“Social media”

If your agency has a policy addressing social media, you should be absolutely familiar with it and comply with it because failing to comply can get you in trouble. You know this to be true, don’t you?

Most agencies recognize the Internet provides unique opportunities to participate in interactive discussions and share information using a wide variety of social media.  However, most agencies do not want you to cross the lines between professional and personal participation – and that cross-over has resulted in employees being disciplined and terminated. 

Some personal posts and photos have reflected upon questionable off-duty conduct and comments that subsequently tarnished the professional image and association with the respective agencies.   Your off-duty conduct isn’t subject to department scrutiny – or is it?

I was recently accepted by a Facebook page dedicated to the K9 industry.  Although it is a private group, it is possible people on “the other side” may get access to information, photos, and comments posted on that page and it could be shared or used detrimentally outside the group.  

I’ve read a few comments on this page that I would simply describe as inappropriate.  I believe the comments were made without fear of consequence because the members posting are thinking undoubtedly they are immune from any liability or repercussion for their comments on this “private group” because the general public or a Plaintiff’s attorney could never access it – and that type of thinking (and perhaps attitude) is wrong.  Or, the members are unfortunately clueless.  Either way, a good rule to follow is “Think before you speak, type or share.”

Thankfully, I have not seen any “bite photos” recently which should never be shared – it’s evidence and confidential – and if it’s bloody and potentially inflammatory, you may regret wrongly sharing it should it become accessible to others.  Recaps of a deployment that might include inappropriate side comments should not be shared – put the facts and circumstances in your report and leave it there.

After writing this reason, I did a little online research by entering “dangers of social media in law enforcement” in the search engine and here are three articles (of many) I found (click to access);

The dangers of social media for law enforcement take center stage amid series of scandals

Dangers in Use of Social Media by Law Enforcement

The Perils and Pitfalls for Police Officers Posting on Social Media

The remedy is simple – do not share your professional life within your personal social media and apply ethical considerations to your personal contributions in advance of sharing.  If you have difficultly comprehending this concept and creating this separation, you should not engage in any social media. 

Take care, be safe, and think before you speak, type, or share….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was first posted on February 22, 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?

“Alpha roll”

The “alpha roll” is a controversial dog training technique.  The theory behind this training method is to teach the dog that the handler is the pack leader.  Misbehaving dogs are minimally pinned on their back and held in that position, sometimes by the throat, and strikes to the dog’s head may occur.

Can the alpha roll get you in trouble?  Yes, especially if you are performing this technique, for example, within public view, and the event gets videotaped or photographed and later shared with the news media, animal rights activists, and people who are outraged by the perceived abuse to the dog.  And, not to say herein the method is correct or not, but you may be required to explain and justify this technique to those who do not understand and are genuinely concerned about the welfare of the recipient dog. 

Over the years, other training techniques and methods have been used, to include hanging, lynching, choking, swinging (“helicoptering”), and kicking the dogs.  These methods have been called abusive, ineffective, and outdated.  I have viewed the alpha roll and other controversial techniques over the years, but nothing recently.  I have been the recipient of an aggressive dog as a handler – and I used the basic alpha roll technique at least twice with my first dog as instructed by my trainer – but it was not effective. 

According to Gregg Tawney, police dog trainer and former K9 handler, training over the years has progressed and the use of the alpha roll was only used for extreme aggression by the dog toward the handler and not as a routine correction in dog training.  Most trainers realize that using a balanced approach to operant conditioning and developing a proper relationship with a dog is far more effective and humane then trying to train a dog through “dominance training.”  The modern approach is to train in such a way that the dog wants to perform the behavior through positive reinforcement and not through force.

The perceptions and any events related to animal abuse should be critically examined when reviewing your K9 training program with respect to the law enforcement environment today and all training methods being implemented within your program should be carefully considered to include a review of the techniques. 

If you have identified or been advised of any training technique that is considered to be controversial or potentially controversial, and your K9 trainer believes this technique(s) is justified and effective in the training of your police dog(s), including the alpha roll, I would recommend you get them to explain their reasoning minimally in writing and then file the response in a training file.  If you believe a technique is necessary and effective, you should use it – but it is imperative you understand the consequences of implementation related to public perception and potential allegations of abuse when compared to the desired result and any alternatives.

