“Failure to review K9 reports”

I read quite a few use reports involving the deployments of police dogs.  And, when I read a marginal report or a bad one, I question what type of procedures or policies are in place for a review of these reports before they are submitted.  I often learn there is no practice that requires a report to be reviewed before its official submission and most reviews occur after the report has been entered into Records.  To be clear – I’m addressing a review process “before” official submission – not a “supervisor’s review” afterward when copies may be forwarded by Records (after submission) to the handler’s assigned supervisor and/or K9 supervisor.

I also am of this opinion with respect to reports and their reviews;  a bad report that becomes an official submission by a handler is as much the fault of the reviewing supervisor as the handler and both should be held accountable for negative consequences.  There is truly no excuse for a bad report to be submitted.

In the “old days” – and perhaps even today – officers were required to submit their handwritten or computer-generated reports into an in-box on the Watch Commander’s desk upon completion or at the end of a shift. Then, the Watch Commander, or another supervisor working in that capacity, would read and “review” the report and sign it (or initial it) as an approval before sending it off to Records.  If the reviewer noticed some problems or had serious concerns that might need to be addressed prior to its official submission, and a delay would not cause any disruption, the officer would be contacted, perhaps questioned about the content, and then asked to rewrite or clarify an issue of concern if necessary.

“Effective authors understand that their written work should be reviewed by at least one person before final submission.  Reviewers read draft works carefully to ensure content is being communicated as intended by the author.”  -Force Concepts 

Reports involving apprehensions by police dogs – and any incident with a potential for liability – should be reviewed thoroughly before official submission.   These are reports that may be read later to determine if criminal charges will be filed, civil claims are filed or lawsuits initiated and the content could heavily determine the fate of those actions.   These are reports that expert witnesses may read later to help form an opinion about the reasonableness – or not – of the actions being documented.

I told my handlers to write a “draft report” on a few occasions if they were involved with an incident with a lot of details that wasn’t simply explained.  I recall writing a few myself where submission was delayed slightly so I could review more thoroughly later. Sometimes, handlers are stressed as a result of the incident and/or in a hurry to write the report before the end of shift or afterward and the ability to appropriately document and address all involved factors may not occur.

Here’s what I wrote in a previous “Reasons” related to report writing;  Like a good FTO, the “reviewer” must also understand how to provide a proper critique or constructive criticism when necessary to improve future reports and perhaps influence better field performance and decision making.  If officers are allowed to continue writing inadequate reports because nobody knows the difference, they are bound to get in trouble even if it involves a good – or bad – incident.

Also, I know about K9 supervisors making “a few changes” to reports written by handlers during a review process and then submitting these reports without notifying the handler of the changes or doing so after the fact.  Don’t do it!  You can only imagine the serious problems that could be later associated with such an irresponsible practice.

If you don’t have a policy or written procedure that requires a review by the Watch Commander, a supervisor or the K9 supervisor of your K9-related reports that may or may not have a potential for liability before their official submission, you might want to consider doing so.  This practice could save you large sums of money and unwanted heartburn down the road.

Take care, be safe and review those reports thoroughly before submitting…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was previously shared as “Report Review” on May 5, 2014

“Bite photos”

I wonder how many of you scrolled through this immediately looking for a graphic bite photo before reading the post – you did, didn’t you? Sorry – but I’m not posting any photos of which I will address as it would defeat the purpose of the post.

Despite over 25 years of constant and consistent warnings from attorneys that represent handlers and their agencies, instructors and people like me to K9 handlers advising them not to snap, store or share “bloody and graphic police dog bite photos,” handlers and other officers continue the ill-advised practice today of taking these photos, storing them on their phones or other personal devices, and sharing them with peers and friends outside of law enforcement. In some cases, these photos are out-of-policy and in direct violation of guidelines that prohibit such.

Here’s a standard policy; Photographs shall be taken of the bite or injury as soon as practicable after tending to the immediate needs of the injured party. Photographs shall be retained as evidence in accordance with current department evidence procedures.

