Tuesday, 21 September 2021
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More bark, less bite: Dog trainer calls for change in police dog training protocols

Longtime dog trainer and breeder Barry Gay believes training and leash control techniques are the main issue facing the success of Saskatoon city police canine officers

When the story of six-year-old Autumn Clifford — who suffered bite wounds after a police dog attacked her while tracking a suspect near her home — made headlines across Canada, longtime dog trainer and breeder Barry Gay wanted to speak out in hopes that training protocols for canine officers will change to focus on more bark and less bite.

Gay, who owns Buena Vista Kennels, has been breeding German Shepherds and training dogs in Saskatoon since 1976. Throughout his career, Gay has provided around 50 dogs to police across North America — including five in Saskatoon. He is also a founding member the German Shepherd Schutzhund Club of Canada (GSSCC) and serves as president of its local branch.

Barry Gay, a German Shepherd trainer, works with his dog Flips at Sunshadows German Shepherds/Buena Vista Kennels in Saskatoon, SK on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The dogs he breeds and supplies for police range in age and training levels — from untrained puppies to young dogs “nearly ready to go.”

While his dogs undergo a variety of training techniques revolving around the GSSCC’s focus on obedience, tracking and protection, even the dogs that are considered “nearly ready to go” are always provided supplementary training after they are purchased by a police service.

“Police service work is a little different,” Gay says. “Their requirements are probably wider ranging. Ours are followed by a strict set of rules and with police work you’ve got to do whatever presents itself to you. But the training is essentially the same, the ways to get dogs to do what you want are the same.”

Gay says a successful police dog must have the proper temperament, training and handlers who use proper leash control techniques to be successful when working in the field.

“You should have a dog that can go into a kindergarten class and have kids climbing all over it and then be able to immediately leave on an emergency call, step outside the school door and apprehend a bad guy … and after having apprehended them, go back inside and play with the kids some more.”

Although he says he doesn’t necessarily see temperament as a problem, he believes training and leash control techniques are the main issue facing the success of Saskatoon city police canine officers — issues he has brought up with police Supt. Brian Shalovelo after Clifford was injured.

Gay believes addressing these issues will reduce the number of bitting incidents and the lawsuits that often follow.

“The relationship between police and citizens is harmed every time one of these bites happen; we should not be afraid of our police service,” Gay says. “There will be more bites in both Regina and Saskatoon. To grow, you need to be open to information from all sources and be willing to look for answers anywhere.”

In response to a request for an interview to discuss the training procedures for canine and human officers and to speak with Shalovelo, police spokeswoman Alyson Edwards said police would be unable to do so until an internal review of the incident involving Clifford is completed. No timeframe was given for when that review will be completed.

Gay says a main technique he suggested in his discussion with Shalovelo is one the GSSCC refers to as “hold and bark.” When a canine officer locates a potential suspect, the dog maintains a close distance to the suspect while aggressively barking to hold the person in place — only biting if they attempt to flee. Gay says the technique works well when a suspect is attempting to hide or when the dog is on a long leash, leaving its handler behind blind corners and is unable to see the situation unfolding.

If a bite does occur, Gay says it’s important the dog is trained only to use one full bite and release immediately upon command, rather than inflicting multiple bites which may result in accusations of excessive force.

He notes that any dog, whether it’s a police dog or simply a companion animal, can be trained to release from a bite immediately — which Clifford’s neighbour, Amanda Pritchard, says did not happen when she witnessed the incident from her front step.

“Out of nowhere there was two officers that I saw. One was on top of the dog. Three times he had told the dog to let go. ‘Let go! Let go!’ he was saying to the dog. The dog did not let go. The dog, in fact, growled at the cop and shook his head like he was going to tear her,” Pritchard told The StarPhoenix shortly after the incident.

In another incident — the subject of a scheduled court hearing — a man is suing police, alleging he was unjustly bitten by a police dog when already complying with police commands. His statement of claim, which has not been proven in court, alleges that he put up his hands to indicate he would cooperate to avert the deployment of the dog, but while face down on the ground the dog was released by its handler and proceeded to bite his leg, causing “physical harm and permanent damage.”

Dog breeder and trainer Barry Gay runs a drill with a trainee dog at Sunshadows German Shepherds/Buena Vista Kennels in Saskatoon, SK on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Kayle Neis / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

‘Hold and bark’ and ‘bite and hold’ are techniques in which police dogs have to be certified annually, according to the Saskatchewan Police Commission Standard for Police Service Dogs.

The document also notes that faults which count against a police dog in annual certification include failing to hold on after a bite is established and failing to release on command, although ‘hold and bark’ is not used as an apprehension technique; it’s used as a call-off technique when a suspect visibly gives up and the handler verbally calls off the dog off. It’s one of three options that may be used in this scenario, and the only one the dog is expected to perform without an additional command.

A dog is immediately failed during certification if it fails to engage a suspect during apprehension testing.

Gay believes this form of training puts too much emphasis on the bite and not enough on control — a problem he sees in many police forces, not just city police in Saskatoon and Regina.

“They should be able to stop that dog on its way and they should be able to make the dog let go when it’s told — clearly those standards are not being adhered to,” he said.

Retired Sgt. Doug Deacon, who ran British Columbia’s New Westminster Canine Unit for 23 years, and has served as an expert witness in many police dog bite cases, is a huge supporter of the ‘hold and bark’ technique after seeing its success. He says many police forces are not using the technique in the way that makes apprehension safer for not only the suspect but also the dog and its handler.

Deacon began his policing career with the RCMP in 1972, moving over to the New Westminster municipal police in 1983. He was quickly approached to run the canine unit in hopes that his hobby training dogs with the GSSCC would help create a new system that could significantly lower the number of bite incidents and lawsuits.

His knowledge of dogs, paired with his history in policing, allowed him to create a system focused on “minimal force,” pairing ‘hold and bark’ with handlers who could properly control the dog and used them as locaters, not weapons, he says.

A problem he commonly sees is handlers who don’t have proper control — especially when the dog knows the suspect is close by, Deacon says.

“One thing I tried to emphasize was these dogs are location tools, they’re not biting machines. If they have to bite, fine; if they don’t have to bite, their main priority is to locate property or persons.”

He recalls an incident when a canine unit was called to a possible break-in at an autobody shop. When they arrived, they found no signs of forced entry but the door was unlocked, so they sent in a dog. It quickly located someone inside and barked to alert the officers.

The man they found turned out to be the owner of the shop, who had a few too many drinks, Deacon says.

“If that would have been a dog trained any other way, who knows what would have happened? Because the only thing exposed was the person’s face — and that’s not a unique scenario.”

He noted the dog barked rather than bit because the suspect was not moving; the outcome likely would have been different in Clifford’s case.

“If a child is in fear, they are going to run,” he says. “And as soon as they start running, the prey drive kicks in and the dog will go after them.”

He doesn’t know the exact scenario in the Clifford case, but proper control and visibility are key in stopping the dog even when in prey drive, he says.

Gay and Deacon agree that control is crucial with any dog. When the emphasis is shifted away from biting and onto tracking and control, that change benefits the safety of the community and can also save the police money on lawsuits and dog replacement or retraining costs.

“I’m on the side of the police and the citizens,” Gay says. “If things can be done better, why not?”



Dog breeder and trainer Barry Gay runs a drill with a trainee dog at Sunshadows German Shepherds/Buena Vista Kennels in Saskatoon, SK on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Kayle Neis / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Source: https://thestarphoenix.com/news/local-news/weekender-feature-police-dog-training

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