Bark and Hold vs Find and Bite
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by Jason Coutts, Certified Master Instructor American Society of Canine Trainers

Conflicting opinions within the business of canine training, is nowhere as apparent as within the disagreements between the factions favoring one of two differing concepts of the tactical use of police service dogs to apprehend suspects.  These two different concepts are known as “The Bark and Hold” and “The Send and Bite”, which refers to how the police service dog is trained, and then utilized, to take a suspect into custody.  The dispute consists of the belief of each proponent that his or her preferred concept is the most effective utilization of a police service dog for the apprehension of a suspect.  It is my belief that the “Bark and Hold” concept forces the handler to trust the police service dog to make the appropriate  decision on whether or not to bite the apprehended subject, without the handler's consideration and input. In fact; certain experts, working with the American Society of Canine Trainers, have researched this specific topic and have determined that dogs are not able to reason per se.  In other words, do police services dogs have the ability for the intricate thought processes necessary to take a dynamic problem and comprehend, conceive, and initiate a solution, which may need to change within the given scenario. 

Bark and Hold Vs. Send and Bite

Throughout the world of Police K9 training, everybody involved tends to have differing opinions as to the proper, or right, way to deploy a police service dog within the parameters of a criminal apprehension scenario, whether it is in training, or on the street.  The Western United States seem to hold more with the “bark and hold” method, while the Eastern United States adheres more toward the “send and bite” style.  In my experience, I prefer, and train to the “Send and Bite” concept, which will be explained within the summation segment of this paper. 

I am astonished that so many trainers, as well as departments, have uttered views and opinions that tend to be the complete opposite of those of the departments that I serve, as well as my own, in reference to the practical applications, responsibilities, and liabilities between these two utilization concepts.  I am unconvinced as to whether the top trainers of police service dogs truly do not comprehend the liabilities associated with the “Bark and Hold”, or if they just train to this conception because everyone else does so.

The differences lie with the trainers themselves, a number of Police Service Dog, PSD, trainers have arrived from sport dog training, past and present.  Some trainers throughout the United States have the mindset of sport trainers, believing they can adapt canines and their training style.   But really have no concept of real training of canines for the street as working canines. Though some new age PSD trainers, and some older, have a one set mind not realizing the changes on the street dictate training.

The Courts have not handed down any decisions - neither for, nor against, either the “Bark and Hold” or the “Send and Bite” concepts.  I believe that without specific legal decisions in this area, most hold this to be a civil matter in the courts, so leads to the concepts being not regulated, but just an idea of what is best for the Civil Procedures or Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of departments that have police canines.

Let us begin by looking at the “Bark and Hold” concept.  Don Yarnell, retired Police officer and trainer, is an advocate of the circle and bark, AKA "Bark and Hold", AKA harass and delay. As affirmed in a book written by Dr. Cannie Stark, (Stark, 1998, p. 39). She has also called the technique as Harass and Delay.  Yarnell states that the differences linking the two scenarios, finds and bite, and "Bark and Hold" that there is misinformation about the two different deployment of a canine on a suspect.

The circle and hold, developed in Germany, which as border patrol dogs us able to work a quarter of mile from the handler at times so the suspect has no opportunity of killing the handler of canine. As Don Yarnell has pointed out, “an excellent police service dog may NOT make a good Schutzhund, and an excellent Schutzhund dog may not make a good police service dog: the emphasis in the one is on working dogs” (Stark, 1998, p. 39)

The National Criminal Justice Reference Service states that "Bark and Hold" and Circle-and-bark  normally characterized as the dog finding a suspect and, if the suspect remains, circling and barking until the handler takes charge. This could or would, lead to civil liability issues.

In the majority cases, a dog trained to circle and bark, will bite if the suspect flees or attempts to strike the dog (Dorriety, 2005). So the perception is to send the dog after the suspect, optimistically the dog would alert the handler with a bark that the suspect has been found. The Circle and Bark is under the same principle but will circle the suspect to protect it from being killed or hurt from the suspect (Mesloh, 2003, p. 57).

Charles Mesloh established in his investigation that the Find and Bark are more expected to bite, and some of the grounds stated in the supplementary posts are stating the same issues, as allowing the PSD to make a decision, which we know cannot happen.  He stated that more training is needed to keep the PSD in check. If the suspect gives up during the "Bark and Hold" process, then the decision is left to the PSD to determine, whether to bite or not bite.

So if the subject moves, the PSD is supposed to determine if the bite is warranted or not and react to this. The premise of this type of method allows the suspect to arm him or herself while the PSD is deciding to engage.  The canine can be put in a distressed circumstance and not engage the suspect within a proper time frame. Another disturbing aspect of the “Bark and Hold” concept is that it requires a greater number of hours of consistent, thorough training in order to provide the desired results.

