“Problems without solutions”

Picture yourself identifying a problem that is or could be trouble for your K9 program and then going to your supervisor to say “We’ve got a problem.”  You describe that problem – and you even might predict potential consequences if the problem is not resolved.   Afterward, you might ask your supervisor “What are YOU going to do about it?”

“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.” ~Henry Ford 

If you have identified a problem within your program and presented it to your supervisor, there are minimally four ways the process can proceed;

  • Your supervisor decides to ignore it with “Get out of here!”
  • Your supervisor responds responsibly with “Let me see what I can do.”
  • Your supervisor tosses the problem back to you and expects you to resolve it or not with “It’s your problem, you take care of it!”
  • Your supervisor decides that you are both going to resolve it as a team with “Let’s see what WE can do about it” and you might even provide some solutions to resolve it mentioning afterward “I’ve got a few suggestions that we might consider.”

I think supervisors should be expected to problem-solve and address problems brought to them by subordinates.  However, I also think subordinates – the handlers – should be thinking about potential solutions to address problems and be prepared to offer some solutions if asked or an opportunity presents itself to do so.  And, when you offer solutions or assist in producing them, the process can be more streamlined and likely to produce the positive results you’d like to see.

“Collaboration is the future.  It’s dumb to say, ‘Don’t come to me with problems unless you have solutions.’  Explore options with others.”  ~Dan Rockwell

Let’s be honest – it’s usually easier to complain about a problem than resolve it or attempt to do so.  And, based on my experiences, some handlers are really good at identifying problems, complaining about problems and offering nothing more. I’ve found that other handlers identify problems and take the initiative to begin problem-solving on their own.  And, wouldn’t you rather be participative with the process and have a say in its potential outcome?

“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.” – John Foster Dulles

Bringing solutions to the table or providing them should not be mandatory when a problem has been identified and presented – it’s optional – but highly recommended.  And, sometimes, one of the reasons you bring a problem to your supervisor is because you don’t have a clue how to resolve it and you’re seeking support, assistance and/or guidance.  However, we can’t ignore problems – or wish they’d disappear – as there will be a great likelihood that these problems could eventually get us into trouble if we ignore them.   

Take care, be safe and think about solutions as you identify problems…

Bill Lewis II 

This “reason” was first shared on June 2, 2014.

“The best time to get out of trouble is before it happens.”

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Carnac the Police Dog”

Some of you may not be old enough to remember a recurring comedic-role played by Johnny Carson on television’s “The Tonight Show” (before Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon).  One of Carson’s most well-known characters was a “mystic from the East” called “Carnac the Magnificent” who could psychically “divine” unknown answers to unseen questions.  (Google it later for a few good laughs.)  “Carnac the Police Dog” doesn’t exist and to expect it is a reason we get in trouble.

Have you ever deployed your dog on a mission or commanded action and a short time later the dog looks at you with a slightly tilted head and eyes that question you as if to say “WTF?!?!”  Dogs aren’t like Carnac – they can’t predict your intent and perform as you intend unless you properly “let them know ” (command and direct) what you intend at the time it is expected or an action expected a short time afterward.  They are not psychics.  They can’t perform an action (properly) until commanded to do so nor they should not be expected to do so on their own.

Handlers often “expect” their dogs to know what they mean or want from them.  I’ve seen it happen often in training and real world deployments.  A few examples;  1) A handler releases the dog without giving a “search” command because they expect the dog to search, 2) A handler releases the dog on decoy agitating without giving the “bite” command because they expect the dog to bite, and 3) A handler releases the dog without any command expecting results known only to the handler.  And, when the dog doesn’t perform as expected, the handler will punish or over correct for behavior that is most easily explained as the dog not understanding what the handler expected.  

These repetitive negative actions can damage the bond and create fear and avoidance in the dog that can ultimately result in failure in the field.  K9 trainer Darryl DiSanto insists handlers must be fair to the dog.  According to DiSanto, to be fair to the dog to avoid these situations before a handler can consider it a refusal that requires corrective action;

  • The dog has to understand what you want.
  • The dog has had to have been showed what you want.
  • The dog has had to perform the behavior on its own.

