53% of American households own dogs, according to recent statistics. If you have ever owned a pet before, you likely know that they become a part of your family. When officers approach a home, it is likely that the owners will have a dog – sometimes the dog is friendly, but other times not. Recent dog encounters have turned deadly, leaving law enforcement agencies with huge lawsuits that have gone over $1 million.
According to a local news source out of Florida, a state embroiled in several dog encounters gone wrong over the past few years and Florida is not one of the only six states in the country require law enforcement officers to be trained in dealing with dogs. January 2022, a Miami-Dade police officer shot a dog 7 times and the agency now faces a hefty lawsuit by the dog’s owner. Additionally, a lawsuit from 2019 has reached $750,000 after a woman’s dog was killed by a SWAT team in St. Louis.
A trifecta program that has existed for years may be part of the solution to this ongoing problem around the country. Law Enforcement Dog Encounters Training (LEDET) was developed in a partnership with the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse and the National Sheriff’s Association. Jim Crosby, member of NLECAA and dog behavior expert, authored an 8-hour class, a DOJ approved Toolkit available for download for free and to be used alongside of six VirTra simulation scenarios that include real actors and dogs.
The following items are available as resources and could be used together or separately:
The video below shows Harford County, MD officers learning from educational graphics and VirTra’s high-quality video scenarios that include dogs. Some scenarios show a property alarm response where a responding officer encounters a dog, and others have a traffic stop where a dog is in the car with the subject.
Remember, current VirTra customers have these scenarios loaded onto their simulators already. If you want to learn more about the LEDET program, download resources or schedule a demonstration here.
Like so many other topics, “dog encounters” is becoming more important in training.
Officers who cannot successfully interpret a canine’s behavior—such as reading cautious as aggressive—will react in a way that isn’t justified. In fact, a quick online search will show dozens of cases where departments were sued, and settled, because an officer wrongfully shot a family pet.
To prevent this, the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse (NLECAA) and the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA) partnered to create LEDET—Law Enforcement Dog Encounters Training. Instructors receive structured coursework and real-life scenarios for officers to engage with on VirTra’s simulators.
It’s one thing to describe the program and another to show it in action. Below is a video of an officer engaging in a dog encounter inside the V-300 training simulator. Watch as the officer analyzes the situation—an aggressive dog near a park full of children—and how he correctly diffuses the situation.
Best of all, this video is 360°! If you are watching via desktop, click and drag to see around the simulator. If you are watching on mobile, tap the screen and drag to see different angles of the situation.
To learn more about this DOJ-approved program, visit this site.
To learn about incorporating this program in your training regimen, contact a VirTra specialist.
Due to an increase in officers entering residencies and parks where dogs may roam unleased, there is a good chance officers will run into untrained or uncompliant dogs. While some pups are naturally friendly and curious, others are territorial and aggressive, making it difficult for law enforcement to perform their jobs.
To prevent injury to oneself and unnecessary harm to these pets, VirTra collaborated with the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse (NLECAA) as well as the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA) to create the LEDET Dog Encounters nationally-certified curriculum for officers.
For law enforcement officers to gauge their safety, they must first understand canine behavior, which manifests itself via clues to the dog’s mood. For example, a dog with a wagging tail and relaxed posture is happy and extremely unlikely to bite or cause harm. Whereas an aggressive dog will bare their teeth, growl and/or maintain a tense posture. By recognizing these simple signs, officers will know if they can proceed or need extreme caution.
In addition to creating curriculum that teaches which signs to look for, VirTra took training a step further by creating a variety of simulated scenarios. Each scenario has the officer practice correctly identifying the canine’s behavior and diffusing the situation if necessary. An example is featured below in our scenario titled “Property Alarm Response”, where the responding officer correctly analyzes the dog’s behavior and responds properly:
This form of realistic, skill-honing training is designed to reduce and potentially eliminate incidents where an officer kills a family pet due to an inability to properly understand the dog’s intention. Not only does shooting a pet cause distress to the owner, but oftentimes, costly lawsuits can result. Departments can limit these incidents effectively through proper, increased training.
Throughout the years, headlines and lawsuits have revolved around police officers and their subject’s pets, with some even drawing national attention. Unfortunately, many of these stories stem from situations where a pet dies by the officer’s actions while an investigation occurred.
The reason these headlines continue into today is that, oftentimes, officers do not understand the cues a dog is giving and react poorly. If you think about it, this makes sense; it can be difficult to tell if an animal is acting aggressive or simply reacting to the situation without specific, proper training.
