Selecting the Right K9 for Your Agency

August 05, 2019 by Dana Rasmussen

Selecting the Right K9 for Your Agency

When it comes to selecting a dog to join a police force, handlers have specific standards to ensure the dogs meet their needs as well as the needs of the department.

For the Cheyenne Police Department in Wyoming, selection involves making sure the dogs can hunt, fight, and be courageous. When a dog possesses this skill set and drive, it helps them want to pursue objects out of sight, not back down to threats, and stay focused in high-stress situations. These dogs are considered dual-purpose K9s and are used for narcotic detection and patrol.

“We want a dog who is going to really hunt for that narcotic odor as well as hunt for that human odor when sent into a building or field to search,” according to Officer Lisa Koeppel of the Cheyenne PD. “We need a dog who will seek out these odors, pursue suspects, and stand their ground.”

The Selection Process

Koeppel went through the selection process in early 2019 to find a dog to replace her K9 partner who is retiring in the fall. Going into this process, Koeppel knew she needed a dog who could do the hard work required of a police K9 and possess the softer skills necessary for interacting in the community.

“Some K9s are always in the mindset of being on the job unless they’re at home,” Koeppel said. “With my dog retiring, I wanted his replacement to not only have the ability to be on the job but also know how to be relaxed when we’re doing social events with children in the schools.”

To find a dog capable of going through the training processes required of police K9s, it’s important to find a reputable kennel that specializes in working dogs. Koeppel chose K9 Working Dog International in Kansas because of the facility’s rigorous selection process.

According to Koeppel, this facility’s lead K9 handler contacts several kennels and talks to the dog’s owners to determine what type of dog an agency is looking for. From there, the handler shares the testing procedure the dog will go through and then makes a recommendation on available dogs who can make it through the testing.

Put to the Test

Available dogs are put through testing that involves looking for the drive to hunt and fight.

To do this, Koeppel said handlers typically throw toys of all types and make sure the dog brings the toy back to the handler. From there, the process becomes more difficult as the handler throws the toy into areas of tall grass and spins the dog around to ensure the dog can still seek out the toy and bring it back. When a dog doesn’t give up until it has found the toy, it signals to the handler that it won’t stop until it finds the item.

“Through this process we can see how motivated the dog is,” Koeppel said. “We want the dog who isn’t going to stop trying.”

To test a dog’s fight drive, a handler will put the dog through three tests. The first test involves muzzling the dog and having someone come out from a hiding spot. The objective is to see if the dog reacts without fear and has the potential to apprehend a suspect.

The second test involves hiding from the muzzled dog and seeing what the dog does when it finds the hidden person. Again, checking to see if the dog is displaying fear or confusion is something that indicates it might not be good for patrol.

The third test is called the “courage test,” and it involves sending a person in a bite suit toward the dog in an aggressive manner. If the dog still goes for the bite and doesn’t cower or hesitate, it shows the dog has a strong fight drive and won’t back down in situations.

When a dog passes these three tests, the handler arranges to bring the dog home and work on the next phase of preparing for the K9 partnership – bonding.


*In October 2017, the Cheyenne Police Department won a grant from Tyler Technologies to fund a K9 unit as a part of Tyler’s commitment to making communities safer together. To provide this grant, Tyler Technologies worked with Sean’s K-9s, an organization committed to providing grants to law enforcement agencies in need of financial support to establish or maintain their K-9 teams. Follow along with this series as it details the Cheyenne PD, Officer Lisa Koeppel, and her new K9, named Tyler.

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