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I'm writing a novel and I need to know a one word command for what a police office or military commander would use when telling their German Shepherd to attack a dangerous prisoner who is attempting to escape.

I've looked on Google but have found different answers. I definitely want to use the most common/popular phrase.

Pronunciation would be appreciated as well.

  • It is my understanding that security dogs are not trained with “attack” words, just in case someone other than the handler should call the word. The dog probably can’t be persuaded to attack its handler, but imagine crying “attack” in a busy airport where there are a bunch of police dogs among the passengers. Hence, ”normal” word, but one which be unlikely to be called is used. I can’t remember where I read this, many years ago. Perhaps you could Google. Or just use it in your novel anyway, as it does sound convincing. – Mawg Jan 23 at 11:13
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The usual attack command for dogs is

Fass!

pronounced as [fas] (IPA).

"Fass" is here the imperative of the verb "fassen" (to catch).

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    I totally agree with fass as correct answer, as this is the usual command in German, but as IQV mentioned, the translation back to english is to catch, this seems to me to have a different meaning compared to attack. attack seems to be more aggressive, like bite wherever you can. fass is more like hold or hold tight. BTW the abort command for fass is aus. – ddlab Jan 23 at 11:05
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    Curiously, the usual attack command for dogs is the same in Russian ([fas]). – Kirill Bulygin Jan 23 at 11:27
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    @ddlab how would a dog “hold tight”, other then with its mouth by biting? – leftaroundabout Jan 23 at 11:50
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    “Fass” can also be translated as “grab” - which is exactly what a trained dog should do. (Hold onto the target, not gnaw on it.) – Stephie Jan 23 at 12:09
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    @leftaroundabout: e.g. retriever training includes a whole lot of retrieving things (of course by muzzle) without biting, i.e. without injuring skin/feathers. And while I'm not into police dog training, AFAIK for all the respective exams, the excercises always end testing that the dog will directly stop the attack when told by its leader. Also, I just had a look at one such exam program - there was no mention of an "attack"/"Fass" command. They do have "stell", stellen means that the dog should make the target person stay where it is (includes attack only if the target person tries to run... – cbeleites Jan 23 at 12:39
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While the top answer with "Fass!" is correct, the proposed translation into english in the comments as "Catch!" is horrible. "Apprehend" is what people mean to say.

"Catch!" would be "Fang!" in German and it's something you'd say if you throw a ball for the dog. Catching is getting something that is given to you. "Fassen" on the other hand, implies taking possession of something.

"Apprehend" is thus too elevated as a translation. "Grab!" dwells too much on the moment of contact, ignoring the chase. "Catch!" is too passive.

  • You're catching fish that end up on your hook. The ones that don't, are free to swim about. A shark isn't catching fish. It's hunting them down.
  • You catch a cold - you never meant to. Goes away.
  • You catch a ride/cab - the driver cooperates with you. Later drives away.
  • You catch a wave - it has to come along. Goes away.
  • You catch a ball - it's thrown at you. You give it away while playing.
  • You catch a glimpse - fate plays into your hands, it's gone the next moment.
  • You catch a butterfly... it's childsplay and you still might want to let it go.

Catching a thief is the same: You catch him, because he's there to be caught. His lameness plays into your hands. You're also not gonna keep him.

Taking ahold of a thief in contrast implies somewhat more effort on your part, resistance on his part.

Police are catching thieves in the sense that they as an institution or person of authority are in the luxurious position of only having to "catch" things. It's a low effort thing in a sense since that they overpower thieves by default, being the police: tactically, backups, training, weapons, strategy...

Now, getting a thief sounds more like a hustle was involved. )

On topic: Fassen - in general would be best translated as "Getting a grip" or "Getting a hold on smth." A translation for "Brace yourself" would also be using this word in German.

So it's: - Go get ahold of him! - also known as "Get him!"

Another thing against saying "Fang!" is that in contrast "Fass!" has this "Obtain and contain" nuance to it. Take it and keep it... While "Catch!" doesn't care if you spit out the ball right after you caught it. Meanwhile the word "fassen" in german is related to the word "fest" meaning tightly, securely.

One more thing: one could also say: "Fass ihn!" adding the "him" explicitly. But only saying "Fass!" makes the command less about "catching someone" and more about the "go getting" per se. So bottom line, an accurate translation would be: "Go get (it)!" or "Apprehend!". For those who are wondering the "go" is hidden within the imperativness. Edit: "Get" alone has the potential of passivity, just as "catch", like in "getting gifts". I guess "go getting" might be idiomatic ?

This de-personifies the whole thing. It's now less about a person being hunted down, possibly getting hurt, it's a process for the dog to be executed that we are talking about. It's raw and cruel. You're also talking to an animal telling it to do the impossible: "go get a grip on him". So you're not responsible for the punctures and ruptures - you only asked for a grip. We'll just ignore the part with your hunting instinct and your sharp teeth.

Also on the pronunciation, I have a hard time believing the correct IPA is "fas". It should rather be "fass" and this is important because without dwelling on the "s" your "command voice" is not only pretty anemic but you might place emphasis on the "a" which is completely wrong.

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't "catch" a synonym for "aprehend" in English, in the specific context of aprehending escapees, criminals, and so on? "Set a thief to catch a thief," "catch a murderer," that kind of thing. – Obie 2.0 Jan 24 at 7:45
  • For what it's worth, "shark catches fish" has about 1100 results, "sharks catch fish" over 2000, and the latter phrase even has a few matches in Google books. – Obie 2.0 Jan 24 at 7:47
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    Catch isn't as bad as you make it sound. It's not only "getting something that is given to you". You also say catch a thief, for example. – nwellnhof Jan 24 at 10:22
  • @Obie2.0 I just edited my post. Apparently, I see catch involving less effort. – Vigor Jan 24 at 17:08
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    My first choice for an English translation of "Fass" in this context would be "Seize". – Andreas Blass Jan 24 at 22:34
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It would depend, "Fass" is not neccessarily what police officers would say in such situations. I can imagine that they would first give the command "Revier", which tells the dog to prevent somebody from moving. But, this is not the same as "Fass" which will cause the dog to severely hurt the person. If the criminal is fleeing through the woods, then the police might use a tracker dog, which might not even have been trained to "fass" or "revier", but to "such verwund'" or "such voran".

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    maybe also "stell" - stellen meaning to prevent the prisoner from escaping. – cbeleites Jan 23 at 12:50
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    I think that in this case „what police officers would say in reality“ is not really what he needs but rather „what people would expect them to say“. And for that the already mentioned „Fass“ would be definitively the best option as that is what policemen in movies and books say. It is the expected phrase in this case. – Torsten Link Jan 23 at 18:40
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    Commands do not consist of long prose. “Such”, without additional words may be a valid command, however, the question was about an attack command which “Such” is not. Mind that the OP’s scenario is “a dangerous prisoner who is attempting to escape”, not “a prisoner has escaped and needs to be searched”. – Holger Jan 24 at 10:20
  • That is not correct. You can't train them to react on a war&peace reading, that's true, but it doesn't care whether the command takes 1 or 1.5 seconds to speak out. Dogs do not care about the words, the react on the speech's rhythm and melodic pattern. Also note that nothing is said about the actual situation, we don't know how close the officer is, he could see him escaping in some distance. "Fass!" just makes sense if he's close by. – dial033 Jan 25 at 13:32
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Fass

Honestly, most of the trained dogs I have seen just go when the handler points.

Sidenote: A trained dog will never seriously hurt a person.

protected by Community Jan 25 at 8:55

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