The Reality of Guard-and-Bark (Part 2)

by Bill Lewis II

In recent years, more discussion and inquiries have resurfaced regarding the pros and cons of “guard-and-bark” (bark and hold) compared to “find-and-bite” as some guard-and-bark (G&B) agencies consider switching or have already started a transition to find-and-bite (F&B).

The purpose of this article is to explain the reality of guard-and-bark as it applies to today’s law enforcement utilization, provide some background in support of the method, and recommend a more clearly defendable policy you can take to court should litigation occur.  I’m not advocating nor suggesting that anyone change their current method.

The Real World

When we deploy guard-and-bark trained dogs in the real world, we are not participating in a Schutzhund trial.  We are not patrolling the borders of Europe where the concept is believed to have originated.  We cannot ultimately control the actions of the suspects despite our best efforts.  Suspects are not skilled decoys and rarely stand motionless upon arrival of a police dog – especially if they are startled and physically react even slightly.

One of the concerns/controversies surrounding guard-and-bark involves the dog’s confrontation (or standoff) with a motionless suspect.  If the dog is trained to guard and bark and bites a suspect that doesn’t move, is there liability?  What if the suspect makes an “innocent movement” and the dog bites?  What is an innocent movement?!?!  What if the dog encounters a sleeping suspect who reacts to the barking with a startled response and quick movement?  If we deploy our dog in a situation where a bite is justified, any movement by the suspect, however slight, should be considered a justified outcome based on its training.

The other concern associated with these bites before or during a guard and bark occurrence should a bite occur is the inability to see and describe the suspect’s actions or inactions beforehand – and the same holds true for F&B deployments.  Most bites of accessible suspects that are hiding or concealed are not usually viewed by the handler or backup officers.  If the suspect claims he didn’t move, how do we write our report?  We write only what we know.  More importantly, the handler must be in a position to recall the dog quickly and articulate if necessary.

We should expect that our dogs will bite.  We should presume – based on our knowledge and experience – that most suspects will move if easily accessible and found by the police dog.  And, as mentioned in Part 1, no handler should ever deploy their dog in a situation where a bite is not justified or anticipated.

I know a SWAT team that wanted to have their K9 teams switch from G&B to F&B because they wanted to be confident that the dog would bite a suspect without hesitation if located and feared a G&B dog might not do the job.  I don’t think they were properly informed.  It’s been my experience that tactical (SWAT) deployments with G&B dogs usually involve a bite command upon entry not a search command that may result in a guard and bark. And, when properly trained, a G&B dog will respond appropriately to the bite command or search and bite commands even when confronted with a motionless suspect should a standoff occur.  Personally, I prefer a bark over a bite initially as it provides an opportunity to evaluate options, take custody of a suspect without incident and doesn’t place the dog or officers in danger should a physical encounter occur.

How do we then justify these bites and overcome these concerns?  First, we give a clearly audible announcement to the suspect that includes the consequences for the failure to surrender – a bite may (or will) occur.  (If guard-and-bark is trained, “may” should be used.)  Second, our deployment is lawfully within policy so a bite of the suspect will be justified whether it occurs or not.  And, third, we explain within our written policy that “guard-and-bark” is a training method, not a deployment term.

Myths and Unsupported Statements

In Part 1 of this article, I mentioned that there have been “misrepresentations” of information related to the debate of which method is best – and I don’t believe it’s done maliciously.  Here are a few statements that I’ve read or heard that are not supported by any supporting data known to me;

  • It is hard to justify a [G&B] training method where the dog is allowed to make a decision as to the amount of force deemed necessary.
  • The use of the bark and hold dog method has resulted in the death of many police dogs.
  • Bark and hold dogs are involved in more lawsuits than find and bite dogs.
  • More guard and bark dogs have been killed than find and bite.
  • It is more dangerous for an officer if the dog is barking instead of biting.

The police dog does not determine the amount of force to be used – it is the handler who determines the force option by deploying the dog into a real situation that may result in a bite.  If the dog doesn’t bite, there is no physical use of force.  If the dog bites, the handler is justified in that use of force.

Is a guard-and-bark dog really in more danger during a standoff than a find-and-bite dog that is actually biting?  Does “barking only” create more danger for the handler?  If the dog is out of view and barking – a handler should consider options – like recalling the dog and provide an opportunity for surrender – or proceed with caution and good tactics. It is a non-issue in my opinion and one method or the other does not validate bad tactics.

