Penn Vet | Research & Breeding
New Bolton Center Kennett Square, PA
Emergencies & Appointments:
Ryan Hospital Philadelphia, PA
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.

What Do You Think? Can Dogs Detect COVID-19?

We think they can, but we want to prove it and we need your help.

  • Help us prove that dogs can sniff out COVID-19

    The Penn Vet Working Dog Center is looking for individuals in the United States tested for COVID19 SAR-CoV2 by nasal swab or sputum test to assist in our research study to determine if dogs can detect COVID19.

    We are seeking individuals over 18 years of age who either will be tested or have been tested and have received results (positive or negative) in the past 24 hours.

    Eligible participants will be asked to complete a brief health survey, then eligible participants will be sent a cotton T-shirt to be worn one night while sleeping. The T-shirt will be packaged and shipped back to the Penn Vet Working Dog Center to be used in training and testing the dogs.

    This study may help us identify a unique odor associated with COVID19 infection and guide novel screening methods.


    For questions please contact:

    • Dr. Cynthia Otto, Penn Vet Working Dog Center
    • 3401 Grays Ferry Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19146
    • 215-898-3390

Take Our Survey Today

Areas of Research

Physical and Behavioral Health of Working Dogs 

Physical & Behavioral Health

Gaining a better understanding of the unique 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. Our program focuses on form and function and gaining a better understanding of how fitness may help improve overall health and performance.

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. Learn more about our breeding strategies...

Puppy Development at the Working Dog Center

Puppy Development 

From the time they enter our program at eight weeks of age, our puppies participate in a comprehensive program that uses scientific principles to maximize each dog’s genetic potential. Not only are we focused on developing their olfactory abilities, but we aim to raise well-balanced, environmentally sound dogs.

Detection Training at the Working Dog Center 

Detection Training

Applications of the canine’s olfactory abilities continue to expand, and the Working Dog Center is dedicated to exploring ways to improve man’s quality of life through detection. Our dogs train in many disciplines including medical (cancer and infection) detection, antiquities detection, search & rescue, and dual and single purpose law enforcement. The Working Dog Center Training Team collects data on every element of each dog’s training. This data is then analyzed and aids in identifying the most efficient and effective training methods.

Penn Vet Working Dog at Scent Wheel


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. Our studies aim to improve our understanding of different aspect of detection, such as threshold. We also study risk factors that could impair olfaction including anesthesia, vaccines, opioid exposure and naloxone administration.


Working Dogs

  • Lucy

    Lucy, Penn Vet Working Dog Center
    • Registered Name: Lucy PennVetWDC
    • Breed: Dutch Shepherd
    • DOB: May 11, 2017
    • Gender: Female
    • Kennel: Penn Vet Working Dog Center
    • Foster: Derek Zaleski & Stephanie Stevens
    • Legacy: Named in honor of Lucy (Handler Lynne Engelbert) who deployed to the World Trade Center following the attacks of 9/11.
    • Sponsor: Kaleidoscope of Hope
    • Job: Medical Detection
    • Video: Lucy's YouTube


  • Helen

    Helen - Penn Vet Working Dog Center
    • Registered Name: Helen 
    • Breed: Labrador Retriever
    • DOB: June 28, 2017
    • Gender: Female
    • Kennel: Penn Vet Working Dog Center
    • Foster: Andrew & Debbie Shumsky
    • Job: Medical Detection
    • Video: Helen's YouTube



  • Osa

    Osa, Penn Vet Working Dog Center
    • Registered Name: Osa vom Kugelblitz PennVetWDC
    • Breed: German Shepherd Dog
    • DOB: April 4, 2014
    • Gender: Female
    • Kennel: vom Kugelblitz Kennels
    • Foster: Annemarie DeAngelo
    • Legacy: Named in honor of Osa (Handler Laura LoPresti) who deployed to the World Trade Center following the attacks of 9/11.
    • Sponsor: Air Animal Pet Movers
    • Job: Medical Detection
    • Video: Osa's YouTube


  • Bobbie

    Bobbie, Penn Vet Working Dog Center
    • Registered Name: L’Bobbie Von Granville PennVetWDC
    • Breed: German Shepherd Dog
    • DOB: January 29, 2016
    • Gender: Female
    • Kennel: Granville German Shepherds
    • Foster: Bob and JoAnne Dougherty
    • Legacy: Named in honor of K9 Bobbie (Handler Donna Larson) who deployed to the Staten Island Landfill after the attacks of 9/11.
    • Sponsored by: Merck Animal Health
    • Job: Medical Detection
    • Video: Bobbie's YouTube


  • Ivey

    Ivey, Penn Vet Working Dog Center
    • Registered Name: S'Ivey 
    • Breed: German Shepherd Dog
    • DOB: December 21, 2016
    • Gender: Female
    • Kennel: Watcher Engel K9
    • Foster: Anna Sharova (puppy foster: Kurt & Alice Barnhart
    • Legacy: Named in honor of K9 Ivey (Handler Nancy Hachmeister) who deployed to the World Trade Center after the attacks of 9/11.
    • Job: Medical Detection
    • Video: Ivey's YouTube



Learn More About Our Research

A randomized cross-over trial comparing the effect of intramuscular versus intranasal naloxone reversal of intravenous fentanyl on odor detection in working dogs. Animals 9.6, 385 (2019).

Testing ovarian cancer cell lines to train dogs to detect ovarian cancer from blood plasma. J Vet Behav (2019)

Evaluation of skin turgor and capillary refill time as predictors of dehydration in exercising dogs. Am J Vet Res 80.2, 123-128 (2019)

A Solution for the Shortage of Detection Dogs: A Detector Dog Center of Excellence and a Cooperative Breeding Program. Front Vet Sci 5, 284 (2018)

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