I spent a great deal of time researching this topic online and making personal inquiries and I would encourage you to do the same if it might be relevant and beneficial to you and your program.  You can also read a recent article by Gregg Tawney titled “The Alpha Roll and Handler Aggressive Police Dogs” by clicking here.

In closing, you should constantly be reviewing all facets of your K9 program from top to bottom as a handler or supervisor to ensure consistency when doing things right, improve when necessary, and avoid any trouble that may be lurking out there.

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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was first posted on January 29, 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?

“Door pops”

The term “door pop” is often a reference to both the action of a police K9 car door opening automatically when activated with a remote-type device by a K9 handler and the exit of a police dog after that door opens.  You are probably wondering if “door pops” can really cause trouble.  They can.  There have been people – officers, bystanders and suspects – bitten unintentionally following the exits of police dogs after doors to K9 cars have popped open intentionally and not.

I didn’t have a door pop when I worked – and I understand that the majority of doors that pop open are usually on the passenger side of the car.  I’m told the reason for the passenger-side placement is the dog will not be exiting on the driver’s side where it might encounter highway traffic passing by if the car were parked on the street or alongside a highway or freeway – and that makes sense – but may require a second evaluation.

One of the problems with dogs exiting on the passenger side of the car during a rapidly-evolving situation is that handlers are usually on the driver’s side during these moments – whether a bite is being commanded or the handler is simply recalling the dog.   It’s different when the handler has already exited and engaged with business on the passenger side of the car – like a traffic stop where the car’s occupants are outside and on the shoulder of the road, a front yard of a residence, or business check.

A police dog in the back of the car may have acquired target identification through the front windshield on a suspect to be bitten – but temporarily loses that visual acquisition during its exit out the side door.  If that verbal command is still being given or not, the dog may see someone else nearby upon its exit and the handler does not – and that someone might be an assisting deputy or a civilian bystander.  Trouble occurs when the dogs proceed to bite assisting officers and bystanders in these situations.

If I were a handler today, I would initially want my “door pop” on the driver’s side to test and evaluate so that I could immediately access the dog as it exits upon command and it could easily see me or hear me and I could better direct it on a bite to make sure it has target identification.  Would that require an overall awareness of my surroundings if passing traffic might occur?  Yes – but the dog should be coming directly to me, not running around, and it’s a training issue to work out those mechanics of an exit.  I was attending a training session last year where I saw a handler’s rear door pop open on the driver’s side so I doubt it’s the rare exception. 

Which side of the car is best to activate a door pop?  I don’t know.  Do you have an opinion?  Are you curious?  Do you care?  You could determine the effectiveness by tracking and evaluating all of your real-world door pops to determine which side is actually best for you based on the environment where you work and your deployments. The best side for you might not be the best side for another handler or another agency. The side that works best for one situation might not be the best for another one.

Another problem with “door pops” is malfunctions.  What happens when it doesn’t work properly?  What happens if it doesn’t open when you need it?  What happens when the handler accidentally activates it or it opens on its own?  “Malfunctions” are often cited as excuses for accidental bites.  I think handlers should prepare for these malfunctions like they should with an e-collar – what are you going to do when it doesn’t work?  Do you have a regular maintenance program to check the door mechanisms and the remote?  Is it a daily ritual?  Do you train for malfunctions?

The door pop should not be trained as an automatic exit like a gate at a Greyhound race.  The dog should await a verbal command from the handler before exiting.  “Here” (or your command) should be the command to exit and the dog should be looking for the handler after the exit to await further directions.  The exit times should vary in your training from immediate to never.  It’s better to condition the dog that “door pop means listen for mom (or dad)” followed by the recall command with no expectation of a bite. By doing so, you address the malfunction potential or accidental activation when the handler may or may not be present and observant.

The door pop should not be trained as an automatic exit like a gate at a Greyhound race.