How many times as a trainer or supervisor have you given what you believed were simple directions for a training exercise or scenario to a handler because you assumed the handler would understand what you wanted and the handler didn’t respond as you intended?  Later, the handler will attempt to explain or justify with something like “I thought that’s what you wanted me to do.” Who failed?  Who gets the correction?  The same practice applies to police dogs.

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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was first shared on April 17, 2017.

“The best time to get out of trouble is before it happens.”

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“My way or the highway!”

You’ve probably heard stories or encountered firsthand K9 trainers and instructors who believe there’s only one way to do things – their way.  And, if you have not heard or encountered such and/or find it hard to believe this could occur today in modern K9 policing, I will assure you these people do exist.

I always admired and respected members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who provided training for me and others throughout the years related to SWAT and K9.  One of their most common intros during training started with something similar to “We’re going to show you a way to perform this task.  It’s one way to do it, it’s not necessarily the only way.  It’s worked for us, but it might not work for you.”  And, I know for a fact that many members of those LASD teams did things a little differently from their counterparts but maintained a consistency in overall performance and mission accomplishment.  As a team (both SWAT and K9), we used a lot of what they taught us – but we didn’t use everything and sometimes tweaked a tactic or technique to better address the way we did business.

The ability to pick and choose what works best for you and your dog can sometimes be foreign and overwhelming, particularly for new handlers.  When you are first learning, I believe it’s important to follow the directions and instructions you are given without looking elsewhere.  As you develop your basic skills and become more comfortable in your role, it’s beneficial to look around and stay abreast of new developments, techniques and tactics.  Maybe you see something you like – maybe you don’t like it.  However, I think we will all agree that maintaining an open mind to learning and trying new things is very important.  Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.

More importantly, I think it’s incumbent upon a trainer to encourage further development by allowing handlers to attend outside training (hands-on and classroom) being conducted by those who might have slightly differing tactics, techniques or philosophies.  A good trainer will do so – they don’t know everything – and they are often rewarded when other trainers are delivering similar messages and supporting information.  I have known and known of a few trainers who forbad their handlers from attending training other than their own.

I recall a supervisor who stormed out of classroom training session recently when he disagreed with a technique being suggested by the instructor.  I was present and didn’t agree with that technique either – I wouldn’t do it or suggest it, others might – but the other information being shared was good overall.  Pick and choose.

Many years ago, I recall seeing a group of handlers at outside training and when I approached them, I asked “Does your trainer know you are here?” because they were not allowed to attend outside training.  They reluctantly replied “No.”  However, they were open to the training, participated well and there were a few things we suggested that they admitted “will not happen” when they get back even though they liked it.  That’s okay.

If you restrict your training experiences and train with someone who dictates “my way or the highway,” you need to explore options and insist upon an open discussion with that trainer and your supervisor to address the issue as you may become one-dimensional, stagnated and you may get in trouble because you are limiting your growth and development. 


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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was first shared on February 10, 2016.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Air conditioners that fail”

Five police dogs died in 2015 as a result of being left in their cars and most of those incidents were related to heat and abandonment.  One handler was fired when his police dog died.  Other handlers have been disciplined and criminally prosecuted in the past in similar deaths.  I haven’t checked recent stats because I’m not sure I really want to know. 

With recent heat waves sweeping across the country, it’s a good time to remind you that air conditioners often fail despite best efforts and those failures may result in the deaths of police dogs even with best intentions of and frequent checks by handlers – and some of those prior deaths were attributed to negligence by the handlers.

Here’s an edited version of one fateful 2015 event;  “A 3-year-old police dog died in a squad car after the air-conditioning unit failed.  [The handler] had left the dog alone in the squad car with the engine and air conditioning running.  He returned around 12:30 p.m. and found [the dog] unresponsive in the back of the car.  The vehicle’s blower motor stopped working, and a heat alarm installed in the squad car did not activate.”

