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Tips for K9 Handler Selection

Throughout the progression of a K9 team’s career, the first step toward success is selecting the proper dog and the proper handler.  Assuming one has selected the right K9 for the job, it is now time to shift our sights toward identifying the correct match for the other half of this team.  Many variables contribute to the successes and pitfalls of a handler over the course of their partnership. Various operational environments may require specific traits or characteristics unique to that environment alone.  There do exist however, some characteristics that prove necessary for all handlers, in any working environment.

A humble attitude and a desire to grow and push oneself, independent of outside assistance or external support is key.

Handlers at many departments have often already proven or distinguished themselves in multiple areas to have been suggested for K9.  These justifiable means for distinguished service are not irrelevant, but not often the traits most critical to selecting a solid candidate.  An example of this would be well portrayed in the fitness powerhouse or the best marksman.  All viable qualities in any law-enforcement personnel, but certainly not as important as others in K9.  A humble attitude and a desire to grow and push oneself, independent of outside assistance or external support is key.  Many times, departments lack the support or knowledgeable leadership to polish and elevate the proficiency of an existing K9 team.  Situations such as this demand a self-starter who independent of guidance, will continue to seek out new information and take ownership over professional development.  A career in K9 is paved with failure, mistakes and frustration and a great sense of humor and a calm temper are vital to overcoming such obstacles.  Many times these failures and frustrations are made visible in the view of our peers and the public.  This is, in and of itself extremely difficult for the ego-maniac to tolerate without conceding to negativity, blaming the dog or throwing our hands up.  A no-quit attitude and an ability to educate our non-K9 peers on capabilities and reasons for positive or sub-par performance is also key. The motivation for choosing K9 is different for many people, and addressing those motivations is also a noteworthy venture.

Many handlers are drawn to K9 for the extra pay, the take-home car and an ability to wear a more relaxed “class-B” uniform.  These are understandable, but a love for dogs, challenges and an opportunity to work outside of one’s comfort zone will prove far more valuable over time.  Within the spectrum of desirable traits, we never find them all amongst a single individual.  All factors must be analyzed and compared against the environment in which a handler will be expected to work.  In-addition, if a dog has already been identified and other dog options are off the table, we may be leaning more toward one individual over another.  A team must learn to work as a well-oiled machine and any unconquerable fear, physical issues or compatibility issues found un-resolvable must also be identified.  It is my hope that we have shed light on qualities of importance, apart from traits that under other circumstances may not be of equal value.  K9 is a unique profession and it demands a unique individual to walk on this path.  It is our hope to provoke thought and to provide guidance in just how to go about selecting that individual.  Good luck in pairing your next team!