To best prepare officers for these kinds of situations, and to protect lives—including the four-legged ones—VirTra partnered with experts at Law Enforcement Dog Encounter Training (LEDET) to produce dog-based training scenarios. These scenarios come with corresponding curriculum, teaching officers how to recognize various dog cues and how to react appropriately.
In regards to this training, Jim Crosby, certified dog behavior training expert, stated, “the partnership between VirTra and LEDET enables, for the first time, officers to learn safe interactions in real time combining real behavior and live signaling with dogs. With these skills learned and practiced in the VirTra immersive environment, allow officers to interact with dogs safely.”
One of these powerful training scenarios can be found below. Here, the officer is responding to a property alarm when he encounters an aggressive dog. Watch as the officer engages with the dog before responding to the animal’s hostile behavior in the video below!
Law enforcement’s use of force has become a major issue with the public. With the growing attention of human cases made widespread through cell phone video and social media, so has the attention of cases where officers used deadly force against dogs during dog encounters.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to read the cues a dog is giving. Officers have to determine if the animal is acting aggressive or reacting to the situation, if the dog was abused or trained to fight, or if the animal is struggling to differentiate those trying to help and those who pose as a threat.
In order to help officers better protect themselves and the dogs they may encounter, the Justice Department published the “Law Enforcement Dog Encounters Training” handbook, which can be downloaded for free.
VirTra took this dog encounter training a step further by creating a corresponding scenario-based virtual training program. Trainees and officers alike learn how to recognize aggressive signs and how to yell proper commands.
Learn more about this innovative training in The Wall Street Journal.
Recent headlines in the news have brought up the problem of lawsuits against law enforcement from pet owners. Many of these stem from when a pet dies while an investigation is taking place. Whether the animal is acting aggressive or just reacting to the situation, it can be difficult to read the cues the dog is giving. There is also the factor of the dog’s owner. Are the officers dispatched to a domestic situation, and the dog is also on the receiving end of the owner’s abuse? Even worse, was the dog perhaps trained for fighting and doesn’t know the difference between those trying to help and the person that was abusive towards them? It can be incredibly difficult to tell the difference in a split-second decision. Hence the reason there have been so many situations that end badly. Officers want to go home safely, which is why the right law enforcement training is key to separating the aggressive cues versus the rest. However, standard police officer training usually does not include a comprehensive lesson to understand the differences.
Police Officer Canine Training to Improve Community Safety
With the right education, an officer can learn to recognize several sets of distinct behaviors including the eyes, face, and tail of a dog to understand better what the dog is trying to convey. Whether their ears are perked up or laid back flat against their head is an excellent example of how to read their body language. Jim Crosby, a certified dog behavior training expert, recently stated “The partnership between VirTra and LEDET enables, for the first time, officers to learn safe interactions in real time combining real behavior and live signaling with dogs. With these skills learned and practiced in the VirTra immersive environment, allow officers to interact with dogs safely. Officers also learn strategies for perceiving cues that carry over into hazardous, non-dog situations. Safe officers – safe dogs – safer communities. That’s our goal.” Another factor is how the dog barks. Is it short and high pitched or is it lower pitched longer and louder? These differences are the key to training officers on which dogs are aggressive and which others are normal behavior.
It’s Not Always the Police Officers Fault
Another factor is how the owner treats the dog before the officers ever arrive on the scene. Several studies have linked the likelihood of an animal owner to be abusive towards others if they have already abused their pets. Just last year in Canada, a survey completed by the University of Windsor, Ontario revealed “89% of women who had pets reported animal abuse at the hands of their partner.”1This risk is further increased by those who go beyond physical abuse to homicide or worse. While these facts are troubling to read, they are helpful to understand the dog’s behavior and adequately prepare officers for the field. This is why VirTra has specific dog training scenarios so that a variety of factors are available to train on for law enforcement.
VirTra Training for Law Enforcement Canine Encounters
VirTra created unique scenarios and partnered with the experts at Law Enforcement Dog Encounter Training (LEDET) to use the current science to enhance our library for the best training available on dog behavior. Our scenarios, created with the help of LEDET, provide a solution to this problem of legal settlements being awarded by training the officers on dog behavior. Departments that have started to incorporate these modules into their required training have seen a strong correlation between their officer’s response and a lower risk of litigation in this area. However, above all, this has also helped quite a few pets and kept their communities safer in the process.
