Police Dogs & Your Kids

In the old days, police dogs were kenneled in a central location and rarely were taken home by K9 officers. That has changed to the point where it is unusual to find a K9 that does not come home with his handler every day.

This means that the dog is going to interact with the family. Often times when I get asked to provide a dog for a department, they want a dog that is perfectly safe with kids and with the wife. There is no such thing as perfectly safe no matter how great the dog appears to be socialized. Never forget he has a mouth full of teeth. Here are some ways to help ensure a good outcome with a new police dog in the home.

(1) The dog shold not live loose in the house. Period. You cannot supervise him adequately if he is running loose in the house. He can get himself into trouble. The police K9 should have an outdoor kennel with a good igloo dog house, and a roof over the kennel to both prevent the weather from getting to him as well as to prevent him from getting out by bailing over the fence. In the house,  the dog should have a vari-kennel for times when he needs to have some quiet time. The dog needs alone time, just like you do.

(2) Kids need to be educated. It is not the dog’s responsibility to know how to deal with your children, no matter how many Lassie episodes you have watched. Dogs view kids as co-equals and sometimes subordinates. Even when the dog is well socialized into the family, disagreements among equals are solved with growling and snapping and sometimes inhibited biting (mouth on skin but not with a lot of pressure). Unfortunately, children’s skin is not as tough as a dogs furry coat, and what is not intended to do damage actually does. Kids need to learn to leave the dog alone when eating, sleeping, and to give him a break from being annoyed. If you ever find these words coming out of your mouth, you are asking for trouble: "The dog SHOULD be great with kids." There are no SHOULDS in dog training. You must anticipate what will go wrong and set up to avoid what can go wrong,. That is the essence of being a dog handler and trainer. Don;t put the burden on your dog, he has the intelligence of a 3 year old.

(3) Police dogs are posessive and relatively more dominant than the average dog, Unlike a normal fido, these dogs are selected to have a high degree of posessiveness. This can sometimes bleed over to posessiveness of food, toys, and resting places. Allowing others in the household to try to take away these things can often lead to aggression. Most of the cases where a family member gets bit by a police dog occur over a posessiveness issue which could have been prevented with some foresight.  No sleeping in the bed for god sakes! No taking toys away from him. If you do not train him, you don’t get to discipline him – that includes your wife and kids.

(4) Police dogs are usually very territorial. In the car or in the outside kennel, or even in the fenced yard, barrier aggression and territoriality of the property is a real issue. Handlers must not delegate feeding the police dog to kids who have to reach into kennels, or enter kennels. Allowing people to approach kennels and then let the dog out to meet people can lead to disaster. Letting people come into an area in which the dog is running loose (like a yard) can lead to the dog seeing that as a violation of territory (especially if his pack is inside the fence).

We tell our K9 officers that your dog is a piece of law enforcement equipment. You wouldn’t be cavalier with how you allow your gun, pepper spray or taser to be handled by kids and family members, so the same should be true of your K9. Dont treat him like a pet.  Once the dog learns that he can get his way by aggressively dealing with family members, it will continue. As the K9 vendor, these dogs are usually sent back because their temperament is "faulty,"  when in fact the officer/handler is faulty in their expectations and how they allow the dog to interact with the family.

Each of these things I have mentioned have been situations we have had to deal with, most of the time taking the dogs back because the dog is blamed for the aggression.