A potential problem with “door pops” that can you get in trouble is when your dog is trained that “door pop means bite” so the dog is looking immediately for a bite when it exits with or without a verbal command to bite.   I have seen and heard about repetitive training that links bites with immediate exit so dogs are conditioned to expect it.   If the dog is trained not to exit without a command, it should be avoided. The bite should not be associated with a door pop the same as our range training that teaches neutrality with gun fire and “gun fire does not mean bite.”

Training methods will vary – but the results should be the same.  I think distances should vary for recalls – handler next to his open car door, a short distance away, out of view for short and long distances, and within view for long distances.  And, the exercises should be done with and without distractions – like a decoy in a bite suit between the handler and the car.  Two decoys in bite suits.  Dog in muzzle and civilian-dressed decoy between handler and car.  Dog in muzzle with a small crowd of calm and then loud and animated people later like a “disturbance call” between the handler and the car.  Would you call your dog in a few of these situations if real? Probably not – but if you had to, you want to be confident in your dog’s ability to bypass these potential distractions and be able to document that you did so in training.  Bottom line:  You want the dog exiting upon command and looking for the handler and ignoring any interference or distractions. 

I’ve spent a little more time on this reason than others because I think it’s an important yet overlooked topic.  I think door pops are good tools.  However, just like any other tool or technique we use, the use of a door pop requires more thought than merely opening a door hoping all will be well upon the dog’s exit and it requires training and a policy that will consider and address all possibilities involved to keep you out of trouble.  

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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on March 30, 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?

“Failure to conduct a debrief”

We often associate the term “debrief” with tactical teams only – but debriefs should be an integral part of patrol operations, tactical teams, K9 teams, warrant service teams, and other teams involved with tactical operations, high risk patrol encounters, warrant services, significant training sessions and/or reality-based training scenarios.  Failure to conduct a proper debrief can get you in trouble. 

A debrief following a tactical operation or a high risk patrol encounter is essential and should be mandatory because it serves as an invaluable source in determining lessons learned from the incident so that good performance continues, satisfactory performance improves, and poor performance is not replicated.  This practice also applies to significant training exercises and reality-based training scenarios.

“Successful or not, every tactical [K9] operation yields fruit in the form of lessons learned.”  -Charles ‘Sid’ Heal from his book “Field Command” 

We often tend to repeat the mistakes made during a K9 deployment or the mistakes of others when we fail to conduct a debriefing of an incident, acknowledge the lessons learned, and share the information later with our team members including, but not limited to, other handlers, K9 staff, trainer, and support personnel (backup officers).

Debriefs can be informal depending on the seriousness of the incident and could possibly be held briefly in a nearby parking lot afterward.  Or, debriefs can be more formal and held in the station’s briefing or conference room.  A supervisor should ideally facilitate the discussion whenever possible.  If a debrief involves a critical incident – the debrief may be delayed if legal representation and privileged communications are necessary.

More important than a debrief is conducting a proper debrief.  The right questions must be asked and answered and all personnel should be honest and held accountable for their thoughts and actions.  What happened? What did you do? What went right? What went wrong? What did we learn? What training or policy issues should be changed or addressed as a result of this incident?  If you had to do it all over again, what would you do? And, as a follow up later on; What training subsequently occurred and/or what policy issues actually changed as a result of this incident?

If you are not conducting debriefs of your K9 deployments and reality-based training scenarios – or not sure if you’re doing it properly – I recommend contacting someone on your tactical (SWAT) team (or a neighboring agency team if you don’t have a team) to assist your process and provide some guidance for a short time period. 

You can read a short article I wrote titled “What is a tactical debrief?” that lists some other fundamentals of the debriefing process by clicking here.

Take care, be safe and debrief your incidents honestly and thoroughly….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on March 18, 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?

“Peer pressure”

I’d like to think it doesn’t happen often – but I know of a few deployments of a police dog that were made because of the influences of other officers gathered at the scene cast upon the handler during the decision making process.  It’s called “peer pressure” and it can be a negative factor as a handler considers the options and circumstances to deploy or not.  I’ve read a lot of deployment reports and I’ve yet to see one that contains something like this;

“At that time, I decided to deploy my police service dog to apprehend the suspect based on peer pressure from the other officers at the scene.”

