Partnerships in producing domestically bred detection canines for government service *

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By- Scott Thomas

Breeding Program Manager

TSA/NEDCTP Canine Breeding and Development Center

* This is a summary of the original Report by S. Thomas


Numerous government agencies require the use of canines for their ability to assist in Homeland Security and law enforcement organizations. Local law enforcement, state law enforcement, and federal law enforcement organizations use dogs for two primary purposes. The dog’s ability to protect its handler and the general public, and the dog’s ability to detect. Currently, the greatest need is for detector dogs. The vast majority of these dogs are either purchased from foreign vendors or from domestic vendors that import dogs from foreign nations for resale to law enforcement or government agencies.  The key reason is the rich heritage many of the European nations have for breeding, training and trialing dogs in police/military style competitions and certifications. This is an effort that has not yet developed in the United States of America on a comparable scale to Europe.

The irony is that as a nation we do not typically out-source the production of resources needed for 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

There are an estimated 73 million dogs in the United States of which about 10 million are purebred dogs. The numbers of viable working candidates available become 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 for working detection is to breed dogs for those traits. The easiest way to accomplish this is to select from breeds known to have success doing those jobs and to further refine those traits through selective breeding.

In the past there have been discussions by various government officials that the supply of European dogs is sufficient to meet our national needs, however, due to recent bombing and killings in our countries this supply is being bought up by other nations. For example, transportation has already been limited by man-made or natural catastrophes (terrorism, volcanic ash).  A pandemic of zoonotic disease has created quarantines (swine flu, Asian bird flu) and geo- political changes can also easily impact this supply of dogs. From a business aspect having a domestic supply of detection dogs makes sense to protect our national interests.

The primary difference between the domestic supply of dogs and those procured in Europe is that the European working lines have proven pedigrees from dogs selected for working traits. These traits are defined by the influence of the competitive dog sports and the dog training populace that participates at a regional or national level. The KNPV certifications define the best of the Dutch dogs, French Ring Sport defines the French dog, and Schutzhund (VPG, IPO) defines the working German dogs. Each of these serve as good examples of how culture and region influence, shape and drive the breeding of these dogs. When tested by TSA, the actual heritabilities of the scores are quite low, but the titles themselves seem to have relevance and a heritable basis. A primary difficulty in using sport dogs as the breeding stock for the needed working dogs is a lack of emphasis on detection ability as part of the selection process. This can be can be remedied in a number of ways. One is to create a widespread system to evaluate detection abilities.

It would begin by increasing the pool of dogs thus creating a large number to pick from. There would also be large numbers of people that are motivated by profit and/or patriotism. From these efforts the expected changes would be to improve the available breeding stock needed to meet the growing need for detection dogs in local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

There are a number of related questions to be addressed as other nations continue to increase the number of dogs they need for detection work. The questions and problems we need to address are:

What will happen when we lose our ability to get dogs from foreign vendors?

Can the breeders in the US quickly enough to respond and fill the national need?

How many breeders and breed clubs would be willing to help?

 Mixed breeds have not proven to be an answer to the larger problem?

Can we reasonably expect to rely on the continued use of purebred dogs and our own breeders?

Can we bring together and encourage breeders and their club to help make available the domestic sources for these dogs?

Better tools are needed to evaluate and select breeding stock. Will domestic breeders cooperate and contribute to help meet this national need?

The Solution

One approach to solve this problem is to establish a cooperative effort that mutually benefits all parties at the local, state, and federal level. Many citizen breeders are patriotic enough that they would participate in such an effort if the standards are achievable and the methodologies made clear. According to some government officials, the American Kennel Club could serve as the facilitator between the nation’s needs and the dog breeders. Historically, there are many examples of how this has worked in the past. The first was the US Army’s remount program during WWI when the American Kennel Club became involved in the “Dogs for defense” program which was an organized citizen canine donation effort to meet the needs of World War II and the Viet Nam conflict. The TSA Canine Breeding and Development Center and the support offered by the Australian Customs Service is another example of how cooperative efforts can work.

Today, some of  the best advances in working canines have come from governmental organizations, non-governmental agencies, academic institutions and private citizens.

The TSA Canine Breeding and Development Center is a good representation of how a  needed cooperative effort has worked in the past:.

The program was founded by international support offered by the Australian Customs Service
The 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 offered 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 continue to support the program by supplying contracted employees.
The program is supported by a local veterinarian that offers veterinary reproductive services.
The puppies from the program are raised/socialized by private citizens to afford the puppy’s individualized care and balanced socialization in the real world for nine to ten months of the first year of their lives.
Youth volunteers spend thousands of hours assisting the program in the summer months.
High school students use the population to hone their scientific knowledge through observation and statistical analysis. This has yielded significant data on hip measurement systems and correlations of birth weight to twelve month hip scores.
Universities and other investigators support the program through research focused on the genetics and behavior of this population of working canines.
The program shares its canine resources with other federal and state agencies to supply and desperately needed quality working canines.
Community outreach allows the program to educate the general public (schools, businesses, civic groups, and other organizations).

These efforts demonstrate that cooperation between the various sectors of our society can work in concert for a common good.

This proposal suggests a national system for the domestic production of canines to meet a growing national security need. Through cooperation between private breeders, the American Kennel club, non-governmental organizations, and governmental organizations, the production of dogs capable of becoming working dogs can easily become a reality.

Steps to establish a program:

  • Establish a committee  of advisors (stakeholders)
  • Establish a  public relations campaign to identify the need and to find willing participants
  • Develop a standardized agreement for willing participants
  • Use  standardized testing methods to determine working phenotypes
  • Standardize genetic screening for common genetic breed diseases and begin to identify genetic markers associated with successful detection canines.
  • Develop a centralized repository of phenotypic and genotypic data that includes pedigree and other pertinent information.
  •  Establish a specific working dog stud book.
  • Establish a centralized repository for germ-plasm (frozen semen and potentially frozen ova)

Elements to such a program would include:

  1. Dog owner learns about the program via media/internet marketing campaign.
  2. Dog owners at their own cost have their dog(s) screened to meet minimal health standards for their breed.
  3. Dog owners have their dogs evaluated for behavior phenotype characteristics. This would be best done through a modified version of the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test.
  4. If available for their breed, owners could screen their dogs for specific working genetic markers. (This type of work is currently under way at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center- University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, Dr Cynthia Otto)
  5. Upon meeting certain standards the candidate dogs would be entered into the working dogs stud book.
  6. The dog owner would sign a membership agreement that includes:
    1. A contribution of genetic material (frozen semen or potentially ova) to the central repository.
    2. Dogs would be microchipped as the method of permanent identification.
    3. An annual membership fee could be used to support the geno/pheno bank.
    4. As a member breeders could withdraw or deposit frozen semen (potentially frozen ova) at a 2:1 rate. Two breeding unit deposits for each breeding unit withdraw should allow the repository to grow over time.
    5. The agreement will allow for private sales at fair market rates, but the repository will simply act as an exchange for ensuring the future of quality genetics and to foster large scale breeding of quality working dogs.
    6. Frozen semen will be frozen by the most demanding standard for international shipment.
    7. The materials that t explain the sale of  pups via the vendor process,  breeder meetings, and puppy training techniques and methods of  socialization  would be developed and distributed to all of the participants.
    8. Secondary markets for pups not purchased will be explained in a separate paper.

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.