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Handler Control vs Bark and Hold Apprehension Techniques

R.S. Eden

This particular issue is one that is very contraversial. In short, handler control (commonly referred to as bite and hold) is by far much easier to maintain than bark and hold techniques. Particularly for agencies who do not have access to trained agitators and trainers to ensure their techniques are kept clean. When this article was written, a survey was conducted by the research and development branch of a major police department. While the findings were not entirely conclusive either way because of the low return on requests for information, the analysis of the information showed their were more lawsuits and failures on the part of bark and hold teams than there were on bite and hold teams. It should be noted that we as police officers need to support both types of training and not ply one against the other. There is no doubt where I stand on the issue, and what I am most comfortable with. I have no problems working with bark and hold teams…providing they change their tactics accordingly and they keep their training up to standard. The same holds true for bite and hold teams. The training needs to be kept up to date, however much less man hours of training are required to keep this type of training secure.

Since the inception of European training methods in North Ameri ca, both Canadian and American agencies have been able to benefit from the training styles learned overseas. A large portion of this training has been very beneficial to the quality of service dogs in the field.

It has also been the cause of many differences between agencies with regards as to what the “best” training methods are. In my opinion, whatever training method works best for your agency or for you personally is obviously the method that you should be using.

I have traveled extensively in Canada and the United States and have had the opportunity to view many different training tech niques by many agencies. My observations have led me to believe that there are distinct differences in training styles that are implemented in European dogs, that when used here in North Ameri ca, can promote liability problems and put the handler at unnec essary risk on the street.

One of the many major differences that need to be considered before implementation is the use of the circle and bark as opposed to the bite and hold techniques of criminal apprehension. The merits of each style of training are beneficial, according to the type of application that the dog is going to be used for.

The concept of the circle and bark method of apprehension, also referred to as the revere, was instrumental in Europe in saving the lives of service dogs that were being used to patrol the borders. It had become known by the underworld elements who were illegally crossing the borders that the dogs were trained to attack directly and hold on until called off of the suspect by the officer.

To defeat these dogs was relatively a simple matter of wearing protection from the bite on one arm, and once the dog attacked the protected arm, the suspect stabbed the dog to death. As most of the dogs were out of sight of the handlers when this occurred, many dogs were lost. By the time the dog was located by the handler, he was dead, and the suspect had often accomplished his goal.

To combat this problem the authorities introduced a training style that would result in the dog harassing the suspect out of harms distance by circling and barking. This prevented the suspect from stabbing the dog, and indicated the location of the offender for the officer. Keep in mind that these dogs would avoid contact with the suspect and were trained specifically to harass the offender.

Under the circumstances this method is an ideal method of appre hension. It is used to combat a specific problem in countries where its application has successfully prevented further unneces sary loss of good service dogs.

This method of training was seen and soon embraced by people who could see a marketing possibility for these dogs in North America as bark and hold dogs to law enforcement agencies. With continu ing liability concerns in regards to the application of dogs in law enforcement, it is easy to see how this method of criminal apprehension could be seen as reducing department liability.

A police dog that simply circles and barks at the suspect as opposed to biting the suspect is a method that can be easily sold to any agency that is considering the implementation of a dog section, but is concerned with liability. This confidence howev er is misguided. Historically, most people who have promoted the circle and bark method of criminal apprehension are people who are involved in the Schutzhund sport. In my experience, very few who have promoted the circle and bark methods were police K9 officers working the streets. In fact, most of the people who promote the circle and bark method of apprehension have some political or financial considerations that are directly related to the marketing of the European style of training, and are heavily into Schutzhund training.

Schutzhund is a civil sport that is very exacting and often makes for an excellent base in a police service dog, as long as the distinction between civil training and police training is made. That is where the problem lies.

Trainers who profess that circle and bark is superior to the bite and hold method of apprehension have used the fear of liability as the reason to convince administrators and agencies away from the bite and hold techniques now in place by most North American law enforcement agencies. It is a fallacy that liability origi nates from the bite. The bite is only the end result of an application of a dog in a given set of circumstances. Liability comes from improper application of the dog, lack of proper training or control of the dog, failure to follow policy and procedure laid out by the department and a host of other reasons.

Tim Tieken is a 23 year veteran of the Seattle Police K9 Unit. He is a highly respected trainer and has been with the K9 unit since 1974, and has held the training position there since 1980. He was one of the founders and past presidents of the Washington State Police Canine Association, and provided some valuable insight into bite and hold dogs versus the hold and bark methods in an article he wrote for the association magazine. In that article Tieken states:

“In reality, the dog that is trained to bite and hold is only one member of a team. The other member is a trained officer who possesses judgment and controls the dog. That control is deter mined by department policy and existing law. The dog can be recalled at any time. The handler is able to read the behavior of the dog and is able to tell when he nears a suspect. If force is unwarranted the dog can be recalled. Prior to applying the dog, a determination should be made as to whether a crime has in fact occurred, and its severity and the threat level of the sus pect(s). Decisions can then be made as to how the dog will be applied.

