Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Pet News, Pet Safety > What can we learn when a police officer kills a dog?

What can we learn when a police officer kills a dog?


This past week two stories caught my attention just days apart.

Dangerous dogs are a quandary for police(Star Tribune, April 15, 2012)

Police Report to Wrong Address, Shoot Friendly Dog(Life With Dogs, April 17, 2012)

The first is a news article that appeared in my local paper on Sunday. It explored both the difficult position police officers find themselves in when there is a dog involved and a split-second decision is required. It also explored the danger that can arise for others when a police officer shoots a dog. It made for interesting reading to be sure. In fact, I had already planned on writing about it when the next story popped up on my Facebook page on Tuesday.

This story was a sad one and gave a brief synopsis of how an innocent dog was shot and killed by a police officer in Austin, Texas. The officer had been responding to domestic disturbance call, but unfortunately, had been given the wrong address. The dog and owner had been playing frisbee in the yard when the owner walked away to get something out of his truck and the officer intervened. He told the owner to put up his hands and as he did so the dog started to approach, barking at the officer. When the dog continued to approach and bark at the officer, he shot him.

I know for me, the second story struck an emotional chord. I couldn’t help but place myself in the owner’s shoes and not feel sad by what happened. Like many people, my dogs are my family. I can’t help but be upset. But, even feeling sad and angry about what happened in Austin, I couldn’t help but also wonder about the police officer.

I know that police officers are often put into highly charged, highly stressful situations, where a split second decision can be the difference between life and death, and in these type of situations, officers are often forced to take a more offensive (vs. defensive) position to prevent bodily harm. Is that what happened here? It sounds like it may have been the case. It doesn’t make the situation any less sad or make anyone any less angry, but it does make one wonder what I would do in the same circumstance.

As a dog owner, I was left wondering how I (and other dog owners) can prevent these types of situations from happening. How do we avoid situations in which officers feel the need to make that split second decision and shoot our dogs? How do we keep our dogs out of harms’ way?

While reading many of the stories in which a dog was shot by an officer, one main theme emerged. Can you guess what it was?


Most of the dogs that were shot were approaching the officer – whether they were approaching in a friendly, non-threatening manner or a threatening one, almost all were approaching. So what if we removed this behavior from the equation? What if the dog was retreating from the officer? And, what if the officer felt less threatened so they didn’t have to make a difficult decision like this? Would that make a difference?

Based on the first article, maybe not, but I’m not one to throw up my hands and say “I give up!” or think that the situation is hopeless either. I think there is something that we dog owners CAN do to at least give our dogs a fighting chance if we were to ever be faced with a situation like this – teach our dogs a perfect “down-stay” and a perfect recall. I know. It sounds too simplistic, too naive. Maybe so, but is there anything wrong with a dog learning a perfect down-stay and recall anyways? Maybe none of us will ever be faced with a situation like this. Ever. But if we were, wouldn’t we at least want to be able to control the situation in such a way as to avoid the outcome from the story above?

In a down-stay a dog is seen as less threatening. In a down-stay an officer is less likely to feel threatened. In a down-stay, the owner can address the officer’s concerns without heightening the stress levels of the dog and making them feel the need to protect us.

A dog who can respond to a recall (every time) is also less likely to be seen as a threat by an officer. A dog responding to a recall is walking away from the officer, not towards. A dog who responds to a recall can be placed in the house or secured before anything can escalate.

I’m not saying that officers don’t have their own responsibility to be careful too. I think it would be great if all police officers were taught about dog body language – maybe then they would know if a dog was really a threat or not. I think it would also be great if officers resorted to using pepper spray or tasers rather than using a gun with real bullets.

But, I am also realistic and in the end, my dog is my responsibility. I cannot control the actions of those around me. However, I can control my dog’s behavior. I can teach them to come when called and to go into a down-stay when given the command. It just requires time and dedication on my part. I am more than willing to do that. How about you?

  1. April 19, 2012 at 8:46 AM

    we live in austin. I saw this go viral on facebook. its horrible and pisses me off. Thank you for getting the word out.

  2. Marge Allen
    April 19, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    This recall doesnt work either as cops have SHOT AND KILLED dogs that are running away from them, so just how do we protect them from that? I say start with it costing the cops there jobs and making them pay for their actions, They are out of control period, the dog was playing frisbie in the yard where he lives, Yes you can teach your dog down and stay and then this over grown idiot still kills the dog because they are BULLIES AND ARE SCARED and that is bull to, They just better hope they dont come to my place and start there BULLING because they will find they will be in big trouble themselves.

  3. April 19, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    It’s very scary. I read an article where the police officer shot the approaching dog who was WAGGING HER TAIL. It’s unfortunate, the police are probably in a tense situation, adrenaline rushing and make that split decision.

    Sampson is good. I can yell “Sampson STOP or Sampson SIT” and he does.

    Delilah is another story. I’ve yet to be able to teach her an emergency down. She might down but she usually continues moving forward a bit before she does. In an instance where someone was threatening me, Delilah would be charging full speed ahead, there would be no stopping her.

    I would have to say to the police offier, “please let me secure my dog first, then I will do anything you ask.”

    I think the answer is to educate owners about emergency downs, stays and recalls. But the police need to learn a bit as well, about ways to read a dog and other ways to defuse the situation.

    Very good post.

