The Reality of Guard-and-Bark

by Bill Lewis II

In recent years, more discussion and inquiries have resurfaced regarding the pros and cons of “guard-and-bark” (bark and hold) compared to “find-and-bite” as some guard-and-bark (G&B) agencies consider switching or have already started a transition to find-and-bite (F&B).

There are a few reasons to consider a switch – and most revolve around liability concerns, dogs making decisions on their own, safety of officers and dogs, and less work to train a find-and-bite dog.  I’ve been contacted for my opinion on several occasions so it has provided me with some insight and prompted further research. I’ve also reached out to others to assist this effort.

The purpose of this article is to explain the reality of guard-and-bark as it applies to today’s law enforcement utilization, provide some background in support of the method, and recommend a more clearly defendable policy you can take to court should litigation occur.

I’m not advocating nor suggesting anyone change their current method.  However, if you are thinking about switching from guard-and-bark to find-and-bite or vice versa, or you have recently made the transition, I encourage you to read on and consider the issues.

First and foremost, despite the type of training or deployment method that is being utilized, and to clearly address liability concerns, no handler should ever deploy their dog in a situation where a bite is not justified or anticipated.

(Throughout this article, I will intermittently use other common terms to describe guard-and-bark and find-and-bite.)

Some handlers have jokingly described their method as “My dog is guard and bark until he finds and bites.”  Actually, I like this description – but only if accompanied with proper training documentation and a written policy or guideline to support that implementation.

If you work, train or supervise a guard-and-bark police dog, I’m going to recommend you continue your training but consider a change of the traditional definition for real world deployments that could even be simply explained, for example, as; “We train the guard and bark method; we deploy to find and bite.”

Another reason some agencies are considering F&B or have already switched is the circulation of misinformation and misrepresentations by F&B advocates and/or those who would prefer to work less in training.  A few attorneys have also weighed in on the matter.  I do not believe these opinions are offered as intentional misrepresentations – rather, the opinions are provided as passionate support in favor of their preferred method, and to do so, they often tend to be one-sided.

Also, the pros and cons of either method are not often fully explained or considered – nor both sides of the debate provided with equal representation.  Many supervisors and administrators don’t understand the guard-and-bark concept as it may or may not apply to their respective K9 program and history shows they are usually negative toward and skeptical of things not clearly defined or understood – or they are influenced by those they believe are most knowledgeable.

Do you understand this bark and hold concept or practice?  Could you describe it now as if testifying in a deposition or trial?  Do you have a description within your policy or training manual of how your agency applies bark and hold?  Is it defined as a deployment tactic, philosophy, and/or training method?

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

-Albert Einstein

I’ve read studies, reports, articles and opinions that are shared in support of F&B and against G&B that require a thorough examination with an open mind to more clearly understand the issue at hand and the findings.  Many of these same writings are often shared with me during consultations and inquiries.  Coincidentally, I believe some of the “research” advocating find-and-bite has also (unintentionally) provided support in favor of guard-and-bark.

Because this is an article, not a study, I will not provide the lengthy history of bark and hold (circle and bark, find and bark) and its relations to Schutzund training, police training and deployments in Europe and the United States, competitions, and other related associations. You can further research on your own using the titles provided herein as well as others not mentioned.

The Florida Study

There are two studies that are often commonly referred together as “the Florida study” authored by Charles Mesloh titled “An Examination of Police Canine Use of Force in the State of Florida” dated Summer 2003 and “Barks or Bites?  The Impact of Training on Police Canine Force Outcomes” published in September 2006.

Because this study is widely cited in support of find-and-bite over bark-and-hold, I think it’s important to examine it more thoroughly and not so readily accept its findings on the issue at hand without further scrutiny.

Here is the primary findings from the Florida study most often cited;  Using the data from Florida canine handlers, bite and hold dogs had lower mean bite ratios (15.7) than bark and hold trained canines (22.4) and there was a statistically significant difference between the two apprehension methods.

