Home Society Understanding K-9: Operations and The Lifestyle of Police Service Dogs

Understanding K-9: Operations and The Lifestyle of Police Service Dogs

by Daniel Sabiiti
5:03 pm

K9 training sessions are part of the unit’s daily routine

You have probably heard a street debate on the right name for the dogs doing the Police work. Whether some people merely decide to brag about it or not; Let’s call them Police service dogs, sniffer dogs, canine or just K-9.

That aside, it’s likely that you have seen the K-9 in action up close and personal, but how much do you really know about them? Well, let’s sail together on their lifestyle, how they operate and the interesting bond with its Police handler.

The Police service dogs sometime petrify but they are friendly, foxily smart and intelligent to detect even your scent (for good or bad). Simply, they are trained to be so, for your safety.


When Rwanda National Police (RNP) came into existence on June 16, 2000, one of the units that were much needed due to the level of crimes at the time was the canine unit, which was established later the same year.

“Our country’s history and the state of crime in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and considering the incredible work sniffer dogs provide in crime detection; it necessitated establishing the canine unit, then under the Criminal Investigation Department. It started with only two sniffer dogs detecting only narcotics, and three trained police handlers,” said Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Faustin Kalimba, the Commanding Officer of RNP’s Canine Brigade.

The force reinforced the unit to a brigade after upgrading its capacity, including acquiring more sniffers and training more handlers.

Today, the brigade has the capacity to detect narcotics and explosives with its different sniffer breeds deployed at border points, including the airport, and at national and public events.

“It has been proven that it’s impossible to beat a sniffer dog, however much someone may try to hide drugs or explosives. Considering that one well trained sniffer dog has the capacity to do the work of about 50 Police officers in a very short time; that makes them special in their security work, and inevitable to have,” CSP Kalimba reckons.


For a new dog to join the canine family, it must go through steps of training. The first step of intensive training is meant to identify its expertise to know what each dog will do, either in narcotic drugs or explosives. The second step is obedience, to prevent temperament and behavior problems. Dogs, they say, develop behavior disorder when the owner fail to set and enforce rules.

“Dog obedience training, therefore, establishes its respect for its handler, teaches it to listen and to follow instructions. In short, obedience level is all about keeping the dog happy and under control,” said Kalimba.

The third and final level is a joint training with its Police handler, which is called familiarization and bonding. “The Police officer and the K9 now create a strong bond and become workmates in every assigned tasks. A sniffer knows only one person when it comes to duty—it’s handler—and it cannot work when he or she is not around. In any case when its handler has been reassigned, it will require another bonding training with its new handler. In short, there is that nature of love and respect that can affect the dog when the boss (handler) is not around.

“Our trained canine can detect narcotics like cannabis, heroin, cocaine and others, which helps to identify the suspected trafficker, as well as all explosives.”

Awarding dogs:

It is scientifically proven that rewarding a dog for a certain task influences it to do it again. Understanding what it likes and favorite things is key.

According to Chief Inspector of Police (CIP) Michael Twagiramungu, a canine trainer, the dogs are awarded with balls and praises for the job well done, and it’s the same practice and behavior that makes it respect you, and makes it to do what you want over and again.

Identifying exhibits:

“In an operation, a sniffer dog, when it detects that there are illegal products in a particular area, its behaviors change drastically, it adds speed and force during the search and narrows down the search perimeter and it will lean on its legs or sit next to the luggage or exact point where the detected item is. The first thing a handler will do is to thank the dog for the good job and others follow.”

K9 used in identifying illegal materials in secured areas

Canine way of living:

Canines require close care. They have highly skilled specialists including veterinary doctors, cook, feeding, hygiene and their overall wellbeing.

“We regularly check their health and feed them according to their weight… their health and diet is given much attention. Canine dogs eat once in 24 hours, and each dog eats about 500gms,” says Chief Inspector of Police (CIP) Dr. Robert Mugabe, the canine medic.

Canines require close care

The canine brigade has a clinic where the dogs are treated but in case of a severe sickness, which is a rare case according to Dr. Mugabe, the dog is referred to private vet hospital for further medical attention.

Their hygiene and sanitation is done regularly, and they are washed too—with dog shampoo. “Their health and behavior are checked every morning during and are subjected to a two-hour training on a daily basis,’’ Dr. Mugabe notes.

You will be inviting a bloody fight keeping sniffer dogs in the same cage. Canine dogs are accorded working leave too. “When its handler is given a leave, it also automatically gets a working leave,” says Dr. Mugabe.


Canine dogs, like Police officers, have a retirement age. Drug sniffing dogs, depending on the working environment, retire between 9 and 10 years of service. Explosive sniffers serve for between 8 and 9 years.

Operating beyond borders

The sniffers are part of the Rwanda security forces in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, where they are facilitating security operations against the now weakened Islamic State-linked terrorists, Ansar al Sunnah wal Jama’a.

“Most of the sniffers we get them from abroad especially in Netherlands and UK, but we have started a project for breeding them here in Rwanda.

K9 dog sniffers

“The RNP is strengthening the canine brigade to expand its highly needed services to different parts of the country but also to introduce new sniffers that help during emergencies like landslides and floods to detect people or bodies trapped underground or is debris. They will also help to track criminals like thieves,” said CSP Kalimba.

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