“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


“Failure to set a good perimeter”

You might be asking “How can we get in trouble if we don’t set a good perimeter?”  You may not get in trouble – directly – but how do you feel if someone who really needs to go to jail escapes a poorly set perimeter or one was never set?  What if your suspect escapes from your perimeter and causes trouble or serious harm to someone else because you weren’t able to successfully contain and locate them?

Many a suspect has successfully avoided apprehension because of poor decisions during an initial foot pursuit and the failure to set a good perimeter that may have allowed a successful search to be conducted by patrol officers, a tactical team and/or a K9 team. Perimeter containment should be considered a perishable skill and training prioritized.

One of the best books addressing this topic is titled “Apprehending Fleeing Suspects” by Jack Schonely who also teaches a “live” class on the same subject called “Suspect Tactics and Perimeter Containment.”  Here’s a few things he says;

Foot Pursuit versus Containment

“Every foot pursuit is unique, but every officer must be realistic when evaluating the situation.  During foot pursuits many tactical decision are made quickly by the officer. One of those decisions will be whether to continue to chase or attempt to contain the suspect.”

Decision to Contain

“Before making the decision to contain, officers must fully understand what perimeter containment is and what is required for success.  “Perimeter containment” is the containment of an area, large or small, utilizing officers deployed to the corners, with a clear line of sight of ALL sides of that containment area.  The simple goal of perimeter containment is to limit the movement of a fleeing suspect in an area that officers control using themselves and their police vehicles as a visible deterrent to the suspect.”

Responding Units

“The primary officer during a containment certainly starts the wheels in motion, but the officers responding to the scene are responsible for the completion of the perimeter. The keys to success for responding officers are listening to communications, prompt response, and strategic positioning.”

K9 Search Operations

“Many agencies have access to K9 units able to search for suspects.  The value of the K9 search team for perimeter containment is threefold; it saves time, it is effective, and most importantly, it lessens the risk to officers.”

Training to Meet the Challenge

“Perimeter containment is a proven technique that requires consistent training of all officers in the field.  If some very basic rules are followed by everyone involved it can be a simple task.  But it requires training and practice.”

Failing to set a good perimeter might not get you in trouble, but it can definitely increase the possibility of trouble for someone else.  I recommend you consider reading Jack’s book or visit his OfficerTactics.com web site to learn more about his classes.

Take care, be safe and work as a team to set a good perimeter…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on October 28, 2013

“Patrol Officer with a Police Dog”

One of the more interesting and unfortunate dilemmas that occur within police work is the patrol-related assignment of a K9 handler to a designated beat or district assignment as a patrol officer.  You might even be one.

Are you a K9 handler or a patrol officer working with a police dog? 

As I look at the potential for civil liability, one of the things most concerning to me is the fact that “officers” are being assigned a police dog with little regard for the assignment of the handler and the utilization of the police dog to best serve the community and the police department – and limit liability.  The primary duties of these officers and deputies do not involve a police dog.

Regarding liability, the majority of mistakes that get handlers into trouble usually involve poor decision making, lack of training and a lack of confidence in the ability of the K9 team because of limited experiences.  When a K9 handler is assigned other duties and “K9” is not the primary function, the handler does not have the opportunity to practice his/her craft regularly and their work performance is often impacted.  K9 training is often cancelled because “K9” isn’t really the primary function and it is not prioritized.

When handlers are not provided with opportunities to experience more real-world and training situations related to decision making with respect to K9 deployments, they are being limited and often restricted to improve their performance and make proper decisions.  I liken this situation to a second-string quarterback who receives limited snaps during practice and then he is placed into the big game without warning – he has the potential to achieve and be successful, but his limited experience in practice and real game situations will most often negatively affect his initial decision making and mechanical skills.

In police work, we do not often get second chances in big game situations.

There is a challenge in being a K9 handler assigned as a patrol officer with a police dog.  You will probably need to work harder to maintain your level of proficiency as a K9 team and that might even mean volunteering some of your own time to achieve the results desired.  If you can’t maintain an acceptable level of proficiency and the ongoing risks for failure continually exist, you might consider your options and seek assistance to improve your situation.

I wrote a more thorough article on this topic that is now posted in the “Articles” section on my web site.

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

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on October 14, 2013.

“Negligent retention of a handler”

Gordon Graham says “Don’t hire stupid people.”  Unfortunately, it happens. And here’s what I say; “If you do hire stupid people, don’t later select them to be K9 handlers.”

What should happen when a handler – or any person – is not performing to the established standards of a department?  What should happen if they are incompetent? You’ve probably seen them, you’ve probably worked and/or trained alongside them, and you’ve probably wondered why they have not been removed from their program.  It’s important to know how and when to legally drop the hammer on someone not performing so your department doesn’t get in trouble.

“…the purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline–a problem that largely goes away if you have the right people in the first place.”  -Jim Collins

The theory of negligent retention holds an employer liable for retaining an employee who is known to be unfit for the position. Like negligent hiring, this theory places a duty on the employer to conduct a reasonable investigation of any information that suggests an employee’s unfitness and to respond reasonably to whatever is learned about the employee.