Peer pressure is the influence from a person or group of people to do something you might not otherwise consider doing.  Peer pressure isn’t always a negative thing – but it usually is when related to a police dog deployment.  If you are a handler who has been requested to the scene of a potential deployment, you will be expected to deploy your dog by those who have requested you respond because that’s what they expect based on their knowledge and experience.   Will you have the proper training and mindset to overcome this pressure and make the right decision independently?  Will you be able to justify your decision and explain it logically to those present then or later should you decide not to deploy your dog?

“Peer pressure and social norms are powerful influences on behaviour, and they are classic excuses.”Andrew Lansley

Peer pressure isn’t necessarily limited to those at the scene – it can also come indirectly from others not present that the handler regularly associates with or has spoken to about potential deployments.  For example, if a handler’s dog has not gotten its first street bite, there may be “pressure” and constant inquiries about the dog’s capabilities from others not directly present because the first bite is often wrongly considered to be a measure of a successful K9 team.  Will you have the confidence and leadership to overcome this pressure and make the right decision independently?  Can you overcome the pressures of the phenomenon known as the “first bite syndrome”?

“People just don’t realize how much peer pressure, the desire for peer acclamation, influences them.”Frederica Mathewes-Green

One of the simplest ways to combat peer pressure as you arrive at a scene – even if it is not an issue with you – is to leave your police dog in the car until you have accessed the situation if the circumstances and timing allow it.  If you need the dog, then call it or go get it.  Bad decisions are often made during rapid-evolving situations or when time constraints, stress and chaos occur without the time to properly evaluate.  The best way to combat negative peer pressure is to properly educate your support personnel and to possess and practice the proper training, mindset, leadership and confidence necessary to make the right decisions.   

Take care, be safe and be prepared to deal with negative peer pressure…..

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on February 4, 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?

“Corn on the cob”

Have you already figured out where I’m heading based only on this title?  If not, I can reveal this is not an advertisement for corn or a good street vendor that serves it.  If your police dog is biting suspects like a kid eats corn on the cob, you may get in trouble. You may have also heard a few other terms describing a police dog that fails to get and hold a full-mouth bite; typewriter, playing the piano.  These are not good terms and very often this bad practice is ignored by a handler, overlooked by a supervisor and/or overwhelming to overcome for a trainer.


Honestly, the term “full-mouth bite” for a police dog used to make me cringe when I heard it from the perspective of explaining it to a jury and to those not familiar with the term.  It sounds bad, right?  If you think “bite is a bad word” (and it is not), what does “full-mouth bite” cause you to picture?  Sharks in a feeding frenzy?  Piranhas working on a cow that wandered into the river?  Full-mouth bite is not a bad term and it should be a part of your regular training and your training vocabulary.  However, I don’t believe it is a term to be used for report writing – just use “bite.”


A full-mouth bite is the ideal and proper way a police dog should be trained to bite and hold a suspect. One bite. No nips. No nibbles. Not multiple bites.  I’m not going to describe how to teach it or train it – you can ask trainers and research on your own if you don’t know – but I will share this;  If your dog is biting a suspect multiple times without good and articulable reasons, and the injuries are significant, you may find yourself having to explain the circumstances from an excessive force perspective.


A police dog that applies a good full-mouth bite is considered a reasonable use of force.  A police dog that bites multiple times without justification may be considered an excessive use of force.


I’m not referencing this topic to a suspect who physically resists the bite of the dog beyond a normal defensive action and attempts to disengage from a bite or bites that occurs as a result of a strong physical defense before another bite occurs or is commanded.   And, I’m not referencing this topic to a dog that releases an initial bite because it is in an awkward position to continue biting and seeks a better spot to bite and hold – one time.  Yes, there are probably a few other circumstances – but I hope you get the point.


Multiple bites usually cause multiple injuries.  It’s been proven in most cases and advocated that a single full-mouth bite will result in less serious injuries when properly applied.  Multiple injuries usually require more medical attention and more medical attention usually means a bigger hospital bill.  Multiple injuries can also be viewed and documented as evidence of excessive force and poor training.

