Re: dog experience
Here, you are looking at AT LEAST 5 years (probably longer) on the street before you can even apply to be K9. I have seen other departments where they couldn't find applicants and a junior member was the only option, but its not likely here. Most of our K9 officers have 15 years policing experience at least and most had very little dog experience before going in the section.
DH just recently graduated from the K9 training course with Hary. He has eight years on the road and spent more than two years volunteering with the K9 section and he still wasn't the first pick. They chose two other officers with more seniority (and no experience) over him. One dropped out 8 weeks into the training, one after four days.
My goal is to become a K9 officer as well. I had the same problem as you.
First, I went to the academy. Then, when I got hired, I showed and interest in the section (I was with two different forces). I go out on training days to do quarry work or just watch. I have participated in several training courses for new dogs. I am really lucky because the Sgt in charge of training is more than happy to share knowledge if you show interest.
When I got my house, I got my first puppy, Chatham. I spent at lot of time learning how to train, reading books on training, etc. I learned alot just from him.j
I also ended up with DH (before he was K9)which is how I ended up falling in love with GSDs (his GSD, Kaper, was a washout from a training course). Because of Kape, I found this site, which had been a source of alot of information.
I have read all of the books the PSD trainer uses, plus I continue to try to read pretty much anything on dog training, behavior, etc.
I've got at least two more years before I can apply to the section, since they don't count my year away. I plan on spending it learning as much as I can. Even then, I may still have to wait longer because they base selection more on seniority here then experience.
If I could, I would join a club, however, there are none in the area.
K9 is probably one of the hardest jobs to get to here. After the Polygraph course, it is the longest course offered. Our trainer here is demanding but IMO its so worth it. DH had days where he was really stressed but he did it. He is out on the street now and they have already had their first successful track.
Good luck. You found a great place to ask questions, take advantage of it.