Treat your K-9 unit like a business

Treating your job like a business is what makes a K-9 unit great

By Doug Roller
Police K-9 Magazine

After reading the title of this column, you may think this will be a strange article for a section of the magazine that is supposed to touch on tactics and cutting-edge dog training techniques. Let me explain. As I travel around the country teaching K-9 search tactics and canine control, the question I am asked most often is, “How many searches do you do each year and what is your find ratio?” I’m not going to answer that question because frankly, you might not believe me.

There are many reasons why we have such a high find ratio, but it was not always like that. Back in 1988 when I was a new handler with the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) K-9 Platoon, we had about a 40 percent find ratio and a 50 percent contact ratio. Today, our contact ratio is much lower but our find ratio is dramatically higher.

Photo courtesy Police K-9 Magazine

Why is that? Because back in the day, one of our handlers had the forethought to analyze how perimeters were established. He developed perimeter and containment tactics that we use to this day. Establishing containment is as much an art as it is a science. So this handler went to several patrol divisions within LAPD to find out what worked and what didn’t. We identified certain “target-rich environments” where officers had containment down to a science. We acquired those tactics, while enhancing and developing them.

Next, we took it further and started going to roll calls and talking to patrol officers about what was working. This had a two-tier effect on our business. It taught officers how to set up containments and also got us “face time” with patrol (our bread and butter). This “face time” was instrumental in getting patrol to recognize us as an asset to them rather than an unknown, seldom-used locating tool.

Something else happened that we had not expected: use-of-force incidents went down as a result of the shift from containment to chasing. The Department and officers soon realized it was safer and more economical to de-escalate a foot pursuit by containing the suspect and searching for him on our terms. Over the years it has been proven repeatedly that it is better to contain than to chase, not to mention safer.

We continued with a push for training and conducted scenario-based instruction with patrol personnel by teaching them how to end a vehicle pursuit and how to parallel pursuits with additional units (a “moving perimeter”). We showed them during scenario-based training how fast a suspect can run and how much distance he can cover after leaving a vehicle. Don’t get me wrong here: an officer has to evaluate each foot pursuit, making a personal decision to chase or contain. Generally speaking, though, most foot pursuits leave an officer at a tactical disadvantage. A suspect only has to run as fast as he can to escape, while an officer has to run and think, while staging at corners and negotiating the environment safely.

One more thing here that I would like to touch on: As the title suggests, treat your job like a business. Be available, be nice, and be proactive with your patrol folks. This is what makes a great K-9 unit, not sitting around the coffee shop asking each other “Why don’t they call us?” Be proactive and seek out your business. Your business is catching bad guys — so go get some!

Doug Roller is chief trainer for the Los Angeles Police K-9 Platoon and CEO of Tactical K-9 LLC. He can be reached through his website,

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