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Dog handler

  • Hours

    30 - 40 per week

  • Starting salary

    £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.


Work activities

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.

Entry requirements

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
  • patience
  • self-confidence
  • the ability to work with minimum supervision
  • good observation skills
  • the ability to judge a situation accurately and react instantly

More information

College of Policing (Opens new window) (Police recruitment)

HM Revenue & Customs (Opens new window)

RAF Careers (Opens new window)
Tel: 0845 605 5555

Security Industry Authority (SIA) (Opens new window)
Tel: 0844 892 1025

National Search and Rescue Dog Association (NSARDA) (Opens new window)

British Army  (Opens new window)
Tel: 08457 300 111

Border Force (Opens new window)



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.

You may find the following link useful for job vacancies and general reading:

Job market information

This section gives you an overview of the job area that this profile belongs to. You can use it to work out your next career move. It can help if you’re looking for a job now or want to do some further training.

The 'Market statistics' charts are based on figures from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The list of job vacancies under 'Apply for jobs' is from the Universal Jobmatch database. The vacancies are not from the National Careers Service.

Median income: Caring services
Avg Inc
UK Sector
27017 16969
Gender: Caring services
Female Male
87 13
Working pattern: Caring services
Part-time Full-time Self-employed
54 40 6
Gaps in sector due to skills shortages: Caring services
This sector All vacancies
26 23
Employment forecast: Caring services
Forecast Employment Figures
Year Predicted nos. employed
2014 2039000
2015 2078000
2016 2098000
2017 2133000
2018 2190000
2019 2234000
2020 2274000

Jobs available on Universal Jobmatch

DateJob TitleCompany NameLocation
23/09/2016Dog HandlerBlack Diamond SecurityLeeds
15/09/2016Dog HandlerBlack Diamond SecurityBirmingham
09/09/2016Dog HandlerBlack Diamond SecuritySheffield
09/09/2016Dog HandlerBlack Diamond SecurityStoke-on-Trent
09/09/2016Dog HandlerBlack Diamond SecurityBarnsley

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