The above policy is subject to interpretation and your interpretation might not be the same as mine. Does tending to the immediate needs mean a wound or bite needs to be cleaned and treated first? It doesn’t specifically read “thou shalt not take bloody photos” does it? I think it needs more specification and tighter restrictions and it must be in writing someplace to hold people accountable.

Handlers, officers, supervisors, and CSI personnel are advised not to take graphic bloody photos as these same photos may find their way in front of a jury later when the handler has been charged with excessive force and the photos might not be viewed as favorable in their defense. Also, these graphic photos do not accurately portray the wound(s) in most cases. For many years, handlers were simply told “don’t take these photos because they don’t look good and they might get you in serious trouble” but that’s not a good guideline to share if you want to put it in writing for a policy and for years I could never get anyone to provide appropriate wording.

I later crafted my own wording to address this issue to share in my canine liability classes that could be inserted into a policy or operational manual as a guideline and I commonly identify it as “The Before and After Rule”;

  • If a bite or injury requires medical attention, the subject should be treated on scene by paramedics or transported to an appropriate medical facility before photographs are taken.
  • Photographs of injuries should be taken after being medically treated and cleaned so as to accurately represent the size and true extent of any wound.

You might recall the video footage last year from the BWC on the handler that directed his dog for a bite on a suspect sitting on a couch and the dog bit the suspect in the face. As the officers were trying to take the suspect into custody on the floor and the dog had been removed from the face bite, and two officers are seen taking photos of the suspect’s face with what appears to be cell phones before the suspect and scene is secured.  Not good.

One other consideration in taking these photos is the evidence factor if you are using your personal cell phone or camera.  And many of you are doing so. Once you start snapping photos and storing them on your personal phone, your personal phone may not be considered your personal phone any longer because it’s now a work phone and it could be subject to discovery or seizure as evidence – for the bite photos and anything else that might be on it. I recommend you check with your attorney or legal counsel for applicable laws in your state or jurisdiction.

You might think “nobody will ever find out” and consider yourself invulnerable. Are you a big gambler and willing to roll the dice? You might think that trouble will not occur if you and others take and save these photos – unless they get discovered. I bet some CHP officers didn’t think any trouble would occur when they took photos in 2006 at a fatal accident scene and shared them – until they were sued and it cost the CHP $2.37 million as a settlement in 2012 for exploiting the CHP-acquired evidence (photos) in a case known as “the Porsche girl” that you can research further online.

“Bite photos” represents the 40th reason of the “Reasons We Get in Trouble” feature that I starting sharing periodically in 2013. I hope most of these reasons have proven to be beneficial and kept you out of trouble.

Take care, be safe and make every day a training day…
Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on May 25, 2016.

“Failure to apply the 55 Rule”

We often make decisions in a split-second – or we like to believe we do.  Our decision making process is ever evolving and proper mental and physical training to prepare for a particular moment or circumstance is critical to assist our decision making.  We should always be mentally accessing our options as we approach a situation – like a potential K9 deployment – so we can make the right decision at the right time under the right circumstances.

“Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.” ~Malcolm Gladwell

A few years ago, I was assigned the task of assembling a glossary of tactical terms for the California Association of Tactical Officers (CATO).  A few years prior to this assignment, I attended a class where I first heard the term “The 55 Rule” so I placed it within the glossary and it’s defined as such;

The 55 Rule:  A set of two coinciding questions self-imposed by a tactical commander related to critical decision making prior to initiating a tactical action;  “Is this decision the right one within the next 5 seconds?” and “Will this decision be the right one 5 years from now in civil court?”

Do you apply the 55 Rule as a K9 handler or supervisor?  If not, a failure to do so could be a reason you might get in trouble.  You don’t have to be a tactical commander to apply the rule.

