Bad dog! When should you shoot a canine?

How many times have you withdrawn your firearm, trained it on a human subject, and pressed the trigger? How many times have you had to withdraw your firearm, train it on some four-legged creature running amok in your jurisdiction, and put the beast down? For many cops, the answer to that first question is either “none” or “one” or some other very low number. For many cops — depending on where you work — the answer to that second question can be considerably higher.

Now, I’m not talking about what my friend and colleague Dick Fairburn calls the “Noah’s Ark Massacre” which took place in Ohio last month — although I have asked him to write a serious column addressing the issue as a result of a humorous conversation we’d had on the subject. Nor am I talking about events like the one in which San Francisco cops ended the Christmas Day 2006 rampage of a 243-pound Siberian tiger named Tatiana, or the one this past weekend in which officers felled two abattoir-bound bovines in the Canadian community of Masson-Angers, or the one reported just today in which an unidentified Douglas County (Calif.) sheriff’s deputy accidentally shot a black bear with a live round rather than a rubber bullet.

Sure, these things happen — and, in fact, clearly happened — but the breed of animal most commonly in an officer’s sights is a canine. Yes, man’s best friend can be a cop’s worst headache.

Late last week I had occasion to connect with a gentleman named Troy Kechely, who has authored a very interesting book entitled Management of Aggressive Canines for Law Enforcement. Having reviewed some of the pages of his work, and discussed some of its concepts with him, I’m eager to share just one of the “tips” I discovered.

Read a dog as you would a human, because that dog is definitely reading you!
Understand that dogs are highly communicative, and that they not only communicate through their own body language — through movement and positioning of the head (eyes, mouth, ears), back, legs, and literally all the way to the tail — but they are also very perceptive about the gestural movement and physical stance of humans. Furthermore, says Kechely, a canine’s reading of you incorporates a number of other senses in addition to sight.

That rule of human communication “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” applies very well during interaction with a potentially aggressive canine. While it’s estimated that dogs only “understand” a little over a dozen words, they are finely attuned to tone of voice, so the tone with which you speak can have a significant effect on a dog.

“Interestingly, human tones convey many of the same meanings or intent as with dogs,” writes Kechely. “Low tones in the canine world typically denote aggression, correction and dominance behavior, whereas high tones denote play — excited, friendly behavior. But also bear in mind that high tones also denote injured prey and can trigger or amplify prey aggression at the wrong time.”

Finally, we all know that dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and that humans tend to emit a unique odor when experiencing fear... so yeah, they can smell your fear.

Down the road, I’ll share some excellent ideas Kechely has on topics such as:

Observing safety zones when dealing with dogs at traffic stops
Mitigating the risks to officers (and dogs) during SWAT entries
Responding with appropriate medical care when you’ve been bit

For the time being, please add your own ideas on this subject in the comments area below. Perhaps together we can amass a catalog of concepts to ensure that the number of dogs put down by police officers is limited to those animals which truly are a threat.

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, responsible for providing police training content and expert analysis on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips. Doug is also responsible for planning and recording the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, as well as being the on-air host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug also works closely with the PoliceOne Academy to develop training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Doug regularly represents PoliceOne as a public speaker in a variety of forums and is available for media interviews — he has appeared on numerous local and national radio and television news programs, and has been quoted in a host of print publications. 

Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Contact Doug Wyllie

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