Police Dog (K9) Bites Expert Article

Dog bites remain a significant medico-legal issue in United States. The cost of treatment for dog bites in emergency departments averages 50% more than the cost of other injuries treated in the emergency setting. A review of insurance data from 2012-2021 demonstrates a steep increase in the cost of dog bite claims. The increases are likely secondary to rising medical costs as well as increased settlement and jury awards. 

Police Dog (K9) Bite Expert Witness

While any dog can potentially bite, regardless of size or breed, three breeds tend to be overrepresented in fatal dog bite data: Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds. These dogs share several important characteristics, among which are their large size and incredibly powerful jaw muscles. Bite strength measurements range from 450 psi to over 2000 psi in bite trained dogs—enough force to puncture light sheet metal.

Although dogs used for police work make up a small percentage of severe or fatal bites in the U.S., injuries caused by dogs used in patrol work can be catastrophic.

The use of police dogs (K9s) for patrol work represents a unique capability and responsibility for law enforcement. A well-trained K9 is exceptionally suited to track and deter suspected criminals. Aside from the commonly utilized German Shepherd, several other breeds (Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Dobermans) are also used for patrol work.

Canine candidates for police work must be physically strong, highly energetic, confident, and possess a high prey drive. These K9s and their handlers must walk the line between maintaining controlled obedience and allowing the dog the independence to track and search. 

Utilization of police K9s is under constant scrutiny by the public as well as the legal profession. The United States judicial system (through the level of the U.S. Supreme Court) has opined on facets of the use of police K9s such as: appropriate use of force, length of time K9s stay “on bite,” deployment of K9s on a suspect that has surrendered, as well as “bite and hold” (biting a subject that is actively evading or moving towards the dog) versus “bark and hold” (intense barking and cornering of the suspect) tactics.

Because of the high likelihood of personal injury to suspects and the potential for harm to bystanders, law enforcement agencies are held to a high standard of care for their K9 teams. 

Characteristics of Successful K9 Units

First, dog handlers are generally selected carefully based on several factors:

  1. A good handler should be an experienced officer. 
  2. They must embrace the fact that the same attributes that make a dog a good K9 (energy, confidence, and high drive) must be channeled into appropriate learning opportunities daily. 
  3. Successful handlers typically demonstrate the humility to know the limitations of their own (and their K9’s) abilities. 
  4. A good handler will have the tactical experience and personal confidence not to deploy the K9 in a situation that is beyond their scope of experience. This means that, in addition to graduation from a handler’s course, both dog and human also require consistent continuing education to prepare both for numerous tactical situations. 

Second, police departments with K9 teams should be committed to providing realistic, rigorous training opportunities that mirror the environments in which the dog will be used (low-light settings, urban searches, inclement weather, etc.). 

Detailed training records are essential, and they should be reviewed and endorsed by supervisors with K9 experience. It is important to note negative findings during training as well as positive events. It is not reasonable to expect that that K9s will execute all tasks perfectly, especially when they are learning new skills. However, retraining should be well documented if a K9 fails an “off” from a bite or other critical tasks. If a K9 is having repetitive problems with a task, the handler should document the concerns and demonstrate that they sought assistance from an experienced master trainer. 

Third, policies and procedures relating to the K9 should be regularly reviewed by the department with input from K9 handlers. K9 handlers should have clear guidance on the department’s expectations for use of force (including K9 deployment) as well as protocols detailing when to provide notice to the suspect of the handler’s intent to deploy and the potential for the dog to bite. 

K9 Dog Bite Expert Witness Investigations

In the forensic investigation of a case involving an individual bitten by a police dog, it is essential to consider multiple aspects of the standard of care: selection of K9s and handlers, realistic training for the circumstances encountered by the team, and standard operating procedures that reflect the latest legal decisions. At Robson Forensic, we have the unique experiences of our veterinary medical experts as well as our police procedures experts to conduct unbiased scientific investigations on the deployment of police K9s. 

For more information, submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Kenyon Conklin, Veterinary Expert

Kenyon Conklin, VMD

Veterinary Expert
Dr. Kenyon Conklin is an experienced veterinarian with over twenty years in the field. She served in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps with selection to the position of Group Veterinary Surgeon, 5th Special Forces Group, Fort Campbell, KY. At this assignment she was responsible for the deployment readiness of the unit’s Multi-Purpose Canines. Dr. Conklin has also medically supported numerous civilian law enforcement organizations’ working canines over the course of her career. Dr. Conklin has the experience, education and training to perform investigations on the standard of care for the utilization of military and civilian working dogs.


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