Working Dog at the scent wheel

Working Dog Research

Working dogs are specially-trained canines that perform lifesaving and critical tasks to benefit humans and society.

Drawing from the unparalleled wealth of academic, research, and medical resources at the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center is uniquely positioned to pursue a variety of research, training, and teaching opportunities centered on the working dog.

To improve our nation’s ability to produce, train, and maintain these valuable canine partners, the Working Dog Center conducts cutting-edge research in wide range of areas.

Working Dog Center

Areas of Research

Cindy Otto on site at Hydration Study

Physical, Behavioral and Sensory Health

Gaining a better understanding of the unique physical occupational health hazards and special medical and fitness needs of working dogs helps ensure these dogs work longer, healthier lives. This type of understanding also provides information necessary to safely deploy these dogs in their often hazardous working environments. An emphasis on sensory health is important to understand factors that might affect the olfaction or other senses critical to the well-being and performance of detection dogs.

Zzisa puppies, Working Dog Center


Identifying the role genetics plays in the success of working dogs in different disciplines and in the health issues that impact their performance will drive a stronger domestic breeding program increasing the number of qualified dogs that can serve. In the future, combined with behavioral assessments (phenotype), this information will aid selection of breeding animals and ideally dogs from shelters or rescues that have the genetic potential to be successful working dogs.

Penn Vet Working Puppies 

Puppy Development & Detection Training

The Working Dog Center Training Team collects data on every element of each dog’s training from the time they enter our program at eight weeks of age to the time they graduate. This data is analyzed and aids in identifying the most efficient and effective training methods.

Penn Vet Working Dog at Scent Wheel 

Medical Detection

Applications of the canine olfactory abilities continue to expand and the Working Dog Center is dedicated to exploring ways to improve man’s quality of life through detection and earlier diagnosis of many devastating diseases.

Working dogs drinking a nutrient-enriched water maintain cooler body temperature and improved pulse rate recovery after exercise. Front Vet Sci 5, 202 (2018)

Behavior differences between urban search-and-rescue and pet dogs. Front Vet Sci 5, 118 (2018).

Evaluation of Three Hydration Strategies in Detection Dogs Working in a Hot Environment. Front Vet Sci 4, 174 (2017).

Environmental and physiological factors associated with stamina in dogs exercising in high ambient temperatures. Front Vet Sci 4, 144 (2017)

Medical surveillance of search dogs deployed to the World Trade Center and Pentagon: 2001-2006.
J Environ Health 73(2):12-21 (2010)

Pathology and toxicology findings for search-and-rescue dogs deployed to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack sites: initial five-year surveillance. J Vet Diagn Invest 20:477-484 (2008)

Medical and behavioral surveillance of dogs deployed to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon from October 2001 to June 2002. J Am Vet Med Assoc 225:861-867 (2004)

Deployment morbidity among search-and-rescue dogs used after the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks. J Am Vet Med Assoc 225(6):868-73 (2004)

Field treatment of search dogs: Lessons learned from the World Trade Center disaster. J Vet Emerg Crit Care 12(1):38-42 (2002)

Parr J, Otto CM. Emergency Visits and Occupational Hazards in German Shepherd Police Dogs (2008-2010) JVECC 23(6):591-597, 2013. Article first published online: 19 SEP 2013 | DOI: 10.1111/vec.12098

Ng Z, Pierce BJ, Otto CM, Buechner-Maxwell V, Siracusa C, Werre SR. The effect of dog–human interaction on cortisol and behavior in registered animal-assisted activity dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 159:69-81, 2014 DOI:

Hanel RM, Palmer L, Baker J, Brenner J, Crowe DT, Dorman D, Gicking JC.; Gilger B, Otto CM, Robertson SA, Rozanski E, Trumpatori B. Best practice recommendations for prehospital veterinary care of dogs and cats. J Vet Emerg Crit Care 2016;26(2):166-233.

Evaluation of an oral electrolyte solution for treatment of mild to moderate dehydration in dogs with hemorrhagic diarrhea - Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. September 15, 2013, Vol. 243, No. 6, Pages 851-857

Mehler S, Otto CM, Chapter 47. Gunshot wounds and other penetrating foreign bodies In Small Animal Surgical Emergencies, ed Aronson LR. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken NJ 2015

Otto CM. Ch 5 Effects of Disease on Canine Olfaction. In Canine Olfaction Science and Law. Ed Jezierski T, Ensminger J, Taylor & Francis/CRC Press Boca Raton, FL 2016.

Stanzani, G, Otto CM. Chapter 6. Shock. In Small Animal Surgical Practice, 2nd Ed, eds. Tobias K & Johnston,S Elsevier, St. Louis 2016 in press.

Darling T, Otto CM Chapter 4 – Communicating the treatment plan in Physical Rehabilitation for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses, eds Goldberg ME, Tomlinson J. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken NJ in press

Otto CM. Working Dogs in the Emergency Room. In Textbook of Small Animal Emergency Medicine. eds. Drobatz KJ, Rozanski EA, Silverstein DC, Hopper K. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken NJ in press