As you might know, some of these civil cases can occur five years after an incident and I actually testified once as an expert witness on a K9 incident that did occur five years earlier.  “Justice” doesn’t move fast – but some of the incidents you may encounter are quick and usually rapidly-evolving.

Many of the decisions that are made by handlers related to police dog deployments are made in the heat of the moment without consideration of the end results.  A handler will often say, “It seemed like the right decision at the time.”  Afterward, during a debrief or deposition, a handler may admit this deficiency in decision making and that usually spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

For the purposes of K9 deployments and practical applications, you can easily change the wording within this “55 Rule” definition and replace “tactical commander” with “K9 handler” and change “tactical action” to “police dog deployment.”

 The better your skills and critical thinking are, coupled with training and quickness, the more prepared you will be to make sound decisions in the “blink of an eye!”

If you are confident in your abilities (and your dog’s) and properly prepared, you will be ready to make the right decision when the time comes – and if you are able to consider the 55 Rule before making that final decision and initiating action – or not – it may keep you out of trouble.

Take care, be safe and practice making decisions within a short time span with the long term in mind…
Bill Lewis II 
This “Reason” was originally shared on December 23, 2013.

“Circumstances changing in reports”

I previously provided an overall assessment related to report writing titled “Failure to write a good report” as a reason we get in trouble [also posted on this site].  I wrote this comment:  There is a certain style or structure for these [K9] reports that should be presented to identify an order of events, information, thoughts and justifications that are articulated in a clear and chronological sequence.  

In reviewing a few reports recently, I noticed problems that I’ve also seen in the past with respect to “circumstances changing” over the course of an ongoing search but not updated or clarified within the report.  Specifically, the handler articulates the reasons to justify an initial deployment – but – as a search continues, the facts and circumstances change and the handler fails to record the changes accordingly.

You might be scratching your head wondering “What?!?!” so here’s two quick examples;

  1. Multiple suspects hide and a search begins.  One suspect is located and the handler articulates in the report the reasons for deploying the dog based on the facts and circumstances known to him at the time. The dog bites one suspect.  The search then continues, the team locates a second suspect in a different location and the handler does not articulate the reasons to deploy the dog a second time, relying on the same facts and circumstances that were used previously for the first suspect apprehension.  Was any additional information received or known prior to this second deployment?  Was the location the same? Was there more or less risk and danger involved at the new location?
  2. A yard-to-yard search begins and the dog is being sent each time into a yard to search with a command to bite a suspect if found.  The handler may write in the report the facts and circumstances that justify the use of the dog prior to the first search.  The search then continues, several yards are searched, and then the dog alerts to an inaccessible suspect in a shed. The door to the shed is opened and the dog is sent in to bite.  The same reasons offered at the first yard are implied – but not specifically written – for the last deployment that results in an apprehension.  But, did the same set of facts and circumstances apply exactly as before prior to the door being opened?

Conditions, circumstances, environment and risks can change from one search area to another search area.  The risk may increase or decrease.  If you are doing yard-to-yard searches, it’s not necessary to articulate the reasons you are deploying your dog before each yard – but you should be doing so in your mind.  If you do note the circumstances at the first yard and circumstances change later at another yard – they should be addressed.  You might even consider not writing about the specific reasons you are using the dog initially – other than searching for an outstanding suspect – until the exact location of an imminent or actual apprehension occurs.

How could this get you in trouble?  Your report documents your thoughts as well as the facts and circumstances.  What applies in one situation might not apply in the next – and it becomes plainly obvious when the report is more thoroughly reviewed later.  If you originally justified the deployment of your dog based on one set of facts and circumstances – but those facts and circumstances change later – you must write it as it happened and in the sequence it was observed, believed and encountered.  I encourage you to review some of your past reports to make sure you are documenting the facts and circumstances sequentially.

