Introduction of "Oleoresin Capsicum"
Spray to the Police Service Dog
(Ensuring a Positive Learning Experience)
Sergeant Robert James Wright
Niagara Regional Police Service
St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
Since OLEORESIN CAPSICUM ("OC") spray now
enjoys almost universal use in the Police community in North America,
much has been written about how successfully Police Service Dogs can
work through the "OC" environment. Studies and testing have shown that
Police Dogs can overcome the spray to make apprehensions and locate
suspects in that environment. Additionally, they have even proven to be
successful in doing more sensitive nose work, such as narcotics and
explosives detection in and after "OC" exposure.
Now the question of how we introduce our dogs to work in the "OC"
environment is much more common. For many of us, who have used our dogs
over the years in the "CN" and "CS" gas environment, particularly if we
work closely with our tactical teams, rather than just throwing our dogs
into that environment, we usually did some exposure work to ensure our
dog could handle the exposure to the gas and work through it. In
exposing our dogs to "OC" there are a few more points to consider; both
the visual stimuli of the sprayer and the actual negative physiological
effect the dog must overcome. Really, in exposing your dog to "OC"
spray, the most important things are not what to do, but what not to do.
Rules For OC
a) DO NOT TRAIN TO FAILURE Prior to beginning each exercise be sure that
through planning and preparation you have stacked the cards in your
favor and are sure of successful results. Further the handler, quarry
(helper) must each be fully briefed on what to do to bring the exercise
back to a successful conclusion if the dog demonstrates any apprehension
at each stage of the exercise. Remember, behaviour is never static. Your
dog will either leave the field feeling stronger after an exercise or
weaker. It is our job as Trainers to ensure the positive.
b) REMEMBER, THIS IS TRAINING, NOT TESTING! What's the difference? Well
in training we run exercises in which we ensure conditioning and success
must be guaranteed, so that the rewards and other positive stimulus can
be applied, and the conditioning continuum completed. Testing is that
old method of let's run this and see what happens. That is not
acceptable in training, especially in this type of work, where you are
trying build a dog's tolerance of an unnatural environmental condition.
Remember, it is much easier to prevent a problem than to fix one once it
has become part of the memory.
c) PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE Although this is a simple rule, it's
probably the one that will be hardest for us to follow. We have a
tendency to want to have accomplished something yesterday. It may be
very true that all this could be accomplished in one day. Breaking it up
into five or six short sessions over few weeks will guarantee success.
If we keep these rules in mind as we are planning how we are going to
expose our dogs to "OC" spray, it will ensure our success. The following
is just one example of a progressive plan to expose a trained Police
Service Dog to "OC" spray.
Prerequisites: The Canine Team has previously been exposed to white
smoke, having done both apprehension and search work in a white smoke
environment. The Team can do both search, apprehension and control work
with the handler wearing a gas mask. Additionally, the dog should have
experience apprehending a suspect wearing a gas mask, and we must ensure
that we do not condition the dog to believe that only good guys wear gas
masks. This became critically obvious in a tactical incident in San
Diego where the suspect emerged from the residence in the same
camouflage and gas mask as the Tactical Team was wearing.
Day #1 Exercise
#1 (Inert "OC" Spray)
Chase and Apprehension - dog aroused by quarry, dog send to apprehend,
quarry is armed with inert OC sprayer. As dog moves in or prior to being
sent in, is sprayed with inert OC. Quarry is instructed to be alert for
any signs of apprehension by dog and increase agitation if necessary to
have dog successfully complete exercise. This exercise should be run two
or three times and perhaps with handler protection. Quarry may increase
amount of inert OC with each exercise. Ensure last exercise is very
positive with a slip sleeve and lots of positive reward. This exercise
will ensure that the dog has little or no apprehension to the visual
presentation of the OC sprayer. This is the same reason that prior to
this the dog has been introduced to white smoke, so the visual
presentation is not perceived as a threat. In the same line of thought
is if dog has trouble in later training perhaps due to handler, quarry
or trainer error, going back to this exercise with the inert OC will
help build the dog back up after an accidental failure.
Exercise #2 (1st
Exposure "OC" Spray)
Chase & Apprehension same as exercise #1, using a fogger rather then a
stream, let the dog run through the "OC" about 3 or 5 yards before the
bite, so if the quarry detects any hesitation in the dog he can increase
the agitation and bring it to a successful conclusion. Exercise should
include a good strong fight with dog on sleeve, then a sleeve slip and
lots of praise.
**If in Exercise #2 dog shows any significant hesitation or
apprehension, repeat Exercise #1, no further exposure that date. If dog
exhibits no problem, complete exercise #3.
Exercise #3 (2nd
Same as Exercise #2, however a slightly stronger concentration. If no
problems exhibited strong fight on sleeve and dog called out. Then re
bite on command, strong fight on sleeve, then slip and praise.
** Decontamination - whether you choose to decontaminate the dog after
each exposure or at the end of the day, depending on level of
contamination. Once again you must do your best to ensure this is a
positive experience. For example if your dog hates being sprayed by a
hose, and immediately after the dog completes one of these exercises,
you drag him over to the hose and blast him, he will not be real
positive about the experience for next time. Simply try and be positive
Day #2 Exercise
#4 (direct exposure)
Chase and Apprehension same as exercise #3, however this time a direct
burst is applied to the dog while on the sleeve. The quarry will ensure
that the bite is maintained throughout a 1 or 2 second burst. Then a
strong fight and sleeve slip complete this exercise. ** if no problem,
move to exercise #5, hesitation repeat exercise #1.
Similar to an introductory building search exercise, for those who use
bite reward. Dog is aroused by a quarry who runs into a small building,
there is a medium exposure of OC in the building. The dog from the chase
enters and quickly locates and bites quarry, for those who "bark and
hold", upon being located the quarry must take flight or other action to
cause the bite. Once again exercise ends with strong fight on sleeve
then a slip.
Immediately the dog is taken out of exercise #5 and after the
appropriate warning, dog sent right back in for a simple blind building
search. Again a strong fight and sleeve slip.
Day #3 Exercise
Repeat Exercise #3 (hidden sleeve if possible) with stronger
concentration of spray, followed by clean out, handler protection with a
direct exposure while on sleeve and hand contact to facial area,
followed again by clean out. Praise.
Exercise # 8
Repeat Exercise #6 with slightly more difficult search exercise, lots of
Now you should be comfortable to expose the dog to the OC environment he
will be required to work in. Talk to your tactical teams and go over
possible scenarios that will occur in operations. Ensure that your dog
is also exposed to the people who will be involved in the deployment, as
well as some of the other methods of delivery for the OC spray (i.e.
sprayer, fogger, muzzle blast, grenade etc.) .
this is exposure training, it's not something you need or should be
doing with your dogs every day or even on a regular basis. Its sole
purpose is to give both Handler and Dog confidence when confronted with
this environment on the street.
Sgt. Robert James Wright has been with the Niagara Regional Police
Service for 15 years. He is presently a Sergeant in charge of the Canine
Unit as well as the Canine Training Officer. Bob has an undergraduate
degree from Brock University and a Diploma in Police Management from
Sgt. Wright is a frequent instructor at seminars including the United
States Police K9 Association National Seminar and the International K9