Controlling police dogs purely by voice command

I like watching programs like “Cops” and ones of a similar nature. I’m curious about the control of police dogs by their handlers that I’ve seen many times on TV.

If a police dog is already excited about going after someone, can they be controlled purely by voice command? i.e. If a police dog takes off after a suspect and his handler loses physical control of the dog, will it obey a “STOP!” command (or whatever the normal word is; I realize they have a special vocabulary of command words)? I get the impression from watching TV that once the dog is in attack mode it is hard to control.

I am no expert in this, but have the impression that a smart and well-trained dog will do anything it’s trained to do, including stop short on command.

When a trained dog is attacking someone, it’s not exactly following predatory instincts, it’s following the training it has been given. Dogs are capable of quite remarkable discipline once properly trained - look at sheepdogs, for example - an ordinary untrained dog might just want to run after the fluffy meat-beasts, but a trained sheepdog can be controlled by the shepherd’s commands as precisely and surgically as a radio controlled vehicle.

I believe you, but the lunging by police dogs that I’ve seen on TV a few times puzzles me. The handlers sure look like they are exerting themselves keeping the critters under control.

My little brother was a K9 officer for a number of years. His dogs (only one at a time) lived with him and they trained together even in their off hours so the bond was very strong and the human-as-alpha dynamic was maintained at all times. Good police dogs are very controllable by voice and other auditory signals as well as sight commands. Not all dogs can do it even if they come from a good bloodline although that greatly improves the odds that they will be able to.

Police dogs may look out of control at times but they almost never are. Their adrenaline gets flowing just like a person that gets put into a stressful situation so they get enthusiastic but well-trained ones don’t just act out randomly on their own. They are always under the control of their handler and will even die for him or her if they need to.

The same thing is true for hunting dogs and rodeo horses plus many other types of working animals. They are still animals that have a will of their own but the ones that make it have already been pretested to be the ones most likely to obey and carry out the commands even in times of stress much like elite human soldiers. Refusing to carry out commands repeatedly is an undesirable behavior that is almost always identified in the training and selection process.

Trained police K9’s are never out of control by their handlers. The straining at the leash is part of the training in controlled excitement (also it looks intimidating). Handler/dog teams spend countless hours practicing this. Dogs that cannot be controlled with a verbal command under high excitement don’t make the force.

Have to note also that sheepdogs don’t herd by training, but by instinct, which has been carefully developed over many generations. At a trial you will see very highly trained dogs, because the test is purposely a difficult one, with a time component, but the majority of dogs used for livestock management have very simple commands on them. Plenty, especially cow dogs, have a ‘get back’ (go bring the whole herd this direction, i.e. do your instinctive thing), and a ‘that’ll do’ (quit working, you’re done for now), and not much else.

I should add that my little brother’s current dog is a Rottweiler that flunked out of the K9 unit selection process and it is obvious to anyone that plays with him why that is. He is dumb as they come and overenthusiastic plus very large and extremely strong. He is the only dog that I have ever met that can hurt you badly just through casual play even though he doesn’t mean to. They realized fairly soon in the training process that he could never make a good police dog because he doesn’t listen well or seem to have the capability to do so. My brother felt sorry for him because they were going to have him put down because he had already been partially trained as an attack dog and it wasn’t safe to let most people adopt him.

OK - Thanks! That makes sense.

I did mean specifically One Man And His Dog style sheepdog trials.

As an aside, even without training, dogs understand bluff and threat, and some dogs manage to look a lot more dangerous than they really intend to act. This is one of the reasons it’s possible to train them to threaten – it’s a natural behavior for them.

Yep, those dogs have years of training. But those years wouldn’t do them any good unless they had the instinct already. You can train a beagle to look like it is herding, but it will just be obeying you, not actually controlling the sheep.

Had a really neat opportunity long ago to watch our local police running drills with dogs in the amusement park I worked at (it was after hours so no customers around). Considering how many dogs hide under the bed during thunderstorms it was impressive to watch. Those dogs charged full speed at a “test suspect” who was blasting away at them with blanks while wearing a big padded suit, and didnt seem to even flinch.