The bite and hold method philosophy predicates itself upon handler safety issues and is not solely an attempt to preempt re sistance or escape. The philosophy takes into account that the handler can make judgments and that the dog can be called off. The level of ferocity of a bite and hold attack is generally misunderstood. One does not need to train a military type sentry dog, nor does he look for the strength of attack that a Schutzhund judge would look for in a Schutzhund III dog. In fact, the severity of wounds that are usually inflicted upon non-fighters is very minor and can usually be treated with Band-Aids or less. when a dog is getting “too hard” corrective action can be taken by turning the dog down through training. The handling technique can also be adjusted.

I have deliberately stayed away from the circle and bark tech nique because I have seen its failures. The technique originates from the German dog sport known as Schutzhund. Schutzhund can be translated as protection dog. The dogs are judged in three categories: tracking, obedience and attack. One exercise in the competition is called the revere. The dog is sent by the handler to search for a hidden man in an open area. When the dog finds the man he is supposed to bark and not bite unless the man moves. During trials and in training, the hidden man is a trained quarry with protective clothing. This man is highly skilled and is not afraid of the dog. He knows how and when to move, what eye contact to make or not to make and what sounds to make and how to make them to cause the dog to succeed or fail. All experienced quarry can sucker most any dog into an attack with near impercep tible motion, eye contact or sound. When demonstrated with a cooperative quarry, this exercise can be made to look quite impressive. However, on the street, in the real world, it faults begin to show. Real suspects are not cooperative trained quarry. They are diverse. During the stress of a confrontation with a dog and officer, some will go into an uncontrollable panic, some will become chatty Cathies, others will go into animated rou tines. All of these behaviors could evoke an attack from a circle and bark dog. I have had suspects try to climb on top of me to avoid my dog who was not biting them. By and large though, most suspects remain hidden and motionless in hope that they will be passed over.

Although most suspects do remain still, we do not know which ones will, or which ones are laying in ambush. A suspect, hoping to be passed over, once discovered, can change tactics and shoot from concealment, under the cover of darkness. His opportunity to do so is enlarged if the dog allows movement. It does not take much movement to shoot a gun or swing a knife or club. The canine handler is in a unique situation. He only responds to situations where a suspect has chosen to run and hide. These events are inherently high risk and the canine handler is always the point man. As a matter of survival he must maintain any tactical advantage that he has. The suspect usually has all of the advantages. He chooses the ground, the time, and the move ment. The handler has little advantage, only his dogs nose and teeth. A dog that doesn’t bark can often make contact before the suspect can react. (The severity of the resulting damage is usually determined by the suspects choice to fight or surrender.) As soon as the handler can determine the suspect is free of weapons, the dog can release the suspect. This is far more humane method than allowing the fights and shootings that occur without the use of dogs.

I have spoken to German, Canadian, Norwegian, English and Ameri can trainers and handlers that operate under the guise of circle and bark, but will admit in trusted company that circle and bark has a high degree of failure. When asked why they continue with it, they explain that it would not be politically sound as their program was originally touted up as circle and bark to make it palatable to citizens or their administrators. This is deceptive and flies in the face of valid officer safety concerns and other facts, and does not take into consideration that a low bite ratio can be maintained on bite and hold dogs.

I have trained dogs for the revere and know that very few dogs can be trusted and even more trustworthy dogs still have the intellect and judgment of a dog. I would rather place my trust in a trained handler who possesses the capacity to respond to the fact pattern he is presented with. To him, I can dictate guide lines and mandates that will allow him to be efficient and at the same time minimize the use of force.

Another erroneous assumption is that bite and hold dogs will never encounter innocent bystanders. Here the inference is made that dogs are incapable of discriminating one person from anoth er and that they are indiscriminate biters. The physical debris (spoor) coming from the human anatomy, toiletries, clothing, etc. are sufficiently complex to “fingerprint” every human. The history of the use of dogs in tracking is well documented and has widely been admissible in many courts. Many citations could be used to support the dogs ability to discriminate. I will use one citation that is specific to the use of bite and hold dogs.

In 1981, the Seattle Police Canine Unit conducted a study of its own units activity asking the question, “Was the dog right?” In the study, consecutive canine arrest files were selected with a random starting point. All arrests that were the product of a building search or area search were eliminated because it did not require an act of discrimination from the dog. All tracking arrests were retained until 384 cases were assembled. (This number was established as a valid sample by a systems analyst.) The 384 cases were studied for a positive indicator that the dog had found the right person. (ie. an admission of guilt, an eye witness identification, hard physical evidence.) All those cases lacking positive indicators were counted against the dog even though there was no evidence that the dog was wrong. When tal lied, the dogs were right 98.698% of the time.