Here’s my take on this situation;  If you have a police dog consistently incapable of a full-mouth bite in real-world applications and training, and this dog routinely releases and bites multiple times without strong suspect intervention or reasonable justification, the dog should be removed from the street, attend remedial training with the proper equipment to learn how to bite properly with and without physical resistance from a decoy, and the dog should be dismissed (“fired”) from further service if it is still incapable of applying a proper bite and hold.  You can’t afford the risk of continuing to deploy this dog.


This could also be titled “Failure to apply a full-mouth bite” as a reason you might get in trouble. I’m hoping the title and its content might get your attention and hold it a little longer if it applies to your dog and you – as the handler, supervisor and trainer.

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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on March 2, 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?

“Supervisor rotation”

It’s surprising to me that law enforcement agencies today that claim to be a “world-class organization” or progressive still implement archaic rotation policies or practices that are often counterproductive and contrary to their claims.

A supervisor approached me at the start of a class I was teaching [in 2014] and informed me “I’m no longer the K9 supervisor.”  Surprised, I asked “What happened?” and he responded with “Our chief rotates supervisors every two years.”  Still a little shocked, I inquired “How do you feel about that?”  He said something similar to “It kind of sucks because I was just starting to learn about the duties and responsibilities.  Two years isn’t sufficient for that position.”

For the most part – and I’d estimate 98% of the time – I hate rotation policies and forced rotation mandates.  (I was going to use the word “dislike” but it doesn’t represent how I really feel about this topic.)  I hate these policies and practices because I think they usually represent lame excuses for some administrators and supervisors to be lazy and not do their job – and their job is to make sure the right people are in the right position to do the right job all of the time.  I fought unsuccessfully against mandatory rotation at my department when it occurred and I watched a few unfortunate things occur after it was allowed to happen. 

“The weakest link in a K9 unit is usually its supervision.” – a consensus of K9 trainers, instructors, handlers and K9 supervisors 

If K9 supervision is considered one of the weakest links within a program, doesn’t it make sense to get the best supervisors in those positions and keep them there as long as reasonably possible?  I’d unofficially estimate that 50% or more of the current K9 supervisors working today did not work a police dog as a K9 handler.  So, some of these supervisors have more to learn about a job that represents a high degree of risk and liability.  And, if they get rotated every two years or so, they will not be able to properly and consistently supervise this unit with its high risk and potential for some serious liability.  Do you see any liability attached to this dilemma? 

Rotation policies can be likened to learning to swim by only dangling your legs in the pool;  you get a little wet and you start to feel comfortable – but you don’t actually learn to swim.

Yes, I’ve heard the reason “we want our supervisors to be well-rounded” but what is the mission of the department and the goal of good supervision?  It’s probably not well-roundedness.  And, you can’t be considered well-rounded if you believe your time as a supervisor in a unit is short-served, you didn’t learn as much as possible, you didn’t contribute significantly during your time in that position, and you didn’t serve the best interests of your subordinates. 

Instead of insisting that supervisors be well-rounded, it might be better to ask “What is our responsibility to make sure the handlers get the best and most consistent supervision?” 

I know a SWAT sergeant with years of experience who will be forced out of his position soon due to a rotation policy – and his experience, the experience he shares with his team, and the benefits of his experience to the community and department directly related to this assignment cannot be measured.  Who wins?  Who benefits?

When supervisors are rotated out of specialty assignments – like K9 – because of a policy mandate or a poor management practice, the potential for trouble exists for those K9 handlers left behind and for the department in general.  Your agency may want to re-evaluate the pros and cons of your supervisor rotation policy for your K9 unit if you have one.

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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on April 21, 2014.

“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?

“Training in sterile environments”

One of the more difficult challenges in K9 training is finding a good training venue and finding different ones so you are not always using the same one.  To this day, I still look at vacant buildings, buildings for sale, and open areas often as I drive by as potential training sites for both K9 and SWAT.  And, usually, some of the buildings that are most often available are abandoned and empty – and training in these sterile environments can be a reason we get in trouble if we limit our training to these types of environments on a consistent basis.

