Police canines are always portrayed by their K-9 handlers as highly trained “partners”, trustworthy, predictable, compliant, and extremely reliable. Nonetheless, from an animal behavior perspective there is good reason to question this ensconced belief held by police dog handlers. I have reported many instances which suggest otherwise. The most recent example of the unpredictable and inherently dangerous nature of attack-trained police canines was demonstrated in the vicious, unprovoked attack on a four-year-old boy in Hesperia, California on February 8, 2015.
In this instance, a six-year-old, Belgian Melinois, named Jango, nearly killed the son of the dog’s handler (a police officer with a Rialto, California Police Department). The fact pattern of the incident, according to news reports, was as follows: The father returned home and released Jango from his kennel and proceeded to place him in the backyard to relieve himself. The father had just returned after being absence from his home for about two days. After releasing Jango into the backyard, he went to shower, leaving his four-year-old son unattended downstairs. The mother was not home because she had gone shopping. The boy then gained access to the backyard by opening the sliding glass door. Speculation is that he went looking for his mother.
Jango attacked and the child started screaming which alerted neighbors. Shortly thereafter neighbors arrived, and they had to knock down the backyard fence to gain access to the dog. Jango had the leg of the boy in its mouth and was shaking it. One of the neighbor started kicking the dog but this had no effect on the dog. One neighbor then pried the mouth of the dog open and Jango released the leg of the boy. The father came to the scene and placed the dog back into its its kennel. The boy was airlifted to local hospital. His leg was amputated just below the knee because severe vascular damage.
There remain many unanswered questions to this tragic dog bite incident. In particular, why did the father leave his four-year-old child unattended in the house knowing that this attack train police K-9 was alone and unsupervised in the backyard? Why didn’t he lock the sliding glass door knowing that four-year-old children are prone to explore and wonder? How long had Jango had been in his kennel during the two-day absence of the father? It’s possible that prolonged confinement in a kennel for a dog like this might have enhanced this dog’s tendency to attack a child he did not know that well.
New stores published online reported that preliminary investigation by the Rialto Police Department indicate that the child had been left alone only for about two minutes before the attack happened. The attack probably lasted for about two minutes. Rialto police Capt. Randy DeAnda was quoted as saying that Jango had no history of aggression, he received regular training and his record of a service dog was “impeccable”. According to DeAnda, he had no understanding of why the attack happened. Jango, like many Belgian melinois used as police canines in this country, was born and initially trained in Holland before being sold for import to the United States.
Certainly the father probably was in a state of disbelief regarding the actions of hist rusted canine partner. Nonetheless, from my perspective in animal behavior, I feel the incident was foreseeable given the nature of these kind of dogs. This incident was no “accident” as the police were quoted as saying. Captain Randy De Anda remarks about the dog having an impeccable record buttresses my belief that even the best-tempered and best-trained police dogs may at times be unpredictable. For my perspective, this was a foreseeable event given the genetic background of these dogs, the kind of training they receive, and the way in which they are kept and used by their handlers. The bottom line: the attack by Jango on this child is another example supporting the belief that police canines are frequently unpredictable and inherently dangerous by nature.