If you’re a canine (K9) handler or thinking about training to become one, there is much you need to know about this line of duty, and what you can do to keep yourself and your furry partner safe. Sure, there’s a lot of excitement and interesting challenges that come with being on a K9 unit, but at its core ... a handler position is high-competition, cutthroat and dangerous for both dog and controller. It’s certainly not like what we see in Hollywood films. So if you’re serving in this line of work, hats off to you!
Work Scope and Real Risk
The level of personal risk to a K9 handler and their dog varies by job requirements, training level and setting. Depending upon the agency you’re working for, you may be responsible for enforcing local, state or federal laws. This can vary from police and security positions to those in drug enforcement, bomb detection, U.S. Customs agents, Border Patrol officers, the FBI, search and rescue missions, and even military special forces operations. No matter the area, it’s specialized work that requires special officer qualifications. The job hours are often long, if not around the clock, and call for a plethora of ongoing training so that you and your K9 are mentally and physically prepared for whatever comes your way.
When we dive into the scope of work, you may be doing everything from detaining and interviewing suspects to detecting narcotics, tracking or trailing criminals, locating booby traps, searching for cadavers or explosives, apprehending suspects and even finding wounded personnel. Although some of these areas of work may be less risky, like collecting evidence or testifying in court, there’s always a significant threat of exposure to potentially hazardous situations. This is especially relevant when responding to active emergency situations, threats to national security, or making busts and arrests.
Vigorous Training Qualifications
There’s no “a little training goes a long way” in these careers. Preparation is continual and constant skill-building is essential. To start, handlers generally must have a certain number of service years under their belt already and advance to hold a position in a K9 training academy. At this phase, both the handler and their dog must be well-matched, no exceptions! Remember, this animal is going to act as an extra layer of protection, much like the gear worn on duty. They’ll go through a series of tests from which they may or may not graduate, including practicing their skill sets in realistic street scenarios. The greatest benefit here is that it prepares their four-legged partners for the real deal, being ready to respond in any given situation. And let’s face it, we need them because these K9s can do things we humans (and technology) can’t.
Safety Precautions for Saving Lives
Not everyone is willing to do these things and put their life on the line for the greater good. It’s why both K9 handlers and their dogs often wear bulletproof vests. At Safe Life Defense we’re focused on equipping and protecting the people on the front lines with carriers, body armor, rifle plates and more. We create life-saving gear for professionals and we’re the most trusted name with first responders for a reason. It’s our hope that we can develop equally as incredible gear for K9 partners someday … because they’re more than just a trained asset, they’re members of the family.
Dangerous assignments call for equipment that can stand up to the risks and stresses of the job. Beyond comfort, functionality and optimal performance, body armor also needs to be able to reliably defend you against multiple threats like firearms and knives. We offer best-in-class protection with vests that not only stop bullets but are also strike, slash, stab and special threat resistant. Our concealable vests and tactical level IIIA+ vests have even been officially certified by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
Now, there are a lot of reviews and third-party tests with our gear you can check out online, but watch the quick interview below first. Sergeant Mark Tappan is the handler of K9 Mattis and says, “Safe Life is going to save thousands of lives because of their body armor.”
The Reason for the Risk
Protective equipment isn’t just about surviving, it’s about being able to carry out your duties fully, staying safe and helping to create a better tomorrow with your actions. What you do in the field makes a difference and Sergeant Tappan has some additional advice for officers as well, “Remember the reason you got into it. You swore an oath and that should mean something.” Check out his complete thoughts on police unity:
Working With Your Resources
Police dogs are the epitome of dedication, hard work and duty. A good agency understands this and backs their handlers, along with every K9 on the force. If they can’t, that’s where grants for additional funding and donation opportunities like the Guardian Angel Program come into play. When it comes to safety, there is no such thing as walking the line between meeting budgets and protecting the blue line (including these animals). We have to remember these are real people with spouses, children and lives behind the uniforms. As a tight-knit team, overall safety rests on the shoulders of K9 handlers and the resources those handlers have access to. It’s up to us all to support these dedicated police dogs and their handling agents in any way we can. Besides, it feels good to wear great body armor. Do yourself a favor – choose to wear gear that makes you better in any environment.