Police Trainer Explains Viral TikTok of FLPD Officer Yanking K-9

A K-9 training expert sets the record straight about a maneuver that has alarmed viewers on TikTok.
A K-9 training expert sets the record straight about a maneuver that has alarmed viewers on TikTok. Screenshot via TikTiok/@dwalters13
During spring break last year, a Canadian woman posted two brief videos on TikTok showing Fort Lauderdale Police (FLPD) officer Josh Reich yank on his K-9's leash while shielding the dog's eyes as it holds a tennis ball in its mouth. After several seconds, the drooling dog releases the ball. "Good boy," Reich says, and then pats the dog's head.

Though the videos — the first one's 15 seconds long, the second one lasts 13 seconds — were first posted by user @dwalters13 on March 10, 2020, they've resurfaced and amassed more than 5.9 million views in total, along with allegations of animal abuse, as TikTok users and animal activists use the comments thread to debate the officer's actions.

"Why is he choking the dog??" wronte one user.

"Talk about improper handling," commented another.

Wrote a third: "It looks like he's trying to kill the dog to me."

Notwithstanding the outrage, at least one South Florida K-9 training expert with more than 30 years' experience training dogs and police K-9s tells New Times the maneuver is legitimate and safe, so long as it's performed correctly.

Edel Miedes explains that this maneuver is typically used when a dog won't release an item — or person — with a verbal command or treat.

"It does not hurt the dog at all. It doesn't do any physical damage to the dog," says Miedes, founder of Hollywood-based K9 Advisors. "There was really nothing wrong done by the officer there."

While the general public might be alarmed watching the video, Miedes says K-9 dogs are trained to apprehend suspects, not sticks and Frisbees.

"Most of these dogs are really hardcore, high-drive dogs that are trained to love to go on that bite," he says.

Pt 2! holding the leash like that hits a certain trigger point in the neck and covering eyes hides his sight so he uses his senses! ##fyp ##dog ##police

♬ original sound - Deanna Walters
Casey Liening, a spokesperson for FLPD, confirmed that officer Josh Reich and his K-9, Goro, are the pair captured on the videos. She says Reich used the maneuver — called "a physical correction out" or "lift-off" — to force the dog to drop the ball after Goro failed to follow the verbal command. She added that the technique did not injure Goro.

"The handler also attempted to get it [the ball] out by utilizing another ball/reward which also failed," Liening wrote in an email to New Times, referring to the way Reich bounces another tennis ball in front of Goro. "The safety of the dog now becomes a factor as he could be injured if he doesn’t release the ball."

Though the FLPD officer in these clips didn't hurt the K-9, a recent investigation by the Sun Sentinel found that the department disproportionately deploys K-9s on Black suspects, leading to painful bites and excessive-force complaints.

Miedes doesn't take issue with the videos but argues police departments should be more conscious of how civilians might perceive a certain maneuver and only use such moves in the line of duty if they're absolutely necessary — not for entertainment.

"Even though they weren't really hurting the dog in any way, the perception of the public can be different," Miedes says. "It could just blow up in today's social-media world."
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