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 & Breeding

Our comprehensive research program leverages the canine physiology, sports medicine, cognition, behavior, development and genetics expertise of our team and our collaborators to optimize the health and performance of detection dogs

Our Center serves as a resource for investigating important research questions raised by operators, trainers, agencies, scientists and clinicians. If you are interested in a sponsored research project or collaborating on a study, please contact Dr. Otto at

The three main areas of research include:

  1. Canine Sports Medicine
  2. Olfaction
  3. Cognition and Development

Areas of Research

Physical and Behavioral Health of Working Dogs

Canine Sports Medicine

Sports medicine encompasses all aspects of health and performance of working dogs with an emphasis on clinical and operational outcomes. Our Canine Sports Medicine Residents, Masters of Translational Research candidates, post-doctoral fellows and research associates work together with government, industry and academic collaborators.

Current research focus:

  • Canine Fitness
  • Occupational Hazards of Working Dogs
  • Hydration Strategies
Penn Vet Working Dog at Scent Wheel

Canine Olfaction

The working dog center is focused on olfactory detection, factors that impact performance as well as proof of concept of ways in which the detection ability of dogs can be applied to solve “One Health” problems including diseases of humans and animals, and environmental threats.

Key areas of investigation:

  • Medical detection: Ovarian cancer, Biofilm infections, COVID-19, Sinonasal papilloma, Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer
  • Environmental detection: Spotted Lanternfly detection
  • Olfactory function: Naloxone, Bordetella vaccination, exercise, threshold detection

Meet the dog's on our in house K9 Research Team... 

Detection Training at the Working Dog Center

Cognition & Development

The shortage of detection dogs in the US has raised awareness of the importance of breeding, raising and selecting dogs that have both the physical and the behavioral capacity to succeed in detection careers. As part of a national initiative, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center is actively researching the genetic, developmental and cognitive factors that contribute to success of working dogs.

Breeding Program

Breeding Program

Understanding and optimizing the interaction between nature (genetics) and nurture (the raising/training environment) is critical for the breeding, raising and selection of successful working dogs to meet the needs of our country.

Learn more about our breeding program...


Canine Sports Medicine

Canine Fitness

Robbins PJ, Ramos MT, Zanghi BM, Otto CM. Environmental and physiological factors associated with stamina in dogs exercising in high ambient temperatures. Front. Vet. Sci., 11 September 2017 |

Farr BD, Ramos MT, Otto CM. The Penn Vet Working Dog Center Fit to Work Program: A formalized method for assessing and developing foundational canine physical fitness Front. Vet. Sci., 13 August 2020 |

Occupational hazards of Working Dogs

Otto CM, Downend, AB, Serpell JA, Ziemer LS, Saunders HM. Medical and behavioral surveillance of dogs deployed to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: October 2001-June 2002. J Am Vet Med Assoc 225(6): 861-867, 2004.

Slensky K, Drobatz KJ, Downend AB, Otto CM. Deployment morbidity among search and rescue dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 225(6): 868-873, 2004.

Fitzgerald SD, Rumbeiha WK, Braselton WE, A.B. Downend AB, Otto CM. Pathology and Toxicology Findings for Search & Rescue Dogs Deployed to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack Sites: Initial Five Years Surveillance. J Vet Lab Diagnosticians 20:477–484, 2008.

Otto CM, Downend AB, Moore GE, Daggy JK, Ranivand DL, Reetz JA, Fitzgerald SD. Medical Surveillance of Search Dogs Deployed to the World Trade Center and Pentagon: 2001-2006. Journal of Environmental Health 73(2):12-21, 2010.

Hunt M, Otto CM, Serpell J, Alvarez J. Interactions between Handler Well-Being and Canine Health and Behavior in Search and Rescue Teams. Anthrozoos 25(3):323-335, 2012.

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

Otto CM, Hare E, Buchweitz JP, Kelsey KM, Fitzgerald SD. Fifteen-year surveillance of search-and-rescue dogs deployed to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack sites: pathology associated with death or humane euthanasia. JAVMA 2020 in press

Otto CM. Ch 202 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 2018


Mazin R, Fordyce H, Otto CM.  Use of Electrolyte Replacement in Urban Search and Rescue Dogs: A Field Study. Vet Therapeutics 2(2):140-147, 2001.

Reineke EL, Walton K, Otto CM. Evaluation of an oral electrolyte solution for treatment of mild to moderate dehydration in dogs with hemorrhagic diarrhea. J Am Vet Med Assoc 243:851–857, 2013.

Otto CM, Hare E, Nord JL, Palermo SM, Kelsey KM, Darling TA, Schmidt K, Coleman D. Maintaining Hydration of Dogs Working in Hot Environments. Front. Vet. Sci., 26 October 2017 |

Zanghi BM, Robbins PJ, Ramos MT, Otto CM. Working Dogs Drinking A Nutrient-Enriched Water Maintain Cooler Body Temperature and Improved Pulse Rate Recovery After Exercise. Front. Vet. Sci., 28 August 2018 |

Goucher TK, Hartzell AM, Seales TS, Anmuth AS, Zanghi BM, Otto CM. Skin Turgor and Capillary Refill Time as Predictors of Dehydration in Exercising Dogs. Am J Vet Research, Am J Vet Res 2019;80:123–128

Niedermeyer GM, Hare E, Brunker L, Berk RA, Kelsey KM, Darling TA, Nord JL, Schmidt KK, Otto CM. A randomized cross-over field study of pre-hydration strategies in dogs tracking in hot environments. Front. Vet. Sci., 03 June 2020 |

Canine Olfaction

Essler JL, Smith PG, Berger D, Gregorio D, Pennington MR, McGuire A, Furton KG, Otto CM. A randomized cross-over trial comparing the effect of intramuscular versus intranasal naloxone reversal of intravenous fentanyl on odor detection in working dogs. Animals 2019 Jun 22;9(6). pii: E385. doi: 10.3390/ani9060385

Murarka, M., Vesley-Gross, Z.I., Essler, J.L, Smith, P.G., Hooda, J., Drapkin, R., Otto, CM. Testing ovarian cancer cell lines to train dogs to detect ovarian cancer from blood plasma. J Vet Behav. 2019 32:42-48.

Kybert N, Prokop-Prigge K, Otto CM, Ramirez L, Joffe E, Tanyi J, Piltz-Seymour J, Johnson ATC, Preti G, Exploring Ovarian Cancer Screening using a Combined Sensor Approach: A Pilot Study.  AIP Advances 10, 035213 (2020);

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.


Leighton EA, Hare E, Thomas S, Waggoner LP, Otto CM. Solution for the Shortage of Detection Dogs: A Detector Dog Center of Excellence and a Cooperative Breeding Program Front. Vet. Sci., 16 November 2018 |

Hare E, Kelsey KM, Serpell J, Otto CM. Behavior Differences between Urban Search-and-Rescue and Pet Dogs. Front. Vet. Sci., 05 June 2018 |

Essler JL, Wilson CHB, Verta A, Feuer R, Otto CM. Differences in the search behavior of cancer detection dogs trained to have either a sit or stand-stare final response. Front. Vet. Sci., 13 March 2020 |