Source: Barrett, B.J., Fitzgerald, A., Stevenson, R., & Cheung, C.H. (2017). Animal maltreatment as a risk marker of more frequent and severe forms of intimate partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
Alexandria, VA. — June 5, 2018 — The National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse (NLECAA), its parent organization, the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and VirTra, Inc. (Nasdaq: VTSI) today announced the Law Enforcement Dog Encounters Training (LEDET) focused on police training for dog encounters. LEDET is the first of its kind training program and includes structured coursework on engaging and deescalating dog encounters, along with simulation training with VirTra’s immersive, high-definition video training system. Together, the new training protocols help law enforcement officers learn safe interactions with domestic dogs. The LEDET program is a culmination of two years of collaboration between the National Sheriffs’ Association and law enforcement executives, legal consultants, and behavior experts to develop a gold standard for protecting officers, pets, and the public.
An agency-wide demonstration of the scenario-based trainings will be given by the Harford County (Maryland) Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday, June 6, following a press conference at 10:30 a.m. ET. The Sheriff’s Office is located at 1305 Pulaski Highway, Edgewood, MD.
The LEDET scenario package will be officially rolled out in VirTra’s booth at the 2018 National Sheriffs’ Association Annual Education and Technology Expo, June 15-19 in New Orleans, LA.
Visit the LEDET landing page to learn more and schedule a time to meet with VirTra at the NSA Conference.
Additional pilot programs are scheduled to occur in Orange County, Florida, and Oakland County, Michigan.
The LEDET program is based on canine behavior science paired with advanced officer safety measures. The combination will enable officers to make compassionate, safe decisions when interacting with pets under stressful circumstances. The course includes interactive scenarios where officers and dogs are placed in common situations. Using VirTra’s branched decision-making technology, these interactions will enable officers to experience conflict and make choices in real-time. The course focuses on the use of less- and non-lethal methods of keeping officers, the public, and pets safe during contact.
“LEDET is unique because it is the first dog training course developed by law enforcement officers, for law enforcement officers,” said Sheriff Harold Eavenson of Rockwall, Texas and President of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “Our subject matter experts are the most experienced consultants in the animal, law enforcement and legal fields when it comes to these kinds of cases and have guided policy and accountability using a combination of extensive canine behavior training and law enforcement experience. This has given us the perspective of working street cops coupled with cutting edge behavioral science and extensive experience with truly dangerous dogs.”
“Law enforcement officers want to handle their calls safely and go home at the end of their shift, while not causing any needless harm,” said John Thompson, Deputy Executive Director of the NSA. “This course will give them much needed tools to recognize and address possible conflict with dogs instead of simply shooting an animal.”
This state of the art program will be complementary to the full Law Enforcement Dog Encounters Training (LEDET) course in development by NLECAA in coordination with the Department of Justice’s COPS Office. This is the only canine encounter course endorsed by the National Sheriffs’ Association.
“Many conflicts can be defused or even avoided by understanding dog behavior,” said James Crosby, Director, Canine Encounters Training, NCLEAA. “Keeping officers and pets safe is the focus of the course. Large liability awards have resulted from officers needlessly using lethal force. We aim to keep the officers safe while reducing those deadly conflicts.”
The content package includes five interactive scenarios and an additional training module that covers the basics of canine behavior. All six scenarios/modules are available in VirTra’s content library for the V-300™ training simulator, and four modules are available for the V-180™ and V-100™ training simulators. The complementary training program is under final review, with an anticipated release later this year.
The National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse was established by the National Sheriffs’ Association to provide law enforcement officers information on the realities of animal abuse and to promote their proactive involvement in the enforcement of animal abuse laws in their communities. Through its partners, the Center serves as an information clearinghouse and forum for law enforcement on the growing problem of animal abuse and its link to other types of crimes, including violence against humans. Additionally, the Center seeks to improve officer safety in dog encounters through continuing education and training.
About National Sheriffs’ Association
The National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) is one of the largest associations of law enforcement professionals in the United States, representing more than 3,000 elected sheriffs across the nation, and a total membership of more than 20,000. NSA is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising the level of professionalism among sheriffs, their deputies, and others in the field of criminal justice and public safety. Throughout its 78-year history, NSA has served as an information clearinghouse for sheriffs, deputies, chiefs of police, other law enforcement professionals, state governments and the federal government.
VirTra is a global provider of training simulators for the law enforcement, military, educational and commercial markets. The Company’s patented technologies, software and scenarios provide intense training for de-escalation, judgmental use-of-force, marksmanship and related training that mimics real world situations. VirTra’s mission is to save and improve lives worldwide through realistic and highly-effective virtual reality and simulator technology. Learn more about the company at www.VirTra.com.
National Sheriff’s Association
Deputy Executive Director / COO
James Crosby M.S., CBCC-KA
Director, Canine Encounters Training
VirTra – Media Relations
VirTra – Investor Relations