 On March 13, 2003, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice concluded their investigation of the Miami (FL) Police Department. A twenty-three page report addressed a number” areas of concern”, include the use of force with canines. The report stated that “a find and bark policy prevents canines from biting on situations where such force is not necessary to effect and arrest” and recommend the Miami Police Department “explicitly adopt a find and bark policy” (Yeomans, n.d., para. 4). This is an apparent overstatement of the impact of a “find and bark” paradigm and stresses the need for more research (Mesloh, 2003, p. 57)But what do we use as a training devise, or tool, to receive these training bites. The bite suit or bite sleeve are the most common protective equipment. The most universal problem is that most suspects on the street do not utilize training clothing or act like a decoy, the primary training tool in suspect apprehension. The demeanor of the decoy during training is a concept that takes years to prefect for training (Sheldahl, 2010).

By the way we did cover that the "Bark and Hold" was a sport-training tactic that is executed regularly through training. This is when a decoy stands in a half cover that looks like a tepee, which is called a blind, the decoy than hides in one of the tepees on the field and the dog searches for him/her and when the dog finds the decoy the dog will perform a procedure called the revere or "Bark and Hold". Then the decoy moves and the dog engage the decoy with a bite on a sleeve. But the key is when the decoy moves the dog allowed to bite which the dog is scored upon. So the concept of the move you get bit is trained into the head of the canine from early stages of initial training.

Now we can establish some of the "Bark and Hold" and the reasoning for it, but I can say I believe this next statement into the reason that the phantom numbers show that the "Bark and Hold" does in fact have a higher bite ratio than the search and bite.

 The decision of the suspect in a real life "Bark and Hold" concept is that the dog is stuck in a high prey drive and coming off that intensity is not an easy task. The dog will look and push a suspect into moving; even the slightest nod will allow the dog to bit the suspect. It is almost pushy, using his/her nose to pop the suspect in the private parts to get the suspect to move so the canine can engage with a apprehension (Sheldahl, 2010) (Mesloh, 2003).

Another trainer has stated, in an article, that a common response to "Bark and Hold" is “Schutzhund Bullshit” (Brenneman & Sheldahl,). Mr. David Frost, a well-known trainer stated in an online statement “I have always been against b/h. I refuse to teach it. In my opinion it puts the officer at a disadvantage tactically. Secondly, it is mostly a farce as most dogs trained in b/h are dirty anyway” (Frost, 2009). The subject’s actions should not predicate the dog’s actions.” (Frost, 2009, p. 1)

In an article that talks about the “Bark or Bite”, (Prendergast, 2001) the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) came under fire from the US Department of Justice when the canines assigned to the department utilized the "Send and Bite" with their dogs in a tactical situation. The main concern of the department is officer safety which the "Bark and Hold" does not provide such safety in their beliefs. The Department of  Justice  said “We recommend that the CPD explicitly adopt a find and bark policy ... (which) prevents canines from biting subjects in situations in which such force is not necessary to effect an arrest or protect the safety of officers or civilians,” (Prendergast, 2001).  So the department is researching each recommendation to see if it fits into the agreement of the department and federal government.

  The federal government has gone along with the side of non-reasoning to demand this department change its programs and training to fit into their needs, although there has been no court ruling that they MUST use the find and bark.  The CPD stated this find and bark is not foolproof as any subject would not be able to maintain a non- movement act, so they believe that this style of apprehension will not work in their program.

Furthermore, in addition to the two above cases where the United States Department of justice attempt to mandate PSD policies and procedures for both the Miami and the Cincinnati Police Departments. Contained within the document entitled” The principles for Promoting Police Integrity “(PRINCIPLES FOR PROMOTING POLICE INTEGRITY, 2001). From the U.S. Department of Justice, a clear endeavor to mandate detailed PSD deployment methods was made, including the following passage:

 “The use of a canine to attempt to apprehend or seize a civilian is a use of force. Special precautions are required to ensure that such force is not used unnecessarily or unreasonably. A

canine should be deployed to apprehend or seize and individual only where: (a) the individual is suspected of having committed a serious or violent felony, (b) less potentially injurious techniques are insufficient, and (c) unless it is precluded by officer safety, a verbal warning is given prior to deployment and a supervisor’s approval is obtained. Agencies should train their canines to follow the approach of “find and bark,” rather than “find and bite.”(PRINCIPLES FOR PROMOTING POLICE INTEGRITY, 2001, p. 4-5).