“It happens; incompetence is rewarded more often than not.”  -Jeff Lindsay  

Here’s some information on the topic from the National Criminal Justice Reference System (NCJRS):   “Negligent retention” can be charged when an employer knew, or should have known, that an employee was unqualified to be in the job position he/she held when the action in question occurred. The negligence issue arises when an agency can be shown to have allowed a behavior to continue, even when the supervisor or administrator knew it was negligent. This does not mean an employer must monitor every aspect of an employee’s behavior; rather, it means that administrators and supervisors must be aware that specific actions must be taken to guard against and lay the foundation for a defense against negligent retention lawsuits.”

“Negligent retention puts everyone at risk of vicarious liability.”  

“Appropriate policies, training, progressive discipline and the involvement of dedicated human-resource personnel are critical to an agency’s ability to defend against negligent-retention lawsuits. Courts usually examine a number of factors when determining whether negligent retention of an employee has occurred. The court will typically examine what the employer knew or should have known about the employee’s job performance. Evidence of early intervention to correct poor performance or misconduct is important. Channels of communication between employees and supervisors must be clear, and employee performance evaluations must be regularly conducted in order to identify employees with performance problems. When it is clear that a pattern of incompetence and misconduct has not been corrected through training and constructive guidance, then the issue of negligent retention arises if the employer fails to remove the employee from his/her position.”  (this paragraph also from NCJRS)

“…a person who repetitively exercises poor judgment under pressure in training is going to exercise poor judgment under pressure in a tactical situation and needs to be removed from the team.  That can be a hard thing for leaders to do, but it has to happen.” -Steven “Randy” Watt 

If you have a handler not performing to the established standards who represents a liability for your department – despite previous corrective measures, counseling and training remediation – you must begin taking the necessary steps to remove that person from your K9 program to avoid potential trouble down the road.

Take care, be safe and don’t be guilty of negligent retention….

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on September 30, 2013

“Trusting information without confirmation”

How many times have you contacted a homeowner or resident to inquire “Is there anybody else inside this home?” before you deployed your dog looking for a suspect you believed to be on the premises – only to learn later that the suspect wasn’t present and a child or “Grandma” was innocently sleeping in their own room when they encountered your dog?

“Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.”  -Xenophon 

How many times have you received information from a dispatcher, fellow officer or civilian witness about a particular suspect or incident – existence of a warrant or a description – only to learn later it wasn’t accurate?

“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” -George S. Patton

We often make split-second decisions while working with a police dog and the information we need to assist those decisions is sometimes rapidly received and processed.  Other times, we have more time on our side to evaluate and confirm the information.  Mistakes have been made because information has not been confirmed nor an attempt made to confirm because there wasn’t sufficient opportunity or the patience to do so – and that gets us in trouble.

“Trust, but verify.” -Ronald Reagan  

Whenever possible, and it is not always possible, confirm information you are receiving and base your decisions and tactics accordingly.  Sometimes, you get a gut feeling or a red flag is waved.  We rely on information being given to us on a regular basis – we must trust our sources – but remember that seeking confirmation is not mistrust.  If you don’t feel comfortable with the information being provided, you might not deploy your dog.  Or, you might vary your tactics to conform to the situation based on the information you are receiving  – maybe you deploy off lead or use a long line – and you give an extraordinary amount of verbal announcements – just in case!

Take care, be safe and confirm information whenever possible…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on July 22, 2013


“First Bite Syndrome”

syn·drome  – noun \ˈsin-ˌdrōm also -drəm\  1)  a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition   2) a set of concurrent things (as emotions or actions) that usually form an identifiable pattern

“First bite syndrome” for K9 handlers can be one of the most challenging and agonizing conditions for a new handler or a handler with a new dog to experience – anxiously waiting for their dog’s much anticipated “first bite” on the street.  Everyone unknowingly pressures the handler by continually asking “Has your dog gotten its first street bite?”  If your dog hasn’t gotten its first bite, do you believe your performance as a handler is being questioned?

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” -Saint Augustine  

The “first bite” is the street test that will determine if your dog has been properly prepared to physically encounter a suspect and bite as trained and commanded – or not – and the assessment and steps necessary for remediation or more training if not successful.  The first bite is often considered a rite of passage that marks a dog’s transition from an untested rookie to street dog.  For many, it’s actually the second or third street bite that determines the effectiveness and success of a police dog.

“Good things come to those who wait” is an English phrase that highlights the virtue of patience.

And, sometimes, a handler seriously suffering from “first bite syndrome” makes a wrong decision to deploy the dog because rational decision making is often clouded or impeded by these distractions and conditions combined with an eagerness to engage the suspect so the dog can attempt its first bite and evaluate accordingly.

“Patience is the best remedy for every trouble.” -Plautus

The proper (and legal) justification for the first bite is more important than the bite itself – and failing to follow policy in exchange for a questionable or ill-advised bite can get you in trouble.  You must make the right decision to send your dog for a bite based on the totality of the circumstances and your department policy – not the dog’s bite tally.

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” – Leo Tolstoy

The first bite may occur tomorrow, it may occur next month. Eventually, it will occur – and you want the circumstances to be dictated by the suspect, not the syndrome.

Take care, be safe and don’t be in a hurry for the first bite…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on August 19, 2013