Preferred breeds used by police forces in England and Wales

The German shepherds and their police officer handlers 'passed out' on December 21, 2011, after 13 weeks of training at the unit in Sandon.
Essex Police
Aman and his handler PC Steve.
BBC News
The Malinois, Belgium Shepherds.
BBC News
From left, PCC Olly Martins, dog handler PC Paul Rogers and Herts PCC David Lloyd with Springer Spaniel Ziggy, aged four, who is an explosives dog.
Beds and Herts Police Dog Units
Police Collie Ollie at play during a break in training at RockNess.
BBC Scotland
Photo credit:
The Giant Schnauzer and a German Shepherd
Dog Adoption
mccannOLSEN walking with Gary
Verity Dace
Pets 365

Police forces use a number of breeds of dog for a variety of duties. The breed of dog usually depends on the job to be done, but the following breeds are employed extensively in England and Wales.

General Purpose Dogs

Searching and tracking are the main tasks of police dogs. A single police officer is no match for a police dog as dogs are able to search more quickly and in very constricted places.

General purpose police dogs work with human scent. Their main task is to chase after fleeing suspects and hold them until the officers can make an arrest. Frequently they can deter suspects from running merely by the threat of being released. This is the traditional image of a police dog.

These breeds can be very scary as they often become extremely protective of the families they live with and particularly their handler. It can be difficult for strangers to become accepted by the dog and their warning bark can be pretty frightening. These breeds are encouraged to bark in order to attract the attention of the police officers, give warning and deter intruders.


Protect the officer, attack dog, tracking, locating human remains, locating drugs, locating evidence and guarding premises.

German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs)

They are extremely sociable and versatile animals who usually form a strong bond with their handler. The German Shepherd is still the prefered breed with the Police and Armed Forces. Their versatility has also led to them being used to seek buried people in avalanches and earthquakes.


For a number of years now, dog sections have found it difficult to acquire the number of GSDs they require and as a result, many forces have adopted the Malinoise which is able to perform the same functions as a GSD. The Malinois has three advantages over the GSD. It has a much better build, is lighter in weight and can work to a far greater age than most GSDs.


They are a little highly strung and are therefore not as widely used as German Shepherds but very effective.

Rottweilers, Boxers and Schnauzers are employed in similar roles by forces throughout the world and, in fact, Hove Police Force employed an extremely effective, enthusiastic Rottweiler. However they are reported to be rather stubborn and it’s difficult to find volunteers for them to chase.

Specialist Detection Dogs

A dog’s nose is one of the best bits of equipment available to the police. A trained sniffer dog’s nose can detect 10-year-old smells and is around 2,000 times better than a human’s nose. The dog is able to follow a human scent so well that anyone who may be lost or hiding can very quickly be found. Large crowds, especially those that may exhibit bad behaviour, are a good place for dogs to be visible, if only to deter possible incident.

Some dogs are trained specially to search for drugs, explosives and guns. Springer Spaniels and Labradors are often used because they are such excellent trackers. As terrorism has become a very real threat, these specialist dogs are used by the police in any area which may become a possible target for terrorists.


These dogs are used in a specialist detection role to search for drugs, explosives, bodies cash and firearms.

Arson dogs are trained to pick up on traces of accelerants at sites of suspected arson.

Cadaver dogs are trained in detecting the odour of decomposing bodies. Dogs’ noses are so sensitive that they are even capable of detecting bodies that are under running water.

English Springer Spaniel

The English Springer Spaniel is a friendly, lively, outgoing, medium-sized breed. They are generally intelligent, skilful, willing and obedient. The Springer’s intelligence and agility, paired with its beauty, loyalty and trustworthiness make this breed one of the most desired. They are versatile and relatively easy to train.

Labrador Retriever

Labs are reliable, friendly, outgoing, intelligent and gentle dogs. Many Labradors are used as service and therapy dogs. Others do well in search and rescue work, as well as making excellent bomb, drugs and arson dogs. Their highly developed sense of smell and trainability make them particularly suitable for these tasks.

Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever is one of the most popular breeds of dog. It’s a trained hunter and will do virtually anything to please its master. Its intelligence and patience make it one of the most common guide dogs for the blind. Although easy to train it is not very protective.

Border Collie

Border Collies have an instinct to ‘gather’ sheep to the shepherd, a trait that makes them most useful on the hill. Because they work most frequently far from their handlers, they must be intelligent and independent. Natural versatility makes them excel in fields other than herding and sheepdog trials; their temperament is also well suited to life in the suburbs as long as there’s plenty of work to do.


Beagles are used in airports to sniff the baggage for items that are not permitted. Their friendly nature and appearance ensures that few people are bothered by them or even notice them.

Many British police services now source the majority of their replacement dogs from within specialized police dog breeding programs designed to ensure that the dogs are bred with strong working ethics and good health. The Metropolitan Police has the largest police dog breeding program in the UK supplying not only the capital city, London, but many other parts of the UK and the world with superb animals.

Historical Consultant   David Rowland

International Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice

Police Dog Facts   Leah Waldron

Metropolitan Police History

Dyfed Powys Police

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