This “reason” should serve as a reminder for you to make sure your air conditioning unit works, your heat alarm is reliable, and you don’t rely exclusively on these “tools” to ensure the safety of the police dog left in a car during the heat.  

Yes, we can blame the air conditioners and alarms, but the handler is ultimately responsible for his/her dog and failure to check more frequently on the dog’s well-being could have deadly consequences and result in serious trouble for the handler.  I know agencies with very strict policies requiring frequent physical checks of dogs when left unattended in a car.  What are your written policies? What measures are you taking to make sure your dog is safe?

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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on August 14, 2015, and updated on July 1, 2021.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Uniformed officers as decoys”

It happens – police dogs bite uniformed officers, deputies and troopers during real world deployments.  It’s unfortunate, it’s usually painful, and it sometimes causes serious injuries.  It also tends to diminish credibility with your K9 program if it’s occurred at your place more than once, especially if you are not making conscious, ongoing, and documented efforts to avoid these incidents.  It may get you in trouble. 

These incidents are usually called “accidents” but are they?  An accident is defined as an unexpected, undesirable event, and an unforeseen incident.  We should be preparing to avoid these accidents.  Predictable is preventable.  There are no acceptable casualties.  The majority of these situations could have been avoided with the proper training, education, situational awareness, and control of the dog. 

I show the photograph below in my classes followed with the question;  “What’s wrong with this picture?”

The answers to the question are similar;  “The dog is biting a uniformed officer.”  I have a collection of photographs similar to the one above.  I also have a collection of reports, emails, news articles and videos describing and sharing incidents where police dogs have bit uniformed officers in real world deployments. 

I like to think we are better educated and smart enough not to conduct this type of training.  However, I watched a video last week showing a brand new K9 team being introduced and promoted within its community by demonstrating its ability to bite – biting a uniformed officer wearing a sleeve.  This video disappointed me and prompted this reason we get in trouble. 

Here’s my take on the situation;  If you are teaching your police dog that it’s acceptable to bite a uniformed officer in training, you might expect (predict) the dog will believe it’s acceptable to do the same during a real world deployment.  If you argue the dog is only biting the sleeve and not focusing on the uniform, you are teaching the dog to ignore “the man” and focus only on equipment. 

I understand why these training bites occur; time and convenience.  The “offenders” are not intentionally trying to teach their dog that it’s okay to bite a uniformed officer – they just lack the appropriate education and don’t understand the potential ramifications (aka “liability”) of their actions. 

It might be difficult to explain how well-trained our police dog is to a jury during an excessive use of force trial involving a canine bite when we have a history of that same dog biting uniformed officers – whether we have trained to avoid it or not.  I won’t address “uniform recognition” here but I think it’s important to emphasize that your police dog must understand that it is not acceptable to bite a uniformed officer and you must strive to prevent it through training.  And, your dog should not be biting “anyone” without you giving the command to do so. 

A few agencies have a policy that prohibits “decoys” from wearing a police uniform or visibly displaying the uniform or any identifiable part of the uniform.  During my time as a handler, each handler had a trench coat in their car trunk that a uniformed officer could quickly slip on over their uniform for use as a decoy with a sleeve for a quick training scenario, exercise, or demo.   

Please don’t allow your dog to bite a uniformed officer – in training or during a real world deployment.  It might get you in trouble – and it might seriously injure a uniformed officer working on the street.

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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on August 23, 2017.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Failure to take photos, measure, and draw”

I am currently in the middle of a report I am preparing for an agency I am defending in a civil lawsuit for an unintentional bite by a police dog.  And, as I am preparing to explain “timing and distance” related to the difficulty in calling off the dog, I need to rely on some information that just hasn’t been provided adequately within all of the reports and depositions provided to me.  So, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you of some important things that should be done as part of your post-bite investigations that might assist your expert witness down the road should trouble come calling.