We must first understand that this study was conducted in Florida around 2003 with only a 52% return rate (181 respondents replied) to a survey-type inquiry of defined data with no means of accurate verification or reviews of actual deployment reports to justify or explain each individual deployment and bite.  46 of the respondents (25.4%) stated their dogs were trained in ‘bark and hold’ (find and bark) but they did not provide their deployment criteria.  Some initial interviews conducted as part of the study caused a concern that some agencies were limiting (or padding) their actual bites during submittal to keep their bite ratios lower.

What the Florida study failed to clearly identify within its data collection was the number of bites related to the accessibility of the persons being located (apprehended) and any circumstances or obstacles that may have prevented a bite and its relationship to those bite ratios.

How many suspects were actually accessible to evaluate the success of either apprehension method?  How many suspects were located by the bark and hold dogs that were accessible and the dog did not bite?  How many accessible suspects were located by the bite and hold dogs that were not bitten by those dogs?  If the suspects apprehended but not bitten were not accessible, can the two methods be truly compared?

The Bite Ratio Data Collector used for the study identifies “fleeing suspect” as a separate category to track bites – but the final outcome does not identify how many of the bites were directed apprehensions of potentially visual suspects by either apprehension method.  I believe the “fleeing suspect” bite ratio on its own would be substantially higher – and perhaps equal – for both methods if the dogs were deployed in similar situations on a suspect running and clearly visible.  Would a 100% bite ratio on directed bites of fleeing suspects be acceptable?

A directed bite of a fleeing suspect or a suspect engaged in a standoff with police where the bark and hold dog is deployed directly by its handler for a “straight bite” should not be considered in comparison to a deployment by the same dog to search and find a concealed suspect – accessible or not.  A directed bite is not a bark and hold scenario for the purposes of this evaluation.  And – coincidentally – the bark and hold bite ratio should then be reduced accordingly if directed bites were removed from the equation with respect to the bark and hold evaluation.

The Florida study states; The key dependent variable for this research was the bite ratio.  As you probably know, bite ratios are not a true measure of a K9 program’s overall effectiveness nor the means alone to evaluate an individual handler’s performance.  Bite ratios do not determine how levels of force are measured when simply converted to a simple mathematical equation – nor do they “act as a barometer for misconduct and measured police violence” as indicated in the study.

Author’s Update:  I have recently reversed my opinion regarding standard bite ratios and the necessity of keeping them.  Although I’m still of the opinion these bite ratios do not measure the overall effectiveness of a K9 program, I believe they should be kept and shared to defend a program, particularly when an agency is wrongly accused of something like “their dogs bite everyone they find.”  (Hopefully, your dogs aren’t biting everyone.)  For example, the primary mission of most agencies using police dogs is to locate a suspect.  If your bite ratio is 100%, your dogs are biting everyone.  If your bite ratio is less than 100%, your dogs are not biting everyone.  If your bite ratio is less than 50%, the majority of your deployments are not resulting in bites and clearly supports your policy of “finding more often than biting.”  We must defend our K9 programs nowadays by showing the number of suspects not bitten.  Here’s how to put a positive spin on bites with respect to an agency with a 14% bite ratio;  “86% of the deployments involving our K9 teams do not result in a bite to the suspect.”  (updated on May 25, 2021)

Effectiveness and performance should be measured by a review of each and every individual deployment and the accessibility – or not – of the persons that are apprehended by a bite or a surrender without incident within the area of deployment.

If viewed from a different perspective, the Florida study provides interesting data beyond the bite tallies and concludes (without specific articulation) that;

  1. Bite and hold dogs failed to achieve their mission of finding and biting suspects in 84.3% of their deployments.
  2. Bark and hold dogs did not bite 77.6% of the suspects they were deployed to find.
  3. Bark and hold dogs were more effective in their overall deployments with respect to their mission and subsequent arrests (apprehensions) of suspects.

In 2011, Doug Roller wrote an article on “Find-and-Bark Training” reporting the Los Angeles Police Department experienced a significant drop in “contacts” (bites) from 45-55% under “handler control” (find-and-bite) to 12-22% when they transitioned to find-and-bark.  Although the article doesn’t provide stats or time periods, it is a significant difference compared to the Florida study using data approximation from a very active and respected police K9 unit in California.

