How to Become a Military Working Dog Handler? – 5 Steps to Do

Written by

John Cotton


Logan Miller

how to become a military working dog handler

The Military Occupational Specialty comprises dedicated handlers responsible for the training, welfare, and service of their assigned canines. These handlers work closely with their fearless working dogs, ensuring they are always prepared to carry out their duties excellently. 

If you believe that pursuing a career as a military dog handler in the Army sounds right for you, there are specific steps you must take on how to become a military working dog handler.

Although the steps may differ slightly based on your military branch and specialization, the general sequence involves:

  1. Enlist in the military
  2. Complete Basic Training.
  3. Attend military police school
  4. Obtain certification in military dog training
  5. Serve as a full-time dog trainer in the military

How to Become a Military Dog Handler 

To become a military K9 handler, you must meet certain army dog handler requirements.

To learn about becoming an army K9 handler, please keep reading for more information on each step. 

Step 1: Enlist in the Military 


To become a military dog trainer, you must first enlist in the military. You can choose any branch of the military, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines.

  1. Have a high school diploma or passed General Education Development tests (GED)
  2. You need to be a citizen of the United States and at least 18 years of age.
  3. Completed the physical fitness assessment.
  4. You will need to take and pass the ASVAB test, which is designed to evaluate your aptitudes and recommend appropriate military occupations based on your strengths and weaknesses.

(If you wish to pursue a career as a military K9 handler, you must obtain a minimum score of 91% in the “Skilled Technician” category of the ASVAB, which is also among the 31k MOS requirements)

During the enlistment process, you will be able to express your interest in becoming a military working dog handler. 

Keep in mind that the demand for military working dog handlers is high, and not everyone who expresses interest will become a navy dog handler or marine dog handler.

Step 2: Finish the foundational training program.


After enlisting in the military, you will be required to complete basic training. Basic training, also known as Boot Camp, trains recruits in all aspects of military service, including physical, mental, and emotional preparation. 

It equips service members with the essential skills to fulfill their assigned duties throughout the deployment. 

Basic training usually lasts 8-12 weeks. The training program is unique to each military branch, designed to address that branch’s specific needs and responsibilities.

The location and duration of the basic military training vary according to the branch of the military you join.

  1. Army (Basic Combat Training) – 10 weeks 
  2. Navy (Recruit Training) – 10 weeks
  3. Marine Corps (Recruit Training) – 13 weeks
  4. Air Force (Basic Military Training) – 7.5 weeks
  5. Coast Guard (Recruit Training) – 8 weeks
  6. Space Force (Basic Military Training) – 7.5 weeks

Step 3: Attend and Successfully graduate from the Military Police School


Mark off all the eligibility requirements to know more about military jobs with dogs and submit your application for military police school.

Once you have completed the initial training and been officially recognized as a military member, you can apply for admission to the Military Police School.

The school provides a 19-week curriculum that covers a wide range of topics, including military and civilian law, policing tactics, reporting procedures, and civilian law enforcement.

After completing the standard coursework, you can enroll in advanced classes focusing on military animal training. These classes will serve as the foundation for your subsequent specialized training.

Step 4: Attend Military Working Dog Handler School and Obtain Certification


  1. After completing basic training, you will be required to attend military working dog handler school. The curriculum is designed to teach you how to handle and care for military working dogs and skills to become a K9 trainer for the military.
  2. Once accepted into the dog handler program, soldiers must undergo a basic dog handling training program. Care, feeding, grooming, and dog-specific first aid are all covered in training. 
  3. As a team, you and your dog will participate in a comprehensive training program, including conditioning, obedience, and controlled aggression training. 
  4. Additionally, the certification exam consists of two parts: You and your dog will be tested on scent identification accuracy and simulated searches for detecting items. This rigorous training program is essential in ensuring that you and your dog are fully prepared for any challenges in the field.
  5. Certification testing is also required after completing the training to demonstrate the handler’s ability to guide a military working dog and interpret its responses accurately. 
  6. To maintain your certification, you will be required to renew it annually, and it is probable that you will also need to complete refresher training each year.

If military police school trainees cannot attend specialized dog handling coursework, they can opt for additional voluntary training.

Step 5: Get Assigned to a Military Working Dog Unit

  1. After completing military working dog handler school, you will be assigned to a military working dog unit. In this unit, you will work alongside other military working dog handlers and their dogs. 
  2. You will be responsible for training and caring for your dog and assisting other handlers with their dogs when needed.
  3. To be eligible for this voluntary assignment, you must fulfill several requirements, including passing a medical examination and background check. You will also be required to get a passport, and effectively complete an interview with the kennel master or unit commander.



What is a dog handler?

A military dog handler is a professional in the armed forces responsible for the care and training of their military working dog (MWD).

You will train and care for military working dogs as a K9 dog handler (army MOS 31k) (MWD). There are numerous specialties, but you and your service dog will focus on one:

  1. Tracking during combat
  2. Handling dogs trained to detect drugs during patrols (PDDD)
  3. Handling dogs trained to detect explosives during patrols (PEDD)
  4. Conducting searches for health and welfare purposes
  5. Participating in law-and-order operations
  6. Assisting with maintaining law and order and ensuring protection during installation setup
  7. Supporting and protecting VIPs
  8. Providing customs support

What do military dog handlers do?

  1. The handler is responsible for the basic care of the MWD, including grooming, feeding, and healthcare.
  2. The handler and MWD may be sent on combat missions.
  3. The handler must have basic firearms knowledge and understand security operations for police functions.
  4. The handler must communicate the capabilities of the dog to commanders.
  5. Recertification is necessary for both the handler and MWD.

What are the required skills to become a military dog handler?

A military working dog handler requires a significant amount of hands-on experience with animals, alongside a great deal of patience and meticulousness. You must have a balanced and confident demeanor, genuine love, and dog compassion. 

The job demands these skills:

  1. Wuick reflexes 
  2. Strong problem-solving abilities 
  3. Able to work well under pressure
  4. A deep understanding of animal behaviors 

Military dog handlers see combat as they are often deployed alongside their canine partners to perform various tasks: 

  1. Detecting explosives
  2. Conducting search and rescue missions
  3. Providing security support to military personnel in conflict zones

How long is the military working dog handler school?

After completing basic training, the next step for a potential military dog handler is to attend a 17-week advanced individual training program. 

This program is designed to teach the handler specific skills related to dog handling and other technical aspects of the job. These skills can help to enhance the relationship between the handler and their service animal.

How much does a military working dog handler make?

Military working dog handlers typically have a salary of $25,000 – $45,000 per year, depending on their rank and experience. Some top Army dog trainers can earn up to $68,000 a year.


Becoming a military dog handler could be a rewarding career for those who are passionate about working with animals and to serve their country.

The process on how to become a military working dog handler may vary depending on the military branch and specialty, but it generally involves gaining experience, certifications, and thorough training.

Since there’s a high demand for technical skills in this field, the 31k MOS availability is limited. By following these guidelines and working hard, you can be a successful military dog handler.

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