“Take photos of the scene” – the more photos, the better – particularly if landmarks (like cars, poles, fences, stairways, trees, ditches, etc.) will be referenced in the written report and are relevant.  If you plan to document it in your report, try to take a photo of it. It may assist your expert witness down the road because there’s a great likelihood they will never see the area in person before they prepare their report.  It may assist the jury to better understand these verbal descriptions that are being mentioned during testimony.  If someone is concealed and you don’t see them prior to the deployment, take a photo of the area where they were concealed up close and from your deployment position because you are probably going to try to explain it in your report.  If your incident occurs at night and photos are difficult to see because they are dark, take them at night anyway and come back during the daytime and take more photos of the same.  In the case I’m currently working, no photos were taken the day of the incident where a parked car played an important role in that event – and it wasn’t there when they returned to take photos so “approximations” had to be given. (I later was able to view the scene firsthand with the handler prior to my testimony in the case.)

“Measure distances” between critical points that may include where the dog was standing before it proceeded toward a suspect.  You may not think it’s important at the time – but you have to occasionally think “lawsuit” afterward and begin to prepare for your civil defense at that time.  If you have the ability to measure, do it – but even estimates at the time are better than nothing when documented – and you don’t want to guess the distances four years from now.  How far away was the suspect when the dog was deployed?  How far away was the handler when she tried to call off the dog? How close was the handler when the dog bit the suspect?  The depositions I’m currently reading have quite a bit of difference between the handler’s estimates and the Plaintiff’s estimates – and nobody bothered to measure – and it is a rather critical piece of information that is missing in my opinion for our defense for this particular case.  Yes, I’m inclined to believe the handler and will use that information – but documented measurements would be beneficial to include for actual verification and confirmation.

“Draw a diagram” is a suggestion I give at each liability class I teach.  Sometimes, you might need a little extra help to explain the narratives and photographs and distances and landmarks and a simple (or complex) diagram is the best way to assist your efforts.  A rough sketch is better than nothing.  During my time as the K9 supervisor, I called out the traffic investigator maybe three or four times to provide us with a good diagram of a K9 deployment scene because the scene was complicated to put into words – just in case!

I realize many of you are now wearing body worn cams and that footage can assist in scene recaps with narratives, but that footage should be considered as a means to supplement these other suggestions for memorializing the scene of an arrest or bite.

You might say these recommendations are ways to stay out of trouble – and you would be right.  I do understand it’s difficult sometimes to make the decision on whether to measure distances or draw a diagram (because taking photos is a no-brainer) but it’s just part of the process you need to learn and you should make it a part of your written or mental checklist that you reference during your post-bite investigations.

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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on July 27, 2016, as an article titled “Take photos, measure distances, and draw a diagram.”

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Police dogs on vacation”

A memorable scene from “National Lampoon’s Vacation”
from Warner Bros. Pictures.

No. No. No. Do not do it.  Do not think about doing it.  Do not allow a fellow handler to do it or think about doing it.  Do not take your police dog on vacation.  This reason might sound like a National Lampoon movie that shows a scene like the one above – but, it’s not funny and it could get you in trouble.

I’ll admit that nothing much shocks me nowadays, but I was surprised again to recently hear about a few handlers still taking their police dogs on vacation.  I know a few who’ve done it.  They go to the lake, the river, the beach, and the mountains because, after all, it’s the family pet, right?  Wrong.  Nothing bad will happen, right?  Wrong.  Police dogs have accidentally bitten others while on the family vacation and those accidents are most always viewed as negligent acts. I recently read numerous Facebook posts where handlers admitted to proudly taking their dogs on vacation and shared photos – and other handlers said “No way!”

If your police dog bites someone while you are on vacation and you get sued and are found at fault, your agency may not cover your punitive damages if they are accessed because;  1) You were not on duty when the incident occurred, 2) You were acting outside the scope of your duties, and/or 3) You acted outside of policy.  Is it worth the financial and emotional risk?

You know the responsibilities and liabilities associated with a police dog on-duty.  Nothing changes off-duty except there might be more opportunities for accidents and mistakes because the handler is busy relaxing and enjoying vacation, not worried about the potential interactions with others.  Why take a chance?  Enjoy your vacation – leave your police dog at home.  Let your police dog have its own vacation – away from you.

