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Military and Police Dogs

4 min read

Military and police dogs are amazing in all sense of the word. These pups with super-powered noses assist in a huge range of duties for law enforcement including everything from drugs detection to general protection work. Learn all you need to know about the types of police dogs and the duties they carry out with Purina.

There are some breeds of dog which are never happier than when they have a job to do. Previously, working dog breed types were used for hunting - and many still are - but as the land developed and areas became more urbanised, these breeds had to find careers elsewhere. Many of these breeds are now finding success in the police and military, thanks to their super-powered noses and strong work ethic.

Today, military and police dogs are seen all over the world and they undertake numerous tasks including general purpose support work, search and rescue and detection. The work these dogs do is paramount in assisting the forces and they can even help to uncover evidence which may have been missed by the human eye, can quickly apprehend suspects and even help track down missing people. Keep reading to find out all you need to know about the types of police dogs and the work they do.


General purpose police dog types

Almost every force will employ a number of general-purpose police dogs. Their main task is to deter suspects from running and if they do, to apprehend them and assist the officer in making the arrest. That's not all though - these police dog types can be used for anything from guarding, protection and tracking, and they're great at locating drugs, evidence and even human remains. The most common general-purpose types of police dogs you'll encounter are:

German Shepherd

The German Shepherd is widely recognised as the preferred police and military dog breed. Versatile, high energy and rarely tiring, this breed is highly intelligent and easy to train, often picking up many commands quickly, which is imperative in this line of work.

Their courage and fierce loyalty saw them first being called to service in World War I, finding work as a Red Cross Dog. These dogs were used to perform a wide variety of tasks including carrying messages, rescuing injured soldiers or civilians, guarding, carrying supplies and sentry work.

Did you know? One of the breeds used for the search and rescue effort after the 9/11 terrorist attack was a German Shepherd. Working tirelessly searching the rubble for survivors, these search and rescue dogs also provided some much-needed comfort for those involved.

Belgian Malinois

Often confused as a smaller German Shepherd due to their similar looks, the Belgian Malinois is just as versatile but lighter in weight, making them an excellent police or military dog. Possessing a keen work ethic, they can undertake a variety of tasks and quickly learn and respond to commands. Much like the German Shepherd, the Belgian Malinois was firstly used in World War I as a Red Cross Dog and interestingly, they were the first police dogs to be used by the Belgian police.

Did you know? In 2019, a Belgian Malinois named Conan was hailed a hero at The White House after being injured during a military operation targeting the so-called Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The mission was a success and Conan made a full recovery.

Dutch Shepherd

Originally used as a herder, the Dutch Shepherd is an athletic and intelligent breed that became popular with the police and military when industrialisation saw its original herding job become less needed. Their particular skill set and high trainability made them very attractive as general-purpose police and search and rescue dogs, and today they're still widely used across the world.


The Doberman is a less common police or military dog as they're more highly strung than other types. However, they're fearless and protective with bundles of energy and were even used in both World Wars.

Finding work as almost a 'soldier's assistant', these dogs would provide invaluable search and rescue services, looking for the wounded as well as land mines and enemies, and would also serve as messengers, sentries and guarders.

During WWII, Dobermans were the dog of choice by the U.S. Marine Corps and were dubbed the 'Devil Dog of the Marines'. Despite the name, these were heroic military dogs that would deliver essential messages, ammunition and medical supplies and also alert soldiers to enemies or strangers approaching!


Specialist detection dogs

Dog noses are far more powerful than human noses, around 2000 times more so in fact! These super-powered snouts can follow human scents (including people who are lost or hiding), detect drugs, explosives and even human remains. Some police dogs are specially trained as arson dogs and can pick up scents or traces of accelerants on arson sites.

If that's not enough, there are even cadaver dogs which are taught to detect decomposing bodies, sniffing them out even if they're under water or if a body or remains have been moved from a location. In fact, according to The Guardian, in October 2013, a man was convicted of the first-degree murder of his wife, despite no body being located due to the scent of human remains being located on a rug by a cadaver dog.


The Beagle is known as being one of the greatest sniffers around. These scent hounds are popularly used in airports, sniffing out contraband, weapons and drugs, as their less intimidating looks allow for them to move through busy areas relatively unnoticed! Beagles are also a great choice as narcotic sniffer dogs due to their great work ethic and as search and rescuers, thanks to their smaller size which makes them ideal for navigating smaller areas that would be difficult for humans or larger dog breeds.


The Bloodhound has a sense of smell unlike any other, which makes them excellent police dogs. With their energetic attitude and ability to follow a scent trail up to 130 miles away, these dogs are great at finding criminals and for search and rescue tasks.

Did you know? In some American courts, the Bloodhound's nose is so trusted that evidence discovered by them is legally admissible. They're also used to match scene-of-evidence to criminals in court!

English Springer Spaniel

Incredibly intelligent and agile, the English Springer Spaniel is one of the most recognised sniffer dogs currently employed by the police and military. Mostly used for the detection of explosives and drugs, there's one dog that's so good as his job, a crime group put a £25,000 bounty on his head! Named Scamp, his sniff of speciality is illegal tobacco and over the last five years, he's uncovered around six million pounds worth of the stuff.

Labrador Retrievers

The Labrador Retriever is a popular police dog for search and rescue, explosive and drug detection and they're also used as arson dogs. These pups are very trainable, efficient and always quick to follow their handler's commands. Thanks to their hunting roots they possess an excellent sniffing ability, but due to their friendly natures they're not suitable for protection work.

These are just some of the military and police dogs most commonly used, but there are so many breeds that have made excellent contributions to law enforcement over the years, including Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies and Staffordshire Police even employ a Staffordshire Bull Terrier named PD Cooper!

Want to find out more about all the different dog types?

Read our guide on the top 11 smartest dog breeds.