Why Are German Shepherds Trained as Police Dogs?

German Shepherds are trained as police dogs because they’re renowned for their intelligence, loyalty, and work ethic.

Nov 27, 2023By Sara Payne
why are german shepherds trained as police dogs

Throughout history, many dog breeds have served in the military and as a part of police forces worldwide. Yet, the German Shepherd sticks out as one of the most favored breeds for this job. But why?

German Shepherds are unique in that they’re easy to train, loyal, and tirelessly hard workers. They also don’t shy away from tough situations that require their support. Police officers benefit from their keen hearing and sense of smell, too.

German Shepherds Have Historically Served Man

german shepherd tongue out
Image credit: Pixabay

Before there were police dogs, people used dogs in the military, as far back as the Persian Empire in 479 BC. Yet, while dogs have long worked alongside humans, the German Shepherd’s role as a police dog is much more recent.

In the late 1800s, there was a shortage of police officers in Ghent, Belgium. As such, law enforcement officials began training dogs. News of these canine officers spread, and soon, neighboring Germany adopted a similar program. The breed of choice for the Germans was their favored herding dog: the German Shepherd.

Not only were German Shepherds the best herding dogs in the country, but they had also served valiantly in World War I at the turn of the century. By 1920, Germany opened the first dog training school, which taught German Shepherds how to track suspects and remain loyal to their police officer handlers.

German Shepherds Perform Many Tasks

german shepherd in snow
Image credit: Pixabay

On the job, German Shepherds have many important duties to fulfill. Police officers use their K-9 units for the following reasons:

  • Guarding
  • Protecting
  • Tracking
  • Locating drugs, human remains, and trace evidence, like hair fibers

A K-9 officer’s main job is to support its police officer handler in the best way possible. This may involve keeping a dog’s handler safe. It may also involve rescuing people from tight spaces where others can’t fit.

Police dogs also help their handler locate objects that are beyond a human’s range of smell. The average German Shepherd has 300 million olfactory receptors in its nose, while the average person only has six million.

What does this mean? Picture a crime scene. A police officer may smell nothing more than a breezy summer day. Their German Shepherd, however, could pick up on the perpetrator’s scent and track them down.

What Makes German Shepherds Good Police Dogs?

german shepherd walking forward
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German Shepherds (also known as GSDs) have all the makings of a great working breed. Since their inception, GSDs have been loyal, confident, protective, and easy-to-train. These qualities make them ideal as a police officer’s companion.

They can learn commands quickly because they’ve spent centuries working alongside shepherds and other agricultural workers. They’re also:

  • Naturally inclined to protect people
  • Expert herders (and that doesn’t just extend to sheep)
  • Incredibly alert, sensing things their handlers may not
  • Bursting with energy, meaning they can remain vigilant for long shifts
  • Courageous and remarkably intelligent
  • One of the dog world’s athletes

How Does a German Shepherd Become a Police Dog?

german shepherd in grass
Image credit: Pixabay

According to the National Police Dog Foundation, most police departments purchase German Shepherd K-9s directly from specialized, ethical breeders in Europe. These dogs come with hefty price tags—sometimes going for $8,000 a pup! Most police departments do not accept donations of German Shepherds from the community because they rely on canines that are medically sound and responsibly bred.

German Shepherd puppies start their careers within weeks of being born. Many training programs last for at least eight weeks. Here, police dogs work with their handlers and learn commants. They live with their handler, but while they are on duty, they cannot be treated like pets. That means no playtime on the job!

Police dogs begin full-time work at around 12 to 15 months old. They work normally for around 10 years (depending on their medical history), and then they retire to be with their handler as a family pet for the rest of their lives. Sounds like a sweet set-up!

German Shepherds Aren’t the Only Police Dogs

Belgian Malinois as cop dog
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

While German Shepherds are a common face at airports, high-volume events, and crime scenes, they’re not the only dogs that are used for law enforcement purposes. Other dogs that lend their skills to police officers include:

Believe it or not, even the friendly and soft Bouvier de Flandres is becoming increasingly popular in police forces all over the world. We would also be remiss if we didn’t give the bloodhound an honorable mention. While these floppy-faced pals don’t chase burglars, they rely on their keen sense of smell to locate missing people in search-and-rescue missions.

German Shepherds Are Recognized for Excellence

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Time and time again, German Shepherds are recognized for their contributions to society, both as pets and K-9s. They’re not just familiar faces at dog shows, however. They’re frequent winners of the Awards for Canine Excellence. What does this mean, though?

The American Kennel Club (AKC) each year recognizes dogs that fit into five certain categories. There are five winners each year. The categories include:

  • Uniformed Service K-9. This recognizes dogs that serve in the military, with firefighters, and alongside paramedics.
  • Exemplary Companions. These are dogs without formal training that have distinguished themselves as meaningful members of their household or community.
  • Search and Rescue: This category awards a dog that has assisted with locating missing people.
  • Therapy. Eligibility is reserved for dogs that have offered comfort in schools, hospitals, disaster sites, and “wherever else the affection of a good dog can provide comfort.”
  • Service. This category acknowledges a dog that has helped a disabled owner.

What dog breed has won the most often? German Shepherds! Sources report that these dogs have won more than 10 times.

German Shepherds: More Than Man’s Best Friend

german shepherd portrait
Image credit: Pixabay

German Shepherds are a great working dog breed. Since the beginning, they have been ideal police dogs due to their loyalty, protectiveness, and intelligence. Although they are not the only dog breed on the police force, they are well-known, acknowledged, and adored for their work helping people. Hey, there’s a good reason why these guys rank fourth as the nation’s most popular dogs!

Sara Payne
By Sara Payne

Sara is a mother of two and a high school English teacher who rediscovered her love of writing during the pandemic. She has 5 rescue cats: Neville and Luna, who are white cats with black and grey spots, and Ginny, Blue, and Fairy, who are calicos. Besides taking care of humans and fur babies, Sara enjoys gardening, crafting, and spending time in nature.