Photo Dale Stockton
A dog on a long line can clear the first 15–20 feet of a room, allowing a SWAT team to enter more safely. Photos Dale Stockton
During a training exercise, a SoCal SWAT team works on making entry with a dog.Photos Dale Stockton
FEATURED IN TRAINING
K-9s have been a valuable asset to law enforcement for 30 years, but until recently they've been largely excluded from SWAT deployments. Although K-9s frequently locate armed and dangerous suspects in a patrol environment, SWAT teams rarely search with a K-9 during a tactical operation. It can prove difficult getting SWAT teams to think outside the box and experiment with dogs during SWAT training, but once a SWAT team sees what a K-9 can do and how K-9s can make the job safer and easier, it typically adds K-9s to the team.
3 Excuses Exposed
SWAT officers resisting the idea of adding K-9s to their team typically voice at least one of the following objections:
1. SWAT does not like to search with dogs because dogs are noisy. Rebuttal: This may be true in some cases, but when is a SWAT team ever completely quiet and stealthy? As long as the dog does not bark or whine excessively, a team can use it as a great psychological tool, and to cover the team's movements.
2. If the dog finds the suspects, there's no use for a SWAT team. Rebuttal: The primary function of a police dog in a SWAT operation is to locate the suspect. Once the dog has located the suspect, the dog's job is complete, and now the SWAT team must decide how to take the suspect into custody or get them out from their hiding spot.
3. SWAT does not use dogs in tactical deployments because SWAT fears the dog might get injured or killed. Rebuttal: As a handler I understand this reasoning very well. But as much as I love my dog, I know my dog is a replaceable tool, while police officers are not. Now, this does not mean I send my dog on a suicide mission. However, after everything has failed, such as negotiations, gas, robots and flash bangs, and SWAT has decided to make entry into the location, I feel dogs should make entry first and clear the way for the SWAT team. I can train and replace my dog, but I cannot replace a brother or sister officer, or myself. It sounds cold and heartless, and I am sure PETA would not agree, but if the dog enters the room before SWAT and is hurt or killed in that room, the dog did its job and located the suspect. I would hate to tell a grieving widow my dog was available to search for the suspect but the administration decided not to use it for fear it would be injured or killed, and decided to send her loved one into harm's way instead.
My department started using dogs in SWAT operations in 1988. We were the only department using dogs on SWAT, and we went through some trial and error. After a few years, however, we became very successful. Now our SWAT team relies on the dogs so much, dogs are deployed on every SWAT callout.
One of the major changes we made over the past few years involved integrating our K-9 SWAT tactics into our K-9 patrol searching tactics. This way the dog does not get confused about how it's supposed to search. The dog searches in a slow, stealthy and directed manner in a patrol environment as well as in a SWAT environment.
SWAT uses for dogs include searching attics, tunnels, crawlspaces, thick shrubs or bushes, stairways, buildings and open areas; walking point; and even operating in a gas environment. But until the SWAT team thoroughly knows each dog they use during a SWAT deployment, the handler should help during the planning stages to point out and clarify where the team can use the dog. If the handler is not present during planning, the SWAT team may think the dog can do a specific task, but when everyone comes together for the briefing, the team may discover the dog cannot perform as expected and must waste valuable time to reformulate a plan at the last second.
Perimeter & Arrest Team Work
In the past, if dogs were ever used on a SWAT operation, they were primarily used on the perimeter, but through proper training and exposure you can use a dog as part of an arrest team as well. You'll need a minimum of two SWAT personnel with the K-9 team. Each person on the arrest team must know their assignments, including who will give the commands to the suspect, who handcuffs the suspect, who takes the dog off the bite, who covers the K-9 officer and who walks the suspect away.
You can use a few different arrest techniques. In some departments, once the SWAT team has physical control of the suspect, the handler will take physical control of the dog and take the dog off the bite. Other departments will have the handler handcuff the suspect while the dog is on the bite to ensure suspect control. Once the suspect is cuffed, the handler takes physical control of the dog and takes the dog off the bite. Again, whatever arrest techniques your department uses, make sure everyone knows the procedure before the incident occurs.
A K-9 handler must think about many things while they're on the arrest team. Example: The handler must know the location of every perimeter officer because there may come a time when the suspect tries to break the perimeter and the handler must decide whether to release the dog after the suspect or let the perimeter officers take the suspect into custody. The K-9 handler must also inform perimeter officers what the handler will do in certain situations prior to an incident occurring.
