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Departments : Officer Survival

Countering Canine Attacks

Street thugs are using attack dogs on police, and you need to know how to handle them.

March 01, 2003  |  by Michael T. Rayburn - Also by this author


You and some fellow officers are serving a warrant on a drug dealer. As you enter the suspect's backyard, he unleashes his pit bull with the command, "Attack!" The powerful animal lunges toward you with fierce determination and snarling teeth.

You have no choice. You draw your service weapon and fire three rounds into the dog. Two find their mark in its chest cavity, while the third rips through one of its front legs. It takes a few more paces, collapses, and dies.

This is not a far-fetched scenario. Pit bulls, rottweilers, dobermans, and other attack dogs have become part of the street criminal's arsenal. They represent a real danger to law enforcement officers. And you need to know how to deal with them.

The first thing you need to realize is that you have to conquer your fear. A dog attack can be controlled, but if you panic and let fear take over and try to turn and run in an attempt to avoid a bite, a dog will run you down.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are times when turning and running is your best option. If the dog is half a block away and you're standing close to your patrol car, there's nothing wrong with jumping into your cruiser to avoid a bite or to avoid having to shoot the animal.

Unfortunately, you may not have the option of retreating. You may have to stand and fight.

Making a Stand


While a dog’s head might seem the best target, aim down and away from you at the dog’s shoulder to avoid hitting your own arm.

The first thing you have to realize is you're not dealing with a friendly, old puppy dog. Man's best friend is a wonderful creature, but it's also an animal. Worse, it's a predatory animal. That means that when a dog attacks, its instinct is that of a predator, and the way to prevent serious injury and even death is to acknowledge and respect that instinct.

Never turn your back on a predator in close quarters. If you turn and run, you become nothing more than prey. Instead, face the animal squarely and bend your knees to lower your center of gravity.

Once you're in position, start yelling at the animal as you face it. An attacking dog is expecting you to turn and run. When you face it and act aggressively toward it, you may scare it off. Unfortunately, a trained or determined animal will not be swayed by this tactic.

Regardless of whether the dog is a trained attack dog at the command of a bad guy, or a suddenly irritated and aggressive family pet, be careful about cornering or trapping it. Always give an animal a way out or a way to retreat. Trapping a dog in a corner and leaving him with no other option but to fight his way out is a sure way to get bitten.

If you find you have trapped a dog in a corner, keep facing the dog and slowly start to back away, giving it an escape route. This tactic will work on most dogs that are not committed to the attack but are instead reacting out of fear.

A determined animal who is on the attack and committed to the bite is another story. It's made up its mind to attack you and is actively charging you, and it won't back down.

OC Spray

A determined dog can only be deterred with force. Which means you need to decide between OC spray and deadly force. OC is sometimes a viable option, but its execution can be tricky and its results can be unpredictable.

For example, if you do decide to use OC on a dog, it is imperative that you leave it an escape route. If you don't, then you will get bitten as the dog tries to fight his way past you. Remember, even a dog that wasn't committed to the attack will fight to get away from you and the effects of the OC when trapped.

Also, keep in mind that just as OC spray does not work on all humans, it won't work on all canines. Dogs that have committed to an attack and trained or conditioned dogs won't be fazed by pepper spray any more than a human PCP user. Worse, even if a dog is susceptible to the pain of OC, it can cover a lot of ground before the spray has time to take effect.

Tags: Dog Attacks, defensive tactics, Less-Lethal Force, Deadly Force, Reality-Based Training


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