Dog lovers cry out for police training on dog behavior and non-lethal constraint

July 4, 2013

With the recent shooting of Max, the 2-year-old Rottweiler belonging to Leon Rosby, police may finally have taken notice on how violent the public has become over these senseless killings.

This case has led to thousands of emails, phone calls, and unfortunately threats to the lives of the police officers.

Police everywhere appear to be having a difficult time grasping what the problem with dogs shot by police really involves. Most officers are quick to speak up and say their lives were in danger. That the dog was “attacking,” making it necessary for police to shoot the dog.


The problem isn’t with an officer having the right to defend himself/herself against attack. We all understand that no one wants to suffer the trauma involved in a dog attack. The problem is a police officer using their weapon as the first line of defense when it should be the last.

Animal control officers, as well as postmen and other delivery people deal with potentially dangerous dogs on a daily basis. They don’t shoot them because most are given some sort of training to understand the psychology of a dog. Not only psychology, but physical signs to differentiate between a dog running up to say hello vs one running up to attack.

Those who face dangerous dogs on a daily basis most likely do some of the research on their own as to how to handle aggressive dogs. Meaning not everything they know about dogs was learned in a “required” course. I’ve heard of many mail carriers who keep a few dog biscuits on hand to win a dogs affection.

I’ve read the entire Department of Justice publication entitled Problems of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters. For police officers who aren’t familiar with this pamphlet, it’s available for download as a PDF, and you could learn a lot about dog behavior by reading it.

This report calls officers who use their weapon as the first line of defense as “untrained.” But we all knew that anyway, didn’t we?

One point made in the DOJ publication talks about the seriousness of dog bites stating

“The overwhelming majority of dog bites are minor, causing either no injury at all or injuries so minor that no medical care is required. Fewer than 2 percent of the individuals visiting an emergency room complaining of a dog bite require hospitalization.”

Insufficiently trained officers, according to the DOJ include

* Officers who make judgments concerning a dog they encounter based on its presumed breed or physical appearance rather than its behavior
* Officers who view a dog running toward them as a threat (the dog could be friendly and merely greeting the officer)
* Officers who are unaware of leash laws or the laws governing potentially dangerous, dangerous, or vicious dogs in their city or state
* Officers who lack knowledge of available animal-welfare resources
* Officers who lack skills in handling dogs or reading dog body language
* Officers who lack needed canine-communication skills

The DOJ has one paragraph that describes what a growling, barking, teeth baring dog is trying to do.

“Dogs use their teeth to get food, manipulate objects, establish and maintain social relationships, and protect themselves and their group from danger. Their teeth are their main tools for interacting with the world, much like a human’s hands.

Even when they use their teeth to settle conflicts with other dogs and with humans, most use only a fraction of the pressure of which they are capable. This is called bite inhibition and is comparable to a human “pulling his punches.”

Even when a threat escalates to tooth contact—most often because the dog’s non-contact warning signals have not been heeded—the objective is still usually to drive the intruder away with minimum damage and risk to the dog and others.

Almost all dogs will try to bluff or threaten before resorting to actual contact. In this sense, their approach is similar to the force continuum used by police officers.”

Police officers need to understand that even though a dog may be displaying aggressive behavior doesn’t mean it’s planning to have the officer for dinner. Another tip given in the publication is not to look the dog in the eye. This can be read as a threat and provoke an attack.

If the Hawthorne police officers had read the Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters, they’d have seen this paragraph.

“Dogs will often become upset and even protective of their family when people in their presence are behaving in an agitated or confrontational way. So questioning a suspect or even a witness in the vicinity of an unrestrained dog is unwise.”

Please note that shooting a dog in a busy neighborhood with a lot of witnesses present (including young children) won’t make you “Officer of the Year.”

Not only does killing a dog open an officer up to lawsuits, it also takes away the trust the community has toward police. And, as in the case involving Max, can result in threats of physical harm to officers.

Or, as in the case of the Winston-Salem woman, your bullet can ricochet and hit a person instead of the dog. There are several cases now where either a bullet or blood from a wounded dog has hit a young child.

Police chiefs, is this how you want your department to be remembered? Wouldn’t training your officers be much more beneficial, and less time-consuming than trying to control an angry mob after one of your officers shoots a dog?

Teach your officers how to use a Taser to subdue the dog. It has to be held sideways on a dog or it isn’t effective. Teach your officers to reach for the pepper spray before their weapon. Of course, this is more difficult to do when the officer has already pulled his weapon, but it IS doable.

Also, would you please consider putting a stop to the following?
*Stop shooting retreating dogs
*Stop shooting once the dog is on the ground and unconscious
*Stop bragging about the shoot by saying “NICE” or hi-five another officer or laugh about the dog being shot. That dog was someone’s family member.
*Stop trespassing on private property
*Start reading over a warrant more than once so you don’t end up at the wrong address
*Stop profiling dogs
*Stop shooting dogs under 20 pounds. I mean, really, this makes you more than a monster

Not only are officers who shoot family dogs creating irreparable damage to the adults in the community, we now have a generation of children who learn to hate police officers at an early age. What can you expect when children are witnessing the death of what they consider a best friend.

This hatred of police is a problem that will spill over into the next generation, and the police are the ones with the power to stop it. We’re not asking you to stand by and be attacked. Only to use other methods to stop a dog instead of shooting it.

Is it really necessary to wait for a law to make training in dog behavior mandatory for all police officers? Shouldn’t a police department that considers itself part of a community want to do what’s right without being asked? If not, then I’d question the integrity of that department on issues that don’t necessarily involve dogs.

Readers, are there any other suggestions you can think of police should consider when faced with a family dog? Your comments are welcome.


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