Dealing with dogs on SWAT operations: 10 tactical options

No matter how you feel about dogs, do not put your life – or the lives of your team – in jeopardy because of an aggressive dog

I admit that I am a dog person. While in SWAT, I always tried to avoid shooting dogs, because I view the dogs of criminals as true innocents – they had no choice in the matter of who their owners would be.

With that said, there are some tactics I’ve used in dealing with dogs during tactical situations that avoided having to use deadly force on dogs that were making my task as a SWAT officer more difficult. 

Any tactical plan you put together should include a strategy to deal with the dogs you know to be present. 

Training in special tactics and techniques for the management of dogs at tactical scenes makes sense.
Training in special tactics and techniques for the management of dogs at tactical scenes makes sense. (Photo/Pixabay)

1. Bypass

If a dog is locked down by a cage or chain it becomes easy to bypass them. They may make noise, but people who own dogs become almost immune to their own dogs barking. The sound of a shot – neutralizing a dog – will put a suspect on a higher alert than their dogs barking.

2. Lock-Down

Humans possess a super power dogs don’t – we have opposable thumbs. Dogs can’t open doors. Therefore lock them down when possible. You can isolate them outside, in a garage, or in a room somewhere in the house.

It is best to do the lock-down in a cleared area.

3. Treats

Dogs tend to like treats and the people who bring them. I kept a supply of dog treats handy in the SWAT room for call-outs. The key is not to just toss the treat, but to leave a trail up to and into a lock-down area. 

4. Capture Poles

Have access to capture poles. They are simple to operate. You loop the loop around the dog’s neck and you pull the cable tail, which tightens the loop around the animal’s neck. The pole prevents the animal from advancing on the person holding the capture-pole, allowing for a controlled escort. They have a release near the cable tail.

I found that when a dog has never seen a capture pole they will be puzzled by it. All you need do is to dangle it stationary in front of them and the dog will extend its neck to smell it. When this happens, drop the loop over the dog and pull the cable-tail on the capture pole. 

5. Fire Extinguishers 

The perfect storm of terror for a dog is the cold, white, high speed fog and noise of a fire extinguisher. Direct one short blast in front of them and give them room to run, because they will. Then lock them down or out.

6. TASER, Pepper Spray, or Other Less Lethal

Dogs respond to pepper spray, but beware of using it inside an enclosed area, as it can contaminate the area you’re working in.

A TASER works extremely well on dogs, but remember your training: you have to turn the TASER to allow both probes to strike the dog. 

After the five seconds, they will probably bounce up and run away, so lock them down or out.

7. Chairs/Shields

If nothing else is available, you can drive a dog into a lock down area by utilizing the legs of a chair as a lion tamer does. Shields work also, but watch your ankles.

8. Be the Alpha Leader

Dogs instinctively recognize the alpha leader. This may sound a bit strange, but it often works. Maintain direct eye contact and use strong verbalization “Stay!” or “No!” “Sit!” I’ve even growled and barked loudly in the past. 

9. Tranquilizer Weapons

I have never used one of these, but they are effective in the hands of a trained operator on a variety of animals.

10. Last Resort: Deadly Force

There may be times that an animal will need to be put down. The deadly force option should be considered when an animal’s actions put the team members in danger of death or great bodily harm, not only from the dog, but from the criminal’s actions facilitated by the dog’s protective instincts.

When it comes to dogs, the deadly force considerations that teams should discuss are:

  • What are our team’s rules of deadly force use in the case of dogs?
  • What are our concerns about ammunition penetration?
  • What are some cross-fire concerns?
  • Are there ricochet concerns?
  • If we shoot, where is the best place to put the round?
  • Are there other options viable?
  • Is the act of shooting the dog creating more of a hazard than the dog itself?


Discussing, developing and training in special tactics and techniques for the management of dogs at tactical scenes makes sense. Criminals will often use their dogs not only as an early warning system, but also as a first line of defense.

This article, originally published on 11/04/2014, has been updated.

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