During initial training with our police dogs, we should be training in sterile environments to acclimate them to searching buildings and rooms.  We will place accessible decoys in these rooms initially so it easy for the dog to find them and then progressively increase the difficultly of the search with inaccessible decoys behind doors.  We may later use these same environments for remedial training or back-to-basics when necessary.  However, in the real world, we know that our search areas are not always empty rooms – they contain obstacles like furniture and clutter.  We need to spend the majority of our training time in the environments we most expect to encounter.

If you aren’t frequently training your dog to work and search around obstacles like furniture or other barriers, the dog may stop searching to avoid the obstacles and leave the area – or they may not as thoroughly search for a suspect.  The dog needs to learn there could be a suspect hiding around furniture or under it or beyond it.

This training and searching in and around obstacles is not exclusive to the dog – the handler should be experiencing the same challenges with the same obstacles. By doing so, the handler learns to move tactically to clear and progress while also keeping tabs on the police dog and potential threats.

A great training location can often be an abandoned building or building for sale where office furniture has been left behind and can be moved throughout the venue to change the search areas and present different challenges to the K9 teams. And, do not feel forced to train within an environment that is unsafe and possibly presents health risks to you, your dog, and others.

Now, herein lies the other challenge with finding ideal training locations like open businesses (that are preferably closed during your training) and model homes; the likelihood of damaging the premises.  So, when you find a good location, you must take the precautions necessary to make sure you leave the premises as you found them – or you might not get access again.

I know the challenges – been there, done that – but I also know the benefit of finding good training locations or creating them.  I’ve enjoyed conducting training within some awesome training venues and I’ve survived with doing the best I could with some mediocre locations.  If real world locations for your training are minimal or almost non-existent, you should not be discouraged nor abandon attempts to locate and you should solicit support from local businesses and seek to create relations with your local realtors and building contractors. 

If you believe you fight like you train, you must also believe that only training in sterile environments might get you in trouble later when it’s time to fight in a real world environment.

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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was first shared on February 10, 2020.

“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 train our backup officers”

During our SWAT and K9 integration training many years ago, I first heard the warning “If you don’t train together, don’t deploy together” shared by Brad Smith and it became commonly used to hammer home the necessity of SWAT operators and K9 teams first training for high risk operations and deployments before actually deploying.  Trouble has occurred when tactical teams have not trained together with K9 teams before actual deployments – and injuries have resulted and many narrowly averted. 

“If you haven’t trained together, don’t deploy together!” 

Several years later, I realized that this same warning should also be directed toward K9 teams that work with patrol officers and deputies – and perhaps it is more applicable – because who are the people K9 handlers are working with and alongside most often?  Yet, the vast majority of K9 teams across the country – in my estimation – are deploying with patrol officers in high risk situations without having first conducted proper training to prepare for the risks and dangers associated with these deployments.  A K9 deployment is a high risk situation.  A K9 deployment is a team operation – and it requires teamwork.  Good teamwork requires training.

“On the job training” is not the way to initially conduct business when patrol (backup) officers are preparing for and conducting a K9 deployment. As you well know, there are many different tactics, skills and communications that can be associated with a single deployment before, during and after an apprehension, suspect detection and/or physical arrest.  Every K9 deployment – particularly if there is a physical apprehension with a bite – is unique based on, but not limited to, the individual suspect, the suspect’s level of resistance if any, the environment, the potential for additional suspects at or near the scene, the number of backup officers present, and the training and experience of those law enforcement officers involved in the deployment.  Are your backup officers properly trained to work with you as a handler and protect you and others during a deployment?

“When was the last time you brought patrol officers to your K9 training to work with you as backup officers?”

In my canine liability classes, I’ve been using “If you don’t train together, don’t deploy together” for many years now as part of the “training with patrol” section and I pose the question;  “When was the last time you brought patrol officers to your training session to work as backup officers?”  It is important to not only conduct initial training before that first deployment, but conduct ongoing training to reinforce and refresh the skills, tactics and mindset necessary.  It is considered a perishable skill.