Take care, be safe and make every day a training day…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on January 27, 2014

“Failure to train for distractions”

Can you name a significant difference between a golfer preparing to make a putt and a basketball player preparing for a free throw?  Distractions.  One insists upon “quiet, please” to proceed while the other faces a throng of people yelling, screaming and waving noodle-like apparatuses designed to distract, intimidate and disrupt their attempt.

Can you name a significant difference between a tennis player preparing to return a serve and a baseball player in the batter’s box?  Distractions.  One insists upon “quiet, please” to face a tennis ball that may travel at speeds exceeding 90 MPH while the other has a backdrop of opposing fans yelling and screaming to distract as a baseball is hurled in their direction exceeding 90 MPH.

Can you name a significant difference between the K9 handler who will not deploy or has problems when deploying their police dog into certain dynamic situations (real world or scenario-based exercises) because of bystanders present, other officers on scene and/or other distractions and the K9 handler who will confidently do so and successfully with the same circumstances present because it must be done?  Proper training.

I’ve been present at training sessions where dogs aren’t able to work because they become distracted while other handlers in the background are a little loud while they talk and laugh or maybe they’re within view of the search area.  I’ve conducted training and certifications where dogs can’t heel off leash during obedience as required because a decoy in a bite suit is wandering around or plainly visible nearby.

I’m currently defending a handler [in 2014] for an unintentional bite on a bystander during a deployment.  During the deposition, the Plaintiff’s attorney questioned the handler about training with respect to distractions and bystanders – and the handler admitted they did not train for deploying with distractions or the presence of bystanders.

In police work, we should be preparing and training for every conceivable distraction that may occur.  Yes, there are times when it might not be safe nor appropriate to deploy the dog based on certain distractions and their proximity to the work area – but there will be other times when it will be necessary to do so.  So, you need to have the confidence that your dog will be successful based on your training.

Police work – including K9 – is about dealing with distractions and our ability to work with and through them.  We are the basketball players preparing for a free throw in a tight game situation with distractions.  We are the baseball batters digging in for the fast pitch with a two strike count and distractions.

The etiquette for golfers and tennis players – and their fans – requires “No Disturbance or Distraction” during play.  “Quiet, please, I’m preparing to deploy my police dog” is not a realistic expectation.  Your training should address it and it should keep you out of trouble by doing so.

Take care, be safe and train for distractions…
Bill Lewis II 
This “Reason” was originally shared on July 7, 2014

“Failure to be prepared”

Have you ever watched another handler have difficulty controlling their dog at their weekly or monthly maintenance training – maybe the dog’s not clean on its outs, call off’s or guard-and-bark’s – and the handler frustratingly responds with an excuse like “It’s okay, I like my dog to be a little dirty”?

Have you ever heard another handler request additional training time to prepare for an upcoming trial or competition – because there’s no way this team would make a good showing today – when the supervisor responds with “Shouldn’t your dog be ready every day for a competition?”

“Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.”  ~Napoleon Hill

Have you ever heard another handler complain about an upcoming certification in fear of not successfully completing a particular test or two – usually involving control – which will require extra time and effort “to clean up the dog” in the coming days or weeks before the certification?

I’ve seen firsthand and heard about handlers who coast along during the year, not dedicating the time and effort to truly prepare their dog for its missions and tasks – and it’s usually obvious to most observers.  And, when certifications or competitions are ahead, I’ve watched these same handlers become extremely stressed as they attach the fully charged e-collars and bring out the long lines in preparation for battle – the battle of “cleaning up” a dog that’s not been held accountable by the handler, allowed to skip corners and be “a little dirty” during maintenance training throughout the year.

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”  ~Coach John Wooden 

Have you ever wondered what the dog might ask if able to during these UFC moments; “Hey, why are you jumping my shit today?  It was okay yesterday!  WTF?!?!”  Your dog deserves consistency.  Your dog deserves your best effort – every day – because that’s what you expect from your dog.  Your dog should not be allowed to cut corners or be slow with its verbal outs.  Your dog should return to you or down after the first “call off” command and not engage a decoy. Your dog should be under control at all times every single day you work and train.

