Home / Government / Articles / Dogs with jobs: data on canine employment in the government

Thousands of dogs work for the US government, detecting explosives or narcotics or working for a range of federal agencies in law enforcement and security.

How many dogs work for the federal government?

As of February 2022, about 5,600 dogs work for the federal government, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Most of these dogs — 5,159 of them — work for the government, in 40 federal programs across eight departments and three independent agencies, while the other 421 are contractors, working with 24 contractor programs across eight departments and two independent agencies.

Which agencies employ the most dogs?

Most government-employed dogs work for the Department of Homeland Security (2,943), followed by the Department of Defense (1,808), the Department of State (204), and the Department of Agriculture (148).

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Among agencies with working dogs, the Department of Health and Human Services had the least, with nine dogs. Other low-canine agencies include the Department of Veterans Affairs (25) and the Department of Commerce (33).

What jobs do dogs do?

Civil servant dogs typically have either detection or search roles. Twenty-six government programs use federally-managed working dogs to identify explosives, radiological materials, and nuclear weapons. Other popular jobs include narcotics detection (16 different programs), patrolling (11 programs), and tracking missing or concealed people (nine programs).

Less common roles include disease surveillance (two programs), wildlife management (four programs), and search and rescue for living victims and the remains of deceased humans (five programs).

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Which breeds of dog does the US government use?

The military typically uses German and Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, while the Department of Agriculture primarily uses Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, and Jack Russell Terriers. The Federal Emergency Management Agency often uses Labradors, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Belgian Malinois, and Border Collies to locate disaster survivors and human remains.

What risks do working dogs face?

The GAO identified 18 issues important to the health and welfare of working dogs. Risks include inadequate housing, limited access to medical care, insufficient food and water, and poor systems for retiring older dogs. There is no legal requirement that government bodies address all these concerns, but the GAO found that 32 of the 40 federally managed working dog programs had policies addressing at least 13 of the 18 identified issues.

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Can you adopt dogs that fail government training?

Dogs that fail to meet the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Canine Training Center criteria or the Department of Defense criteria for government work are available for adoption. Retired dogs are also occasionally adoptable.

How to adopt

To start the adoption process, contact the canine adoptions coordinator at a government agency that provides the service, such as the TSA or the DoD Military Working Dog Adoption Program. If your application is approved, you’ll be able to visit a facility and meet available dogs. After coordinators check references and other relevant information (such as whether prospective adopters have a fenced-in yard) they match dogs to their new owners. Processing the adoption can take up to a few weeks.

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