I consider the “failure to train our backup officers” a serious liability issue as well as a safety issue that could get you and your agency in trouble – but more importantly, it’s a common sense issue.  If a backup officer or handler is injured during a K9 deployment that could be deemed a result of not training together, do you think it might be a “failure to train” issue (Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 1989) with serious liability attached for your agency?  Should your agency consider using a little of its training budget now to limit your liability and reduce risks or simply gamble on writing the big check later following a claim or lawsuit after trouble occurs?

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

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on April 15, 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?

“Quitting”

You’ve seen them, you know at least one, and we often put up with them – but doing so can get us all in trouble as a team and a department.  Quitters are not good police dog handlers.  Quitting is one of the reasons we get in trouble and it is a negative habit that can lead to disastrous results down the road when allowed to occur.

“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” -Vince Lombardi 

I was recently invited to observe training for a small training group.  During the second exercise, a “bite-able suspect” in a bite suit was seated in the driver’s seat of a car, door open and he was refusing to exit and comply with commands from the initial officer on scene following a traffic stop.   After the K9 unit drove up and the handler exchanged information with the initial officer, the handler walked to the back door of his car to retrieve his police dog.  I noticed he awkwardly tried to position himself in front of the door as if to prepare to block the dog from exiting.  As the door slowly opened, I watched almost in disbelief as the dog immediately bolted out of the car door past the handler, refused to comply with a weak recall from the handler and proceeded directly into the car to bite the suspect.   The handler went to the dog, removed it from the bite, and walked back to the car in obvious disgust.  I’m not sure a critique occurred but the “trainer” running the exercise reset the exercise.  The handler did not retry the exercise, entered his car and backed out.  

“Quitting is the easiest thing to do.” -Robert Kiyosaki 

Later, I was standing at the next exercise for another traffic stop that presented its own challenges.  It was also a little dark in the area where I was standing so I said something to another handler nearby like “Hey, let me know when that other handler pulls in for this exercise because I don’t want to be standing anywhere near here in case his dog bolts out again and thinks I might be the target.  I don’t think he can control his dog.”  That handler agreed and added the other handler had already left the training because he wasn’t doing well and it sounded to me like that was something that happened quite frequently.  He simply quit.

We all get a little frustrated at training occasionally.  Sometimes our dog performs well and other times it presents challenges.  However, I’ve learned that quitting and simply driving or walking away from problems in frustration does not resolve the problems.  I’ve learned that bad behavior ignored will not correct bad behavior without further intervention.

“Success seems to be connected with action.  Successful people keep moving.  They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”  -Conrad Hilton

One of the other problems I saw with this particular situation was the lack of supervision – would that handler have driven off if his supervisor had been present?  What type of “supervised training” was really being conducted that would allow someone to drive off before finishing the scheduled training session – particularly when performing so poorly?  How was that training being recorded and I wonder how the written results of that failed exercise were documented on a training log?  Did the “trainer” later share the results with that handler’s supervisor? 

If I were in charge of that training, that handler would have completed all of the exercises despite the number of attempts to complete successfully because it was obviously apparent both the handler and dog needed some work.  I didn’t inquire further but I was curious.  “I’m now quitting and leaving because my dog is a piece of shit and I can’t control it and I don’t want to try to correct it” is not a reason to leave training before it’s concluded.  It’s the best reason to stay.  And, driving off will not correct the problems with both the handler and the dog.  Yes – it is a problem with the handler as well as the dog.  And – you probably know it is more of a problem with the handler if you’ve seen similar predicaments.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” -Muhammad Ali

This exercise was not the first time I’ve seen these circumstances.  I’ve watched many handlers unable to control their dog and they will either quit or circumvent the exercise to compensate for that lack of control when nobody holds them accountable.  And, I’ve seen trainers and supervisors allow this conduct to occur without consequences.  What type of message is being delivered?  You get what you accept?  I’ve seen other handlers plead to run an exercise over and over again so that they can get it right when they are having control issues.  Who do you think is the better handler?  Who do you think is more likely to get in trouble? 

It’s easy to say “I quit” and be a quitter but it will not solve problems and trouble will come.  “Never quit” is a good attitude for handlers, trainers and supervisors to adopt and quitting should not be an option. 

Take care, be safe and never quit….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was originally shared on November 11, 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?