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Dogs, Cops and Body Language

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I have been raising (NOT breeding) and training dogs for over five decades.  I have taught obedience and agility classes, and interacted with literally thousands and thousands of dogs over the years.  I have never been bitten.  I have never had to hurt a dog.

Let’s look at some of the more obvious body language of an aggressive or frightened dog.

A frightened dog:

Crouches slightly
Head is held low
Shoulders are slightly raised
Hackles are up
Tail is held low or tucked, may wag slightly or quiver
Ears are back

An alert aggressive dog:

Stands erect and stifflegged
All four paws are wide apart
Shoulders are raised
Hackles are up
Tail is held erect and quivers slightly
Ears are pointed forward
Stares directly at threat

Dogs read body language far, far better than humans.  Their first impression of a human is smell, the second is body language.  They depend on body language to tell them what is in store and what behavior they feel the need to display.

Now let’s look at the stance of the average cop, BEFORE a threat is presented:

Authoritiative stance, feet wide apart, stiff legged
Arms held out from their sides (even in women, due to all the accoutrements on their belts)
Often hands are on hips or held near their weapon
Shoulders are raised slightly (stand in front of a mirror with your arms relaxed.  Then hold them      away from your sides.  Watch your shoulders go up.)
Stares directly at perceived threat

Now do you see what the dog is seeing?  He most definitely considers that stance a threat.  Even the sweetest, gentlest dog can read that body language.  Dogs defend their people and their territory.  That is what they do.  They are dogs.

In one of the obedience classes I taught, a young lady was having trouble getting her friendly, enthusiastic Weimaraner to walk beside her during the off leash exercise; she kept running away to investigate things and cadge treats from the instructors.  We barricaded a small section of the room with low barriers that the dog could easily jump over.  Then we spaced ourselves along the barrier.  We stood with our feet wide apart and our hands on our hips.  As they practiced the exercise, the dog broke away from her and ran toward us.  When she saw us, she literally screeched to a halt.  Her puzzlement and uncertainty was obvious.  She backed away from us, people who had never been anything but kind, non-threatening and givers of yummy treats.  She retreated to her owner’s side, watching us carefully.

If a cop is put in a position of facing a dog, this is what you do.

Stop moving
Put your feet together
Drop your hands to your sides, keeping them open
Make sure your shoulders are down
Do NOT look directly into the dog’s eyes
Turn sideways away from the dog if necessary

Those six simple steps will diffuse almost all “aggressive dog” encounters. In the United States tens of millions of people interact with tens of millions of dogs on a constant basis and come out unscathed and alive.  There is no reason whatsoever that cops cannot have that kind of success.  I will tell you, however, if you are genuinely so terrified of dogs that your only reaction is to kill them, get another damn job!

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