CANINES ARE TRAINED TO STOP ATTACK WHEN TARGET IS SUBDUED The Richmond Times Dispatch -- The dog didn't know it was attacking a police officer. The officer didn't know he was grappling with a police dog. Without that confusion, a Chesterfield County police officer might have avoided being injured and fatally shooting the canine last weekend, authorities said. The officer, who was chasing a criminal suspect, wasn't able to see the dog being released or hear the dog's handler announce he was going to unleash the dog to chase the suspect. So the officer wasn't aware the shepherd was one of his department's K-9s, police officials said this week. The officer was on the other side of a house in a Chesterfield subdivision when the dog handler, also an officer, warned the suspect he would release the dog if he didn't surrender, officials said. And the dog handler, officials said, wasn't aware the other officer was nearby. Under ideal circumstances, the dog handler would use his police radio to notify other officers in the immediate area he was about to unleash his dog. But Sunday evening's events unfolded so fast the handler had only seconds to act, officials said. Police pursued the suspect into the neighborhood after he failed to stop for an officer who spotted him driving with expired license plates. When the suspect drove into a dead end, he got out of his vehicle and ran into a wooded area. Police dogs, such as the one killed Sunday in the 100 block of Rosegill Road, go through intensive training, 12 to 14 weeks of basic skills followed typically by spending several days a month with the trainer. One element of their training is to knock down and attack fleeing suspects on command. But they also are trained to immediately stop attacking once their target becomes passive and halts aggressive movements, authorities said. If the officer bitten in Sunday's incident had known it was a police dog that was attacking him, and had the officer stopped hitting the dog while trying to defend himself, the dog likely would have backed off on its own and would still be alive today, authorities familiar with such dogs said last week. The officer told officials he had seen other dogs in the neighborhood as he was running through back yards, and at one point he suddenly felt a burning sensation on the back of his legs, said Chesterfield police Maj. David Hope. "He looked back and there's a dog attached to him." The officer then hit the dog a couple of times with his hand, Hope said, believing the dog would run away. But "he was very surprised that the dog came back for more." "So it was just fate - two forces coming together and neither one them was going to back down," Hope said. Police officials refused to release the names of the officers involved in the incident. They also declined a reporter's request to interview them because Hope said the matter is still being investigated by the department's internal affairs unit. "We still don't know conclusively why [this] happened," Hope said. "I don't think anything patently was done wrong, certainly not on purpose. "What we're looking for in this internal affairs investigation is to see if there's anything else that could be done [in the future] to ensure that something like this doesn't happen again." Law enforcement officials outside Chesterfield said many people do not realize police dogs, although trained to be aggressive, will stop attacking and back off if the person being pursued stops resisting. Most area police officers, including those in Chesterfield, are trained how to respond to police dogs. "The trick is, if you stand perfectly still, the dog will not bite," said Henrico police Sgt. H.I. Cardounel, who formerly supervised Henrico's K-9 unit. "If you keep flailing with the dog, or swatting at it, he's going to keep right on you," Cardounel added. Sgt. Frank Brewer, who supervises the Virginia State Police K-9 unit, said state police dogs are trained similarly. When a suspect gives up, the dog "will back off and watch the person." But Brewer, who has more than a dozen years' experience with police dogs, said the survival instinct can easily override an officer's training to stay still when a police dog is running at him or attacking. "I've been around them a long time, and I've had dogs come at me during training and my feet want to move," Brewer confided. "It's human nature. It takes every bit of composure that I have to stand still and don't move. You don't want to stay there." Hope said he can't fault the Chesterfield officer for his actions, even if he had been aware the dog was a trained police K-9. "What would you do if you had a dog chewing on your arm?" Hope said. "You know what the book says, but when you're getting chewed on, that's another whole story. I don't think I could hold still if a dog's chewing on me."