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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

Selection of K-9 SWAT Handlers

There are several handler characteristics that must be taken into account before the selection of a K-9 SWAT handler. One thing to keep in mind is that not every handler is suitable to be a K-9 SWAT handler. You need to look for someone who not only has experience with dogs but also understands and works will with them.

Just because a person has been a handler for five to 10 years does not mean they really know anything about dogs.

You also need to have a handler who has control over his police service dog. If the handler has never been to a basic SWAT school he needs to be sent prior to being deployed with the team.

Selection of a SWAT Dog

There are several traits that should be considered when looking at a police service dog for SWAT. One of the first things you want to look for is a dog with confidence. It helps immensely to have a dog that is sociable and like to be around other individuals. You also need to have a dog that is comfortable working in tight and small quarters.

It goes without saying, you need to have a dog that is not bothered by loud sounds, such as gunfire or flash bangs and a dog that has the correct balance of Prey and Defense Drives.

It is also pertinent that a SWAT dog has street experience. It is very difficult to take a new dog- or even a new handler- fresh out of a basic K-9 school and put him in a special weapons and tactics environment.

There are too many unknowns for both the handler and the dog.


People think it is difficult to train a police service dog. All it really takes is time, patience and understanding on how a dog learns. A dog learns through "formed association" or "repetition." You can teach a dog almost anything as long as you are consistent with you training and you break the exercise down into small, simple exercises.

In order to prepare a police service dog for SWAT, the dog and the handler need to be exposed to as many different situations as possible. The handler needs to know how the dog will react in each situation, and be able to correct the behavior if the response of the dog is incorrect.

Before beginning training with the SWAT team, the handler needs to train with the police service dog first. Once the handler knows that they police service dog will react correctly in a given situation, he can discuss with the SWAT team what is expected of them. Once the SWAT team knows what is expected from them, it is time to bring the handler, police service dog, and SWAT team together for training.

Arrest Team

In the past, a police service dog was primarily used on the perimeter of a SWAT operation. Through proper training, you can use a police service dog as part of an arrest team. You need to have a minimum of two SWAT personnel with the K-9 team. Each person on the arrest team must know his or her proper assignment. These different assignments include who will give the commands to the suspect, handcuffing the suspect, covering the K-9 officer, and who is going to walk the suspect away.

There are many things that the K-9 handler must think about while being on the arrest team. The K-9 handler must know the locations of every perimeter officer.

They may come a time when the suspect becomes uncooperative or flees. The K-9 handler needs to know where the other perimeter officers are located so he can decide whether to release his police service dog after the suspect, or let the other perimeter officers take him into custody.

Having a plan and communicating this plan is an essential part of an arrest team. The K-9 handler has to communicate with his perimeter officers what he is going to do in each possible situation prior to the incident happening.

He needs to inform the perimeter officers if the suspect runs in a certain direction for them to remain motionless and quiet because he is going to deploy the dog. However, if the suspect runs in another direction, he needs to inform them that he is not going to send the police service dog and for the perimeter officers to take the suspect into custody.


There are several other uses for police service dogs during SWAT deployment. Some of these are: clearing attics, under a house, tunnels, crawl spaces, thick shrubs, bushes, stairwells, buildings, open areas and in a gas environment.

When it comes to formulating a plan for a SWAT deployment, the K-9 handler should be included in the planning stages. If the K-9 handler is present during the planning stages, he could interject where the dog could be used. By not having the K-9 handler present, the SWAT team may want the K-9 to accomplish a specific task expecting, perhaps unrealistically, that the dog will be able to complete the task.

When everyone is brought together for the briefing, the plans may have to be changed if the K-9 can not perform as expected. This will waste valuable time in re-formulating a plan.

When it comes to building searches during a Swat operation, the approach is sometimes overlooked. The police service dog can be placed at the head of the congo line. Through proper exposure and training most dogs can be taught to walk straight on a 15 or 20 foot long line. This way the police service dog can walk "point" and clear the danger area in front of the SWAT team as they approach the point of entry. By having the dog walk point, if the police service dog comes across a person hiding, the dog will alert the SWAT team prior to their arrival.

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