  4. April 19, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    I think this situation warrants at least a 2 part solution. First is the excellent training of a perfect down-stay. And the second is increased training of police officers responding to situations involving dogs.

    • Mel
      April 19, 2012 at 3:11 PM

      Exactly my point D. I completely agree.

  5. April 19, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    I really appreciate your approach to dealing with these issues. Obviously, it would help for police to have more training, for one, and its very easy (and probably often accurate) to blame them when these tragedies occur, but this isn’t an easy problem to correct or control for a variety of reasons. I admire you for trying to be proactive and do what you can to prevent this situation by identifying steps you can take yourself rather than focusing on blame and anger. Maybe a down-stay isn’t a foolproof way to protect your dog, but it can’t hurt. Although Pearl is so far from having a reliable recall or down-stay, it’s a little discouraging.

  6. April 19, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    Great post…this sickens me, and I’m sorry, I have no sympathy towards the police in these matters. It’s disgusting, and cops like this should not be able to walk away with an “oops”. Yeah, oops….idiots.

  7. Kristine
    April 19, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    Awful, awful, awful. I have nothing but sympathy for the owners of dogs who are wrongly shot and killed. I also have nothing but sympathy for police officers who may love animals but have to make tough decisions to keep themselves safe. Being a cop is an impossible job. No matter what you do, someone is eventually going to get hurt. I can only imagine the things they have to face on a daily basis. I can understand that the life of one dog matters very little when put into perspective.

    That being said… My heart is still broken for these owners. Maybe there isn’t much that can be done to prevent these mistakes from being made but I do really appreciate your approach. As owners it is our responsibility to keep our pets safe. Instances like these are very rare I would think but they are tragic. Training a perfect recall and down-stay is never a bad idea in any case and would save a dog from many terrible situations.

  8. dogmama217
    April 19, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    There was not ONE SECOND in all that confusion for the owner to tell Cisco to get in a down stay – the officer already had his gun pulled (for a domestic dispute?! what?!). He had a gun pulled and screamed at the man to put his hands up and at the same time to get his dog – the owner could have been shot if he had gone for his dog. The officer himself could have told the dog NO or DOWN – he didn’t even give Cisco a chance. While walking my three dogs yesterday we came across a loose dog, my first instinct was to yell NO to the dog and it worked… he stopped his approach.

    • Mel
      April 19, 2012 at 3:17 PM

      Thanks for your comment Dog Mama. I don’t know that we can say that there wasn’t a second to tell the dog to go into a down-stay. We just don’t know for sure the timing of what happened, although I am sure if was quick. I am not blaming the owner here, but neither am I blaming the officer. I think that this is a tragic story no matter which way you tell it. There is no upside. Not for the dog, not for the owner, or for the officer involved.

      I simply ask… How do we mitigate this type of thing from happening again? Are there opportunities for all of us to learn from this situation and proactively seek a solution? I sure hope so. Otherwise, situations like will continue to happen.

    • CarlisleHall
      June 2, 2012 at 3:17 AM

      First, unless you have four legs and a tail, you are NOT a “dog mamma.” Second, if you had followed up on this case instead of believing what the dog freaks were saying, you would know some neighbors felt threatened by “Cisco” and that the dog’s owner was a criminal, a misfit and worse! If a person doesn’t care enough about their dog to train it to obey voice commands, he has no room to complain when his unruly fleabag gets wasted!

  9. julesmelfi
    April 20, 2012 at 8:20 PM

    I think another problem in the second story is that the owner of the dog was visibly afraid of the officer . . I mean, the guy was pointing a gun at him, and I’m sure the dog picked up on it. I have come across many loose and threatening dogs as a dog walker and I have always stomped my foot towards them and yelled “NO” and they have always backed off.

    I feel terrible for the owner . . I think I would have ended up in jail if it was my dog :( I think things happen so quickly in situations like this that it is just too hard to understand. A good down-stay and recall can never hurt.

  10. Fred Flintstone
    April 27, 2012 at 10:22 PM

    The cops are out of control. Just look at how they treat peaceful protesters, beating them, spraying them with pepper spray.

    They are no longer “peace officers” they are “law enforcement officers”. They have been militarized and no longer your “officer friendly”.

    Be afraid, be very afraid.

  11. May 1, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    These horrible stories remind me of what K9 police officers say about working with dogs: You can always recall a dog. You can’t recall a bullet.

    It’s so important for police officers to have non-lethal ways of dealing in their job. I wonder if having more K9 officers would help. It would give all the officers on the force more exposure to dogs and their body language. And dogs are a non-lethal way of dealing with situations in which an officer feels threatened.

    After all, it’s horrible when a police officer kills a dog. And it’s horrible (and far too common) when a police officer kills a person in a similar situation.

  12. CarlisleHall
    June 2, 2012 at 3:06 AM

    It was later determined the dog that was killed when the police were sent by the dispatcher to the wrong address had a reputation for viciousness. There had been complaints from neighbors about the dog and some people were afraid to walk on that side of the street because the owner allowed it to run loose and they were afraid of it. Furthermore, the owner, who has a criminal history, was considered a misfit by his neighbors and some believed he was engaging in unnatural acts with the dog. Nevertheless, the bottom line is: People are responsible for their animals and if a person fails to train his dog to obey voice commands and the dog gets wasted by law enforcement, the owner has no one but himself to blame. Moral of story: Train your dogs!

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