30 - 40 per week
£25,000 + per year
As a dog handler, you would work with a specially trained dog and be responsible for its care and control. You and your dog would work as a team, helping to prevent and detect crime. You could also find lost or missing people or protect property. If you love dogs and you are keen to use your observation skills, this could be just what you are looking for.
Good dog handlers need patience and confidence. They need to be comfortable working on their own. They also need to be able to judge a situation accurately and react instantly. There are no formal entry requirements to train to become a dog handler. But you will need to have Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance.
You and your dog would work as a team, helping to prevent and detect crime, find lost or missing people or protect property, depending on where you work.
Dog handlers mainly work for the police, the Army, the RAF, the UK's Border Force, HM Revenue & Customs and private security firms.
In the police service dogs are used for:
- tracking missing people
- controlling crowds, for example at football matches
- searching for explosives or illegal drugs
- chasing armed criminals
- guarding prisoners
- searching for stolen property
- search for human remains
- supporting armed officers
In the Army and RAF dogs are used for:
- guarding military bases and aircraft hangers
- locating land mines and other explosives
- searching for casualties
HM Revenue & Customs use dogs at ports, airports and large railway stations to detect:
- drugs, tobacco and cigarettes
- food products such as those brought into the country illegally
In the security industry, dogs are used for:
- patrolling and guarding property
- guarding construction sites
- searching for explosives or illegal drugs
- providing security at events
You could also work for other services, such as the Fire and Rescue Service and HM Prison Service, or for a mountain rescue team.
Working hours and conditions
In all services you would work shifts on a rota that covers 24 hours, seven days a week.
In some organisations, such as the police service, you would look after your dog in your own home. The job is physically challenging as you would need to keep up with your dog during tough training sessions, and would work outside in all weather conditions.
You may need a driving licence for some jobs.
Income depends on the employer and the handler's experience. Experienced dog handlers can earn up to £25,000.
Figure is intended as a guideline only.
You will need to meet the requirements of the organisation you want to work for and these differ depending on who they are. For example, to become a police dog handler, you will usually need at least three years' experience of police work before transferring to the dog section. In the army, you would go through basic soldier training before joining the Military Working Dog Regiment.
See the Training and development section for more details about dog handler training in the police and armed forces.
The National Search and Rescue Dog Association (NSARDA) is made up of search and rescue dog units from around the UK. Their entry requirements may vary slightly but generally ask for at least 12 months’ experience as a full-time member of a mountain rescue or lowland rescue team. You will also need the appropriate search and rescue skills and be nominated and supported by your team when applying to become a dog handler.
If you’re not already a member of a rescue team, you could start off by volunteering as a ‘dogsbody’, literally acting as a casualty in rescue dog training programmes. After around six months with a team, you could move into dog support/navigation work where you would get training in first aid, equipment handling and radio operations. With this experience, you could then apply for dog handling training. See the (NSARDA) website to find out more.
In private security, you will be expected to have experience of working with dogs, but other entry requirements will vary depending on the company. It is recommended that you should get experience as a security officer before becoming a security dog handler.
For this type of work will need a Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence. To get a licence you must:
- be aged 18 or over
- pass Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks
- complete a nationally recognised security qualification
See the SIA website for information about licensing, training and qualifications.
You can also check out private training providers in your area who offer dog handling training. Some are used by professional organisations and emergency services to carry out training on their behalf. It may be worth checking to see if they do this to get an insight into the level of skills and knowledge required for the job.
Training and development
Once you start work as a dog handler you will get training from your employer. For example, in the police service you would:
- receive around three months’ initial training by an experienced dog handler
- take further specialist training, such as search and rescue, or drugs and firearms detection
See your local police service website for information about the work of their dog unit.
In the army and RAF, as a military working dog handler, your training would include:
- a two-week basic course with a trained dog
- a further week’s practical training (includes how to handle dog bites)
- more specialist courses covering tasks like finding casualties, and detecting explosives and mines
See the British Army and RAF websites for more details about military working dogs.
Training as a search and rescue dog handler, including the training of the dog, can take a minimum of two to three years. This includes monthly progress checks.
Final assessment is done over three days in a number of different situations and conditions. Once you have passed, you and your dog will be expected to take ongoing training and you will be re-assessed at regular intervals. See the NSARDA website for more information.
If you are working in the security industry, you can take the Level 2 Certificate in Providing Security Services, which contains options for working with guard dogs. Contact your local college or the SIA for more details.
Skills, interests and qualities
To become a dog handler, you will need:
- experience of caring for dogs
- the ability to work a dog efficiently and look after its welfare needs
- the ability to work with minimum supervision
- good observation skills
- the ability to judge a situation accurately and react instantly
College of Policing (Police recruitment)
HM Revenue & Customs
Tel: 0845 605 5555
Security Industry Authority (SIA)
Tel: 0844 892 1025
National Search and Rescue Dog Association (NSARDA)
Tel: 08457 300 111
Information about careers in the Army and RAF is available on their websites and at local Armed Forces Careers Offices.
If you want to work for the Fire and Rescue Service, contact the personnel or recruitment department of your local fire service. See your local telephone directory for contact details.
Promotion opportunities will vary depending on the service or organisation that you work for. You would not usually be a dog handler above the rank of sergeant in the police service, or corporal in the Army and RAF, so you would need to give up dog handling if you wanted to progress further in the armed forces.
Vacancies in security are advertised in the press and at Jobcentre Plus offices.
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