TSA Canine Handler: Full Hiring Guide

Using this page, you will gain a better understanding of what it means to be a canine handler and the training process you need to complete to become one.

Learn more about the TSA CBT assessment test.

TSA Canine Handlers

Being a canine handler is one of the few careers that offers both the benefits of working and taking care of animals and protecting the country’s borders.

A unique career such as this is widely in demand and comes with a handsome salary.

Canine teams work in many types of public places, including airports, public transportation, and marine systems.

The steady increase in these and the changing security needs create a growing demand that continues to grow annually.

TSA Canine Handler Pay

Major U.S. airports pay detection dog handlers anywhere from $47,000 to $98,500.

Canine Handler Duties and Responsibilities

The duty of a detection dog handler is to supervise dogs trained to detect heroin, cocaine, bombs, traces of explosive making materials, agricultural products, a variety of firearms, blood, and other substances.

Canine handlers must understand their dog’s signals and initiate a search for prohibited items.

Dogs communicate a lot with barks, whines, and growls, which is why it’s vital to know what these sounds mean.

It’s more common, however, for dogs to communicate nonverbally. As a result, humans and dogs sometimes have misunderstandings and that’s where expertise and experience play a big role.

Good passenger screening canine handlers not only can identify the different signals of dogs in general but can also gain experience in understanding the signals of specific dogs he is responsible for.

Handlers and dogs have a special bond. As with every dog owner they have to take care of their dog’s basic needs, provide them with food and water, keep them clean and groomed, take them for a walk, etc.

Regular training exercises and drills are also necessary to maintain the dog’s detection skills.

Prerequisites to Becoming a TSA Canine Handler

Candidates must finish the TSA National Explosives Detection Canine Program if they want to be hired by the TSA and become professional dog handlers.

This program is the biggest explosives detection TSA canine program in the Department of Homeland Security. It is the second largest program in the federal government, behind the Department of Defense.

Police officers and transportation security inspectors are given priority over other candidates.

Program applicants should have a solid understanding of dogs, their habits, and their behavior. Also, it’s important to have previous experience in enforcement roles such as customs officers and inspection.

The TSA Canine Training Course

The TSA canine handler training course includes two different training programs: there is the conventional explosives detection handler training which requires the candidate to undergo an 11-week course and the passenger screening canine handler training which lasts a bit longer and takes 16 weeks to complete.

Training will take place at a Joint Base in San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, and a variety of locations around San Antonio, such as the San Antonio International Airport, nearby malls, the ATT Center, and the VIA Transit Terminal.

The goal of the training programs is to produce trainees who can detect prohibited items’ odors by conducting logical and systematic searches of incoming cargo.

At the end of it, the handler can correctly interpret changes in the dog’s behavior, which allows him to effectively identify the dog’s signals to systematically search the luggage coming in on a daily basis.

A few important facts:

  • Approximately 83 percent of students graduate from the training program.
  • The are seven types of breeds used in the program, including the German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, German Short-haired Pointer, Wirehaired Pointer, Vizslas, Belgian Malinois, and Golden Retriever

Upon completion of the course, the graduate is assigned to a specific location where he will train with his dog for another 30 days to familiarize him with the new location and its common scenarios.

The extra time will also help desensitize the dog from the regular noises and smells of the facility.

Each year program graduates must undergo an onsite canine team review which will allow them to renew their certification.