What makes German Shepherds Good K9 Dogs?

A police dog sometimes referred to as a K9, is a dog that is specifically taught to assist police officers and other law-enforcement agents.

Their jobs can include: searching for drugs, detecting explosives, locating missing persons, finding evidence, and chasing down suspects.

Police dogs are trained by verbal commands and hand gestures depending on the job requirements. Generally, the top K9 breeds are the German shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Bloodhound, and Dutch shepherd.

In this article, we take a look at why do German Shepherds make great K9 dogs. Why are they used in police and army and what is their role? What is the story behind it and what are some of the most famous K9 dogs? Why are German Shepherds used in search and rescue operations?

Article Published on 7th May 2019 » Updated on 14th January 2022

aditi chef editorWritten By Sergey Uhanov Certified Veterinarian.
Sergey Uhanov is a certified veterinarian for dogs over 10 years, breeding 3 dogs. He loves dogs and has his own pet clinic in Israel. He likes to help other people with their dogs by sharing his experience and knowledge.

What makes German Shepherds good police dogs?

German shepherds are valued as police dogs for their trainability, loyalty, and courage.

Described as approachable – quietly standing their ground and showing confidence and readiness to demonstrate their effectiveness and intelligence, the German shepherd is a perfect breed as a guardian and hunter when the occasion demands.

The best asset for police duties is a dog’s sense of smell.

Among all the German Shepherds’ capabilities, their ability to detect very faint odors and to discriminate between very slight differences in chemical composition makes them valued team members.

Dogs, in general, are reported to have ten to twenty times the number of receptors in their nose which far exceeds a human officer’s sense of smell.

This ability makes German shepherds ideal for tasks such as tracking, detecting explosives, and locating victims.

Many K9 dogs are used to detect illegal substances such as drugs or paraphernalia which may be carried on a suspect or in their luggage.

Many police dogs are specifically trained to detect marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamines.

German shepherds are utilized in many other ways such as:

  • Apprehension dogs – This dog is used to locate and subdue suspects or enemies
  • Patrol dog – dogs fully trained and skilled in tracking
  • Handler protection
  • Off-leash obedience
  • Area and building search
  • Criminal deterrence

All of these qualities have been bred into German Shepherd Dogs for over several decades, winning the admiration of police units in practically every country of the globe as K9 dogs, protectors, and loyal companions.

Story behind the K9

Dogs have been used in law enforcement and military for hundreds of years.

In France, dogs were used as early as the 14th century for tracking. Bloodhounds were used for hunting down fugitives in Scotland and in London in the 19th century.

Night watchmen were provided with firearms and dogs to protect themselves from criminals and help combat crime.

One of the first attempts to use dogs for police work was in 1889 in London, two bloodhounds were trained to aid in apprehending the serial killer Jack the Ripper.

A police department in Ghent, Belgium introduced the first organized police dog service program in 1899.

However, it was in Continental Europe that K9 dogs were first used on a large scale. Police in France began using dogs against roaming criminal gangs at night.

These approaches soon spread to Austria-Hungary and Germany. In Germany, the initial field testing took place with experiments in dog breeding and regimented training.

The German police selected the German Shepherd Dog as the best breed for police work and opened up the first dog training school in 1920.

The school focused on systematically training dogs in obedience to their officers and tracking and confronting criminals.

In Britain in 1908, the North Eastern Railway Police were among the first to use police dogs to put a stop to theft from docks and by 1910, railway police units were experimenting with a variety of dog breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Belgian Malinois, and German shepherds.

Famous K9 dogs

The German shepherd, as well as other breeds, are commonplace as K9 units become more prevalent in society.

Some have risen above and beyond the call of duty both in military services and law enforcement.

Below are a few of the most famous K9 dogs that you should be familiar with.

Rin-Tin-Tin The most legendary police dog of all who was a trained German shepherd K9 who was abandoned by retreating German soldiers in 1918. An American sergeant took him to the United States, where he went on to star in a television series and 122 films.

Chips – Chips a mix of German shepherd, collie and husky, was a trained sentry dog for United States Army, and essentially the most awarded war dog from World War II.

