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K9 Tactical Attic Insertions

My K9 partner and I previously participated in the SWAT and K9 Interacting During Deployment School (SKIDDS) Challenge along with five members of the North Las Vegas SWAT team. The scenario-based competition used the concepts taught in SKIDDS, and the teams were evaluated in several different areas, including their tactics.

During one of the scenarios, my dog had to be put into an attic to search for and apprehend a suspect. The opening to the attic was in a small closet that was very cramped and hard to maneuver in. Trying to fit five SWAT operators and a K9 handler, all of whom were in bulky heavy tactical gear, into the small confined closet was not an easy task.

The team developed a plan. It was decided that I would place my dog on my shoulder, scale a ladder and put my dog into the attic. This approach presented several problems from a tactical standpoint. For a short period of time, this left my dog and me exposed to the potential suspect without any lethal coverage from the SWAT team. As I ascended the ladder, I blocked the only line of fire into the attic.

At the conclusion of the competition, we received our score cards and saw that we had been dinged quite heavily on this scenario because of the way that we chose to get the dog into the attic. I spoke with many of the other participants in the competition to see how they worked out this problem. I learned that they did different variations of the same thing we did.

Some of the teams scored a little better than we did because they had a SWAT operator follow the K9 handler up the ladder with a handgun and provide lethal coverage. Clearly this was a better choice, but it still had limitations. When I returned to my agency, I started to look for better ways to approach this problem. One thought was to have a SWAT operator follow me up the ladder while holding a ballistic shield in front of both of us. This turned out to be awkward and impractical. The wheels kept turning, and I finally came up with the technique that we now use.

While in a room away from the attic opening, we put the ballistic shield, face down, on the ground and we place the dog in a “down” on the inside of a ballistic shield. Two of our taller operators then picked the shield up and got underneath it. While the dog is lying down on the shield, the SWAT operators walk under the attic opening.

The SWAT operators are safely covered by the ballistic shield as they stand under the attic. The SWAT operators then lift the ballistic shield up toward the attic opening. Once the attic opening becomes covered by the shield, the dog is able to safely enter the attic and conduct his search. When my dog has completed his search, I can call him back to the attic opening and tell him to “down” on the shield. The shield can then be lowered with my dog lying down on top of it.

All of the dogs in our unit were able to master this K9 insertion technique within one training session. We started out by having the dogs down and then stay on the shield for several minutes. Once they were comfortable lying down on the ballistic shield, we moved on to the next step.

With the dog downed, a couple of SWAT operators would pick the shield up and carry it around below waist level. The handlers job is to keep the dog calm and on the shield. You may use food, toys or just praise. Try to avoid harsh corrections so that the dog does not view this as an unpleasant experience.

Then we had the SWAT operators carry the dog on the ballistic shield at shoulder level. Next, we had the SWAT operators continually press the dog and shield up and down above their heads. The handler must soothe the dog’s nerves and keep him on the shield during this exercise.

The next task is the K9 attic insertion. The ballistic shield and dog are lifted up into the attic opening. Once the shield is flush with the attic (or as close as your tallest operators can get it), the handler will give the dog his “search” command. For training purposes, we had the agitator visible so that the dog could immediately locate and engage him. Having the agitator visible motivated the dog to stay on the ballistic shield and jump into the attic to begin his search / apprehension. We kept the searches short and allowed the dog to engage every time that he went into the attic.

Getting the dog to ride the shield out of the attic was a simple task. During the initial training stages, the handler would climb into the attic, remove the dog from the bite, and place him on lead. To help calm the dog down, we had the agitator crawl out of sight and the handler would walk the dog over to the attic opening. The shield would be placed flush with the attic and held there. The handler would guide the dog onto the ballistic shield and down him on top of it. The dog would then be lowered from the attic while the handler reassured him. By the end of the training session, the dogs knew what to do when they saw a ballistic shield on the ground and in the attic.

I would recommend that you start this training in muzzle or around just K9 handlers until you know how your dog is going to react. If your dog bites a SWAT operator, I would imagine the training session will come to an abrupt and dissatisfying end.

The dogs got so used to seeing the ballistic shields in the attic opening, the handlers did not need to get into the attic to help the dogs get down. Whenever the dogs did not find a suspect in the attic they would come over to the attic opening, lay down or jump onto the raised ballistic shield so that they could be lowered out of the attic.

Shane Allen is an 11-year veteran of the North Las Vegas Police Department. He can be reached at allens@cityofnorthlas

Published in Law and Order, Dec 2008

Rating : 10.0

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