I recently used this quote from Coach Pete Carroll in my liability class I related to training preparation for street deployments;  “We’re not going to do anything different for this game since we’re not treating this game any different than another game. Every game is a championship game for us, so we’ll treat this one, the last one and the next one exactly the same. And that goes for our practices leading up to it as well.”

You can modify this quote above slightly by incorporating competition (or certification) and training into it to help you avoid trouble if you are not properly preparing for the real competition – the street – each and every training day.

If your supervisor or trainer announced a certification when you arrived at your training tomorrow – with repercussions for failures or poor performance – would you be ready?  Would you be confident or panicked?  Stressed or calm?  I know you would prefer a little extra time occasionally to prepare for these certifications and competitions – some will need more time than others unfortunately – but you don’t get extra time to prepare when something happens right in front of you on the street and you must make a decision to take immediate action.  Are you – and your dog – properly prepared?

Take care, be safe and make every day a training day….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on April 7, 2014.

“Prolonging the service of a police dog”

I am occasionally asked “When’s the best time to retire a police dog?” and I will admit it is one of the more difficult questions to answer by phone or with an e-mail without actually seeing the dog.  Every dog is different as well as its working environment and activity level.  But, at the same time, I believe it’s really an easy decision to make for those involved firsthand when personal feelings are set aside and the safety and well-being of the dog and the personnel working with and around the dog are considered.

Here’s part of a reply I sent [in 2013] to a supervisor about an older dog;

It’s a difficult decision to retire a good dog – particularly when it’s served us well.  However, just like officers, there’s a time to do so and we shouldn’t wait until the dog can no longer work or gets seriously injured because we didn’t retire it. Worse yet, what if another officer gets injured because the dog was not able to perform to the same standard we expect from all of our other dogs or a brand new dog? If the dog’s performing the same as he did five or six years ago, keep working the dog.   If he’s a little slower but still finding people, maybe we re-evaluate.  Can the dog still perform the same agility tests or obstacle course frequently or do we lessen and eliminate some of those exercises due to his age and potential for an injury? Can he still scale a 6-foot fence without assistance and struggle? 

And, the evaluators (“the decision makers”) shouldn’t necessarily include the handler – particularly if he/she will be transferred from the unit upon retirement of the dog. If the handler can get another dog or is eligible to do so – or not – it’s time for a serious discussion – and I’m thinking based only on the age of this working patrol dog – it’s time to retire him and give him a year or more to enjoy the good life – he probably earned it. It’s also a little more humane to do so now instead of working him beyond his time. 

I’ve seen a few police dogs that worked beyond their time – and it’s not appropriate nor fair to the other officers that they are expected to fully support in a patrol (and maybe SWAT) environment.  When we allow it to continue, hoping nothing bad will happen, we are inviting trouble.

It’s often a tough decision to retire a police dog – but then again, it’s really not.

Take care, be safe and make the right decision when it’s time in consideration of all the parties involved…
Bill Lewis II 
This “Reason” was first shared on December 9, 2013

“Public demonstrations”

Public demonstrations should be an integral part of your community relations efforts for various reasons – especially if your K9 program relies heavily or exclusively on private funding or charitable organizations to survive and augment your program.  There are many charitable-type non-profit organizations across the country that have been developed or participate with K9-related 501(c)(3) programs – and most of the people associated with these programs want to see your dog work and interact with the public.  A demo is almost like a “sales pitch” sometimes.

And, you may also consider these demonstrations as “PR campaigns” as a means to positively influence potential jurors and pro-police supporters to reinforce and demonstrate the effectiveness of your K9 program and why it’s an important asset to your department and the community it serves.

