best dog breeds for police

5 Best Dog Breeds For Police Work

Not just any breed of dog is temperamentally suited to police work. When you think of dogs working in dangerous environments, you may automatically conclude that what’s required is viciousness and aggression. But police dogs aren’t just about attacking. They are used worldwide to detect explosives, drugs and other illicit substances; to seek out dead bodies, missing persons or suspects in crimes; and to uncover trace materials at suspected arson sites, for instance.

But what types of dogs are used by the police worldwide? Here are five of the most common breeds that help prevent crime and keep us safe, and some interesting facts about each.

German Shepherd

Vital Statistics:

  • Dog Breed Group: Herding Dogs
  • Height: 24-26″ (males), 22-24″ (females)
  • Weight: 66-88lbs (males), 49-71lbs (females)
  • Lifespan: 9-13 years

German Shepherds were the first breed of dogs to be formally trained as police dogs, and they’re still the breed most commonly used by police in the USA for everyday duties. Being herding dogs, they’re instinctively keen to impose order on a situation and incredibly quick to learn how to react to commands. Unsurprisingly, one of their best features is their intelligence. They also have a great temperament and are fiercely loyal to humans who inspire their trust, and so they’re used in a host of situations beyond police work, from assisting in search and rescue operations to helping the disabled. One especially famous German Shepherd, Etzel von Oerigen, was better known as Strongheart. After being trained in Germany as a police dog, Strongheart moved to the United States in 1920 and was one of the first dogs to become famous in films such as The Return of Boston Blackie (1927). His descendants are still around today.

Check out our guide on the Best Dog Food for German Shepherds.

german shepherd police dog

Labrador Retriever

Vital Statistics:

  • Dog Breed Group: Sporting Dogs
  • Height: 22.5-24.5″ (males), 21.5-23.5″ (females)
  • Weight: 65-80lbs (males), 55-70lbs (females)
  • Lifespan: 12-13 years

This type of Labrador is one of the most popular breeds in the US generally, loved by everyone from families with kids to hunting aficionados, as well as being a firm favorite with law enforcement agencies. This type of canine was originally bred as a retriever-gun dog to recover shot game birds for hunters. And it’s these skills – to focus single-mindedly on a task, to detect even the faintest of scents and to determinedly hunt out its prey – that make the breed such a reliable and valuable working animal to police forces worldwide. They have a strong work ethic and make incredibly loyal, obedient companions. Labrador Retrievers are widely used in locating narcotics, explosives and currency, not to mention human subjects. Sadly, sometimes those jobs can be dangerous: Sirius, a five year old Labrador retriever and bomb-sniffing expert, was the sole police dog to die in the World Trade Center disaster in 2011.

labrador retriever police dog

Belgian Malinois

Vital Statistics:

  • Dog Breed Group: Herding Dogs
  • Height: 24-26″ (males), 22-24″ (females)
  • Weight: 55-66lbs (males), 49-55lbs (females)
  • Lifespan: 10-15 years

The Belgian Malinois was another type of dog originally bred to herd and watch over the safety of sheep. While that makes them the perfect pets to guard a family in a domestic setting, it’s in the sphere of police work that these canines excel. Considered by the German police force to be more robust and reliable than their close relative, the German Shepherd, they’re also sleeker, giving them advantages when speed and agility is critical. They’re also flexible and can be trained to carry out a wide range of duties, from tracking a fleeing suspect to sniffing out narcotics or tackling someone with a weapon. Add to that the fact that they are incredibly hard-working and highly intelligent, not to mention cheaper to purchase than the German Shepherd, and it’s easy to see why the Malinois is now the second most popular type of dog in service in the US. In fact, though, the American Kennel Club notes that these terrific dogs first made their debut in the New York City police force in 1908, so they have a long and distinguished history of service!

belgian malinois police dog


Vital Statistics:

  • Dog Breed Group: Hound Dogs
  • Height: 25-28” (males), 23-26” (females)
  • Weight: 101-119lbs (males), 88-106lbs (females)
  • Lifespan: 10 – 14 years

Bloodhounds were the first dogs ever used, albeit in an unofficial capacity, as police dogs back in 1888. Then, they helped London police search for the infamous prostitute murderer, Jack The Ripper. With a well-deserved reputation for its ability to track human and other scents over long distances there is no wonder the bloodhound remains a firm favorite with police forces all over the world. This formidably keen dog sense of smell has helped the breed track down lost children, missing people and escaped convicts, sometimes several days after the individual has been in the area. Why do dogs generally have such a keen sense of smell? Well, the olfactory bulb in their noses is proportionately 40 times as large as a human’s! More than that, though, the bloodhound is particularly well-endowed with around 300 million receptors to sniff out those elusive scents.

bloodhound police dog

American Pitbull Terrier

Vital Statistics:

  • Dog Breed Group: Terrier Dogs
  • Height:  18-21” (males), 17-20” (females)
  • Weight: 35-60lbs (males), 30-50lbs (females)
  • Lifespan: 8 – 15 years

The American Pitbull Terrier is a relatively recent addition to modern policing. Its origins are murky: the Old English Terrier and Old English Bulldog were originally cross-bred to be used in blood sports such as bull and bear baiting. Even though such activities are now illegal, these dogs are still thought to be the most commonly used breed in illicit dog fighting. But the characteristics that make them such fearsome opponents in the arena also render them increasingly attractive to law enforcement agencies. They’re fearless, fast and have enormous stamina and strength, and are mainly used for patrolling and detection duties. As they’re a banned breed for domestic owners in many parts of the US, an added attraction is that it’s less expensive to rescue them from animal shelters than to buy them from established breeders. This is a significant saving when you think on average it costs over $20,000 just to train any police dog, not to mention the expense of paying handlers, food, and medicine over their lifetime!

american pitbull terrier police dog

Our Heroes – And Our Faithful Friends

Police dogs are treated with the same level of respect and care as their human counterparts; and if they, unfortunately, die in the course of duty, are accorded the same honor as the men and women they work with. Luckily, many leave active duty for natural reasons after six to eight years’ service to live out their retirement years with loving owners who understand how to care for these very special dogs.


  1. Top 15 Dog Breeds for Police Work, Wag!
  2. 13 Narcotic Detection Dogs From Philippine DEA Up for Adoption, PetMD

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