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Teaching Apprehension K9s To Target: All You Need To Know

Patrol dogs have been utilized by police forces for decades to apprehend and subdue suspects. These highly-skilled dogs play a vital role in keeping both their partners and their communities safe by literally stopping a suspect in their tracks.

Police K9s utilized for apprehension or patrol work require intensive training to build up the skillset necessary to perform their given task reliably. There are many aspects to patrol or bitework training that are used to build dogs into reliable K9s. One of the most crucial parts of this is teaching solid targeting to a patrol dog. 

In this article, we’ll look at which body parts your apprehension K9 should be targeting; why this helps to build a more reliable working dog; and training methods to ensure the dog can bite safely and effectively.

Which body parts should an apprehension dog learn to target?

When training an apprehension K9 to target a suspect, the dog is taught not only how to bite – they are given specific locations to bite. Of course, the goal for any apprehension dog is to prevent the suspect from escaping; however, doing so in a safe and effective manner will increase the likelihood of a successful apprehension.

There are two important factors to consider when teaching a dog which parts of the body to target:

  1. The dog should be able to achieve a solid and reliable grip in the chosen area.
  2. The dog should bite a non-lethal area, avoiding locations such as the head, face, groin or stomach.

This approach ensures that the suspect is apprehended safely but effectively. It reduces the chance of an injury to a suspect, or that the K9 may not be able to achieve a good grip, which results in the suspect having an opportunity to escape. Injuries often occur to suspects when a K9 has to re-grip, and a solid bite in one area of the body is likely to stop the suspect in their tracks with a lower probability of injury.

The most common areas to target are the biceps, triceps, forearms and legs. These are used for numerous reasons. In a pursuit, a dog will be able to access these areas of the body more easily to go in for a bite. Additionally, these areas all have significant surface areas which the dog can target and achieve a solid grip. Finally, although no suspect is going to enjoy the prospect of suffering a bite on their arms or legs, a bite in those areas is not likely to cause long-term damage such as prominent scarring or internal injuries which could result in liability issues for a police force.

How targeting helps to build a more reliable police K9

Targeting is not only important for safety and efficiency. It is also important for building a more reliable police dog. 

When a dog is only trained to bite in one location, they can choose not to apprehend unless that specific target is available. This can cause limitations in operational scenarios where it can be the difference between a successful apprehension and the suspect eluding law enforcement. If a dog who only has experience with bites on the upper body is suddenly presented with a situation where only a lower body part is available, the dog may not consider it viable to perform a bite. Teaching a K9 to target multiple areas not only ensures the safety of a suspect – it also gives the dog and law enforcement teams more flexibility in operational settings.

police k9 building bite grip

When a dog fully understands to take these specific targets, they will choose to take them regardless of whether they are on-leash or off-leash. This means that when the dog is sent to bite – whether in scenario-based training or operationally – they will automatically choose to take a bite that is safe for themselves, their handler, and the recipient of the bite.

How can you train a dog to target properly?

Through a comprehensive, consistent training regimen, a police K9 can be taught to bite specific locations on the body. To do this effectively, the training team – the handler, the K9 and the decoy – need to be on the same page to ensure that the training is achieving the required goals.

The role of the decoy is crucial in these training exercises. By only being reinforcing and rewarding when the K9 bites on certain areas of the body, the dog will be motivated to seek out these specific locations. Through repetition and consistency, the apprehension dog understands which parts of the body they should – and shouldn’t – be targeting. The decoy has to be knowledgeable enough to understand when to reinforce.

In conclusion

Dogs aren’t born with a natural ability of knowing how – and where – to bite. While biting is a genetic trait to some extent, building a reliable bite is a skill that has to be learned. It is important for green dogs and experienced K9s alike to regularly practice this skill, ensuring they are exposed to multiple apprehension targets – both in training and in service – to ensure they are prepared to do their job in any scenario.  

Building reliable patrol dogs consists of many different behaviors that dogs will need to know to do their job confidently and safely. Solid targeting for apprehension ensures that when the dog is sent to apprehend a suspect, they will choose to take grips on trained locations that will be safe, effective and reliable.