However…your public demonstrations are like a double-edged sword and can be an easy source for trouble should an accidental bite occur…and they do.  Accidents and unintentional contacts occur during these PR campaigns and handlers and supervisors must be aware of such and prepare to prevent them.  It can happen in the blink of an eye and when you least expect it. You trust your dog…and then that one person either reacts strangely or gets too close or unknowingly prompts your dog negatively when you weren’t expecting it nor ready to respond quickly.

Does your department have a written policy or procedure for dealing with requests to conduct public demonstrations?  It should.   And, it should start with something similar to;

  • All public requests for a K9 team shall be approved by the K9 Sergeant prior to making any commitment.
  • K9 handlers shall not demonstrate any apprehension work to the public unless authorized to do so by the K9 Sergeant.

Here are a few questions to consider before approving a request:

  • Is the request being made by a local resident, business or organization?
  • Is the request being made by a school or private organization?
  • If the request is approved, will the K9 handler have control of the immediate area around the demonstration area?
  • Is the request for a “static” presentation or formal K9 demonstration?
  • Is there any opportunity for an “accidental bite” to occur?  If so, how can we prevent it?
  • What are the benefits to the police department, the community, and/or the K9 Unit for conducting the demonstration?
  • Will the demonstration be open or closed to the public?
After considering these questions and options, a handler and supervisor should discuss and plan a potential demonstration just like it’s a tactical operation by addressing the goals, limitations, obstacles and alternatives – and trouble-shoot for potential problems – and then do a brief back to make sure both understand the roles and responsibilities to ensure a successful demonstration before the request is approved.  And, never, never, never explain the safety measures and benefits of a call off to a crowd just before you bravely attempt one…in case it’s not successful!

Lastly, your demonstration will likely be videotaped by a few in attendance and that might include an attorney or advocate who doesn’t like the police or police dogs – so you definitely want to be on top of your game with your verbal communications and control of your dog throughout the event.

Take care, be safe and always prepare in advance for a K9 demo….

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on November 25, 2013

“Lack of physical conditioning”

You might be asking “How can the lack of physical conditioning get me into trouble?” and I would reply with “If you have to ask, you probably don’t have a clue!”

You’ve probably read the surveys and studies and received training about why it’s important that officers, troopers and deputies be in good physical condition to properly do their jobs.  They must take care of themselves so they don’t fall over dead from a heart attack with or without provocation, they protect themselves from an attack or they don’t allow a fleeing suspect to leave them behind during a foot pursuit or track because the officer lacked the stamina and endurance to give a proper chase and make an arrest.

However, it’s just as important that your police dog be in good physical condition and it will not occur naturally if you don’t facilitate it and properly train and condition the dog to ensure it happens.  

“The working dog and the canine athlete require a different view medically than the normal companion canine. The tried and true methodologies of the past are often inadequate for establishing the levels of performance required by today’s standards.” 

One of the best “K9” presentations I ever attended didn’t deal with tactics or liability specifically – it dealt with “training and conditioning” for the high performance dog and was given by Dr. Robert Gillette.  Dr. Gillette is described as “a pioneer in the field of veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation.”

You’ve probably seen your dog or another handler’s dog dragging its ass and heavily panting with its tongue scraping the ground after a short-term search that maybe only lasted a few minutes and wondered why.  Aren’t patrol dogs naturally conditioned to search forever until they find someone or continue searching for the source until located if they are a detection dog? The simple answer is “No” and I don’t have the space within this format to fully explain.  But, you might have been told or heard something similar to this;  “If you train your dog to search for two to three minutes, it will usually search for only two to three minutes in a real-world situation.”

“The winning dog is the one that produces and maintains the highest energy output for the length of the performance event.”   ~Dr. Robert Gillette 

So, if you are tasked or may be tasked to do a lengthy building search in a large warehouse – instead of a small studio apartment – that could last 30 to 40 minutes or longer before a possible break if able to do so, or a long track through challenging terrain for several miles and a couple of hours, you should be conditioning your dog for those events.  According to Dr. Gillette, the moment fatigue sets in it will begin to diminish the level of the dog’s performance.  And you, as the handler, should be equal to the task of following and staying with your dog if necessary.  If you are both dragging ass at the end of a search or track and gasping for air, will you be ready to survive a potential physical encounter or ambush?

