How to become an Dog Handler. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does a Dog Handler do?
As a dog handler, you would work with a specially trained dog and have responsibility for its care and control. You would work mainly for the police, the army and RAF, HM Revenue and Customs service, or private security firms.
You and your dog will work as a team, helping to prevent and detect crime, finding lost or missing persons or protecting property, depending on the service you work for.
In the police force dogs are used for:
- tracking missing persons
- controlling crowds, for example at football matches
- searching for explosives or illegal drugs
- chasing armed criminals
- guarding prisoners.
In the Army and RAF dogs are used in:
- guarding military bases and aircraft hangers
- locating land mines and other explosives
- searching for casualties.
HM Revenue and Customs use dogs at ports, airports and large stations to detect:
- drugs, tobacco and cigarettes
- food products such as meat and dairy produce that are being brought into the country illegally.
In the security industry dogs are used for:
- patrolling and guarding property
- guarding construction sites
- providing security at events.
You could also work for other services, such as the fire service, the prison service and mountain rescue.
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, so you would need suitable facilities. The job is physically demanding – you would need to keep up with your dog during tough training sessions, and would work outside in all weather conditions.
How much does a Dog Handler earn?
Experienced handlers can earn up to, and over, £27,000.
Income depends on the employing organisation and the handler’s rank.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
For services such as the army and police, you would need to be working in the service before becoming a dog handler. For details see the relevant job profiles and the organisations’ websites.
You would then need to meet your organisation’s requirements for becoming a dog handler, such as length of experience. For example, police dog handlers usually need at least three years’ experience in ordinary police work before transferring to the dog section.
Entry requirements for the National Search and Rescue service vary slightly from association to association, but in general to become a trainee handler you must have been a full time member of a Mountain Rescue Team for more than 12 months, and be proposed and supported by them. See the National Search and Rescue Dog Association website to find out more.
- National Search and Rescue Dog Association
For private security companies, you would be expected to have experience of working with dogs, but other entry requirements vary depending on the company. The National Society of Security Dog Users (NASDU) recommends that you should first get experience as a security officer before considering becoming a security dog handler.
By law security guards (including dog handlers) must have a Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence. To get a licence you must:
- attend an approved training course
- complete a nationally recognised qualification.
You will also need an identity check and Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) clearance.
- Criminal Records Bureau
See the Security Officer profile and the Security Industry Authority website for details.
- Security Industry Authority
You would need a driving licence for most jobs.
Training and Development
Once you start work as a dog handler your training will vary depending on the organisation.
For example, In the police force you would:
- attend a training course
- receive tutoring from an experienced handler for one month before going on patrol
- complete a one-year probationary period.
In the Army and RAF you would:
- attend a two-week basic course with a trained dog at the Defence Animal Centre in Melton Mowbray
- attend other courses covering tasks such as finding casualties and detecting mines.
See the NSARDA website for information on training for the Search and Rescue service.
In all organisations you would receive ongoing training to make sure that you keep up the necessary standards.
In the security industry you could complete NVQ Level 2 in Providing Security Services.
As a dog handler in any service you may be able to work towards qualifications such as level 2 and 3 Award/Certificate/Diploma in Work-based Animal Care.
Skills and Knowledge
- experience of caring for dogs
- the ability to work with minimum supervision
- good observational skills
- the ability to judge a situation accurately and react instantly.
You can find information about entering the Army and RAF on their websites and from local Armed Forces Careers Offices. For fire service recruitment enquiries, contact the personnel or recruitment departments of local fire services – check your local telephone directory for contact details.
You would gain promotion in the same way as for any other role in the organisations. For example, you would need to pass exams to become a sergeant in the police, or a warrant officer in the army and RAF. You would not usually be a dog handler above the rank of sergeant in the police force or corporal in the army and RAF, so you would need to give up dog handling if you wanted to progress further.
Vacancies in security are advertised in the press and at Jobcentre Plus and many other job boards online.