As for encountering innocent bystanders, in a four year sampling, 1974 through 1977, Seattle police dogs were applied 7,517 times in a metropolitan area inhabited by half million people. In those four years, only ten innocent citizens were inadvertently physically contacted by the dogs. (0.0013303 times per application not taking into consideration the amount of people encountered along each track.) Of the ten contacted, none were hurt seriously and four were not hurt at all.

A trainer who promotes circle and bark routines stated in Las Vegas, the innocent persons bitten by bite and hold dogs were standing still. The ten Seattle citizens bitten during the four year study re in a direct contrast to the Las Vegas experience quoted by this individual. One person was guilty of another crime and ran between the houses and hid, one ran around a corner of a building and collided with a tracking dog, another menaced the dog with a stick when the dog sniffed him, another jumped to his feet when approached and stabbed at the dog with a musical instrument case, four were captured by the dogs when the handlers placed the dogs on the wrong track inadvertently, and two were inside buildings where silent alarms had gone off. None of these incidents resulted in significant litigation.

In regards to litigation, in Pierce County Washington, litigation was recently completed on a case. (Champney vs. Pierce County Sheriff Office) The court found in favor of the officer and in a counter suit the officer was awarded, a $3000.00 judgment. At trial, a pivotal issue was bite and hold, as applied in this case, as opposed to the circle and bark method, which was unsuccessfully put forward by its proponents.

The U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit in a 1988 case, Estate of Daniel Briggs vs. Ronnie Barnes, and individual and employee of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, found in favor of the officer. The decision is flush with logic supporting the use of force consistent in the policies and procedures of most police agencies using bite and hold dogs.

Litigation and liability are ever present factors. Our policies and procedures are the best defense. Each case will be judged upon its own merits comparing the facts against a standard. If our standard is kept high, we may lose a case due to aberrant actions of an individual or unavoidable circumstances, but we will not be shown negligent. Case law supports our present policies and application.

This echoes my beliefs in regards to the use of bite and hold training. The decision to apply the dog is multifaceted, and the decisions as to how the dog is to be applied must be left up to the handler, not the dog.

Canada and the United States both have seen a dramatic increase in the use of firearms in the commission of offenses, as well as an increase in the number of young offenders carrying guns. A method of training that is ideal for European situations does not necessarily mean that it is ideal for North American problems.

The use of circle and bark dogs have resulted in the deaths of many police dogs. In each situation, the dog was trained as a minimum force dog, and in each situation that I am aware of, each dog was required to take down an armed suspect. In every case the suspects reacted in a cautious manner, which enabled them to bring their weapons into play.

In each case, the dogs basis of training was circle and bark, and each had supposedly been converted to police standards for street applications. However, in each case, when tensions were high, each dog hesitated even though they had been directed to attack.

A well trained service dog can be recalled at any point from the attack. Control of the dog through voice command permits the officer to call the dog off prior to or subsequent to the apprehension, as the situation warrants. Once the dog is called off, he is positioned where he can safely watch the suspect while the officer approaches and secures him. Total control is with the officer. If the suspect is intoxicated and unstable on his feet, or if he is loud and abusive, the dog is close enough to be of instant assistance to the officer if needed, however far enough away, and conditioned in such a manner that he will tolerate such movement and actions by the suspect, without the officer having to be concerned about the dog biting at his own discretion.

A circle and bark dog however is trained to attack on the slightest movement and takes many hours of training with a professional quarry in order to keep the dog “clean”. There is very little tolerance level in a circle and bark dog. If he locates a suspect and the suspect stumbles or moves accidentally, there is a high likelihood of an unwarranted bite. In such cases, it is only a matter of time before a good attorney has the case in civil court. It is hard to justify a training method where the dog is allowed to make a decision as to the amount of force deemed necessary.

When I recently queried a trainer with regards to street survival methods for bark and hold dogs, I was advised that the officer is trained to approach from a different direction than that of the dog. They are taught to approach cautiously in a manner that allows them to observe the action from a different angle before approaching. In the meantime the dog is up next to the suspect barking. When asked regarding the common use of firearms and the danger to the dog, it was intimated that was an accepted risk using this type of training, however that the dog would attack if a weapon was brought into play. Unfortunately our past experience has proven otherwise, resulting in traumatic loss of life.

It is a matter of personal survival that your dog be trained to take down a seemingly passive suspect. If your agency insists on using bark and hold dogs, ensure that you are well aware of the possible ramifications and their limitations. Independent stud ies by agencies considering on having their programs change from bite and hold to a bark and hold style of training, have concluded that there is more danger to the officer and the dog, and ultimately more liability for the agencies using minimum force dogs.


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