K-9 Walking Point
When it comes to a SWAT operation, the approach to a location is often overlooked.
Through proper training and exposure, most dogs can learn to walk straight ahead on a 15' 30' long line ahead of the SWAT team. A dog walking point can clear the danger areas in front of the SWAT team as they approach the entry point. If the dog locates the suspect, it will alert the SWAT team and give the team 15 30 feet to deal with the situation as opposed to only a few feet if SWAT finds the suspect.
To train this tactic, let the dog first see a "suspect," and have the dog pull you to where the suspect is hiding. After a short amount of time, your dog will start pulling you in the direction you want to go.
Whenever possible, deploy the dog near the threshold of the door even when the handler is in the number two or three position in the SWAT stack. By placing the dog near the threshold for 30 45 seconds, you give the dog a chance to use its senses and survey the area in front of it. This will give the dog ample opportunity to pick up human odor blowing toward the entry point.
There will be times, however, when SWAT will want the dog to deploy from the back of the stack. Through proper training and exposure, you can do this safely and correctly. During canine training, start with the handler standing directly behind someone. Let the dog see a decoy appear in front of him and then disappear quickly. Release the dog to find the decoy. After doing this exercise two or three times, the dog will pay no attention to the person standing in front of the handler.
Now add a second person to this stack so the handler can deploy the dog behind two people. Once you have mastered the dog running by two people, you can add a third, fourth and even a fifth person to the stack. Before you know it, the dog will be running past eight or nine people in order to find the decoy hiding somewhere in front.
Limited Penetration with a K-9
With most dogs, if you release them into a building or the search area, they will go as deep and as far away from the entry point as they can and start searching their way back to you. This is not how SWAT searches, however. SWAT likes to search slowly and methodically, and clear one room at a time.
With a long line during a tactical operation, you can slow down the dog, which allows him to clear 30 40 feet at a time. While staging outside the building, the dog can make entry into the location with the assistance of a long line and clear approximately 15 20 feet into the building. Using the dog to clear only the first 15 20 feet lets SWAT know if there's anyone lying in wait just inside the entryway to ambush them. After the dog has cleared 15 20 feet into the building, SWAT can make its entry into the location more safely, knowing no one is just around the corner. Once SWAT has entered the location, the dog can systematically search and clear the area ahead of the SWAT team.
Outside Area Searches
With an outside search, a good K-9 handler first determines the wind direction. When possible, deploy a dog into the wind or on a crosswind. The suspect's scent travels with the wind in a cone pattern, which dogs can instinctively follow back to the suspect's location.
There will be times, however, when you can't start your search from a downwind or the crosswind advantage and must start upwind. When this occurs, the handler must remind the SWAT team the dog will pass the suspect(s) before it catches the scent cone and follows it to the suspect.
Meet the Challenge
K-9s fail during SWAT operations primarily due to a lack of education and training for SWAT and the dogs. If a SWAT team has never trained with your dog, don't deploy with your dog in a SWAT operation. Remember: Your dog is a tool just like any other tool you use in SWAT. You would never take out your robot, pole cam, Taser, shield or bean-bag gun without training with it first. The same goes for a police dog.
I challenge your SWAT team to train with its K-9 unit several times a year. I also challenge handlers to start using these same SWAT tactics and team movements in a patrol environment. If trained and used on a regular basis, your dog will have no problem adapting to SWAT.
Selecting a SWAT Dog Handler
Once you’ve decided to include a K-9 on your SWAT team, the most important decision you’ll make is selecting the proper K-9 handler. The K-9 handler will make or break the team. Give a great dog to a poor handler, and the dog will become poor. Give a poor dog to a great handler, and the handler can make the dog very good. Remember, not every handler is suitable for SWAT. A SWAT dog handler should:
• Have experience with dogs;
• Understand and work well with dogs;
• Have excellent control over the dog;
• Perform well under stress;
• Possess a calm and stable personality;
• Be self-motivated;
• Possess the skills needed for public speaking; and
• Write reports effectively.
SWAT Dog Selection
No matter what dog you select for SWAT, consider several traits when looking for a SWAT dog. A SWAT dog should:
• Be confident;
• Be controllable;
• Work well with the handler;
• Work well in small and confined spaces;
• Have the correct drives;
• Be friendly and like to be around others; and
• Remain unaffected by loud sounds, people yelling, flash bangs and gunfire.
Download "How to Select a SWAT K-9 and K-9 Handler" flyer by clicking below:
|Dog Handler Flyer||1.35 MB|