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A Use-of-Force Continuum for Dealing with Dogs

There are many options for pacifying a hostile canine, including—when necessary—deadly force.

November 04, 2014  |  by - Also by this author

Chicago officer demonstrate how to use a TASER on a dog. Note the cant of the device, so that the prongs spread horizontally on the animal's body. (Photo: National Canine Research Council)
Chicago officer demonstrate how to use a TASER on a dog. Note the cant of the device, so that the prongs spread horizontally on the animal's body. (Photo: National Canine Research Council)

Some dog behavior experts and police use-of-force specialists recommend that law enforcement officers and agencies consider adopting a use-of-force continuum for dealing with hostile canines.

Officer safety concerns have been raised about this idea, but it's important to remember it's a continuum and not a scale. If an officer is in reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death, then deadly force is warranted, even if no other force options have been employed.

Officer Presence—You are on the scene. This is what is upsetting the dog. One of the best ways to deal with this is get someone the dog knows, preferably the owner, to restrain or lock up the animal.

If the owner or another person known to the dog is not available, you may be able to gain the dog’s acceptance by softening your approach. Dog experts recommend you stop moving toward the dog, assume a bladed stance sideways to the dog, and avoid eye contact, while talking to him in a strong, reassuring tone. This may have a calming effect that will allow you to safely conduct your business and leave.

Verbal Commands—Dog expert and former officer Jim Osorio, founder of Texas-based police training company Canine Encounters, says speak to the dog throughout the interaction in a firm, conversational tone. "If you yell and scream at a dog, you are asking to be bit," he warns.

Soft Technique—Draw a weapon with your weak hand, but don't show it to the dog. Osorio who teaches this use-of-force continuum in his classes, recommends a closed expandable baton. He says to keep it closed, unless you need to escalate.

Hard Technique—Deploy the tool once the angry dog gets within 8 to 10 feet of you. It could be a baton, TASER, or OC. If you choose a TASER or OC, then canine behavior expert and author Brian Kilcommons recommends you not push the weapon toward the dog. Doing so may force the dog to bite the tool and perhaps your hand and arm. In one case in California, an officer tried to strike a dog with his duty gun. The dog bit the gun and the officer’s arm, and the officer shot the dog to death.

The baton is a different story, however, because it gives you distance and you want the dog to bite it. Dog trainers say sometimes even the most hostile dog is happy biting anything and may withdraw after doing so. Osorio recommends that you move the baton side to side in a swinging arc while standing still. "Whatever is moving is what the dog will bite," he says.

If the dog comes in closer, you may have to strike it with the baton. Osorio recommends that you give the dog orders like "Stop!" and "Get back!" in a firm voice as you strike. This lets people know that you are being attacked by the dog, in case you have to use deadly force.

Deadly Force—Sometimes you have no other option. And remember you do not have to use all of the other options in the continuum before you shoot, if it's objectively reasonable to do so.

Just be sure other officers and civilians are not in your line of fire. And if you are in a building, give serious consideration to what may be behind the walls and in other rooms, including children.

One thing that is apparent in many reports of police shooting dogs is that officers often lose sight of the risks of firing at a dog when other officers and civilians are in the area. POLICE could not find evidence that anyone has been killed as a direct result of an officer shooting at a dog, but there have been close calls. And people have been hit.

Very few police officers have been trained to shoot fast-moving, low-to-the-ground animals. So it’s not uncommon for officers to fire many rounds before hitting the dog.

And sometimes they lose fire discipline. In a well-documented 2011 case in Camden, N.J., officers responding to a street fight between teenagers were approached by a dog described as an 8-month-old pit bull. When the dog, which had darted out of the owner’s door, came toward them, the officers opened fire. It is reported that more than 30 rounds were expended. Bullets hit cars in driveways and houses on the street. No one was injured. The dog was killed.

Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

Hylundr @ 11/16/2014 8:16 AM

Thank you for your coverage of the officer vs. canine issue.

