At the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, our puppies start training from the day they join the program at eight weeks old, participating in age-appropriate exercises to gradually develop the skills they will need as working dogs. From that point, they spend at least eight hours a day Monday through Friday at the Center to learn the basics of search, agility, fitness, impulse control, obedience, and drive.
A Foundation in Scent Detection
Since we are a foundation program, we teach our dogs the basic skills necessary for a successful career in detection. We like to think of it as a liberal arts degree that will prepare them to go on to the advanced training that best suits their physical and behavioral strengths.
Our dogs currently search for their favorite toy or for a concealed person (any hidden person). When they graduate from our program they will learn to apply their search skills to their specified target odor (i.e., explosives, drugs, medical detection).
After completion of foundation training, our dogs are prepared for careers in different disciplines, including:
- Urban search and rescue
- Human Remains Detection
- Dual purpose
- Single purpose
- Diabetes alert
- Ovarian cancer detection
- Explosive detection
- Narcotics detection
Searching With Confidence
To ensure they will succeed in any detection program, our dogs learn to confidently & independently search independently (off leash) as well as on leash. They use “air scenting” to identify the slightest trace of odor and follow it to the source.
How a Dog Alerts
We typically start by teaching an active alert (e.g., scratch or bark) and may progress to a passive alert such as a sit or down. The final alert will be determined by what odor the dog is trained to detect. We also take advantage of a dog’s natural tendency to respond, so if a dog spontaneously offers a passive alert (sit) when they identify an odor, we will develop and reward that response.