I do not believe that G&B dogs have been killed more often than F&B dogs nor do they present any additional liability or danger to themselves or officers during a deployment should they bark or bite.  Where is the data?  It is a matter of proper training and tactics to address any of these issues and overcome the concerns of the naysayers.  And, if a G&B dog was killed during a deployment, was the death directly related to its training method and the subsequent suspect confrontation, and did the death of the dog prevent the death of or serious injury to its handler?

I read “Many trainers assert that find and bark trained dogs are unpredictable when they locate a suspect after an aggressive search or encounter.  The LAPD initially gave up its find and bark policy largely based on studies which showed an inability to stop the dog from attacking in a find and bark situation.”  I think if you can articulate there are not “find and bark situations” during a real deployment than you eliminate the unpredictably of a deployment.


When addressing the liability issue, it’s unfortunate we have no statistics that can compare “accidental bites” of non-suspects.  F&B advocates claim that guard-and-bark dogs are involved in more litigation – but where is the supporting documentation?  In cases I’ve reviewed recently, it’s quite the opposite as millions of dollars have been paid out as settlements for accidental bites and all have involved find-and-bite dogs.  But, like bite ratios, can we lay blame on one method over the other without reading the reports and investigating further?

Attorney Bruce Praet said;  “I used to debate the F&B verus G&B approach extensively in classes and elsewhere until I realized that it ultimately has never really mattered in terms of litigation.  In other words, if a F&B dog bites the wrong person, we have liability.  If a G&B dog bites the wrong person, we have liability.”

Here’s the primary situation I’ve used for years to support guard-and-bark training as it relates to liability; If a find-and-bite dog is deployed within a search area and it finds a person who offers no resistance, makes no attempt to escape or attack the dog, and is perfectly stationary – suspect, innocent person or officer – there is a great likelihood the dog will bite that person.  (NOTE:  The dog may not bite a uniformed officer based on its training.)  If a guard-and-bark dog is deployed within the same area and encounters the same person – there is a “chance” that it will guard and bark – and if it does, have we not prevented an accidental bite to either the innocent person or officer? Have we not possibly avoided an accidental bite lawsuit?

The recently updated “Concept and Issues Paper” (May 2015) from the IACP Law Enforcement Policy Center on “Patrol Canines” is intended to accompany the IACP’s Model Policy on Patrol Canines and reads: “The find-and-bark method has some distinct advantages, to include reduction in liability to police agencies for canine-inflicted injuries that result in large financial judgments against agencies and their jurisdictions. This approach is consistent with the principles of escalation and de-escalation of force. It can also provide handlers with more flexibility by allowing the canine to work off-leash in certain circumstances, with the reduced possibility that a suspect or bystander will be bitten. It could be considered as a means to reduce bite ratios that are often used in litigation to ascertain the relative aggressiveness of a particular canine.”

You might be questioning; “If you train a dog to guard and bark on motionless and possibly compliant persons and it does not, is there liability?” The same question might be asked about recalls (or call offs); “If you train a dog to recall upon command and it does not, is there liability?”  The simple answer is “Yes” because there’s always liability – we need to limit it and prepare a defense in advance.  In our preparation to address the liability and these questions beforehand, we can demonstrate through verifiable documentation (and perhaps video evidence) that we train and achieve guard and bark compliance during our training.  Using the recall as an example, we know that situations that evolve on the street don’t always end with the desired result or outcome anticipated – but we continue to train for the result desired, even if we are not successful in the real world.

A recommendation from Bruce Praet;   “I’ve always preached that G&B teams should videotape a G&B scenario in training for use in court to ‘explain’ what G&B involves to a lay jury.  In other words, the jury can see that the dog will/should not bite as long as the suspect doesn’t flee or make an aggressive move.  Since dogs are incapable of making decisions on their own, the dog will respond according to training [as demonstrated on the video].”

Guard & Bark Training

Dave Reaver is the owner and head trainer at Adlerhorst International Kennels in California where he’s been training K9 teams and selling police dogs since 1976.  I attended basic handler training at Adlerhorst in the early ‘90’s.

