Police and Dog Encounters

Police and Dog Encounters
Posted on 04/01/2015

Police and dog encounters have captured recent headlines, sometimes resulting in unfortunate controversy. Most officers love dogs, especially since dogs never lie, cheat or steal.

Almost 40 percent of U.S. households have at least one dog in them and dog owners, including myself, consider their dog to be a member of the family. Because dogs are so much a part of our society, law enforcement officers routinely deal with them while conducting their day-to-day activities.   Officers respond to calls about inhumane treatment of pets or animal bites and in almost every kind of police interaction with the public. From making traffic stops and serving warrants to searching neighborhoods, responding on residential alarms, and even pursuing suspects through neighborhoods, dogs are almost always part of the situation.

I recently met with Mr. Dave Nicponski, who represents the Humane Society of Utah and at his suggestion, the Cottonwood Heights Police Department adopted a training program to provide officers with skills intended to increase more favorable outcome(s).

Police Officers never want to hurt an animal. Sometimes it’s unavoidable but our goal is safe humane interactions within Cottonwood Heights.  The training curriculum presented to staff covers the following topics:

Communicating with Dogs: Police and Dog Body Language       

Tactical Considerations       

Use of Force Considerations

Legal Considerations: Liability, Reporting and Documentation

We teach officers to develop a sense of how to read a dog and whether the officer’s particular body language can affect that interface.  For instance, if the dog’s ears are back and the body gets small with the tail tucked, the dog is not likely threatened.  Conversely, if the animal’s body is positioned forward, with ears up and making direct eye contact, the officer should consider other tactical options.

dogThe response can be as simple as rotating the officer’s posture to a less aggressive position and looking for barriers to create protection and distance.  We also train our officers that if no exigency exists the proper response may be retreating until an animal control specialist can arrive.

Often, officers can simply use different voice tones, avoid eye contact and create distance to neutralize the interaction when the dog feels threatened.  Obviously, it’s important we understand that dogs are animals and may react as such, but our goal was to educate the officers and provide options for the best outcomes.  Through proper training, law enforcement officers can be better prepared for safe, non-confrontational encounters successfully avoiding the worst-case scenarios.