Police, Search and Rescue Dogs: The Animal Rights Debate

The Animal Rights Debate

Mihajlo Maricic / EyeEm / Getty Images

Police dogs are not often discussed as an animal rights concern since there are so many other issues that affect and harm more animals. When discussions of police dogs and animal welfare come up, the issue is usually about protecting the dogs while they are working in dangerous situations, and not about whether dogs should be used in this way. Explore the debate in support of and against police, search and rescue dogs.

Arguments in Support of These Animals

  • The use of dogs for police work and search and rescue work can save human lives by locating victims quickly.
  • Their use can also help capture criminals. If criminals have fled on foot, tracking them with a police dog might be the most effective way of finding them.
  • Cadaver dogs are those trained to find human remains and can discover human remains, leading to crimes being solved, missing person cases being solved and the return of the remains to the family.
  • Dogs can be trained to sniff out bombs, drugs or other substances and can help prevent crimes before they occur.
  • They can be sent into situations that are too dangerous for people to enter or tight spaces that people cannot enter.
  • Typically, dogs are faster on their feet than people and can chase and hold a suspect until police officers arrive.
  • The dogs are trained using mostly, if not exclusively, positive reinforcement, so abusive training methods are usually not an issue.
  • Often, dogs live with their human handlers, even after retirement and tend to be treated very well.
  • The alternatives are few. While law enforcement has experimented with other animals (such as vultures or wasps) for tracking, search and rescue and cadaver searching, these alternatives all involve the use of animals.

The Debate Against Having Dogs Help

  • From a pure animal rights perspective, the use of dogs for human purposes violates the right of the dogs to be free.
  • The dogs are sometimes bred specifically to be trained as police dogs, but not every puppy is selected to become a police dog, thus contributing to the pet overpopulation problem.
  • Dogs can be killed or injured in the line of duty, but unlike their human counterparts, they never knowingly consented to the risks.
  • If a situation is too dangerous for a human police officer, it is too dangerous for a dog.
  • Criminals are more likely to kill or injure a police dog than a police officer attempting to do the same job. Penalties for killing or injuring a police dog are much lower than those for killing or injuring a person.
  • Police dogs have died after being left in hot vehicles.
  • Brutal training methods are not unheard of. In November 2009, a video of a training session by the Baltimore Police Department surfaced, showing a dog being repeatedly picked up by the collar and slammed onto the ground. An off-screen trainer can be heard giving instructions to the officer handling the dog.