If you absentmindedly and irresponsibly take your dog on vacation and it can “access” others – never, never, never consume alcoholic beverages – not one, not two, not a twelve-pack.   Are you fully functioning and able to make good decisions while under the influence or drunk while your dog proceeds to bite a bystander?  How will it look?  What will your supervisors think?  What will a jury think?

I heard a story once about a handler who took his dog on vacation and shared photos of the dog on a boat at the lake on social media.  The lieutenant saw the photos.  The lieutenant went ballistic.

On one incident that I was asked to review, I quickly determined the agency did not have a policy to address vacations or extended time off.  You might think “common sense” would prevail but you know better, don’t you?  You must have policy.  Here are four sections that I copied from the Lexipol K9 policy [in 2016] with respect to being off-duty and accessible to the public;

  • When off-duty, police dogs shall be maintained in kennels, provided by the police department, at the homes of their handlers. When a police dog is kenneled at the K9 handler’s home, the gate shall be secured with a lock. When off-duty, police dogs may be let out of their kennels while under the direct control of their handlers.
  • When off-duty, K9 handlers shall not involve their police dogs in any activity or conduct unless approved in advance by the K9 Unit Coordinator or Shift Supervisor.
  • Whenever a K9 handler anticipates taking a vacation or an extended number of days off, it may be necessary to temporarily relocate the police dog. In those situations, the handler shall give reasonable notice to the K9 Unit Coordinator so that appropriate arrangements can be made.
  • All police dogs shall be kept on a leash when in areas that allow access to the public.

It was our policy during my time that all handlers notified the K9 supervisor (sergeant) or K9 coordinator (corporal) when they took a vacation or extended days off if they would not be providing care for the dog and submitted for approval the proposed location of the dog and caregiver for that time period.   If “vacation time” was taken and the handler stayed home during that time period, it’s a different story – but the notification still needs to be made.

I have not shared any actual photographs of police dogs and their handlers on vacation in order to protect the guilty. You might be thinking this issue is a no-brainer – and you would be right – there’s some handlers acting as if they have no brain and it could get them in trouble.

Take care, be safe and enjoy your vacation without your police dog…

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on April 6, 2016.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Barking during announcements”

The Leagle Beagle™

Question to the Leagle Beagle:  Should a handler allow the police dog to bark loudly when they are giving their verbal announcement prior to a search for a suspect?

I was reading some depositions that were left in my kennel the other day about a case where the suspect (now known as the Plaintiff) claimed that no verbal announcements were given to him before the police dog was sent to search for him and subsequently bit him.  The suspect admitted to hiding from the police and knew the police were probably looking for someone bad and were probably going to find him eventually. He also thought that a police dog would be coming to look for him just before he was bit.  He didn’t think he had done anything wrong so he decided to take his chances and not give up.  But, he also was adamant that he did not hear any verbal announcements from the K9 handler or anyone else prior to the release of the dog. 

Now, as I continued reading, I formed the opinion that this suspect wasn’t being truthful (surprise!) and I think announcements were given. However, when being questioned about giving announcements, the handler said in the deposition something similar to “My dog’s usually barking when I make my announcements so the suspects know the dog is about to be deployed.”  What?!?!?  Serious?!?! Suspects can recognize the bark of a police dog versus others?  They know the bark translates into an announcement that includes potential consequences for not surrendering – like a bite?  Give me a break while I visit the nearest fire hydrant.

In case you don’t know, if a suspect can’t hear your announcements because it’s not clearly audible, then the announcement doesn’t legitimately exist. If a suspect can only hear a dog barking, how does the suspect know he is being given the opportunity to surrender before harm comes prowling his way. If your hound is barking so loud that your offer for surrender cannot be heard, you are wasting your breath with your announcement. And, I think the courts might agree. Case law says you must give a “clearly audible” announcement and some exceptions exist.  If it’s not clearly audible – is it legal?

