AKC Working Dog Detection Conference

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AKC Working Dog Detection Conference
February 28 and March 1, 2017, Durham, North Carolina.

June, Issue 2017

  • Mr. Jim Dok Director, AKC
  • Mr. Jim Dok Director, AKC
  • Mr. Jim Dok Director, AKC
  • Mr. Jim Dok Director, AKC



Since the tragic events of 9/11, many government agencies have used canines to assist in Homeland Security and law enforcement. The dogs involved have been used for two primary purposes, their ability to protect its handler and the general public, and their ability to detect. In today’s environment of real danger and terrorist’s threats, the greatest need is for detector dogs. For the past 30 years the vast majority of these dogs have been purchased from Europeans vendors who have had a long history of breeding, training and trialing dogs in police/military style competitions and certifications. Efforts of this kind have not developed in the United States only because dogs were readily available abroad.

The irony is this situation is that as a nation we have not typically out-sourced the production of resources for our national security. It is even more difficult to accept the fact, that as a nation, we cannot meet our own needs for working dogs when we have so many breeders and dogs within our borders.

The Problem

Today over 80% of working/detector dogs in the United States are imported from eastern Europe even though there are an estimated 73 million dogs in the United States of which about 10 million are purebred. The numbers of viable working candidates available becomes exponentially smaller when a “filter” is used for age, breed/function, size, health standards, and the behavioral characteristics needed of working dogs. The only way to maintain a ready source of dogs with the desired characteristics and special traits for detection is to breed dogs for those needed traits. The easiest way to accomplish this is to select from breeds known to have success doing those jobs and then to further refine those traits through research and selective breeding.

The primary difference between the domestic supply of dogs and those procured in Europe is that the European bred and trained working lines have a proven history of pedigrees from dogs selected for working traits. These traits are defined by the influence of competitive dog sports and the training requirements needed to participate at regional and national events. Good examples are the French Ring Sport and the Schutzhund (VPG, IPO) sports. Each serves to demonstrate how cultural interests can influence, shape and drive the breeding of these dogs. When TSA began to test dogs for their own program, the actual heritability scores were found to be quite low, but the titles used by the competitive sports served as relevance to a heritable basis. One of the primary difficulties in using sport dogs as breeding stock is a lack of emphasis on detection abilities as part of the selection process. This can be can be remedied by creating a widespread system that can breed and evaluate those that possess or can produce pups with detection abilities.

Today, some of the best advances in working canines have come from the work of government organizations, non-governmental agencies, academic institutions and private citizens. After the tragedy of 911, the Department of Home Land Defense established the TSA Canine Breeding and Development Center through a cooperative effort with the Australian Customs Service.

The early TSA breeding program was originally overseen by the FAA Technical Center, United States Army Veterinary Corps, the United States Air Force and civilian contractors. The core strength of the program was provided by the International Working Dog Breeding Association via networking with like-minded programs world-wide. Outcross breeding stock was introduced from over 20 dog owners across the nation. Additional assistance was provided by local dog experts that offered advice on the success of dogs in competitive venues. Private contractors supported the program with contract employees and local veterinarians helped with reproductive services. Puppies in the TSA program are socialized by private citizens who follow socialization protocol that provide real world experiences for their first nine to ten months of age.

A volunteer youth group was used to assist during the summer months and many high school students helped hone their scientific knowledge through observation and statistical analysis projects. These students have “yielded significant data on hip measurement systems and correlations of birth weight to twelve month hip scores”. Universities and other investigators also supported the program through research focused on the genetics and behavior of this population of working canines. The TSA program shared its canine resources with other federal and state agencies to supply and desperately needed quality working canines. Community outreach allowed the program to educate the general public (schools, businesses, civic groups, and other organizations).

These efforts demonstrate how cooperative efforts between the various sectors of the canine community with private breeders, non-governmental organizations, research universities and governmental organizations can come together to help solve some of our national needs for working dogs.

