14 Popular Police Dog Breeds that Help Law Enforcement

police dogs

A Brief History of K9 Dogs

Military dogs trace back to 479 BC in Greece, and police dogs began serving in law enforcement in the Middle Ages. The modern police dog got its start in law enforcement in Belgium when the mayor decided to hire dogs because the law enforcement agency couldn’t afford to pay human officers.

In the 1920s, when government officials in Germany heard about Belgian police dogs, they experimented with breeding and training and determined that the German shepherd breed was best suited for policing. They added the Belgian Malinois breed to their program later.

People in the United States K-9 program also found out about the Belgian dogs, and Inspector George Wakefield traveled there to study them. Wakefield brought back five Belgian sheepdogs to stop crime and save lives.

Initially, the dogs were trained to attack anyone not wearing a police officer uniform, which resulted in many unnecessary takedowns. In the 1950s, Baltimore’s police force mastered the K-9 program, and by the 1970s, K-9s participated in police work around the country.

Best Police Dog Breeds

Here are 14 popular police dog breeds that work in police agencies. The following breeds are qualified and efficient and come in a variety of sizes. Police dogs in many countries generally work six to nine years.

German Shepherd

k9 dog breed

We picture a German shepherd when we hear “K 9” because most are Shepherds. Their sharp intelligence and desire to please their handlers make them perfect for the job. They are brave, strong, and fast — all great abilities for patrol dog duties.

German shepherds also have stamina and are calm and trainable. Shepherds are energetic, like to complete their job, and can perform complicated duties.

The sight of a big, authoritative German shepherd dog officer motivates suspects to surrender and be on good behavior because they don’t want to tussle with them. They are the police dogs you see at the airport or train station doing police work, and they are still the most common dogs on the police force.

Shepherds are renowned for their disposition, trainability, being astute, willingness to work, and being gorgeous.

Shepherds did military work in both world wars, as they were used in World War I and World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In the 1950s, after seeing their military work, police began using them for crowd control. Let’s look at other breeds.

Belgian Malinois

police dogs

The Belgian Malinois dog was originally bred as a breed of German Shepherd dogs. Belgian Malinois are great detector dogs because they have a high sniffing drive and an excellent sense of smell for sniffing out guns, bombs, crime scene evidence, contraband, drugs, and narcotics. They alert their handlers by barking and scratching when they find drugs.

You may see Belgian Malinois on scent duty in airports and train stations, subway stations, trains, etc. Belgian Malinois are very aware of their surroundings.

They are a little high-strung, which may not sound helpful in law enforcement, but they are trained to channel their energy into their duties — perfect for enforcing the law and the reason why they are one of the most favored police dogs.

Their protection instinct and loyalty are perfect traits for police work. With origins in herding livestock, Belgian shepherds have kept track of their flock in their DNA. They have an even faster reaction time than their speedy cousins, the German shepherd, because of their slight build. That’s what makes them one of the most popular dogs for police officers.

Labrador Retriever

cop dog breed

Labrador Retriever breeds are known for their sweet dispositions, so why are they great police dogs? In addition to being wonderful family dogs, Labrador retrievers are fast, large, strong, and energetic. The Labrador retriever can detect explosives and contraband as well as find and rescue natural disaster victims. Labradors are obedient and intelligent — two key traits for a police dog.

When they find explosives and accelerants, they sit to signal their handlers because a non-aggressive response (as opposed to barking and scratching) won’t set a bomb off.

Labrador retrievers were originally bred as hunting dogs, so they have a very good sense of smell. In addition, the Labrador retriever is athletic and agile and loves to work. Labradors are swimmers with water-resistant coats (so water doesn’t bother them). Labrador retrievers are great professionally and personally.

Labs are even-keeled dogs, making them a popular breed for families and for police officers. They have sweet faces and don’t seem like a threat, but they have many skills.


police dog breed

Bloodhounds are famous for their outstanding noses and sense of smell. Researchers think that a Bloodhound’s sense of smell is 300 times stronger than a human’s — or more. Police departments benefit from that sniffing superpower.

Researchers say that when bloodhounds sniff, air goes through the dog’s nasal cavity, and the scent creates an “odor image” in the dog’s brain from skin, sweat, and breath.