In August 2010, Reaver authored an article titled “Guard and Bark” where he noted “My initiation into the world of police dogs came about in 1975.  Using knowledge I learned training sport dogs and looking to European police agencies for direction, I introduced concepts and techniques that were new to this country.  One of which was ‘guard & bark’ training for a police service dog.  Initially I had very little knowledge of the rights of a person who [chose] to hide from the police, so my use of the guard & bark technique had less to do with liability than with efficiency.”

In January 2014, I met with Reaver following a presentation he gave titled “Guard & Bark – Old and New” at the CNCA Training Institute in Burbank, California.  We discussed the dilemma some supervisors and administrators were currently facing regarding the issue and the best way to assist and better inform them of their options.  It was during our discussion about liability and the potential for bites on motionless suspects that Reaver told me that he never intended for “guard and bark” to be considered the ultimate street deployment tactic, rather it was a training method he believed was best suited for police dogs for deployments based on operant conditioning with respect to conditioned response and conditioned stimulus.

I won’t attempt to explain operant conditioning, conditioned response nor conditioned stimulus as it applies to guard-and-bark training – you can read Reaver’s article and one by Donn Yarnell titled “The Find & Bite” – but I do know it’s what Reaver believes is the most efficient method for training a police dog that delivers the best results on the street based on his years of experience and the teams he has trained.

If a guard and bark occurs during a deployment based on training, and a suspect is taken into custody without incident, so be it; but, the overall goal of a deployment is to locate a suspect and protect officers – and a bark or a bite should not be prioritized to achieve the goal.

It quickly became clear to me that a better definition was needed as a policy or procedural guideline to describe guard-and-bark as it applies to training and deployment utilization.

K9 Policy

If you believe that guard-and-bark training makes a better police dog for your agency, I recommend you define your method to realistically address real world deployments and limit any potential liability.  And, since most agencies do not specify in writing what method of training and/or deployment they use, a clear definition may prove to be beneficial during any potential litigation – for either method.  With the assistance of Bruce Praet and a few others, I crafted this model policy definition for agencies training the guard-and-bark;

Model Policy Definition:  Guard-and-Bark

Each K9 team shall be trained in the “guard-and-bark” method.  When trained and maintained properly, the “guard-and-bark” dog may be more efficient and effective, provide stronger alerts on inaccessible suspects, and increase officer safety.  

“Guard-and-bark” is not a deployment term; it is the training method we utilize.  Our police dogs will only be deployed in situations where a bite or other physical contact appears reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances and our deployment policy. Based on our training, it is possible that if a suspect is accessible during a real deployment and does not move, attempt to escape or take aggressive action toward the dog, the handler or others, the dog may contain (hold or guard) the suspect and bark as an alert to the handler, potentially providing the handler an opportunity to recall the dog without any physical contact with the suspect until the suspect is taken into custody.  However, it must also be recognized that “guard-and-bark” is not a guarantee that a suspect will not be bitten by the dog since real life circumstances will differ from training environments and may rapidly change.


The courts have not selected one method over the other and that’s a good thing. Although the recent Supreme Court case of Florida v. Harris involved a detection dog, you might interpret their decision to apply to any police dog (detection or patrol, bark-and-hold or find-and-bite) with respect to reliability in a controlled setting.  If a bona fide organization has certified a [bark and hold] dog after testing its reliability in a controlled setting, or if the dog has recently and successfully completed a training program that evaluated its proficiency, the bark and hold dog should perform in the field as certified and trained.

It should be noted that we as police officers need to support both types of training and not ply one against the other.”  -Bob Eden 

Do handlers have a choice how they train and deploy?  Generally, that answer is a simple “No” because handlers train and deploy per their policy if that’s what an agency requires and often “because we’ve always done it that way.”  However, handlers and K9 supervisors should always be knowledgeable about why they use a particular method and able to articulate the justifiable reasons they do what they do with a defendable policy to support them.

There is an article that reads:  The find [guard] and bark approach requires a superior canine and immediate supervision by the handler.   Personally, if called to court to defend my program, I’d like to testify that my K9 program purposefully strives to deploy superior canines operating under the immediate supervision of our handlers.  Why wouldn’t we?

Bill Lewis II © May 2015

Part 2 of this article was originally published in “Police K-9 Magazine” (September/October 2015).