Samantha Walczak @ 11/16/2014 6:08 PM

It's seems alarming and scary to me that police officers continue to kill "in the line of defense" and seem to have no consequences regarding such outrageous actions. Michael Brown, Geist, and so many others who received unjustified punishment, when the officers life was not seriously threatened. We should respect who "protects" us but even as an upstanding citizen I find it hard when police seem to have no one to answer to, because the law backs them up no matter what. More should be done to train, educate, and give officers the proper methods to deal with such situations. I understand that many times it may be an "iffy" situation, where an officer responds instantaneously, but that is an oath and career they chose to take. It is important that we begin to implement proper techniques and methods in order to better mediate violent situations and keep the peace. Or else I fear that our democracy will be overthrown and our nation destroyed. Scary but true.

Guy Rossi @ 11/27/2014 7:57 AM

As a retired police officer and use of force trainer although I can agree with more training in this area, officer's have difficulty with continuums and human subjects, let alone dogs. Remember that even the slowest dog can top 15-20 mph and close the gap nearly 3X faster than a human. I do agree that firearms alone may not be the best answer, but the critical component of this besides being able to perceive the dog's intent is proximity. It is proximity that will dictate the best weapon of choice. An additional variable is that of any barrier, from a baton to a chair that you can put between yourself and the canine will buy you time. Do a little homework before you enter a fenced in area, kick the fence, whistle or look for dog droppings. Another good indicator is chain or leash around a tree or clothes line. It's truly unfortunate when an officer has to shoot a dog, because often both are just doing their job.

courtney oberholtzer @ 11/30/2014 8:17 PM

How many people are actually killed by dogs per year?? Seriously there is no justification for these Police officers who shoot and kill dogs.. Use a tazer gun or something else..... I fear cops coming anywhere near my house because I am terrified that they are going to shoot my dog and it shouldnt be like that..

John Franklin @ 12/2/2014 5:58 PM

Ms. Walczak, you have no idea what occurred between Ferguson PD Officer WIlson and Michael Brown. Michael Brown has been shown on video just prior to his contact with Officer Wilson to be violent, and comfortable using his size and considerable girth as a weapon against others. You don't know if Officer Wilson's life was seriously threatened or not, and it's unacceptable for you to make assumptions when neither you nor I were there at the time of such a confrontation. I don't believe that many people would be able to contain a man of Brown's size and weight in a serious struggle. However, there is blood/dna evidence in Wilson's squad car, indicating that a struggle of some sort occurred inside of the vehicle. Wilson stated he believed he was going to be beaten and disarmed; he was on duty and in uniform. Perhaps it would be better if citizens didn't feel comfortable physcally attacking uniformed officers in marked squad cars. THAT would also save a lot of lives.

Michael Blott @ 2/15/2015 9:13 AM

To many officers feel they are entitled to zero risk and shoot dogs on the chance there maybe a risk. This is reinforced by they will rarely be held accountable as admission of fault leads to large financial consequences to the city. The fallout is the lack of trust by the public. The increasing use of video is causing outrage when the public can see for themselves what happened and the conflict in the police report, that again has no consequences for the fabrication of a falsehood. This all makes the job of good cops harder.

Eilidh Somerville @ 2/24/2015 4:33 PM

There is no justification whatsoever for police killing innocent dogs. If cops cannot handle a dog then how can they handle big knife wielding thugs? Officers have been known to kill dogs in crates, playing in their own yards and one officer even tasered then shot a Chihuahua FOUR times! They will also kill small puppies and elderly dogs. Any cop that kills an innocent dog is a menace and needs to be fired and sent for a psychiatric assessment. Anybody (including cops) that will kill as an automatic response to a threatening situation is unstable. However, how can a tiny dog or one that is not acting aggressively be classified as threatening? In those cases it is more likely a cop that does not like dogs and takes the opportunity to kill one. It is sickening and it is no wonder that many people do not have any respect for the police!

DietSoda @ 5/18/2015 2:39 PM

This thread is full of nut jobs! You people have no idea how to react in these situations because you've never been there. Quit arm chair quarterbacking things you know nothing about. There is not a one size fits all answer here. These are rapidly evolving situations that involve a whole lot more than just the animal who is attacking the officer. Sometimes there are also armed suspects to deal with and you can't take the time to blow fairy dust on a dog to subdue it before being shot by an armed criminal. Since when do animals take precedence over human life. Peace officers are not crazed dog killers. Be serious.

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