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AKC REUNITE AND THE THERIOGENOLOGY FOUNDATION JOIN FORCES TO SOLVE U.S. DETECTION DOG SHORTAGE
Organizations Help Launch the Working Dog Project at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to Improve Breeding of Military and Service Dogs
New York, NY— The need for explosive detection dogs and assistance dogs has never been greater. Unfortunately, only half of the dogs being trained for this work succeed.
The Working Dog Project is a unique opportunity to apply cutting edge genomics technology to investigate how genetic variation influences behavioral characteristics. By identifying the key genetic factors, breeders can strategically select better working dogs, thereby saving time, energy and dollars. Rarely has there been the opportunity to make such an impact for BOTH our national security and our disabled Americans.
AKC Reunite, the largest non-profit pet identification and recovery service provider in the United States, is donating $150,000 to a joint project with the Theriogenology Foundation to sponsor research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard for The Working Dog Project. The Theriogenology Foundation has made an initial donation of $200,000 to fund the project.
The lack of supply of working dogs has become a pressing issue for the government and has a direct impact on national security. The demand for highly skilled animals is only growing and their availability is limited. Despite decades of pedigree analysis and focused breeding programs, the training success rate for service and working dogs hovers at approximately 50%; for high-performing scent dogs, success rates are even lower. This leads to significant issues including wasted training dollars, puppies pushed into roles in which they cannot succeed, unmet client needs, and, in the military, dogs that cannot fulfill the elite requirements to protect and serve.
“Working dogs are important partners to law enforcement, search and rescue, customs and border patrol, and our military. The incredible scenting ability of dogs makes them essential to explosive detection,” said Alan Kalter, Chairman of AKC Reunite. “We are proud to join with the Theriogenology Foundation in supporting the work being done by the Broad Institute. This research will help breeders understand the genetics needed to produce working dogs that will be on the front lines.”
Genetic tests focused on behavior or temperament would help solve the central challenge: accurate prediction at an early age of potential for successful training. They could help identify which dogs should be trained for particular jobs, and would support more successful breeding programs.
“AKC Reunite and veterinarians have long recognized the value of purpose-bred dogs as canine working partners that make our lives safer and more secure,” added Dr. Anita Migday, President of the Theriogenology Foundation. “With this collaborative effort, we continue to merge science and breeding practices to produce world class working dog teams”.
The Working Dog Project is part of a comprehensive program that engages working dog organizations, scientists and dog breeders. The project will focus on two key working dog behaviors: scenting and retrieving, and will be the first step in leveraging the power of genomics to accelerate the breeding and training of successful working dogs.
“For years we have been diligently committed to supporting research aimed to unlock the genetic code of many physical diseases,” noted Dr. Elinor Karlsson, principal investigator for The Working Dog Project. “Our current commitment is to examine the canine genome as critically for predicting behavior as we have for predicting disease.”
For detailed information regarding the Working Dog Project, please visit www.workingdogproject.org.
Dogs have always worked alongside the men and women in our armed services, which currently enlists about 2,300 Military War Dogs in the fighting force. In America today, detection dogs that can sweep large areas or track the vapor of carried explosives are also in high demand and critical to our national security. By having these working dogs on the job, we can all safely enjoy public transportation, concerts, marathons, shopping malls, sporting events and tourist attractions. With the surging global demand, prices now exceed $25,000 for a dog as the United States relies on brokers who source dogs from Eastern Europe.
According to the NYTimes, T.S.A. agents and United States Army officers who go on overseas buying trips say they are lucky if they look at 110 dogs and have 50 pass their preliminary behavioral and medical screenings. Of those dogs, another 15 to 20 percent don’t make it through training in the United States to be put into service. The ones that wash out are shopped to other agencies or put up for adoption. Once it has a promising pup, the Pentagon spends an additional $42,000 to train a K9 unit, a process that starts with obedience and drug and/or bomb detection at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Some of the dogs get a second round of training in how to patrol, detain an enemy and attack. A “dual-purpose” dog spends about 120 days completing both training cycles. The U.S. military spends up to $283,000 to train one working war dog.
The scarcity of these dogs for both military and public safety use prompted the American Kennel Club (AKC) to investigate the possibility of creating either a cooperative of private dog breeders in the United States or a federally funded breeding program to provide the military and law enforcement agencies with high-quality dogs. However, with training success rates hovering between 20— 50% in the military and service dog populations, simply increasing puppy numbers still translates into wasted training dollars, puppies pushed into roles in which they cannot succeed, unmet client needs and dogs that cannot fulfill the elite requirements to protect and serve.
