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Animal Handling Familiarization Training

Right away most of you are saying this is not my job! I am not a dog wrangler, nor am I animal control officer, however in some jurisdictions you are. So stop and answer the question. Who are the emergency services professionals that are most likely to respond to calls involving sick, injured and dangerous animals? And the answer is law enforcement! Therefore we need to reconsider this topic as needed training to operate safer and more efficiently. The problem is that this topic is not a part of most police academy’s curriculum, nor is it at the top of most interdepartmental trainer’s list of needed topics. You should add it for the frequency that your department encounters this call for service and the liability that it brings to your doorstep.

Stop and recount how many times you have had interaction with citizens and their pets were about. You responded to call for service and it was either a lost pet report or found (and frighten) pet. In retrospect, we have more interactions with animals than we think. Now add this, do any of your colleagues have a fear or phobia of dogs (cynophobia)? Or of other creatures such as in my case it is ophidiophobia or fear of snakes. Not every pet is the gnarly fang exposed Cujo monster. However if we can reduce an officer’s fear in dealing with animals and improve their confidence with sound animal handling skills, we will increase officer safety and the animals’ safety as well. Often just training in understanding and reading animal reactions, just like human body language, will greatly improve your safety. There is more to it than this alone; add proper animal response training which will offer you non-lethal options for handling dogs and most domesticated animals.

More points to consider. Have you had any training in the proper handling skills to avoid fear bites? Now, a fear bite is the animal defending itself due to a stressful situation, however if you are bit, a bite is a bite. Another example is the dog running loose in the neighborhood call. Have you had training (formal or in-house) in how to prepare for such a call? Do you have proper equipment such as catch-poles, nets and carry crates?  Did you know that a powder based (rather than CO2) fire extinguisher can be an excellent non-lethal alternative device when properly used. When you arrive on the scene how do posture your vehicle, other officers/helpers and yourself? Any animal can suffer from a capture stress and myopathy that often occurs with an aggressive handling or vigorous capture. In your approach to the animal, do you have an understanding of these animals’ behavior and how it can rapidly change. Knowing the difference from submission posturing to irritation can be a huge safety factor for you.

Should you have an existing policy, is it current and have you refreshed all in its application? If you have an animal control officer, do you contact them before proceeding into a situation with an unleashed dog? One great point is to avoid entering private property without warning residents unless necessary. For instance, if a dog is contained within a fence and it is their home turf, why are you entering? It is contained and your entering into their domain can be an invite to a dangerous encounter.

Does your departmental procedure offer a set of options to exhaust before discharging a weapon  or lethal force on an animal, when practical and safe to do so? I do not want to jeopardize an officer’s safety but a goal that reduces or eliminates the automatic shooting of an animal is a viable goal. I would strongly recommend that your department’s leadership and/or internal affairs have the same training. This will allow them to make sound decisions in the follow-up on deadly force incidents. Another but often not discussed topic is to provide staff with training in humane application of deadly force. How to put an animal down with the least amount of suffering possible when lethal force absolutely must be used. There is also a tremendous officer safety factor here, in some larger animals, the projectile can ricochet off of thick skull matter or in case of poorly placed shot, total penetration that goes completely through the animal carcass.

I have not given you a policy but points to consider. If you do not have a local animal group that offers training in the safe handling and capture of domestic animals, then contact the American Humane Association ( for more information.

In closing, there are recent cases involving the police shooting of dogs. There are several who build the foundation of the case along the 4th Amendment whereby the police by shooting/killing the family pet have seized their personal property without due process. Of course, there is much more to these cases. I invite you to do a diligent search of these, contact your legal solicitor or training unit. Some of these cases are extreme and others, well you be the judge. The biggest point I want to make is that you know in your normal duties you will be forced to interact with a domesticated animal, more than likely a dog. Having little or no training, no policy and no equipment to handle them is an invitation to liability. Train to your needs, train to be safe and smart.