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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

Taking the Bite

If a dog attacks you, try to offer the animal your non-shooting arm. While it might not be pleasant, this will leave your shooting hand free to use your gun.

As we've discussed, dogs are meat eaters and their instinct is to hunt and kill. A dog kills in the wild by grabbing its prey with a bite, pulling it down, and tearing out its throat. And that's exactly what an attacking dog will try to do to you. Your survival depends on using the dog's instinct against it.

First, face the animal squarely in a low-center-of-gravity stance with your knees slightly bent and your non-shooting arm extended. Most dogs will bite the body part that's closest to them unless they have been specifically trained to do otherwise. Even then, training has a hard time overriding the animal's instincts. By presenting the dog with your non-shooting arm to bite, you can take control of the attack.

When you are braced, draw your pistol and prepare yourself for the counterattack. Make sure you have a safe background for shooting before you fire any rounds toward the charging animal. If you do not have a safe background to shoot the dog as it's charging you, then you will have to take the bite.

Once the animal clamps down on your arm, you can turn to try and maneuver it into a better position for shooting. Just make sure you stay on your feet. In the case of a larger dog such as a 130-pound rottweiler, it will be very difficult for you to maneuver the animal. A dog has four legs and runs every day and a large dog is a strong dog, so it will be difficult to handle and turn.

When you don't have a safe background for shooting and cannot maneuver the animal, then you can shoot in a downward position using the ground as a safe backstop. Once the dog latches onto your non-shooting arm, raise your weapon up over the top of the dog and fire into it from a downward position angled out away from yourself, using the ground as your backstop.

Try to aim for the dog's shoulder. This will allow you to hit some of its major organs and blood vessels. At the very least you'll break its shoulder, which will lessen the dog's mobility and slow it down to give you a better shot.

You might think that a headshot is the way to go in this situation, but that can be a very bad option. Remember, the animal's head is latched onto your arm via its teeth. Further, the dog's head is going to be thrashing about in its attempt to drag you down, so there's a good chance you'll miss or your weapon will be knocked around. In addition, as you raise the weapon toward the animal's head, there is a chance it will let go of your non-shooting arm and latch onto your shooting arm or hand. And finally, just as with human targets, a dog's head is smaller than its body and therefore harder to hit.

Working Out

Always leave a dog an escape route. Cornering any animal leaves him with no option but to fight and is a sure way to get yourself bitten.

In the academy you were sprayed with OC to teach you that you can fight through its effects. So, too, you should experience a bite from a police K-9 to show you that you can fight through a dog attack. You need to learn that a dog attack can be controlled.

You need to train and be prepared for any possible attack and that includes a canine assault. Whether it's an intentional assault by a trained dog or a family pet that's gone bad, you need to know how to respond appropriately to this threat. You would never want to be forced to shoot someone's pet, but the threat from these animals is real and your response must be appropriate.

Stopping an Attacking Dog

√ Lower your center of gravity by bending your knees.
√ Yell at the dog.
√ Spray it with OC.
√ If you can do so safely, shoot the dog before it bites you.
√ When you can't shoot the dog before it bites, control the attack by making the dog bite your weak side arm.
√ Do everything you can to stay on your feet.
√ Shoot the dog in the chest or shoulder until it releases you.

The Pit Bull Drill

Another way to train for a dog attack is to use the "pit bull drill." To perform this cheap and simple shooting drill, take a two-liter soda bottle and fill it with water. Place the cap back on the bottle and tie a piece of cord, (clothes line works great), around the neck of the bottle.

You now have a "pit bull." Well, at least you have a target that
approximates the chest cavity area of a pit bull.

To perform the pit bull shooting drill, throw the bottle down range approximately 25 to 35 feet with the other end of the cord running in between the shooter's feet. Now, have a volunteer stand behind you and pull the cord.

Don't draw your weapon until the bottle starts to move. When given the command the volunteer will quickly pull on the cord, which will move the bottle toward you even faster. Shoot until you strike the bottle, releasing the water. The exercise is not over until the bottle is empty, or the firearms instructor stops the exercise.

For safety reasons, make sure your volunteer stops pulling the bottle when it gets to about five feet out from the shooter.

Michael T. Rayburn is a 24-year veteran of Law Enforcement and the author of "Advanced Vehicle Stop Tactics" and "Advanced Patrol Tactics." The books and his video "Instinctive Point Shooting with Mike Rayburn" are available through

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