This American service dog singlehandedly attacked a hidden German gun nest during World War II, served as a guard dog during a conference between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt and even bit Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1945.

He was awarded the Silver Star, a Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart during the war and has been awarded Great Britain’s most prestigious medal for animal bravery.

Chips, posthumously also received the Dickin Medal for his canine bravery

Kaiser – A German shepherd who served in Vietnam did more than 30 combat patrols and participated in 12 major operations. Kaiser was the first war dog killed in action during the Vietnam War.

Mattie – A black Labrador retriever with the Connecticut State Police, was trained to sniff out evidence of arson.

Mattie could identify several different chemical accelerants. She was the first operational accelerant detection dog in the country, and possibly in the world when she went on duty in 1986.

Roles and Duties for Military Working Dogs

Throughout history, dogs have been deployed on the battlefields around the globe.

In addition to being valued combat soldiers, adding dogs as team supporters can enhance the capabilities of the entire squad by providing additional assets.

They possess olfactory sensory and visual abilities that are well above that of a human, they can go into spaces soldiers cannot, and can often frighten and subdue an enemy combatant more rapidly without using lethal force.

Because of these traits, they have been successfully deployed for numerous military duties and roles by modern military branches.

Over the years dogs have had many roles with the military, but in more modern times, specific responsibilities have been defined where dogs can provide the best assets to the roles they are assigned.

Here are some examples of assignments for K9’s in the military.

Sentry Dogs – Sentry dogs are trained to warn their handlers of the approach or presence of enemies and are utilized for guarding airports, military bases, and other vital installations.

These dogs are worked on a short leash and are taught to give warnings by growling, alerting, or barking.

They are especially valuable for working in the dark when an attack from cover or the rear is most likely. Their use has proved them to be valuable in any place where security against enemy soldiers must be maintained.

Scout or Patrol Dogs – In addition to the skills of sentry dogs, scout or patrol dogs are proficient to work in silence to aid in the detection of ambushes and other enemy forces within a particular area.

The presence of the dogs with patrols greatly lessened the danger of ambush and tended to boost morale.

Mine Dogs – These dogs, also called mine detection dogs or “M-Dog”, have been trained to find trip wires, booby traps, metallic and nonmetallic mines.

Casualty Dogs – Casualty Dogs, similar to search and rescue dogs, are trained to search for and report victims in places that are difficult to locate or larger areas.

Explosives Detection – In modern warfare, a common threat to soldiers and civilians is explosives hidden on a roadside, in a vehicle, or strapped in a vest.

Explosive detection canines are trained to detect the distinct scent of chemicals used in these explosives. With their greater sense of smell, it is very difficult to conceal explosives in a way a dog cannot detect.

German Shepherd Dogs as Search and Rescue

A search and rescue (SAR) dog is a specialized canine used to locate suspects or find missing people or items.

Belgian Malinois, German shepherds, Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and Saint Bernard’s have all seen action in this role.

Search and rescue is yet another duty that German Shepherds shine in performing.

German Shepherds can be trained for several different aspects common to successful search and rescue missions due to their ability to learn quickly, ignore distractions and get to business.

SAR dogs are specifically trained to utilize their superior sense of smell, night vision, profound hearing, and stamina to locate missing persons or victims of accidents.

With that powerful nose and ability to navigate a variety of environments, search and rescue dogs are an integral part of teams’ extraordinary abilities to reduce the amount of time spent searching for victims.

Their ability to save lives is well acknowledged and it has been estimated that a single SAR dog is as effective in locating a human subject as 20-30 humans trained in searches.


From tactical K9 units to Special Forces teams’ dogs have played an important part in the success these divisions of law enforcement have gained.

While the Belgian Malinois and other breeds make great police and military K9s, a well-trained German shepherd is just as reliable and more robust, making them a very popular dog of choice for duty.

Sergey Uhanov

Sergey Uhanov, a certified veterinarian, has authored all of the content here. With over 20 years of experience in dog care and breeding three dogs of his own, he has a deep passion for these furry friends. Sergey owns a pet clinic in Israel where he provides care and treatment to dogs. He enjoys sharing his expertise and knowledge to assist others in caring for their dogs.

Read More About Me >