The fact that sending a dog, after giving the proper callout (a minimum of three in most states), it is the dec

 ision of the handler for the PSD to be inserted to find a suspect, and the canine will apprehend the suspect, unless the suspect gives up on seeing or hearing the PSD approaching him/her. There is another concern that I have observed with the training of the PSD. This could involve a simple training mistake involving the "Bark and Hold" that could cause confusion on the canine’s ability to reason between training for a sport tactic, and training for a real life scenario that happens on the street in the life of a Police Canine team.

Mike Harlow’s book K-9 Body-Guards, (Harlow, 1995,) the author states, “What a shame. The dogs learn how to work the street, then two or six weeks before a competition they start working on the competition drill” (Harlow, 1995, p. 139).

  The “Bark and Hold” crowd would like everyone to believe that the tactic they use is safe to the public. I say it is not as I have worked dogs in sport and police and the dogs we import, be it titled dogs, will make the suspect move to acquire a bite any ordinary person pursued by a police dog, is not going to stay put and not move when directed to by an police officer.

 Now let us look at an overview of the “Send and Bite”, which is also known as the “Bite and Hold” concept.  Again referring to Charles Mesloh's documentation entitled “AN EXAMINATION OF POLICE CANINE USE OF FORCE IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA

According to Mackenzie, one of “the greatest controversies centers around what the dog should do when, during a pursuit or search, the subject is standing still as the dog arrives and makes contact” (Mesloh, 2003 p55). When we ask what the most common deployment of the canine is service is the Bite and Hold. This practice is sending the canine in to serch and bite the suspect when found and hold on to the suspect until the handler arrives to release the canine.

One issue that any remedial training to correct a problem with the bark and hold dictates we use a variety of training tools that are extreme in retraining the bark and hold. These tools can include a shock collar and back tying a dog for this remedial training. These include remedial training for dirty bites, or failure to release bite commands. With the Bite and Hold the canine must be under total voice command and within the line of sight for the canine and handler.

However, tactical deployments recurrently make visual assessments of the dog practically impractical. According to Bob Eden, “A well trained service dog can be recalled at any point from the attack. Control of the dog through voice command permits the officer to call the dog off prior to or subsequent to the apprehension as the situation warrants” (Eden, 2008, para. 4).  This replica has established to be a very thriving way to bring suspects escaping from an officer under compliance quickly.

While some argue that canines trained this way represent a less than lethal force option, others say that the use of canines to bite the suspect without giving the suspect a last chance to comply before the canine arrives represents the use of excessive force. Opponents of this training technique argue that too much power is left to the canine and that it endures from an inappropriately excessive bite-ratio (Mesloh, 2003, p. 55).In an interview with Chief Hugh Miller (Ret) (H. Miller, personal communication, May 22, 2012, 2012), after reviewing the concepts and practical applications of both the “Bite and Hold” and "Send and Bite", Chief Miller concludes that although he not an expert on the two concepts, it is his opinion that the "Send and Bite" concept more accurately allows the handler to remain in control of the police service dog (PSD).  The "Send and Bite" additionally provides a department with additional liability protection, as the dog does not normally work outside of the direct control of the handler.

Chief Miller has worked with and lived with both pet and service dogs most his life, and trained, police service dogs for over 20 years.  Chief Miller stated he realizes that while most canines are both clever, and to an extent, intelligent (for a dog); the fact is that canines simply do not have the requisite brain chemistry that allows the complex thought processes necessary for more than very basic problem solving comprehension of exigent circumstances, nor the ability to quickly adapt, and/or produce solutions to a dynamic scenario, or situation.  Which is why humans are assigned to work with, or handle, the police service dogs; as humans do have these abilities and utilize them to determine what level of force is necessary and justified to place a suspect into custody.  This is also why the selection process for departments try to select from their best, most capable, experienced, energetic, and psychologically stable candidates from their police officers, to be selected as K9 officers.

 Chief Miller states that the police service dog is a extraordinary biological tool, when properly utilized by a human handler, to improve his/her abilities to accomplish specific missions.  There are a number of specific missions where a PSD enhances the human handler's abilities, such as narcotics detection, bomb detection, evidence location, cadaver searches, building searches, tracking (both search and rescue and criminal apprehension), and suspect apprehension, just to name a few.  However, the PSD is utilized to assist, supplement, and enhance the human handler in the performance of his/her duties, not to do their jobs for them.

Chief Miller further stated that the "Bark and Hold" concept, as proposed in theory, might well be the optimal option for PSD assisted criminal apprehension.  However, the practical application has unfortunately deviated from the proposed concept and has proved to be an unacceptable liability in current practical applications.

