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Cover Story

Putting a Good Bite into K-9 Deployment

For police service dogs to be effective during K-9 special weapons and tactical situations, they must first have proper training with the SWAT team.

April 01, 1999  |  by Brad Smith

As the law enforcement community is well aware, police service dogs have proven to be a valuable tool to law enforcement over the last 15 to 20 years.

The key word to this statement is "tool."

Police service dogs are not perfect. They are not machines. They do make mistakes or the handler can misread what the dog is trying to tell them.

The biggest reason a police service dog fails during a SWAT operation is the lack of education and training with the SWAT team. Many SWAT's personnel are not aware of their K-9's capabilities in certain situations and some of the handlers have never been trained in SWAT tactics.

There is also that dirty three-letter word: Ego. Some SWAT team members think if a police service dog is used during a SWAT deployment, the police service dogs will take their jobs away. Many other SWAT members fear that the police service dog will get hurt or killed during an actual deployment.

Speaking as a handler, I must keep in mind that my dog is merely a tool in the SWAT arsenal. As much as I love my dog, he is replaceable, whereas police officers are not. I would prefer that my police service dog be hurt or killed during a SWAT deployment instead of an officer.

Handlers must see the "big picture" and realize that police service dogs are an expendable asset.

SWAT teams need to remember that the primary function of a police service dog during a SWAT operation is to "assist." In almost every instance, once a SWAT team sees what a properly trained police service dog can and cannot do, they will begin to use their dogs on a regular basis.

K-9 Facts

Before we go any further, I need to discuss a few basic facts about K-9s. One must keep in mind that dogs do not think or reason like human beings. Dogs react out of instinct or they react out of their training.

The reason why dogs are so quick is because it takes approximately 1/40 of a second for a dog to see something and then react to it. If a dog has never been exposed or trained on how to react to a certain situation, the dog will react out of instinct.

Unfortunately, the reaction may not be the response we were looking for.

Drives of a Dog

Dogs have three basic drives. These drives are: Play Drive, Defense Drive, and the Prey Drive. The Play Drive is needed for a narcotics dog. Some people refer to this drive as the Fetch or Retrieve Drive. A play drive is not needed in a patrol/ SWAT dog.

The Defense Drive is present in every dog. The Defense Drive is also known as fight or flight. When there is a lot of pressure put on the dog, does the dog stay and fight, of does the dog flee?

The Prey Drive is something that is a must in every patrol or SWAT dog. The dog must have the willingness to want to go out and hunt/ search for a suspect. A good patrol/ SWAT dog should have a proper balance of prey and defense drive. Ideally, you would want to have approximately 80 percent prey and 20 percent defense in any police service dog.


How does a dog function in his environment? A dog functions through his senses. Those senses being his sense of smell, eyesight and hearing. There are many evaluations on the strength of a dog's nose. The most common estimation is a dog's smell is approximately one million times greater than that of humans.

The dog's sense of hearing is also very acute. I have heard, however I do not know if it is true, that a dog can hear a heartbeat up to 25 feet away. I know through experience at certain times during a search my dog will stop and listen. His hear canters from side to side and his ears start to rotate like radar. When my dog starts searching again he usually goes to the area where the suspect is hiding.

Unlike humans, dogs do not see in color like we do. Because of this they have a depth- perception problem. Dogs do, however, pick up movement very easily. It is possible for a person to see a suspect who is partially hidden from view and the dog does not see the suspect at all. Once the suspect moves, the police service dog should have almost immediate suspect ID.

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