[April 28, 2014; Philadelphia, PA] – The Penn Vet Working Dog Center will partner with the Department of Homeland Security for the research and breeding of purpose-bred explosive detection canines. This collaborative effort will utilize and build upon the data gathered by the TSA breeding program to determine the most significant genetic and behavioral characteristics of explosive detection canines. The research will help the government identify more efficient tools for screening potential working dogs.

Penn Vet Working Dog Center“We are honored to have the opportunity to build on the important work established by the TSA breeding program over the past ten years,” said Dr. Cynthia Otto, Executive Director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. “These remarkable dogs play a crucial role in ensuring public safety. As we gain a deeper understanding of their population genetics, we can further improve their work-related behavior traits and traits that are critical for canine health and longevity.”

The Working Dog Center, in partnership with Dr. James Bell, Director of the 401 K-9 Program and Director of the International Canine Semen Bank, will provide for the care and housing of eight adult breeding female Labrador Retrievers and up to 50 puppies each year. Two dogs will be housed at the Working Dog Center in Philadelphia, PA, and six will be housed at Dr. Bell’s breeding facility in Castroville, TX.

Drs. Otto and Bell will provide ongoing research and analysis of new and existing data associated with the observation and measurement of canine health and performance.  Each dog will be evaluated for its potential as an effective explosives detection canine.

Advanced genetic data will also be gathered to screen for genetic faults (hip structure, elbow structure, ocular anomalies, or other genetic diseases) that would preclude dogs born and reared within the program from becoming future working dogs. In addition, the collaborators will investigate possible genetic linkages to behaviors related to olfaction and hunting ability. Dr. Elizabeth Hare, a geneticist who provided statistical analysis for the TSA breeding program, will continue to apply quantitative methods to optimize the selection of breeding stock.

“The Penn Vet Working Dog Center is providing an excellent opportunity to continue to study this population, which has been improved by selective breeding for over a decade. With high-density genotype, health, and behavior data on over 300 dogs so far, we hope to identify genes influencing dogs' working ability and health, which will enhance our ability to select dogs that are happy and healthy in their work,” said Dr. Hare.

In addition, Dr. Otto will establish a National Semen Bank and will continue to add to the Detection Dog DNA Bank established at the Working Dog Center. Dr. Margret Casal, Associate Professor of Medical Genetics at Penn Vet, will assist with the semen banking and reproduction. Dr. Carlo Siracusa, Director of the Behavior Service at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital, will help conduct behavioral assessments.

“This is truly a collaborative effort,” added Dr. Otto. “We’ve assembled some of the best minds in the nation to evaluate and advance the health and performance of these working dogs.”

About the Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Opened on September 11, 2012, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center is the nation’s premier research, training, and educational facility dedicated to harnessing the unique strengths of our canine partners for public safety and human health. For more information, visit www.pennvetwdc.org.

About Penn Vet

Penn Vet is a global leader in veterinary medicine education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the only veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health Initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.

Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, seeing nearly 33,000 patients a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals, treating 33,000 patients each year – 4,100 in the hospital and 29,000 at farms through the Field Service. In addition, New Bolton Center’s campus includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.

For more information, visit www.vet.upenn.edu.