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New interactive simulation training transforms how law enforcement interacts with dogs

Chicago, IL – Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA) and The National Canine Research Council (NCRC) have announced a breakthrough in interactive training for law enforcement officers who encounter dogs in the field. The scenario-based force option simulator will transform the way that law enforcement interacts with dogs—tremendously enhancing safety for the officers, the animals and the public. The training simulator was unveiled and demonstrated at a press conference in Chicago on May 23.

This new approach is based on the reality that the best way to avoid discharging a firearm at a dog is to avoid the dog by taking a few easy steps. The scenarios use real-life dog behavior and vocalizations to train officers on how to avoid unsafe encounters and de-escalate whenever possible.

The project was developed by spcaLA, a nonprofit animal welfare organization serving Southern California since 1877; the National Canine Research Council, a non-profit canine behavior science and policy think tank that advocates innovative and practical canine policy; and MILO Range, a provider of interactive simulation training products for law enforcement, military, security and public safety agencies.

Experts from these organizations collaborated to create thoroughly researched and meticulously developed scenarios that give law enforcement officers (LEOs) realistic, safe and proven ways to avoid dog encounters. The resulting project’s genesis was “Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement,” a course developed by Captain Cesar Perea, Director of Animal Protection Service for spcaLA. “Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement” was created in response to an officer-involved fatal dog shooting in Hawthorne, CA that drew national attention in 2013. Captain Perea and NCRC came together to create the simulator experience.

“The core tenet of our approach is to train officers to avoid unsafe encounters, which is safer for them, the dogs and the public,” said NCRC’s Executive Director Stacey Coleman.

Until now, most training programs have attempted to teach LEOs to become experts in dog behavior and/or have used trained K9s as actors. These “dog actors” do not accurately demonstrate the real-life dog behavior that officers experience while on duty and fail to provide the level of training needed in high-stress situations. NCRC is tackling the issue of poorly researched and incorrect police training by working with the best experts in the fields of police psychology, use of force, canine behavior and scenarios technology.

Captain Perea commented, “Reinforced with the most current and credible animal science information available, ‘Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement’ is the only course that offers true dog behavior training to help officers make more informed decisions when encountering family dogs in the field. Force option simulators will enhance the classroom learning, immersing officers in dog interactions that facilitate decision-based training to affect less deadly force incidents and more positive outcomes for the pet and the officer.”

Coleman explained, “We are not attempting to teach officers how to be dog behavior experts, since law enforcement already has so much else to handle. When an officer is in a high stress situation with a human and is surprised by the presence of a dog, it seems unrealistic to expect the officer to forego his or her own safety to save a threatening dog. We are teaching avoidance or de-escalation whenever possible.”

According to Jason Perkins, Federal Programs Manager for MILO Range Training Systems, “Our simulation training systems are designed to improve mental preparedness, resilience and physical readiness in high-stress situations, which make them ideally suited for this new training approach for dog encounters. This is a full spectrum, interactive high-tech tool that enhances the intellectual and cognitive aspects of use-of-force decision-making and critical incident management skills.”

Stacey Coleman concluded, “Encounters that endanger both law enforcement officers and canines are a serious and prevalent problem. The best solution to protect officers, dogs and the public is training and prevention.”

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