German police dogs sent off duty after ban on ‘pulling collars’
Berlin police dogs trained to attack perpetrators have been put on an enforced break, along with their handlers, over contradictions between the methods used to control them and a new law to prevent cruelty to dogs.
The use of pulling collars to channel a police dog’s aggression towards an agitator or potential criminal contravenes the law, introduced by the former agriculture minister, which came into force on 1 January.
Police said that about 49 dogs, out of about 130 used for operations from arresting perpetrators to drug and explosives detection or locating missing persons, were suspended from duty until a solution was found that would not involve officers breaking the law.
A police spokesperson, Thilo Cablitz, said: “We are currently unable to deploy a section of our service dogs due to changes in the animal protection act governing dogs.” Those suspended include dogs working alongside special forces, the SEK, and those used to protect people as well as to arrest offenders.
The training of “Schutzhunde”, or protection dogs, involves being able to control when a dog ends an attack, by tugging briefly on a “pulling collar” to restricts the animal’s airway. The logic is that if a dog’s aggression, considered necessary for the apprehension, is not controlled, it could cause serious injury or death to the perpetrator.
Under the new ordinance, brought into law by the former agriculture minister Julia Klöckner, the use of such punitive stimuli is no longer allowed when training dogs. While primarily introduced to improve standards of dog ownership in Germany, the rules are intended to apply to all German dogs, including guard dogs.
The agriculture ministry has said its decision was based on scientific studies showing that punitive stimuli “contradicts the concept of animal welfare”.
Included in the act are rules governing the all-round care and upkeep of dogs, from the size, temperature and ventilation of their kennels, to breeding practices. Dog owners are obliged to take their pets for regular walks, to spend time with them and to ensure they have contact with other dogs. Chaining dogs, except under certain circumstances and conditions, pinch collars and other equipment or practices considered to induce pain, are forbidden.
Klöcker has said the need for an update to existing legislation was long overdue but had become urgent during the pandemic, as increasing numbers of people with no experience of owning pets had bought dogs, and cases of abuse were rife. Pet shop owners and breeders should also carry more responsibility for dogs’ welfare, she said.
The law change has been known about for months but its effect on the daily workings of police attack dogs seems to have taken police and politicians by surprise.
Stephan Kelm, the vice-chair of the Berlin branch of the police union, GdP, said a solution needed to be found, as the dogs’ suspension would have “severe consequences for domestic security”, and the union had asked for the federal interior minister, Nancy Faeser, to intervene. He said the act affected forces across Germany. “We are completely open to innovative training methods, in which it is not necessary to inflict pain. But right now we don’t know of any,” he said.
Cablitz said police were having discussions with Berlin’s interior ministry. “We are in dialogue with the ministry in order to find a solution,” he said. The interior ministry has not yet commented.