I’ve seen it and heard it more times than I can care to remember and can’t possibly count the number of times I’ve watched and listened to handlers give their announcements while their dog is barking so loudly and out of control that suspects and decoys have been unable to hear the words. And, in training scenarios, I love it when the decoy later says to the handler after he’s been bitten “I would have given up if only I heard you ask.”  (In the real world that situation might equate to a law$uit.)

Some handlers think it sounds cool when their dog barks loudly and uncontrollably during the announcements. It’s not cool – it’s classified as “lack of control.”  Some handlers use the announcement as a means to jack up their hound prior to deployment. Is that really necessary for a well-trained police dog?  Some handlers don’t care if the suspect has a chance to hear the announcement and surrender.  They might think differently if they get sued.

I guess you can always say that you “officially” gave an announcement while your dog barks, even if the suspect can’t hear it, but it’s not the right thing to do.  It’s a policy issue that should be addressed.  If you are not giving an announcement that can be heard, you are probably in violation of your agency policy.  It’s a training issue that should be addressed.  Teach your mutt to shut up when you’re speaking and then it can bark after the announcement on command if you want to reinforce the presence of the dog.  It’s a deployment issue that should be addressed.  If you can’t control your dog, remove it from the deployment point and then give your announcement or have someone else give it.

I read a recommendation for a policy recently that went something like this; “The handler should allow a reasonable time for a suspect to surrender after a warning.  The handler should ensure the canine is quiet during the warning and afterward to allow the handler to listen for any verbal response to the warning from a suspect or other person.”

Don’t be foolish….be smart. Make sure the suspect can hear you and make sure you give ’em the chance to walk out.  You don’t want to sit in front of jury and say how important it is to give announcements and then say something stupid like “My dog’s usually barking when I make my announcements so the suspects know the dog is about to be deployed.”

I’m going outside and howl at the moon like most beagles love to do…..

L.B.

This “reason” by the Leagle Beagle was originally shared on June 29, 2016 and updated on May 6, 2021.

Important Disclaimer:  The Leagle Beagle is not an attorney, a paraleagle nor a law clerk; the Leagle Beagle is a fictionalized dog.  Dogs are not licensed to practice law but all dogs should be licensed according to the law. Most of the information posted herein has real-world relevance in the form of limited parody, lawful applicability and/or may possibly provide a catalyst for some good thought-provoking discussions in the station parking lot, handlers’ meeting, or on the training field.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“Failure to read the fine print”

I’m currently representing a former K9 handler who got in trouble when he failed to read the fine print of a “retired K9 agreement” (contract) he signed when he took possession of his police dog from his agency.  His failure to read the fine print resulted in some serious discipline (“trouble”) that is now being appealed.  (I’m saying “fine print” for dramatic emphasis as the font size was the same for all sections throughout the agreement.)  The handler asked me to share his story without the specifics to potentially help other handlers avoid similar repercussions.  Here’s the abridged version;  He didn’t read the entire contract and fully comply with the terms that consisted of only two pages.

“Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.” -Pete Seeger

As I was reviewing the involved agreement, I did notice two familiar sections that continue to cause me concern (“haunt me”) as they remain as standards for most of the retired K9 agreements I’ve seen over the past several years;  1) handlers required to [financially] defend their agency should trouble occur, and, 2) transfer of ownership.

I previously shared a “Reason” titled “The Retired Police Dog and Handler Liability” where I addressed the section of most agreements that reads similar to;  Consistent with the agreement that the canine shall be your sole responsibility and obligation, you agree to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the [municipality], the [municipality’s police department]…or other liability in any forum that is initiated or might be brought against the [municipality] by any individual that in any manner arose or resulted from the actions of the canine. This indemnification includes attorneys’ fees and costs in the event the [municipality] is required to litigate any claim or cause of action arising out of your obligation hereunder.

