Dealing with Dog Encounters

A 2013 U.S. Department of Justice report estimated there are an estimated 70 million dogs in the United States, with almost 40% of households owning at least one. This means that almost half of the suspects, victims or witnesses you encounter are likely to have a canis lupus familaris by their side. Because many Americans consider their pets as part of their family, often having a dog in lieu of children, you also expect to find these same pets along for a car ride during a traffic stop or jogging on a leash when approaching a pedestrian. In other words, you should be prepared to find a dog during any call and in any location.

Dog BrochureUnfortunately, despite the fact that many officers are also dog owners, most are not prepared to deal with someone else’s best friend during a professional encounters. There are also few resources available to assist the officer who wishes to increase their canine knowledge, or the department looking to develop policies for dealing with dog encounters. USDOJ recognized this and, as part of the DOJ COPS program, has produced a number of training aids to assist both individual officers and department brass. The first of these is the booklet The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Emergencies. The second is a series of videos, each approximately 10 minutes in length, developed in conjunction with canine behavior specialist and the Chicago Area Humane Society. Each video in the “Police and Dog Encounter” series is also available via the DOJ COPS website

Both the booklet and the videos offer practical information and tips that any officer will find both educational and useful on the street. Most importantly, while it is suggested that officers involve animal control or humane society personnel whenever possible, the training recognizes that although this might be possible when conducting a planned event such as a warrant or when responding to complaints of a vicious dog, most situations will occur spur of the moment and require immediate action by the lone patrol officer. Some of the more useful sections of training include:

  1. Guard DogBody Language – when you encounter a human suspect, body language is a major indicator of future actions; a dog is no different. The big question is whether the dog is asking “Who are you?” or yelling “Get out! Don’t come any closer!” Officer body language is just as important because reading your body language is how the dog will determine not only the level of threat it faces but also how it should respond. If you attempt to gain control by staring down a dog, chances are good that things will soon go bad. If the situation allows, you need to negotiate with the dog by delivering commands in a soothing voice and from a non-challenging stance.
  1. Dogs will do what dogs do – it important to understand that all dogs regard their owners as their pack and the home and its yard as the pack’s territory. Most dogs will attempt to defend this territory in some manner, ranging from barking and growling to advancing on intruders. However, not all dogs will complete an attack even if they have advanced on an officer. The dog that is running full speed in your direction, eyes locked on your position, could be looking to eliminate the threat or play with the new visitor. Your response depends on being able to tell the difference.
  1. Local response – the training also include valuable information designed to help departments understand the extent of their local problem (if any), how to identify contributing factors and solutions, and even how to deal with the public or media when an officer has no other choice but to take a dog’s life.

Regardless of whether you use local resources, contract with a canine expert, copy DOJ’s program or a combination of all available resources, you must do something to train yourself, or your department, in appropriate response during dog encounters.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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