The Myth of the Taser Proof Dog
We’ve all heard the myths: Pit bulls have locking jaws, pit bulls don’t feel pain, pit bulls bite with a force of 2000 psi. In the modern age when police are equipped with “less-lethal” weapons, the latest myth is the “taser-proof” pit bull.
In Topeka, KS in 2009, two dogs that were originally described as “115 lb pit bulls” attacked and bit 2 cross country runners. (Obviously they were not pit bulls and were later identified as American Bulldogs. This story hasn’t even bothered to make that correction. For more info on the breed ID confusion of this case see this post by KC Dog Blog) One of the responders to the scene was a good friend of mine and he described to me how in the course of the effort, one dog “took two taser hits and just kept going."
After coming across this myth several times over the last year, I decided to look into it.
I do not advocate or approve of needless violence of any kind against anything. But there are times when people (often police officers) need to defend themselves against danger. Whenever possible I support the deployment of “less lethal” self defense options that protect the person in danger and leave the source of danger alive. I do not condone pointless or excessive use of such measures, and I certainly do not condone violent bullies who give good police officers a bad reputation.
To get a grasp on how to properly deploy a taser against a dog, and to understand where the myth of the “taser-proof” pit bull comes from, I talked to Overland Park, KS Animal Control Officer Eric Thompson.
“Most officers are trained to think about the human aspect, but animals react totally different to [a taser].”
Deploying a taser against an animal is complex, and is different than deploying it against a human. It’s not a simple case of point-and-shoot and then go home. The information that Officer Thompson shared with me will eventually be offered in a class he is developing for law enforcement and civilians alike.
Eric Thompson is a graduate of Kansas University and of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. He was a police officer in Westwood, KS and Mission, KS and then was an animal control officer in Olathe, KS. Currently he is employed by the Overland Park, KS police department as the Animal Control Supervisor. He is also an instructor for the Kansas Animal Control Association teaching such things as chemical immobilization, search and seizure tactics, officer safety, handling dangerous and exotic animals, large animal rescue, animal first aid, and is currently developing a cock-fighting awareness class and a course on ice rescue. Thompson is the Midwest Regional Team Leader, the Operations Manager for the Emergency Equine Response Unit and his team is the national first-responders to animal rescues in water disasters for Code 3 Associates. He is also training local Community Animal Response Teams (CARTs).
With a complex scenario such as deploying a taser against a dog, there is always a chance for failure, but those chances lay with the person holding the taser, not the dog and not the breed of dog. According to Thompson, there is a specific way to deploy a taser against a dog. Not following that procedure will increase the chances the taser will fail.
The first difference is how the taser is held. The taser is designed to hit a standing person center-mass. Since people stand upright, the taser is designed to deploy in a vertical spread.
So to shoot a taser at a person, you hold the taser just like a gun, vertically, and pull the trigger.
Most of a dog’s body mass is horizontal, or parallel to the ground. So shooting a taser from a vertical position in the hand will cause the taser to spread perpendicular to the body mass of a dog rather than parallel to it.
To properly use the taser on a dog it needs to be held sideways or “gangster” style so that when fired the probes spread horizontally in line with the body mass of the dog.
The next consideration is the rate of spread of the probes after firing. The older model taser probes have a 12 degree spread from firing giving them about a 15 ft effective range against a person. The newer models have an 8 degree spread from firing giving them about a 20 ft effective range for people. On a person there is anywhere from about 4 feet to over 6 feet of vertical area for the probes to make contact. With a dog there is somewhere along the lines of 1-3 ft of horizontal area for the probes to make contact. If a taser is fired at a dog from effective “people” ranges, even if deployed horizontally, it is likely that only one of the probes could make contact as a matter of simple geometry. By the time they get to the dog they are simply too far apart for both to make contact.
With the smaller area of mass for a dog, the effective range of the taser is greatly reduced. With the newer models, they could technically be effective from 12-15 ft against a rather large dogs, but a more practical maximum range would be 10-12 ft, preferably less than 10. So in addition to firing the taser from a sideways, or horizontal position, the person firing the taser must be closer to a dog than to a person.
These first two steps are important because both probes making contact is essential to the way a taser works. Without two probe contacts, a taser can be largely ineffective against its target, especially against an animal.
“When both probes connect, what happens is an involuntary scrambling of the nervous system. The dog can’t fight it off, no matter how tough it is. The nerves and muscles are just over-loaded and won’t work. The dog is incapacitated." (Regardless of breed.)
“But if only one of the probes connects, it is what I call ‘pain compliance.’ It doesn’t have nearly the same effect. All it does is hurt the dog. Then you’ve got a scared, hurt dog that is in fight-or-flight mode. He is either going to come at you to stop you from doing that again or more likely it will just get up and run away.”
Incidentally, pain compliance is also how stun guns and stun batons work. They don’t have the incapacitating effect that a taser has when deployed properly. A taser only “tases” when both probes make contact.
Once the taser is properly deployed from within a reasonable distance and both probes made contact, the officer must be mindful of the probes and the connecting copper wires. The officer must make sure the wires are not severed during a struggle or a fall, the officer must stay within close proximity, and be mindful of the condition of the dog to assure the filaments remain undamaged. If the filaments are broken, effectiveness of the taser is neutralized.
“I’ve had officers think they can hit a running dog. One probe might make contact in this case, and a lot of the time when the dog falls down, if the officer doesn’t step forward – if he is trying to shoot and retreat at the same time – the motion of the dog and officer together breaks the lead.”
The final step is to have a plan before the taser is deployed if possible. The taser is only a temporary reprieve for the parties in danger. A taser has a “cycle,” meaning the incapacitating electric charge only lasts for a set amount of time. According to Thompson, there is a difference in “cycle” time between law enforcement and tasers and taser models offered to civilians for self protection. Law enforcement models have a 5 second cycle, so the officer can temporarily incapacitate a suspect and then apprehend him. The civilian model has a 30 second cycle. “This is basically so a civilian can deploy the taser, set it on the ground and run away while the target is down.”
A taser is only meant to temporarily incapacitate. It is meant to stop an attack or to prevent eminent harm momentarily. It is not a containment system. A taser is deployed so that a method of containment can be implemented, such as using a net, leash or catch pole. A taser can be re-cycled, meaning if the trigger is pulled again it will re-send the incapacitating current to the dog and allow for more time for the dog to be contained.
Having an immediate plan will minimize the stress on the dog and will minimize the chances of the copper connectors being damaged. If the taser had to be deployed quickly in the case of an emergency, then the officer must continue to cycle the taser until a plan for containment can be formulated.
“With a person, there is a sense of confusion and disorientation for a few seconds after a taser finishes its cycle. With animals, that confusion isn’t there. It’s fight-or-flight and 99% of the time it’s flight. They don’t know what just happened and they just want to get out of there.”
So to properly deploy the taser, the officer must:
1) Hold it sideways or horizontally
2) Be much closer to the dog than a person (10-12 ft max)
3) Protect the copper probe wires
4) Have a plan in place to contain the dog or continue to cycle the taser until a plan can be executed.
If a taser is properly deployed against a dog, the dog will be involuntarily (and temporarily) incapacitated no matter how “crazed,” vicious or determined it is and regardless of the breed. A hit from a taser is not something the dog can “tough out.”