Police K-9 and Service Dog
The German shepherd has reigned as the top choice in the United States for K-9 police work for more than a half a century. As a police dog, the German shepherd is often trained for patrol work, which can include such skills as tracking suspects, finding lost people, checking buildings for occupants, and chasing down and holding a criminal or suspect.
Though the public's perception of a police K-9 is often one of a German shepherd gnashing his teeth against a side window of a police patrol car, the typical K-9 is usually very friendly with people. Police dogs go home each day with their handlers, easily making the transition from working dog to family dog.
As police K-9s, German shepherds are often trained to detect narcotics and/or explosives. In the role of detection dog, the German shepherd is trained for either passive alerts (a sit or down, with the dog indicating the find by pointing at the area with its head and gaze) or an aggressive alert (scratching and barking at the location of the find). Explosives detection dogs use a passive alert, for obvious reasons, and narcotics detection dogs may use either a passive or an aggressive alert.
In addition to the police, German shepherds serve many government agencies, such as the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. State Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, National Transportation Safety Board, federal penitentiaries, and the Washington Park Police.
German shepherds have also been (and continue to be) incredible service dogs. During World War I, many soldiers lost their vision through injuries from shrapnel, grenades, or gunfire, as well as exposure to poisonous gases. After the war, Germany trained its shepherds to serve as guide dogs for injured veterans — an idea that was quickly taken up by the United States.
Today, German shepherds are employed in many different areas of service. They are used as hearing dogs for the deaf (alerting their handlers to specific sounds), mobility assistance dogs (helping the handler negotiate obstacles while in a wheel-chair), seizure alert dogs (detecting oncoming seizures), service dogs (assisting the handler in performing everyday tasks, such as picking up dropped pencils, credit cards, etc.), and therapy dogs (assisting patients to improve or maintain cognitive or physical functioning in a wide range of hospital, long-term care, physical therapy, psychiatric, and educational settings).
Additionally, the German shepherd is perhaps one of the most talented search and rescue (SAR) breeds to serve the community. Trained for wilderness and urban life rescues, as well as cadaver searches, the German shepherd has proven to be a focused and tireless worker for civilian volunteer SAR handlers, as well as firefighter, police, and other first-responder SAR handlers.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the German shepherd once again proved to be one of this country's most valuable assets. Both civilian and public service agencies used German shepherds to search for survivors and remains, providing many families with desperately needed closure.
Without a doubt, the German shepherd will continue to be a top choice for service work and will most likely be a preferred candidate for emerging fields, such as psychiatric assistance, in the future.