In early 2016, two hearings were held by the US Senate. Both focused on issues related to the security of our airports and our borders. From these hearings we learned about two road blocks hindering the development of a domestic breeding program designed to breed and train detection dogs. Separately we learned about the growing shortage of detection dogs needed to protect our airports and boarders. The first road block focused on the government regulation requiring breeders to become an authorized vendor before they can sell or donate dogs to the government and the second was the lack of an organized effort to help breeders and citizens who were interested in meeting this need.

Dr. Cindy Otto of the University of Pennsylvania Working Dog Center discussed these two problems with us after her testimony to the Senate. She suggested an AKC involvement. The AKC Board discussed the problem and agreed that an AKC initiative should be developed. The chairman then appointed a small group of AKC board members (Arnold, Ashby, Battaglia and Dok. Staff were also assigned to work with the Board committee including Mark Dunn, Doug Ljungren and Penny Leigh who serves a Project Managed. Other staff were made available to assist including Sheila Goffe and Heather McManus.

The first step was to gain insight into the problem so visits were made to the University of Pennsylvania, Working Dog Center and the TSA, military and contracting offices at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Subsequent meetings were also held with several breed clubs, breeders and kennel owners to understand their interest in the development of a national breeders’ program. Those interested in only the puppy raising aspect of such a program are being called the “patriotic puppy” project.

Because of the current environment and a real threat of terrorism, most experts agree that the United States should take steps to develop its own breeding program to protect the country.

The basis for such and effort in part comes from the notion that we must learn from the mistakes of the past. With that said, one can point to the four programs established by the federal government to breed dogs which were also terminated by a federal budget cut. The most recent program to be closes was the TSA breeding program (2012). That budget cut made clear how one government action could, and did, produce the unintended consequence of terminating one of our countries most valuable breeding programs. One that could produce needed research, and trained dogs suitable for the protection of our airports and borders. To avoid that from happening again, an AKC initiative was developed that would bring together government, University, private sector research organizations and others for a meeting of the Stake holders to discuss this problem and the need for a different approach.

As a result of those concerns, on February 28 and March 1, 2017, the first AKC Canine Detection Working Dog conference was convened in Durham, North Carolina. The purpose of this meeting was to bring together the best experts from government and the private sector whose interests, professions and diverse backgrounds could contribute to the many and varied aspects of canine breeding, behavior and genetics that would lead to the development of a better plan for the delivery of more dogs that are suitable for use in the defense and protection of the United States.

Twelve invited speakers presented a range of topics from genetics, semen collection, storage and the uses of DNA tests, breeding models, behavioral research, organizational management and other related issues. The key message from this meeting was the need for a national breeding program and the opportunities to further enhance canine science in the areas of breeding, training, management, semen collection and behavior.

The conference was attended by more than 40 invitees some of which researchers, AKC delegates, technical staff and interested parties. For others their main focus was either dog behavior or genetics but the interested supporters for the noble efforts of the AKC.

Dr. Carmen Battaglia, AKC director opened the conference by welcoming the attendees and presenters. He reviewed the need and purpose of the conference and why AKC was involved. His remarks included some historical background and the unintended consequences of relying on European countries to breed and train detection dogs needed by the United States.

Carl Ashby, AKC, Vice Chair followed with a review of AKC’s core values, mission and purpose. He touched on Standards of Care and Conditions and the collaborations with the AVMA, canine health research affiliates, breed club organizations and outside associations and the connection and importance between AKC’s 5000 clubs, their breeders, canine research activities and the natural connection they have to the goals and purposes of the conference.

Sgt. Wendell Nope of the Utah Department of Public Safety provided an overview of the dangers present in our cities and the need for well-trained detection dogs. He reported that in his survey of ten states, 80 -90% of the dogs used by police departments were imports.

Lt. Colonel Mathew Enroth, Chief of Veterinary Diagnostics at Lackland Air Force Base discussed the screening and evaluation of dogs being considered by the United States before they are purchased and the primary reasons for failure which included hips, elbows, lumbar and temperament.