The Florida study has been (and still is) cited and used by many agencies, trainers and investigative entities.  Should a limited study based on a bite ratio of police dogs in Florida still be considered today as the standard or means to evaluate the effectiveness of bark and hold programs across the United States to promote and justify find and bite over bark and hold?  I do not believe it should based on the data and independent variables presented.

The McGuiness Report

A report often cited on this topic is the “Bite and Hold Review Report: Bark and Hold vs. Bite and Hold” by Sergeant Gordon McGuiness from the Vancouver (Canada) Police Department.  McGuiness provides some good historical information (recommended reading) and advocates bite and hold over bark and hold with a conclusion that reads; “When the suspect is located that canine must now respond as a backup officer for their handler should the need arise.  That response should solely be based on training and commands from the handler, not what the canine perceives.”

Here’s my take on this assessment:  Police dogs are not backup officers.  Backup police officers are real people who are capable of making independent decisions with discretionary power to do so and may do so based on the totality of the circumstances without commands from the handler.  The canine is not capable of being a backup officer – it is a tool that is deployed under the commands and at the discretion of a handler.

Within his report, McGuiness shares a personal story about his response with his F&B police dog to a “break and enter” call at a home where he observes through a window a masked suspect stabbing a bound man on the kitchen floor.  McGuiness forces entry, pursues the suspect to the front of the home, and begins to take the suspect into custody when his police dog sees and “without command apprehend[s] a second suspect [armed with a knife] who was hiding directly behind [McGuiness] motionless in a dark alcove by the front door.”  He adds “My police service dog responded as trained and immediately engaged the motionless armed suspect.”

The outcome was both commendable and fortunate – but did the dog respond as trained?  The dog’s response, according to McGuiness, should have been solely based on training and commands from the handler, not what the canine perceives – and this dog bit without command a person who could have also been an innocent victim hiding motionless in fear from the intruder.  The dog acted on its own and was incapable of knowing the person standing motionless was a suspect or a victim and whether the person was armed or unarmed.

I absolutely agree that this outcome may have been tragically different with a guard-and-bark dog or a find-and-bite dog that didn’t bite on its own volition.  However, in terms of liability – in theory – if that person had been a victim hiding in fear and not a suspect, would a guard-and-bark dog present under these same circumstances possibly have prevented an accidental bite if it only barked or remained present without further action?

Many advocates of F&B will argue G&B dogs should not be making decisions on their own and F&B dogs only bite when directed – but that’s not the reality of the situation today.  Also, properly trained G&B dogs should bark and hold an accessible suspect and only bite on command or if the suspect makes a movement. It’s not really considered a decision by the dog – it’s described as a reaction based on training.

Handler Control

Trainers, handlers and supervisors of find-and-bite dogs often refer to the term “handler control” nowadays to describe their method of training and deployment – it sounds better doesn’t it?  They explain that their find-and-bite dogs operate under the direct supervision (“control”) of the handler.  One article claimed; The “send and bite” [find-and-bite dog] additionally provides a department with additional liability protection, as the dog does not normally work outside of the direct control of the handler.

All police dogs today must operate with “handler control” despite their respective training method and should not normally work outside the direct control of the handler for street utilization.  The claim that F&B dogs working under “handler control” operate within view of the handler so the handler can immediately control its actions and are therefore more effective than a G&B dog is – I’m sorry to say – simply not reality.  It’s not always safe nor practical to be in a position to continually watch and control your dog.

Ideally, all handlers should watch their dogs work in close proximity so they can potentially control the dog quickly – but in the real world, one of the primary reasons we use dogs is to search high risk areas we cannot easily view or safely access immediately – attics, crawl spaces, stairways, around a corner, heavy shrubbery, vehicle interiors, tunnels, entry points.

Donn Yarnell wrote:  “There is a huge misconception that a find & bark dog is or should be handled differently than a non-find & bark dog.  Nothing can be farther from the truth.  The handler strictly controls both types of dogs throughout the entire search and apprehension.” (from the article “The Find & Bark”)

The old premise that guard-and-bark dogs are allowed to roam off leash far away from their handlers and search on their own without direction is no longer reasonable nor applicable in today’s law enforcement utilizations.  Some exceptions may exist.  Guard-and-bark dogs should be deployed and directed in the same manner as a find-and-bite dog and kept within view (if possible) and close proximity to the handler based on the environment and circumstances.  The outcome (bite or bark) may be the only difference when an accessible suspect is located – or it could be the same.


