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Program teaches officers how to handle aggressive dogs

POSTED: August 17, 2014 11:57 p.m.
NICK WATSON/The Times

David Jones, assistant director of Hall County Animal Services, instructs Hall County Sheriff's Office employees on signs of aggression in dogs at an Aug. 11 training session.

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Flipping through a series of dog pictures, David Jones asks the room of officers attending an Aug. 10 training program what the dog is telling them.

Jones, the assistant director of animal services, points to the ears, teeth and tail. These three points on the dog, among others, will give the necessary clues to escaping unharmed.

“They’re fighting for themselves and their owner,” Jones said. “They don’t know if you’re just trying to talk to somebody.”

The training comes as a way to help officers properly address situations with animals present, Jones said. Officers may not know if a vicious dog will be present. Knowing the signs, Jones said, will allow officers to handle the situation without lethal force.

Less lethal options, Jones said, include using the baton, an air horn, rubber bullets or a stun gun. Communication and deterrence are paramount for escaping without a bite.

“If the dog comes in with the intent to bite, he will,” Jones said. “If you don’t do something to deter him, stop him, he’ll bite, maybe several times.”

In response to an open records request, Hall County reported four instances where an officer used lethal force against dogs in the last year.

One such instance occurred in March, where an officer responded to a burglar alarm on Dana Drive and found a pit bull chasing a dachshund and a small child. After asking the pit bull’s owners to retrieve the dog, the pit bull began rushing toward the officer.

“While charging at me he continued his aggressive behavior by
growling and snarling. I already had my service weapon in hand after witnessing the near mauling of the little boy,” the officer’s report read. “When the dog got within 8 to 10 feet of me I fired my weapon one time.”

The animal was wounded, and the owner was issued citations for lack of tags and letting the dog run loose.

Attempts to reach the owner were unsuccessful.

While pit bulls may carry the stigma of being aggressive, Jones warns against preconceptions. Pulling from his experience with other officers, Jones retold a story of two pit bulls that were shot while fighting with a poodle. Ultimately, all three dogs died. Later it was discovered the poodle had gotten loose and instigated the fight.

“Don’t always think the pit bull is the bad guy,” Jones said.

If a bite does occur, the dog is quarantined for 10 days over concern about rabies. More than a dozen cases of rabies have been confirmed in Hall County this year.

When officers appear at the door, Jones asks that owners put their dogs in another room. It prevents the situation from escalating, Jones said, when officers are trying to respond.

‘I’ve worked on bites for officers, and most of them come from behind. They never saw it coming,” he said.



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