Scott Thomas, program specialist at the TSA breeding program, Lackland Air Force Base. Thomas titled his presentation “lessons learned” which included information about selection in a breeding program and success in the field. He discussed TSA evaluation criteria for “green “candidates and the needed traits such as: confidence, response to distractions, responsiveness, initiative, hearing sensitivity and body sensitivity.

Dr. Eldin Leighton, president of the International Working Dog Breeding Association presented a 13-page proposal co–authored by Dr. Otto, Dr. Hare and Scott Thomas. Their paper proposed a long range view and guidelines for an independent effort that would bring together the private and public sectors in a working collaboration for purpose-bred, well-trained dogs to accomplish a variety of missions needed for the safety and security of the United States.

Dr. Cindy Otto, Executive Director from the U. Penn Working Dog Center used an informative video that depicted the on-going work at the U. Penn Working Dog Center and how it achieves its success with puppies and their progress toward detecting cancer and epilepsy. Research at the Center focuses on the uniqueness of the canine olfactory system and on tests designed to evaluate detecting unique substances.

Otto expanded on the reasons why the United States needs a national breeding program with features that include a national semen bank, phenotype screening and studies to evaluate both the successful dogs and those that wash out.

Dr. Liz Hare, a quantitative geneticist at the U. Penn Working Dog Center presented her statistical research and data on phenotypes, genotypes, pedigrees, heritability and estimated breeding values (EBV).

Paul Bunker, technical staff from K-2 Solutions, a government vendor from North Carolina used an outdoor area to demonstrate the abilities of dogs trained to find and detect dangerous substances and follow a person through a crowd that is carrying suspicious substances.

Don Roberts, Program Manager for the Detection Canine and Surface Transportation Explosive Threat Detection Program for Homeland Security Advanced Research discussed methods and his on-going research to improve the operational proficiency of canine detection teams. His presentation included a discussion on the support for the needs of the FBI and their interests in odors related to explosive detection.

A panel discussion made up of Dr. Carmen Battaglia, Dr. Cindy Otto, Dr. Paul Waggoner, Scott Thomas, and Paul Bunker addressed topics that centered on a national center for excellence, research needs and measures, data collection, semen storage and usage, breeding protocols, costs and the pricing of puppies in the program.

Dr. Battaglia summarized the proceedings with a brief overview of the conference and challenged the audience to review the discussions, recommendations and suggestions. There was consensus that there is sufficient underlying agreement and support for an effort that involves a government - private sector collaboration that could produce more detection and patrol dogs needed for the protection of the United States. Such effort would include support for an AKC digital library where papers and information would be posted and users allowed to search by subject matter, author or topic.

The stakeholders and the audience left the conference noting that AKC and others will make an effort to help. It might be daunting to suggest that we now have a better understanding about what needs to be done. The challenges of the behavioral traits involved in nose work and the additive effects of genetic variation, heritability and estimated breeding values are all areas that will be explored.

The American Kennel Club is in a unique position to assist. With the largest and most professional network of purebred breeders in world, AKC can leverage those interested to help work to make a real difference in breeding the dogs needed to protest the nation.

We are AL reading working not eh nest steps to find the most impactful way for AKC to Assis in the national effort. Our plan is to continue to work with all the stakeholders to develop a plan. We will use perspectives to keep the delegate body informed and up to date on this important work.

In conclusion, we can say that more information about the results of this conference and those involved will be made available in three papers delivered to Perspectives. These papers will review the efforts being made, the activities of the stakeholders and the efforts of the Patriotic Puppy project and how more information can be found. The “takeaway” from this conference is that AKC provide the leadership and know how to help address this critical homeland security issue.


About the Author

Carmen L Battaglia holds a Ph.D. and Masters Degree from Florida State University. As an AKC judge, researcher and writer, he has been a leader in promotion of breeding better dogs and has written many articles and several books.Dr. Battaglia is also a popular TV and radio talk show speaker. His seminars on breeding dogs, selecting sires and choosing puppies have been well received by the breed clubs all over the country.