Many K-9 handlers have experienced a suspect not affected by the K-9, as a use
of force. This article addresses what I call ground fighting with a police service dog, where we as handlers assist the K-9 with additional less lethal force options, added to a suspect in order to assist the dog.
As a K-9 handler, K-9 expert and a martial artist, I have personally experienced this issue, where the K-9 force was simply not enough force to control a suspect. Many K-9 handlers, who have never experienced this, do not believe me, as they have never seen a K-9 fail. In addition to my experience, I share two additional perspectives:
1. TASER International has an actual video of a suspect in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The suspect was bitten by a police service dog and the dog was not enough force to control the suspect. It took a TASER and K-9 application as a use of force, simultaneously, in order to control the suspect.
2.In 2008, a study from NIJ (National Institute of Justice) regarding use of less lethal force was released. The study showed two things. The first, the police service dog was the most effective less lethal force technology. The second, even with the K-9 bring the most effective; the K-9 was only effective 69.8% of the time. The other 30.2% of the time, the K-9 was not enough force to control a suspect. That’s almost one-third of suspects where the K-9 was ineffective.
Using other less lethal technology, in conjunction with the K-9:
There are solutions when the K-9 is not enough force to control a suspect. Those solutions are the less lethal force options, routinely available:
• O/C: A simultaneous application of O/C and the K-9 as a use of force:
It has been my experience that most K-9’s are not affected by O/C. In my
studies with hundreds of K-9’s, approximately two-thirds (2/3) of K-9’s are not affected by O/C. Unfortunately, O/C is not effective on many suspects.
• Impact weapons: A simultaneous application of an impact weapon and the K-9 as a use of force:
Since the K-9 is similar to an impact weapon, it has been my experience that if the K-9 is not working, adding an additional impact weapon, such as a baton or flashlight, does not work either.
• TASER: A simultaneous application of a TASER and the K-9 as a use of force:
This is highly effective, however many agencies still do not carry the TASER. If TASER is available, it appears through my studies that a K-9 can bite a suspect, or at least a decoy, while the TASER X26 has been deployed simultaneously. The dogs were not visibly affected, nor did the bite diminish, outside the probes.
In one study, the dogs were affected if they bit inside the probes. The dogs would disengage the bite during the TASER activation. The dogs did not yelp or whine, nor show any negative behavior. They simply stopped biting. The dogs would immediately re-engage the bite when the TASER was turned off. The dogs did not bite the same area as the original bite. In addition, the dogs’ bite was harder than before.
It appears the only potential concern with using both a TASER X26 and a police service dog on a suspect simultaneously is inadvertently shooting the dog with the TASER device.
OPTION #1: The TASER probes should be on the suspect before a police service dog is applied, to prevent accidental shooting of the dog.
OPTION #2: The other option is to dramatically decrease the distance from the TASER operator and the suspect, to make absolutely sure the suspect, not the dog, is shot. This may even require stabilization of a suspect, if the dog is spinning him. Once the dog is on the bite, the TASER X26 may be applied additionally in a drive stun mode. The drive stun did not affect the dogs in my studies.
• Ground fighting with a K-9: A simultaneous application of an officer(s) and the K-9 as a use of force:
This is also highly effective; however there are several principles and training issues that must be addressed, as discussed below.
Ground fighting with a K-9:
Struggling suspects always go to the ground. Therefore, we must train the K-9, if he has not knocked the suspect to the ground, that our immediate priority is for us to take the suspect rapidly to the ground.
As we well know, dogs are pack animals. As such, there are genetic drives or behaviors that are built into the dog at birth. We do not train these behaviors; we simply harness them and use them for our advantage. Dogs that work in pack order are much better fighters. We are simply going to harness that.
Running up to a K-9:
If you have not trained to join the dog in the fight, the dog will interpret you
running up on him as a correction. The dog will probably disengage the
bite. As we will now be engaged in the fight ourselves and need the dog’s
assistance, we typically order the dog to re-bite. Unfortunately, you and the
suspect are moving and there is now a 50% / 50% possibility of being bitten by
your own dog. (Note: If an officer is on the ground with the suspect on top there is virtually a 99% chance the officer will be bitten by his own dog.)
Therefore, this issue must be addressed in training. The dog must be conditioned to understand you are joining him in the fight, such as the dog would experience in pack order, not correcting him.
Taking the suspect to the ground:
Every handler has his favorite technique to do this. Regardless of your technique, you must immediately and rapidly get the struggling suspect to the ground. In pack order, dogs want to be dominant and also want suspects to be submissive. By taking the suspect to the ground, we put the suspect in that submissive position and the dog / handler in a dominant position. Again, the dogs are better fighters in pack order. The dog must be conditioned in training to expect a ground fight. The dog must know that we are immediately and rapidly going to the ground.
If the dog has not experienced this in training, the dog will probably disengage the bite, as we go down. As we will now be engaged in the fight ourselves and need the dog’s assistance, we typically order the dog to re-bite. Unfortunately, you and the suspect are moving and there is again a 50% / 50% possibility of
being bitten by your own dog.
Fighting with the K-9 on the ground:
We are now operating and fighting in pack order. Since it is very rude for a pack animal to bite a pack member; it has been my experience that dogs biting in pack order have a stronger, full-mouth bite and they will not release the bite in a fight.
Obviously, this is advantageous to us. If we are smart, we will work in concert with the dog. The dog controls one side of the suspect’s body, we control the other side. After that side is under control, we now assist the dog, as a fellow pack member, in controlling his side.
If the dog has not experienced this in training, the dog may not be used to fighting with fellow pack members, as historically, law enforcement K-9 training has not harnessed the dog in this pack order component. We need to re-introduce the dog to fighting in pack order. You must develop your system of
ground fighting with a K-9. It is impossible to show ground fighting techniques in a written article. There are several seminars offered throughout the United States that teaches defensive tactics / ground fighting with a K-9 team. I highly recommend attending one.
In addition, multiple pack members, other officers, can be involved in ground fighting with you and your K-9. Again, the dog must experience this in training, as the dog needs to understand that the entire pack may be involved in the fight. This is very dynamic and highly effective on a combative suspect.
Martial arts application to ground fighting with a K-9:
As with any martial art based system, a distraction should be used prior to fighting a suspect. The distraction could be the K-9 bite and / or a distraction to the face. The distraction is extremely important. This distraction will force the suspect into becoming soft, while you become hard by attacking or controlling the suspect. The Chinese called this “Ying” (soft) and “Yang” (hard). As in any art, when two parties are involved in a confrontation, one must be soft and the other must be hard. Put another way, one must be the giver and one must be the receiver. In law enforcement applications, hard versus hard typically does not work and results in extended multiple officers versus suspect confrontations.
As a K-9 handler, you may compare this soft and hard principle as follows. The K-9 is always hard. The suspect originally is hard. If he complies, he becomes soft. If a distraction, K-9 or otherwise, is used, the suspects focuses his hardness on the dog, making the rest of his body soft. The handler, who is hard, moves in after the distraction and attacks or controls the soft portion of the suspect’s body. The soft portion is the body side not distracted.
I believe it is probable that you as a K-9 handler will run into one of these suspects not affected by the K-9 as a use of force. Having “Plan B” is essential in today’s officer safety tactics. Not having Plan B will cause you to go into disbelief, causing your reaction time to increase dramatically.
This article has addressed Plan B with a K-9. I strongly urge you to have Plan B drafted and trained, prior to actual field usage, when you need it. Your K-9 must experience Plan B in training, prior to actual use. Ground fighting with a K-9 is very dynamic and highly effective. It typically controls that one-third of suspects who are not affected by just K-9 force.