The Real World

When we deploy guard-and-bark trained dogs in the real world, we are not participating in a Schutzhund trial.  We are not patrolling the borders of Europe where the concept is believed to have originated.  We cannot ultimately control the actions of the suspects despite our best efforts.  Suspects are not skilled decoys and rarely stand motionless upon arrival of a police dog – especially if they are startled and physically react even slightly.

One of the concerns/controversies surrounding guard-and-bark involves the dog’s confrontation (or standoff) with a motionless suspect.  If the dog is trained to guard and bark and bites a suspect that doesn’t move, is there liability?  What if the suspect makes an “innocent movement” and the dog bites?  What is an innocent movement?!?!  What if the dog encounters a sleeping suspect who reacts to the barking with a startled response and quick movement?  If we deploy our dog in a situation where a bite is justified and proper announcements have been given prior to the deployment per policy, any movement by the suspect, however slight, should be considered a justified outcome based on its training.

The other concern associated with these bites before or during a guard and bark occurrence should a bite occur is the inability to see and describe the suspect’s actions or inactions beforehand – and the same holds true for F&B deployments.  Most bites of accessible suspects that are hiding or concealed are not usually viewed by the handler or backup officers.  If the suspect claims he didn’t move, how do we write our report?  We write only what we know.  More importantly, the handler must be in a position to recall the dog quickly and articulate if necessary.

We should expect that our dogs will bite.  We should presume – based on our knowledge and experience – that most suspects will move if easily accessible and found by the police dog.  And, as mentioned in Part 1, no handler should ever deploy their dog in a situation where a bite is not justified or anticipated.

I know a SWAT team that wanted to have their K9 teams switch from G&B to F&B because they wanted to be confident that the dog would bite a suspect without hesitation if located and feared a G&B dog might not do the job.  I don’t think they were properly informed.  It’s been my experience that tactical (SWAT) deployments with G&B dogs usually involve a bite command upon entry not a search command that may result in a guard and bark. And, when properly trained, a G&B dog will respond appropriately to the bite command or search and bite commands even when confronted with a motionless suspect should a standoff occur.  Personally, I prefer a bark over a bite initially as it provides an opportunity to evaluate options, take custody of a suspect without incident and doesn’t place the dog or officers in danger should a physical encounter occur.

How do we then justify these bites and overcome these concerns?  First, we give a clearly audible announcement to the suspect that includes the consequences for the failure to surrender – a bite may (or will) occur.  (If guard-and-bark is trained, “may” should be used.)  Second, our deployment is lawfully within policy so a bite of the suspect will be justified whether it occurs or not.  And, third, we explain within our written policy that “guard-and-bark” is a training method, not a deployment term.

Myths and Unsupported Statements

In Part 1 of this article, I mentioned that there have been “misrepresentations” of information related to the debate of which method is best – and I don’t believe it’s done maliciously.  Here are a few statements that I’ve read or heard that are not supported by any supporting data known to me;

  • It is hard to justify a [G&B] training method where the dog is allowed to make a decision as to the amount of force deemed necessary.
  • The use of the bark and hold dog method has resulted in the death of many police dogs.
  • Bark and hold dogs are involved in more lawsuits than find and bite dogs.
  • More guard and bark dogs have been killed than find and bite.
  • It is more dangerous for an officer if the dog is barking instead of biting.

The police dog does not determine the amount of force to be used – it is the handler who determines the force option by deploying the dog into a real situation that may result in a bite.  If the dog doesn’t bite, there is no physical use of force.  If the dog bites, the handler is justified in that use of force.

Is a guard-and-bark dog really in more danger during a standoff than a find-and-bite dog that is actually biting?  Does “barking only” create more danger for the handler?  If the dog is out of view and barking – a handler should consider options – like recalling the dog and provide an opportunity for surrender – or proceed with caution and good tactics. It is a non-issue in my opinion and one method or the other does not validate bad tactics.