If you read the “fine print” above, you will notice – if you are the handler – that YOU will DEFEND your agency (and employer) if something bad happens should you and the agency get sued.  In simple terms, it means this – you will pay the cost of attorneys’ fees and other costs to defend not only yourself, but your employer.  If you’ve been involved in similar litigation as a handler when the agency covered you, you might ask about the total costs incurred.   I believe most of you can’t afford to defend both you and your employer should something really serious occur – or it may bankrupt you in the process should you be required to do so.  As I’ve recommended before, you need to change the agreement so that you and your employer will defend yourselves respectively as individual entities minimally should a lawsuit occur.  It’s the right thing to do!

“What one has not experienced, one will never understand in print.” -Isadora Duncan

The other area that could cause trouble afterward is the decision to later transfer ownership if specified within the agreement, like;  The canine shall be your sole responsibility and obligation.  Should you become unable or unwilling to provide basic care and upkeep for the canine, you shall be responsible, at your expense, for the destruction of the canine.  Under no circumstances shall the canine be given, sold or transferred to any other person, organization, department or agency without the written approval of this agency.   If the agreement requires the handler to notify the agency in advance that the handler wishes to transfer ownership, that procedure allows the agency to either reclaim the dog or consider/approve other arrangements to address its obligations and liability concerns.

In most situations, police dogs are “retired” because they are no longer able to work as required.  And, in most cases, a handler usually purchases the dog for the sum of one dollar.  However, there are rare times when a handler may request or be offered the opportunity to purchase the dog still capable of working for various reasons – and any consideration in that matter should require an evaluation by the agency to determine a fair market value based on the working life of that dog.   If a handler purchases the dog that is still able to work, a possibility exists that the dog could be later sold to a vendor or another agency with the intent of working elsewhere as a police dog.  If the handler transfers ownership without notifying the agency if specified within the agreement, trouble can occur.  And – the purchase of a dog still capable of working should require an agreement with specific wording to address that situation. 

“I agreed by accident!”

You can be naïve and not read (or understand) a contract or its fine print and believe no trouble will ever occur to you related to the purchase of a retired (or “still capable of working”) police dog – but that is not a realistic approach.  You might even be asking rhetorically “Who doesn’t read a contact before signing?”  It reminds me of the classic South Park episode where Kyle is kidnapped after agreeing to the lengthy iTunes user agreement that he didn’t read (as most of us do not) and claiming “I agreed by accident!”  (For a little laugh on the topic, you can view a short video clip by clicking here.)

Here’s the bottom line;  The vast majority of these agreements are created to serve the best interests of the agency/employer, not the handler.  Handlers are often doing the agency a public relations favor by accepting the retired dog and caring for it after it has served its community so an agency should reciprocate accordingly and handlers should insist upon and/or negotiate for a fair agreement, not a one-sided agreement.

Take care, be safe and read the fine print fully before you sign….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on April 29, 2015.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?

“What’s our policy?”

If you are a K9 handler who needs to ask “What’s our policy?” because you are not really certain about your agency’s K9 policy articulating the circumstances for when you can deploy your police dog or you really don’t know, you are heading for trouble.

I know those of you who are squared away will think I’m just joking around with you and you might (wrongly) assume all handlers should be able to recite verbatim (or reasonably close to it) their policy or guidelines for deploying their police dogs.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case – and as I mention at the end of these posts, these reasons I share are based on actual incidents – and I recently encountered some (disappointing) situations that prompted me to write and post this one.

When can you deploy your police dog?  Under what circumstances can you deploy your police dog? What factors do you consider before you make the decision to deploy or not deploy your police dog? Must a crime be committed?  Can you only deploy on felony suspects or violent misdemeanants?  Generally, most handlers can easily recite their K9 policy regarding the factors to be considered and in most cases it is consistent with the four prongs of Graham v. Connor.

My message is brief and simple – know your policy.  Study your policy.  Understand your policy.  Be confident and able to clearly articulate your policy.  Practice your response as if sitting in the witness chair. If you are unclear about your policy and fail to make an effort to know it, it could be a reason you get in trouble.

Take care, be safe, and know your K9 policy….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was first posted on April 6, 2021.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?