Dog bite expert & animal behavior specialist

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Understanding the dangerous nature of attack-trained police dogs

Understanding the dangerous nature of attack trained police dogs from the perspective of an animal behaviorist is often ignored in lawsuits  police dog bite expertinvolving personal injury caused by these kinds of dogs. Instead, focus usually remains on the exemplar nature of police dog training and a canine’s history of successfully apprehending suspects.

However, police canines are not automated machines – they are prone to making make mistakes for different reasons, and these mistakes can be costly. Thus,the behavioral nature of attack trained police dogs needs to be fully understood, particularly when it comes to those factors which govern aggressive behavioral responding.

Explaining the police dog’s behavioral nature differs from explanations about the kind of specific training a police dog was subject to by its canine handler. Generally, the methodology for teaching a police dog the skills involved in suspect apprehension is not difficult to understand. They involve instilling in the dog through techniques of operant conditioning a tendency to respond to certain commands (from a handler) which elicits aggressive reactivity towards a particular target. In principle, this is not difficult to do from a training standpoint, particularly if one begins such training early in a dog’s life, and if one works with certain breeds such as the Belgian Malinois, or German Shepherd.

No matter how well-trained in suspect apprehension a police dog might be, all police dogs can easily make behavioral mistakes, such as attacking at the wrong time, attacking the wrong person, attacking a suspect when not commanded to do so, and failing to stop an attack after being commanded to do so by the handler. Because of the behavioral nature of aggressive responding in dogs, and despite the extensive training most police service dogs have been subjected to prior to being deployed in the field, they will make behavioral mistakes, thereby causing injury to a victim that was uncalled for or far beyond what was probably needed.

The basic principles of animal behavior that govern police dog aggressive behavior are no different than the principles that govern aggressive behavioral responding in other kind of dogs (e.g. working dogs, sled dogs, pit bulls, fighting dogs, companion dogs, etc.), and these principles can be used to shed light on the inherently dangerous and occasionally unpredictable nature of attack trained police dogs.  As such, some police dogs  are unpredictable when deployed in the field for subject apprehension.

 Note that this is animal behavior expert opinion which differs from expert opinion proffered by a police dog handler. Animal behavior expert opinions do not apply directly to the method or procedures used in police dog deployment or whether it was appropriate use the force of a police dog to attack a human in any given instance.  Rather, they apply to the nature of police dog aggression, and the behavioral limitations and capabilities of these kind of dogs. 


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