By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the city’s special operations center, Minneapolis police training is going to the dogs – literally.

Their session is part of a mandatory two-day in-service program that covers a myriad of skills.

The afternoon segment is intended to teach all 900 MPD officers some non-lethal methods for dealing with aggressive dogs.

“We’ve had some incidents, high profile in the past few years,” Lt. Johnny Mercil said.

Lt. Mercil is referring to unfortunate situations like one that occurred in July 2017 that left two dogs gravely injured. The officer who shot them was highly criticized for his actions on a call that turned out to be a false home alarm.

“Police officers have to go to a lot of scenes. Often times they’re chaotic, they (dogs) feed off the emotions of their owners. They’ve got certain traits that get amped up when we show up,” Mercil said.

So the department is requiring all officers to take dog sensitivity training as part of their in-service sessions. California-based dog trainer, Steffen Baldwin begins by getting officers comfortable with his dog Chesty.

He’ll then instruct them in non-lethal ways to deal with aggressive dogs.

“If you understand that a lot of it is mitigated in fear and territorial behavior, you can mitigate that potentially,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin wants officers to read a dog’s body language. He describes the differences between passive and aggressive appearance of a dog’s eyes, ears, hair and tail. He’ll then instruct officers in ways to distract and deflect any apparent aggression.

“We just give them a few more tools in their tool belt so they can think when they see a dog. Maybe take a few seconds to analyze the body language and figure out what type of aggression it is and then come up with a different response,” Baldwin said.

The ultimate goal is to simply better protect both the officers and the dog – making lethal force the absolute last resort.

Bill Hudson