I do not believe that G&B dogs have been killed more often than F&B dogs nor do they present any additional liability or danger to themselves or officers during a deployment should they bark or bite.  Where is the data?  It is a matter of proper training and tactics to address any of these issues and overcome the concerns of the naysayers.  And, if a G&B dog was killed during a deployment, was the death directly related to its training method and the subsequent suspect confrontation, and did the death of the dog prevent the death of or serious injury to its handler?

I read “Many trainers assert that find and bark trained dogs are unpredictable when they locate a suspect after an aggressive search or encounter.  The LAPD initially gave up its find and bark policy largely based on studies which showed an inability to stop the dog from attacking in a find and bark situation.”  I think if you can articulate there are not “find and bark situations” during a real deployment than you eliminate the unpredictably of a deployment.


When addressing the liability issue, it’s unfortunate we have no statistics that can compare “accidental bites” of non-suspects.  F&B advocates claim that guard-and-bark dogs are involved in more litigation – but where is the supporting documentation?  In cases I’ve reviewed recently, it’s quite the opposite as millions of dollars have been paid out as settlements for accidental bites and all have involved find-and-bite dogs.  But, like bite ratios, can we lay blame on one method over the other without reading the reports and investigating further?

Attorney Bruce Praet said;  “I used to debate the F&B verus G&B approach extensively in classes and elsewhere until I realized that it ultimately has never really mattered in terms of litigation.  In other words, if a F&B dog bites the wrong person, we have liability.  If a G&B dog bites the wrong person, we have liability.”

Here’s the primary situation I’ve used for years to support guard-and-bark training as it relates to liability; If a find-and-bite dog is deployed within a search area and it finds a person who offers no resistance, makes no attempt to escape or attack the dog, and is perfectly stationary – suspect, innocent person or officer – there is a great likelihood the dog will bite that person.  (NOTE:  The dog may not bite a uniformed officer based on its training.)  If a guard-and-bark dog is deployed within the same area and encounters the same person – there is a “chance” that it will guard and bark – and if it does, have we not prevented an accidental bite to either the innocent person or officer? Have we not possibly avoided an accidental bite lawsuit?

The recently updated “Concept and Issues Paper” (May 2015) from the IACP Law Enforcement Policy Center on “Patrol Canines” is intended to accompany the IACP’s Model Policy on Patrol Canines and reads: “The find-and-bark method has some distinct advantages, to include reduction in liability to police agencies for canine-inflicted injuries that result in large financial judgments against agencies and their jurisdictions. This approach is consistent with the principles of escalation and de-escalation of force. It can also provide handlers with more flexibility by allowing the canine to work off-leash in certain circumstances, with the reduced possibility that a suspect or bystander will be bitten. It could be considered as a means to reduce bite ratios that are often used in litigation to ascertain the relative aggressiveness of a particular canine.”

You might be questioning; “If you train a dog to guard and bark on motionless and possibly compliant persons and it does not, is there liability?” The same question might be asked about recalls (or call offs); “If you train a dog to recall upon command and it does not, is there liability?”  The simple answer is “Yes” because there’s always liability – we need to limit it and prepare a defense in advance.  In our preparation to address the liability and these questions beforehand, we can demonstrate through verifiable documentation (and perhaps video evidence) that we train and achieve guard and bark compliance during our training.  Using the recall as an example, we know that situations that evolve on the street don’t always end with the desired result or outcome anticipated – but we continue to train for the result desired, even if we are not successful in the real world.

A recommendation from Bruce Praet;   “I’ve always preached that G&B teams should videotape a G&B scenario in training for use in court to ‘explain’ what G&B involves to a lay jury.  In other words, the jury can see that the dog will/should not bite as long as the suspect doesn’t flee or make an aggressive move.  Since dogs are incapable of making decisions on their own, the dog will respond according to training [as demonstrated on the video].”

Guard & Bark Training

Dave Reaver is the owner and head trainer at Adlerhorst International Kennels in California where he’s been training K9 teams and selling police dogs since 1976.  I attended basic handler training at Adlerhorst in the early ‘90’s.

In August 2010, Reaver authored an article titled “Guard and Bark” where he noted “My initiation into the world of police dogs came about in 1975.  Using knowledge I learned training sport dogs and looking to European police agencies for direction, I introduced concepts and techniques that were new to this country.  One of which was ‘guard & bark’ training for a police service dog.  Initially I had very little knowledge of the rights of a person who [chose] to hide from the police, so my use of the guard & bark technique had less to do with liability than with efficiency.”

