Police officers often have to make tough (and unpopular) decisions on the job, with one being shooting a family’s dog when the animal poses a threat to the cop.
But it happens, and it happens a lot. When police execute warrants, they can be met with an aggressive and territorial dog wanting to protect his family and home. Unfortunately, to defend themselves, they may be forced to shoot the dog – an outcome not ideal for anyone.
“We’re not robots,” Billy VonWolf, a tactical enforcement officer, told Fox 4KC. “We’re dog owners. We understand that when we go into somebody’s house, sometimes [the dogs are like] kids to those people and family members.”
His agency, the Kansas City Police Department, has developed a program to train officers in alternative ways of handling these tense standoffs.
“If there were ways that we could save dogs, prevent them from being killed and keep that relationship we have with the homeowner, we want it to do it,” VonWolf told the outlet.
The agency turned to dog behavioral expert Anthony Barnett of Lawrence, Kansas to help officers understand the dog’s motive. Barnett observed the interaction the officers had with dogs they encountered for years, before providing advice.
“We talked a lot about threat display and body language,” Barnett said. “You know, understanding when a dog`s committed to a bite versus just trying to create distance because it`s scared. [We discussed] what motivates aggressive behavior in dogs, which most of the time is fear. Then we even discussed different ways to discourage the dogs when they get in that state.”
The Kansas City Police Department applied this approach, along with replacing guns with tasers when handling unruly dogs. So, rather than being hit by a bullet the animal is subdued with an electroshock – a similar affect that occurs with humans. If a dog is tasered, Animal Control is sent out to ensure the animal is okay.
This shift in the agency’s tactic worked. Before the change, the police department shot and killed 48 dogs in four years. After, the agency killed nine dogs in the next four years.
“Even though they might be charged with a crime,” Capt. Huth told the outlet, “or suspected of a crime, we still wanted to keep in mind they have families, they have pets, they have things they care about.”