training Inspectorate for Professional Dog Users (NTIPDU) keep registers of dog handlers looking for work, and inform handlers on their registers when vacancies are notified to them. However, most handlers tend to approach local security firms to find work.

Education and Training

Some organisations, such as police services, HMRC, fire and rescue services and prison services, only accept applications for dog handling from people who already work for them.

While the armed forces do not specify any qualifications, many applicants have some GCSE's, often including English and maths. Applicants must pass an entrance test, interviews and physical and medical tests.

To work as a dog handler in private security, academic qualifications are not normally required. However, most types of security guards (including dog handlers) in England are legally required to have a Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence. To get a licence, security guards must:

- Attend an approved training course
- Gain a nationally recognised qualification
- Undergo identity checks and criminal record checks

Private security firms usually recruit people with experience of working with dogs. Self-employed handlers need a dog that has been trained to work with them, and a suitable vehicle to transport the dog. Both NASDU and NTIPDU recommend that people who want to become dog handlers should first gain experience as security officers.

People who have general security officer experience and an SIA licence may train for the EDI Level 2 National Award for general purpose security dog handlers.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training varies between organisations, but it usually lasts several weeks. It is directed towards encouraging the handler and the dog to work as a partnership. It usually includes handling techniques, grooming, kennel management, health, law relating to dogs and the specific operational use of the dog under training.

In the private security sector, there are a number of training organisations that train dog handlers for the whole range of security work. Handlers may train for the EDI Level 2 National Award for general purpose security dog handlers. Courses last around 50 hours and include:

  • Roles and responsibilities of a general purpose security dog handler.
  • Controlling a general purpose security dog under operational conditions.
  • Maintaining the health, well-being and safety of the security dog and handler.

There are also Awards, Certificates and Diplomas available in work-based animal care at Levels 1 to 3.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Dog handlers should:

  • Be able to develop a good working relationship with their dog.
  • Know how to care for their dog's needs.
  • Be able to work independently and unsupervised.
  • Work well as part of a team.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Be reliable.
  • Have patience.
  • Be self-confident.
  • Be physically active, as some handlers can walk many miles in a day.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are opportunities for promotion in the police, HMRC, the armed forces, fire and rescue services and prison services.

Dog handlers in private security may become supervisors or managers. They may also set up their own security firms.

Some experienced dog handlers go into security dog training.

Get Further Information

LANTRA, Lantra House,
Stoneleigh Park, Coventry CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7669 6996
Websites: and

The National Association of Security Dog Users (NASDU),
Unit 11, Boundary Business Centre, Boundary Way,
Woking GU21 5DH
Tel: 01483 888588

National Training Inspectorate for Professional Dog Users (NTIPDU),
5b March Way, Battlefields Enterprise Park, Shrewsbury,
Shropshire SY1 3JE
Tel: 01686 640781

Security Industry Authority (SIA),
PO Box 74957, London E14 1UG

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