Bloodhounds can then use the odor image to pick out the exact scent trail and can follow it for over 130 miles. They can actually smell a trail that’s 300 hours old. Their olfactory talent is a huge help to the police force. Bloodhounds are recruited to match crime scene evidence to suspects.

Interestingly, their wrinkly skin traps scents, and their droopy ears sweep the smell by dragging it on the ground and pushing scents into their noses. They’ve been working with police officers to track missing people for 200 years, and some people think that bloodhounds are superior to the new technologies police use to track missing people and criminals.


types of police dogs

Boxers are intelligent, playful, and high-energy, and they like being busy. As family pets, they are loyal and protective and usually only bark when there’s a good reason. They like lots of companionship and exercise.

Boxer Club was formed in Munich, Germany, in 1895. The founders created the first Boxer Standard with the objective of creating a large, brave dog that was a protective family pet/excellent guard dog. They are hard-working dogs.

The one drawback of using Boxers as police dogs is that they are a brachycephalic breed with a short face and breathing issues, so in hot and/or humid weather, they aren’t able to work because they can’t breathe. Otherwise, they are a big help to the police force.

American Pit Bull Terrier

k9 dogs breeds

Pit bulls have many qualities that police dogs need, including intelligence, athleticism, strength, and determination, and they like to please people by working hard. They learn tracking, search and rescue, and/or detecting substances. Pit bulls need to be well-socialized to be confident and adaptable. They do well with canine training and are helpful when patrolling with police.

Contrary to popular belief, pitties are affectionate, loyal, friendly, silly, and sweet pups. Fortunately, law enforcement agencies have begun rescuing them from animal shelters and working with them in the police department.

This is a lifesaver because a million pit bulls in the US are euthanized annually due to an overabundance at shelters and breed-specific legislation prohibiting people from having them.

A fully trained imported German shepherd costs around $20,000, but rescued Pit Bulls are not expensive. Police Universal K9 has a free program that enables police agencies to work with rescued pit bulls that graduate training programs as single-purpose narcotics or explosive tracking dogs.

German Short-Haired Pointer

cop dogs

When was the last time you saw a German Shorthair Pointer (GSHP) sporting an official police dog vest? GSHPs are intelligent and non-aggressive dogs that are well-known for their keen sense of smell and wanting to please their handler, which makes them easy to train and work with as an excellent police dog.

The FBI reports, “With their high intelligence and athleticism, the German Shorthaired Pointer performs well in many AKC sports such as agility, dock diving, and obedience. German shorthaired pointers are also used in law enforcement for nose work such as the detection of illicit substances.”

Like Bloodhounds, German Short-Haired Pointers are used by police agencies as cadaver dog or to track missing persons.


police dog representative species

The other dog breeds are big, so seeing the Beagle on the list seems odd. Snoopy’s breed has an excellent sense of smell. Despite the Beagle’s tiny stature, they have a huge personality, making Beagles great pets and excellent members of the police force.

The Beagle has a reputation for narcotic sniffing in airports and border zones, and they also sniff out narcotics when on patrol — perfect for customs agencies. They are small and can fit into little places, and they also have a sweet personality and a willingness to obey commands.

The USDA has a “Beagle Brigade” that smells agricultural products in luggage and can detect 50 different types of illegal foreign produce items and animal products to ensure that no dangerous diseases or bacteria enter our food chain.

Doberman Pinscher

police dogs breeds

Back to the big doggies, Dobermans are very smart and trainable, with a strong loyalty to their people. The Doberman Pinscher dog is fast and strong, so they can catch fugitives and hold them down, making them a quality police dog.

Unfortunately, Dobermans have a thin coat of fur that doesn’t keep them warm in cold weather. Dobermans would look cute in police sweaters or jackets.

They have a reputation for being tough, but Doberman Pinschers are obedient and are taught to apprehend suspects without hurting them — luckily for the bad guys.

Dutch Shepherd

police department dogs

Dutch Shepherds do excellent police work because they are extremely obedient, quick learners, and protective. Dutch shepherds began as herders.

