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