In January 2014, I met with Reaver following a presentation he gave titled “Guard & Bark – Old and New” at the CNCA Training Institute in Burbank, California.  We discussed the dilemma some supervisors and administrators were currently facing regarding the issue and the best way to assist and better inform them of their options.  It was during our discussion about liability and the potential for bites on motionless suspects that Reaver told me that he never intended for “guard and bark” to be considered the ultimate street deployment tactic, rather it was a training method he believed was best suited for police dogs for deployments based on operant conditioning with respect to conditioned response and conditioned stimulus.

I won’t attempt to explain operant conditioning, conditioned response nor conditioned stimulus as it applies to guard-and-bark training – you can read Reaver’s article and one by Donn Yarnell titled “The Find & Bite” – but I do know it’s what Reaver believes is the most efficient method for training a police dog that delivers the best results on the street based on his years of experience and the teams he has trained.

If a guard and bark occurs during a deployment based on training, and a suspect is taken into custody without incident, so be it; but, the overall goal of a deployment is to locate a suspect and protect officers – and a bark or a bite should not be prioritized to achieve the goal.

It quickly became clear to me that a better definition was needed as a policy or procedural guideline to describe guard-and-bark as it applies to training and deployment utilization.

K9 Policy

If you believe that guard-and-bark training makes a better police dog for your agency, I recommend you define your method to realistically address real world deployments and limit any potential liability.  And, since most agencies do not specify in writing what method of training and/or deployment they use, a clear definition may prove to be beneficial during any potential litigation – for either method.  With the assistance of Bruce Praet and a few others, I crafted this model policy definition for agencies training the guard-and-bark;

Model Policy:  Guard-and-Bark

Each K9 team shall be trained in the “guard-and-bark” method.  When trained and maintained properly, the “guard-and-bark” dog may be more efficient and effective, provide stronger alerts on inaccessible suspects, and increase officer safety.  

“Guard-and-bark” is not a deployment term; it is the training method we utilize.  Our police dogs will only be deployed in situations where a bite or other physical contact appears reasonable [or necessary] based on the totality of the circumstances and our deployment policy. Based on our training, it is possible that if a suspect is accessible during a real deployment and does not move, attempt to escape or take aggressive action toward the dog, the handler or others, the dog may contain (guard or hold at bay) the suspect and bark as an alert to the handler, potentially providing the handler an opportunity to recall the dog without any physical contact with the suspect until the suspect is taken into custody.  However, it must also be recognized that “guard-and-bark” is not a guarantee that a suspect will not be bitten by the dog since real life circumstances will differ from training environments and may rapidly change.


The courts have not selected one method over the other and that’s a good thing. Although the recent Supreme Court case of Florida v. Harris involved a detection dog, you might interpret their decision to apply to any police dog (detection or patrol, bark-and-hold or find-and-bite) with respect to reliability in a controlled setting.  If a bona fide organization has certified a [bark and hold] dog after testing its reliability in a controlled setting, or if the dog has recently and successfully completed a training program that evaluated its proficiency, the bark and hold dog should perform in the field as certified and trained.

It should be noted that we as police officers need to support both types of training and not ply one against the other.”  -Bob Eden 

Do handlers have a choice how they train and deploy?  Generally, that answer is a simple “No” because handlers train and deploy per their policy if that’s what an agency requires and often “because we’ve always done it that way.”  However, handlers and K9 supervisors should always be knowledgeable about why they use a particular method and able to articulate the justifiable reasons they do what they do with a defendable policy to support them.

There is an article that reads:  The find [guard] and bark approach requires a superior canine and immediate supervision by the handler.   Personally, if called to court to defend my program, I’d like to testify that my K9 program purposefully strives to deploy superior canines operating under the immediate supervision of our handlers.  Why wouldn’t we?

Bill Lewis II © May 2015

Part 1 of this article was originally published in “Police K-9 Magazine” (May/August 2015).

Part 2 of this article was originally published in “Police K-9 Magazine” (September/October 2015).