The Dutch shepherd dog is also loyal, intelligent, easygoing, friendly, and loving. The Dutch Shepherd police dog is great at detection and rescue. as well.

Bouvier Des Flandres

what type of dogs are police dogs

At first glance, fluffy Bouvier des Flandres look like big muppets and not a police dog, but they are fearless, fast, responsible, enthusiastic, even-tempered, and perfect watchdogs/guard dogs. Bouviers are from Flanders, which was in parts of modern-day France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Bouvier des Flandres are easy to train and remember commands for their entire life. They are protective and can be domineering, but Bouvier des Flandres are also loyal, calm, quiet, astute, and adaptable. They love to work, whether babysitting or catching criminals.

Belgian Shepherd 

what breed are police dogs

As the word Shepherd indicates, Belgian Shepherds were originally bred to herd. It seems that dogs that are good at herding jobs can gather sheep as well as criminals. The Belgian shepherd is powerful, agile, very trainable, fast, athletic, and has great stamina and instinct.

Belgian Shepherds love the water, so if a perpetrator chase winds up in a lake, they won’t mind. They excel in search and rescue and are talented search and rescue dogs.

Giant Schnauzer

k9 breeds protecting officers

Giant Schnauzers were herders and moose hunters, as well as excellent guard dogs. They became police dogs in the 1900s in Germany and are used in Europe, in countries like Spain and Hungary, but the US has never used the big Schnauzers because we like German Shepherds on the force. They are very devoted to their owners or the police force if they are on one.

My nephew, a miniature Schnauzer, would never be able to handle police officer duties because he’s too obsessed with looking for vermin in the yard and won’t leave his property.


dual purpose dogs

Rottweilers are another German police dog that works in Europe in France and Belgium, as well as in Australia and the US. Their popularity as police dogs has dwindled due to not being fast runners, high jumpers, or easy for officers to carry when necessary.

However, they have promising careers as therapy dogs, medical support dogs, and seeing-eye dogs because of their nice temperament and being easy to train. These animals are great at comforting and helping people.

Where Do Police Obtain Their Dogs?

Most police agencies breed and raise dogs specifically to do law enforcement work because police dog breeds have to learn very important skills to work on the force and respond to situations without hesitation to ensure immediate control.

Some departments import their dogs from specialized internationally renowned training agencies in European countries that arrive trained but are pricey. Then, the humans have to learn some commands in the dog’s native language.


Which Is the Best Dog for the Police?

The German shepherd is the best breed when patrol dogs are needed. Other law enforcement dog types are helpful in different situations. Beagles and Bloodhounds have the best sniffers, and Labradors, golden retrievers, and pointers excel in explosive detection. Some are used for patrol duties, apprehending criminals, and even suspect apprehension.

Which Police Dog Is the Most Famous?

Rin Tin Tin reigns as the most famous police dog. He was found by Corporal Lee Duncan in an abandoned kennel in France. Duncan gave Rin Tin Tin to a K9 breeder named Leo Wanner, who trained him to be a police dog. He later appeared in 27 Hollywood films.

Is K-9 a Dog Breed?

K 9 is a homonym for “canine” and refers to specially trained dogs that work with a police force dog handler in the police business. To become a police dog, a canine has to pass basic obedience training and then complete police dog training.


Many canine breeds have multiple talents and skills that make them excellent K-9 dogs. They are smart, brave, athletic, have a great sense of smell, and more. K-9s are a variety of sizes and enjoy their careers.

We hope you enjoyed reading about the best police dogs that are invaluable in police work. We’d love to hear your comments, and/or feel free to share this article.

Elise Margulis
Elise Margulis is a talented animal writer and a devoted pet parent residing near Manhattan in a cozy suburb. With a Chow mix and a rescued Siamese as her loyal companions, she's been animal-obsessed since childhood. Penning informative articles on pet nutrition, health, and animal welfare, she's also an avid advocate for adoption and animal rights. When she's not writing, she serves as the editor of two local online news sites. Working from home with her fur babies, she advocates adoption and animal welfare through volunteering and social media. A true animal lover and vegetarian for over 31 years, she's on a mission to raise awareness and make the world a better place for all creatures.

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