Explosives detection dogs play a crucial role in U.S. safety and security at home and abroad, but unlike other vital national security tools, the United States is importing approximately 85-90% of its bomb dogs. This deficit leaves the U.S. captive to other countries for a key national security input, and begs the question, “Why aren’t we relying on U.S. breeders?”
The AKC Detection Dog Task Force (DDTF) is working to answer this question and reverse the threat.
After a two-year pandemic-related hiatus, the AKC Detection Dog Task Force resumed the AKC National Detection Dog Conference recently in Durham, North Carolina. The two-day event was attended by more than a hundred terrorism experts, law enforcement officials, U.S. military officials, and dog breeders committed to addressing the grave shortage of high-quality explosives detection dogs.
The theme of this year’s National Detection Dog Conference was “bringing together stakeholders to improve domestic availability of high-quality, American-bred, -raised, and -trained dogs to protect U.S. national and public security.”
“This conference provided a really unique opportunity for breeders, including participants in AKC’s Patriotic Puppy Program, to network with trainers, industry leaders, and researchers from the detector dog world,” said Stacey West, Manager of the AKC Patriotic Puppy Program.
More than 23 panelists and presentations participated in the event, which emphasized presenting practical information of value to all stakeholders, but especially breeders, puppy-raisers, trainers, and buyers. They provided real, practical resources to improve opportunities for each sector to work together more closely to advance breeding, raising, training, purchase, and deployment of U.S. dogs for domestic law enforcement and security.
“I was delighted in the high marks given to the speakers and panelists,” said Dr. Carmen Battaglia, DDTF Co-Chair. “The speakers were great. They provided thoughtful and useful answers to a wide range of questions.”
Panels and presentations included:
- Federal Procurement of Detection Dogs – What Different Agencies are Looking For. This panel included expert analyses from Brandon Peters and Shawn Farrens of the TSA’s Canine Training Center; and Monica Errico of the USDA’s National Detector Dog Training Center.
- Detection Dog Industry Outlook and Forecast. This panel included expertise from Kevin Beck, Executive Vice President of the Global K-9 Protection Group; Lane Kjellsen, CEO of K2 Solutions Inc., Nicholas King, Founder of Von Der King (VDK) Kennels and Training; and Heather Leigh, Vice President of Arete Canine.
- National Standards and Certification for Explosive Detection Dogs. David Kontny, Chief of Staff for the FBI’s Joint Program Office of Countering Improvised Explosives Devices, provided an update on newly revised federal standards and certifications for Explosives Detection Dogs.
- Scalability of a Detection Dog Program. In this presentation, Lane Kjellsen explained how breeders can scale up their programs to meet requirements for government contracts.
- Early Prediction of Puppies’ Suitability for Detection Careers. Dr. Lucia Lazarowski of the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine presented her recently published work on assessing puppies’ aptitude for future work as a detection dog.
- AKC & Breeding Data – What an Analysis of Top Retriever Pedigrees Reveals for the Development of Detection Dogs. The DDTF’s Subject Matter Expert and Patriotic Puppy Program Manager, Stacey West, presented information showing the striking impact of pedigree on breeding the most successful field trial dogs. This is relevant because attributes of field trial dogs are very similar to those of detection dogs.
- Update in Genetic/Genomic Research Impacting Detection Dogs. AKC’s new Executive Director of the AKC DNA program, Dr. Claire Wiley, provided an update on considerations for breeding detection dogs.
Multiple networking events also allowed important opportunities for participants to network and meet future mentors and associates.
“From breeding to puppy training to procurement processes, the conversations had throughout the conference have increased the understanding of the needs of the entire industry,” West said. “We are better equipped to address the shortage of quality detector dogs than ever before.”
For more information about conference presentations and panels, visit www.akc.org/edc.
About the AKC Detection Dog Task Force
The AKC has a long history of providing dogs or solutions regarding canines for governments and law enforcement. During World War II, AKC and AKC clubs were strong supporters of “Dogs for Defense,” a program that trained pets for potential roles in the battlefields of that war.
During World War II, AKC and AKC clubs were strong supporters of “Dogs for Defense,” a program that trained pets for potential roles in the battlefields of that war.
In 2016, representatives from the Transportation Security Administration reached out to the American Kennel Club, seeking assistance with obtaining U.S.-bred detection dogs in light of a global shortage of high-quality detection dogs. Later that year, the AKC Board of Directors established the Detection Dog Task Force (DDTF) to study the specific areas in which the AKC could help address the crisis of a shortage of high-quality explosives detection dogs crucial to protecting U.S. national security and public safety.
DDTF members learned that the U.S. not only relies on outsourcing for explosives detection dogs, but that we do not have access to the best dogs raised for this purpose because they typically stay in their home countries or go to high bidders from other countries. The lack of a consistent and reliable American-based source for these dogs is a vital deficit in U.S. public safety and security.
Other challenges include lack of support for U.S. breeders, lack of appropriate pricing and economic incentives for U.S. breeders, poor transparency and communication from federal agencies about standards and requirements, a complex and intimidating federal contracting process, and concerns about treatment of the dogs after they are acquired by the government.
The DDTF, co-chaired by AKC Board Members Dr. Carmen Battaglia and Christopher Sweetwood, works to address these complex challenges. Other members of the Task Force include AKC Board members Rita Biddle, Dominic Carota, and Ann Wallin; and AKC staff Mark Dunn, Sheila Goffe, Doug Ljungren, Melissa Ferrell, and Stacey West. The AKC Government Relations (GR) team provides staff leadership and implementation.
Today, the AKC DDTF represents knowledgeable experts on the complex issue. GR staff focuses on three key areas of outreach to reverse government reliance on overseas dogs:
- Impacting public policy (government relations), including legislation to improve government purchasing policy and practices. Recent efforts in this area include language in the 2022 and 2023 U.S. National Defense Authorization bills to provide funding to advance research on working dog health and to prioritize consideration of a minimum number of U.S.-bred dogs for Defense Department contracts.
- Outreach to the public and to stakeholders to raise awareness of the issue and the value of dog breeders whose efforts help protect our national security; as well as to share best practices, and create solutions. The DDTF and staff offer a wide variety of resources and expertise to lawmakers, industry officials, and the public. This includes the AKC National DDTF Conference, more than a dozen webinars, and expertise and outreach to the media.
- Breeder Education to help U.S. breeders understand the specific requirements for producing and raising a high-quality U.S.-bred, -raised, and -trained detection dog. AKC’s Patriotic Puppy Program provides one-on-one instruction and mentoring to breeders interested in raising a puppy for detection work. All aspects of the process are covered in the program, from breeding through government contracting, and everything in between. The Patriotic Puppy Program has worked with approximately 80 breeder/puppy-raiser participants from 30 states. The recently released Confident Puppy online training course on the AKC Canine College platform leverages expertise provided in the Patriotic Puppy Program, or developed by other experts to help breeders raise dogs that can go on for advanced training as detection dogs or other working or performance careers. The course is currently available for at no cost.
To learn more about the DDTF, visit www.akc.org/edc or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.