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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


Prior to deploying a police service dog on a SWAT operation, the handler needs to know his departmental policy. In what situations does the handler have to give a K-9 announcement prior to deploying the dog? The handler also has to decide whether to give the dog a search command or a bite command.

It is also important for the SWAT team to realize there may be times when the handler may not have his gun out as he is deploying the dog. It would benefit the handler to inform the SWAT team of this tactic. The SWAT team needs to assign a person to the K-9 handler as the back-up officer. This officer goes everywhere the handler goes.

There will be times when the SWAT team may want the police service dog to be deployed from the back of the congo line. Through proper training and exposure this will not be a problem.

However, whenever possible, the best way to deploy the dog would be the place the dog in the threshold of the door. By placing the dog in the threshold, the team is giving the dog a chance to use his senses.

The dog is able to survey the area in front of him by using his nose, eyes and ears. By leaving the dog in the threshold to survey the area is approximately 30 to 45 seconds, this will give the dog ample opportunity to pick up any human scent that is blowing toward the point of entry.

On the initial entry of the dog, the K-9 should be used to only clear approximately 15 to 20 feet into the building. Limiting how deep the dog will go into the building will let the SWAT team know if there was anybody lying in wait just inside the entryway.

The easiest and quietest way to limit the distance of dog will enter into the building is with the use of a long line. The long line could be either a retractable or free and long line.

One of the tactics that K-9 handlers like to use, but SWAT is uneasy with, is the handler watching the police service dog search. Even though we trained for the perfect alert, this is not always the case in real life. In real life, the only alert we may get is the dog showing a change in behavior in a certain area. If we are not able to watch the dog search and are not able to see this change in behavior, we cannot tell the SWAT team that the dog has an interest in this area and to be extra careful in that area.

The way I got my SWAT team to allow me to watch my dog was through the use of a bulletproof shield. This gave me the ability to watch my dog as he searched. Once my dog has searched the area, I recall him to me and take him to the rear of the congo line.

SWAT now makes entry into the location and does a detailed search of the area that the police service dog has searched.

Once the SWAT team has completed their detailed search and has secured the area, they then decide in which direction to continue the search. Once they have decided which direction they want to go, it is time for the police service dog to be called up from the rear and clear the danger area prior to the SWAT team searching.

Once the K-9 has searched the area, the handler again retreats to the back of the congo line with his dog and the SWAT team now makes a detailed search in the area just cleared by the police service dog.

Searching with a SWAT team is no more than a "leap frog" from room to room.

Outside Searches 

On any type of outside search one of the first things any good K-9 handler determines is the wind direction. Whenever possible, the police service dog should be deployed into the wind or on some type of crosswind. The scent of a suspect travels with the wind in a "cone" pattern, which the dogs are able to easily follow.

This scent pattern is known as a scent cone. By using the wind to your advantage the suspect can be located safely and quickly.

On any outside area search, the handler needs to determine how he is going to deploy his dog. He needs to decide whether he is going to release his dog into the search area off leash, direct the dog to certain areas to search or use a long line to clear the areas as they go. Once again, before actual deployment of the police service dog, it is important to let the dog survey the area and use his sense.

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