How do we increase success rates when decades of pedigree analysis and focused breeding programs have fallen short? That question was brought to the Theriogenology Foundation (TF), the charitable arm that unites the American College of Theriogenologists and the Society for Theriogenology. These veterinarians, dedicated to responsible breeding and genetic practices, recognized that there are no useful genetic tests for behavioral traits, suggesting a fundamentally new approach is needed. Genetic tests focused on behavior or temperament would help solve today’s clear and present challenge: to accurately predict the potential for specific task training at an early age in an individual puppy.
Recognizing the need for new tools and technology to study genomics, the TF has now partnered with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The Broad Institute is a world renowned genomic institute launched in 2004 by MIT and Harvard University in collaboration with the Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation. Staffed by leading genomic scientists and equipped with cutting edge production platforms and analysis technologies, the Broad’s primary mission is to use genomics to advance our understanding of biology and the treatment of disease.
With this directive, The Working Dog Project (WDP) was launched in September
2017. This project is the first step on the path to predicting temperament and working skills using genomic tools. The goal is to find the genetic loci associated with key behavioral traits of military and service dogs in order to guide our selection of puppies for specific training and career paths. This program will leverage the power of genomics to support better working dog breeding and training programs.
The WDP is the first project in a comprehensive program that engages working dog organizations, scientists and dog breeders. The AKC and TF have a history of collaboration for the well-being of purpose bred dogs. Since 2014, they have partnered to establish 9 residencies in companion animal theriogenology in colleges of veterinary medicine to advance post graduate veterinary education in reproductive medicine and increase clinical competency in veterinarians serving companion animal owners. AKC Reunite, North America’s largest not for profit pet ID and recovery service, joins the Theriogenology Foundation as a major financial supporter of the WDP. Historically, the canine fancier and veterinarians have been diligently committed to supporting research aimed to unlock the genetic code of many physical diseases. The current commitment is to examine the canine genome as critically for predicting behavior as we have for predicting disease.
We hope you’ll consider joining us in the Working Dog Project!
The goal of the Working Dog Project is to identify genetic explanations for why some dogs succeed in working dog programs while others do not, and to help better target individual dogs to different programs, such as assistance versus law enforcement work. This new project is based at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is generously funded by the Theriogenology Foundation and AKC Reunite. You can learn more about us at www.workingdogproject.org.
We will analyze the genetics and behavior of thousands of working dogs over the next several years, and we need your help. We seek to partner with groups that have experience breeding and/or training working dogs. Collaborators collect non-invasive DNA samples using saliva swabs from each dog. If blood samples or other DNA samples have already been collected and stored, we may also be able to accept those. We will then work with you to assess each dog’s skills and performance through the behavioral assessments that you already have in place.
For the Working Dog Project, it is critically important that we include both successful and
unsuccessful dogs. We are interested in:
● Dogs who are about to enter a training program
● Dogs who are currently enrolled in training
● Successful working dogs
● Dogs who were unable to complete their training program for behavioral reasons
We will compare the behavioral and genetic profiles of successful and unsuccessful dogs to identify genes associated with working dog performance. By setting concrete and measurable goals with the two year Working Dog Project, we expect to powerfully advance any future phases, which may take years to explore. Our long term goal is to provide our partners with practical guidance, based on our research, that will increase the number of dogs succeeding in your program.
If you are interested in helping out or just learning more, please email us at
firstname.lastname@example.org . We look forward to working with you!
Jessica Hekman, DVM, PhD (Team Lead, Working Dog Project)
Brittney Logan, BS (Project Coordinator, Working Dog Project)
Elinor K. Karlsson, PhD (Principal Investigator, Working Dog Project)
By Greg Cima
Posted Oct. 11, 2017
Half of dogs that enter training to serve people with disabilities become service dogs.
Fewer than half of high-performance scent detection dogs succeed.
Information from the Theriogenology Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports education and research into animal reproduction, indicates those figures show a need for collaborative research that could accelerate selective breeding for working dogs.
Dr. Charles F. Franz, executive director of the foundation, estimates the multimillion-dollar Working Dog Project started by the organization this fall will last about seven years. The project is starting as a collaborative effort with the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University to identify genetic loci associated with scenting and retrieval behaviors.
