Previously, I discussed LE options for dealing with vicious dogs. In a perfect world, Animal Control would handle all vicious dog confrontations. In the real world, police are usually first on scene, so they're the ones who must deal with the animals. Yet few agencies provide specific training for such encounters.

Without formal training, police must rely on their preservation instinct and use whatever force is deemed necessary against attacking dogs. While lethal force is acceptable, it's a last resort. There's a less-lethal alternative that's proven effective, one I've personally employed countless times and highly recommend.

I'm referring to the standard CO2 fire extinguisher.

CO2 extinguishers have been around for years. They're designed to extinguish Class B-C fires in a wide variety of settings, are NFPA and Maritime approved, and are advertised as safe and effective. CO2 works by displacing fire's oxygen and cooling its fuel through the use of highly pressurized non-flammable gas.

Our SWAT team first learned about using CO2 against dogs years ago from LAPD SWAT. I only wish we'd known about them a few months before when my team shot and killed an attacking 100-pound German Shepherd during a drug search warrant.

The result was months of intense departmental and federal investigations accompanied by demands by politicians, the media, and the public for us to be prosecuted criminally. Eventually, we were cleared (criminally); however, this was merely the beginning.

A year later we were sued in federal court for $600 million, subjected to years of court appeals and rulings (including the Ohio Supreme Court). The federal lawsuit trial took place seven years later and lasted 11 weeks - before we were finally 100 percent exonerated.

Back to CO2 and LAPD SWAT. Toward the end of the training week, one of our troops asked the proverbial "dumb" question. The LAPD SWAT instructors graciously responded with, "there are no dumb questions." The question asked was, "How do you handle dogs?" The answer was immediate: "CO2 fire extinguishers."

I was stunned, because our department had used CO2 for small fires for many years, and had only recently pulled them from all of the vehicles due to aging - and about to be thrown away. When we came back from our training with a request to use the extinguishers against canine attacks, SWAT was welcome to take as many CO2 extinguishers as we wanted. So we tested and grabbed as many as we thought we needed.

Then, we "field tested" the CO2's on the numerous packs of vicious junkyard dogs that roamed the city's streets. The "test" results were startling: CO2 works nearly 100 percent of the time, no matter how vicious or mean or big the dog is.

CO2 works by startling dogs three ways: sudden loud noise, fog cloud, and intense cold "freezing" their sensitive nose. The effects are immediate and almost always effective, and perhaps best of all, dissipates almost instantly - without any residue.

An additional bonus was we could refill the CO2's as often as we needed to, because the city has an unlimited contract to refill city fire extinguishers.

Before we could go operational with the CO2's, we had to determine how best to tactically deploy them. We decided the CO2 needed to be carried on assignments, close to the entry team front, by officers with handguns.

Through intense training, trial, and error, we determined the third officer on the entry was in the best position to carry and employ the CO2. On our team, sergeants (team leaders) are usually number 3 in the entry order, behind the double point (long guns), after the doorman (breacher) steps aside.

The beauty of the CO2 is you can employ it from 10 to 20 feet away from the intended target. Even if you can't see the target, and right through the officers between you and the target. All you need to do is yell, "Dog!" and spray in the attacking dog's direction as many times as needed.

Dogs react by immediately retreating to the furthest corner of the premises you're hitting. They want nothing more to do with the CO2. Some dogs run right past you in order to escape. A few dogs come back for more - so you might have to CO2 them more than once.

I can personally cite countless examples of how effective the CO2 is on virtually every breed of dog - Pitt Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, etc.) - including several dogs simultaneously.

Raids aren't the only uses of CO2's. We had one SWAT call-up involving a suspect whose "weapon" was his snarling, growling Pit Bull holding officers at bay from behind a chainlink fence. This was before the advent of alternate less-lethal options (TASER, bean bags projectiles, etc.). Consequently, SWAT was called to assist.

We arrived to see the shirtless male holding his leashed Pit Bull and yelling obscenities at uniformed officers on the other side of the fence. We sized up the situation, and in short order, blasted the Pit with our CO2. The dog took off - leash and all - leaving the suspect "weaponless." The arrest was easy from there. It was over within minutes of our arrival.

When coupled with an Animal Control type "noose," the combination effectively holds any dog safely at bay. The noose is particularly effective for "cornered" dogs - including those under furniture. The noose also allows you to safely remove the animal from the premises where it can be turned over to Animal Control. But be aware that just as with CO2, officers need to be trained to properly use the "Noose" and it should then be incorporated into your tactics as you deem appropriate.

You can approach your Animal Control department to obtain an unused "noose" and the training to go along with it.

I highly recommend this combination of tools as a means to subdue an attacking dog through less-lethal means, but it's not effective 100 percent of the time. Because less-lethal isn't enough to combat some, I'll tackle the subject of lethal force against dogs in my next column.


Robert O'Brien
Robert O'Brien

SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)

A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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