“Any amount of time away from a conditioning program will result in at least an equal amount of time of reconditioning.”  

Dr. Gillette recommends you consult with your veterinarian before beginning any form of exercise or conditioning program to be certain that your dog is healthy enough to handle the program – and this can be accomplished with your first or annual visits with your vet.  And, it would make sense to me that your trainer might also be knowledgeable about the situation and assist with these conditioning efforts and recommendations.

Dr. Gillette has presented at HITS and the CNCA Training Institute in California.  If you have a chance to hear him speak on this topic, don’t miss it!

As you might know, I’m a big advocate for physical fitness qualifications (PFQ) for K9 handlers.  I believe every officer, trooper and deputy – not just handlers and tactical operators – should be required to do an annual PFQ – even if it’s minimally the same one as required for the agency’s law enforcement applicants and recruits.  By requiring a PFQ for handlers, an agency might limit its liability, avoid trouble and encourage handlers to keep their dogs in shape while they do so themselves.

Take care, be safe and make sure you and your dog are in good physical condition…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on November 11, 2013

“Yelling and screaming”

You’ve been there.  You’ve seen it.  You’ve heard it.  You’ve probably participated unwillingly.  Here’s the scene;  Cops and handlers yelling and screaming (often uncontrollably) at each other, suspects and/or bystanders while trying to take suspects into custody or control a scene – creating chaos – and the police dog gets “confused” during a deployment or on scene and bites someone unintentionally.  “Unintentional” means the handler did not intend for the bite to occur nor commanded the dog to bite the victim.

I’m aware of many “accidental bites” and I bet you know about or witnessed one or two incidents where officers, deputies or bystanders have been the recipients of unintentional bites because they were in the area during a deployment or in close proximity to a police dog as they or other officers began yelling or screaming at a suspect (“Put your hands up!), a bystander (“Get out of here!”), or another officer (“Quit yelling!”).

The most common incidents occur during high risk vehicle clearings and when officers are standing in close proximity (within leash range) to the police dog.

Are these bites really accidental?  Not usually.  How do they happen?  Several reasons; lack of control, inattention, lack of situational awareness, and lack of training to address it.

I always try to first rationalize or defend an accidental or bad bite when it is first presented to me.  In these situations, I have a difficult time doing so.   After being described to me and reviewed, it’s been my opinion that almost all of these “yelling and screaming related” bites have been preventable.  We must understand that handlers and/or their backup officers will get excited, the adrenaline is pumping, and they are often unable to control their actions because they begin yelling and screaming instead of calmly accessing a situation and responding accordingly.  Is that how you are training to react with or without a police dog present?

I’ve previously addressed “failure to train for distractions” as a reason we get in trouble.   The same applies to this situation.  Yelling and screaming can be considered distractions.  Yelling might be necessary – but screaming usually is not.  Train for both to occur (planned or unplanned) because it may happen – intentionally or not.  Are you training to limit or eliminate unnecessary yelling by backup officers during your deployments or standoffs?  Are you training your dog to ignore uncontrolled screaming by backup deputies or bystanders?  Are you training your dog that someone yelling or screaming is not a potential target until its handler decides it is?  Are you training your dog to bite on your command – not bite based on the loud verbal actions of others nearby or in the area?  Are you training your handlers and backup officers how to verbally respond appropriately?

If you are aware of a situation as I’ve described or been directly involved, I would encourage you to take a close and objective look at the incident and ask “What could have been done to prevent it?”  Don’t always blame the backup officers – you should expect it – and so it’s usually the fault of the handler, the trainer, the K9 supervisor and the training if these situations have not been addressed beforehand.  Predictable is preventable.

Take care, be safe and make every day a training day……

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on March 20, 2017