"What we would like to have is a genetic test that can look at the DNA of a puppy and be able to direct that puppy into the proper training route," Dr. Franz said.
That could also involve exclusion of a puppy from training programs, he said.
A white paper and video from the foundation indicate failures in dog training programs waste money, increase the prices of trained dogs, and delay delivery of needed service animals. These problems endure despite decades of pedigree analysis and selective breeding.
Understanding the genetics of behavior will require examining DNA of tens of thousands of dogs, foundation information states. Developing a test will require collaboration among working dog organizations, use of the open science model pioneered in human genetics, and DNA sequencing and analysis tools tailored to working dog characteristics.
The results will be available to all.
The project's first efforts will involve saliva sample analyses and behavioral assessments for 100 assistance dogs that are trained or are in training by the nonprofit National Education for Assistance Dog Services, DNA and performance evaluations for 140 dogs listed in a databank for the Canine Performance Sciences group at Auburn University, and genotype data for 600 dogs with owner-reported behavioral phenotypes in the Darwin's Dogs citizen science project.
The Working Dog Project will involve conducting full genome sequencing for all 840 dogs. Those sequences will be analyzed along with the professional and owner evaluations in efforts to find causal relationships between genetic variations and behaviors.
"Through this project, we will also seek to identify the first genetic variants significantly associated with working dog performance," the paper states. "However, this project alone will not yield a working toolset for predicting behavioral outcomes in dogs."
Dr. James Floyd, former director of and current adviser to the Auburn program, said identifying repeatable and measurable phenotypes will be the biggest challenge. And he said a dog's ability to fill working roles still will depend on a mix of training and genetic potential.
Dr. Floyd is a member of the Theriogenology Foundation Board of Directors.
The foundation has planned for three more pieces of the Working Dog Project: assembling a consortium to build a dog behavioral genomics databank, developing predictive tests for dog performance, and creating software, genomic tools, or both for working dog breeders.
Original article can be found @ AVMA at this link
The Working Dog Project: Investigating the genomics of working dog performance. Significance: The Working Dog Project will apply cutting-edge genomics to investigate how genetic variation influences two key working dog behaviors: scenting and retrieving. Through this new initiative, we propose to promote, and enable, large-scale, collaborative research into the genetics of dog behavior, with the goal of providing the working dog community with the new tools they need to accelerate the breeding and training of successful working dogs. Problem Statement: Dogs and people have lived side by side for tens of thousands of years in a mutually beneficial relationship, with humans selectively breeding dogs to perform useful jobs. Even today, working dogs fill critical roles in a wide range of fields, from ensuring public safety to easing anxiety. While demand for highly skilled animals is only growing, their availability is limited. Despite decades of pedigree analysis and focused breeding programs, the training success rate for service dogs hovers at only around 50%; for high-performing scent dogs, success rates are even lower. This leads to significant issues including wasted training dollars, puppies pushed into roles in which they cannot succeed, unmet client needs, and, in the military, dogs that cannot fulfill the elite requirements to protect and serve. Genetic tests focused on behavior or temperament would help solve the central challenge: accurate prediction at an early age of potential for successful training. They could help identify which dogs should be trained for particular jobs, and would support more successful breeding programs. Indeed, the potential power of behavioral genetics in dogs was a major factor motivating the Dog Genome Project, which led to the publication of a reference dog genome in 2005. Yet, despite this early enthusiasm, only a handful of genetic loci have been associated with canine behaviors in the last ten years.
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Our goal is to find the genetic loci associated with key behavioral traits of military and service dogs. While decades of selective breeding practices have shaped the canine genome, we now look to genetics to guide our selection of dogs for specific training and career paths.
The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was launched in 2004 to use genomics to advance science and human health. In 2005, Broad scientists led an international team to decode the DNA of Tasha, the first ever dog sequenced. Since then, scientists have compared the DNA of hundreds of dogs and found millions of differences. Hidden in this complexity are the genetic variants shaping each dog's behavior.
We have a unique opportunity today to apply cutting edge technology to identify the genes driving dog behavior. This is a first critical step. With the key genetic factors found, we can strategically select better working dogs, which saves time, energy and dollars.
Rarely do we have the opportunity to make such an impact for BOTH our national security and our disabled Americans. Please consider supporting the effort. Funding for The Working Dog Project has been provided by the Theriogenology Foundation.