Chief Miller states that from his experience, the “Bite and Hold” concept allows a police service dog to be released to chase a suspect down; outside of the immediate control of the handler.  The PSD, upon locating the suspect, will then begin barking to

 1. Alert the handler of the find and location,

2. To warn and intimidate the suspect 

The PSD will attempt to hold the suspect in place, circling the suspect, until the handler can catch up to the PSD.  If the suspect does not stop, but continues to attempt to escape, or moves aggressively toward the PSD, the PSD will then bite and hold the suspect for which the canine has been trained for. 

 The practical applications of the “Bark and Hold” application have shown a tendency toward increased bites on suspects, as any movement may well result in a bite by the PSD.  Additionally, there is an increased possibility of contact with an innocent civilian during the apprehension movement.  A possibility that is, at least, somewhat minimized by the direct control of the handler.

Chief Miller advised that as a chief of police, one facet of his position was the reduction of liabilities against his department, as well as the employing jurisdiction, while providing the most efficient, effective department for the citizens.  For this reason, as well as other equally significant factors, Chief Miller determined that he would not allow this method of suspect apprehension to be utilized by a PSD working with his department. (H. Miller, personal communication, May 22, 2012, 2012).

I have believed in the many years of training, do we allow the use of force from police officers to maintain a civil society? As stated in my Criminal Justice classes we depend on the officer to know and understand the use of force, to properly apply the use of force continuum when necessary, but not abuse it.

As we must believe that administrators will argue the issue of the "Bark and Hold" has lower bite ratios, and of course they believe that the "Send and Bite" has higher bite ratios unless they have attempted to learn the truth, they really are making judgments without all the facts. 

It is clear that one item in this research I could not find was the updated ratios, or any references to the correct collecting of those ratios in comparison to other areas within the United States.  I wonder if the handlers even know how to get an equation on how to figure bite ratios out.

I believe that the "Send and Bite" is the most effective solution for the police service dog. The mistakes is if the dog does not have continual training, if the suspect does not move the bite would never happen unless the training is not up to standards. So I believe this "Bark and Hold" is more of a liability.

I had a conversation with an Oregon K9 Sheriff’s Deputy last year that utilized the Bark and Hold as dictated by the state private organization he certifies with each year. This handler stated he wanted and liked high bite ratios in his work on the street. So I asked a question to him, why do you use the bark and hold then? He stated it was still a requirement of his department and organization that certifies him, but liked the higher bite ratios to get compliance from the offenders. So the canine could have possibility provoked the bites in the bark and hold.

In actual situations, how often do you see the subject remain motionless? Or, if the dog has engaged, how often do you see the subject cease all movement so the dog will go into guard position. Personally, I have always felt it is nothing more than an intrusion of sport into the L/E world of dog training. I found through the years I have moved and stayed with the "Send and Bite".

Even with all the professionals stating what they or others have believed that they have the magic pill to solve the entire question of the differences, or what tactic is better. I have to agree on the original thought I have had, witnessed to in training and deployment of the canine.

My philosophy is; when I send the dog it will pursue, engage and remain engaged until commanded to release. I am a police K9 trainer, no sport, no show, just a trainer of the working dog, for the police, federal and the civilians that depend on me to provide the proper training for the service dog that will violate neither the law, nor a suspect's civil rights.

The human handler makes the decision when the dog bites, not the PSD. That is why we install the call off, which can be given at any time during the canines’ engagement with the suspect.  The PSD when given the engagement command begins his apprehension movement, if the handler observes something that dictates a change in the apprehension; he calls the PSD off of the run.  The properly trained PSD will stop the movement and will return to the handler, or may be directed by the handler to drop and guard.

 So without stating this is more important in both idealistic positions of the deployment. I like the fact that even most trainers that believe in the Bark and hold understand the conflict I have with such deployment, but I still cannot refrain from my opinion, that the Send and Bite is the way I train, unless the court system decide which is better. 
ReferencesBrenneman, T., & Sheldahl, K. (). Thoughts on the Bark & Hold [Supplemental Material]. K9 Services. Retrieved from, J. K. (2005). Police Service Dogs in the Use-of-Force Continuum. Retrieved from, R.S. (2008) Bark vs. Bite Techniques. Police K9, Retrieved from Frost, D. (2009, ). Pros and Cons for bark and hold [Online Forum comment]. Retrieved from, M (1995). K-9 Bodyguards. Neptune City, NJ : T.F.H. Publications, Inc.IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA (Doctoral dissertation). Available from FOR PROMOTING POLICE INTEGRITY [Fact Sheet]. (2001, January 2001). Retrieved from Department of Justice:, J. (2001, December 9, 2001). Bark or Bite. The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved from, K. R. (2010). Police Service Dogs The Bark and Hold. Retrieved from, C. (1998). A Dog is Not a Gun. Calgary, Alberta: Detselig Enterprises Ltd.Yeomans, W. R. (n.d.). Findings Letter re Use of Force by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department (). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

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