Current Research

Working Dog Genotype-Phenotype

As there continues to be a working dog shortage in the United States, this project aims to find 23319322_10210582685259469_4030362127298910013_nunique biomarkers in working dogs that can be used to help with working dog (specifically detection dog) screening and breeding. We are using multiple biological measures (e.g. cortisol and oxytocin) to investigate dogs’ responses to working tasks, as well as cognitive and behavioral testing, and genotyping, to end with a dataset of information to inform the working dog field.

Spotted Lanternfly Detection

TobyWheelWe are aiming to investigate the potential role of detection dogs in stopping the spread of the invasive spotted lanternfly insect. This planthopper insect was first found in Pennsylvania in 2014 and continues to spread across multiple states, negatively affecting the trees in the area. Spotted lanternflies have a one-year lifespan, and their eggs “overwinter”, thus leaving a multiple-month period where the spread of this insect could be stopped and potentially, populations removed/diminished. We are investigating whether dogs can be trained to find these eggs, and what types of training aids might be used in their training (e.g. dead eggs).

Ovarian Cancer Detection

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We are utilizing medical detection dogs, trained to find ovarian cancer from blood plasma, to investigate the odor profile of ovarian cancer. From here, we hope to determine what compound, or more likely mixture of compounds, is the part that the dogs are attuning to when able to discriminate between the blood plasma of ovarian cancer patients and that of individuals benign tumors as well as control (“normal”) plasma. The end-goal of the project is to utilize the dogs’ nose, and more importantly their ability to communicate with us, to help produce an ‘electronic nose’ as an early-detection system for ovarian cancer.

The picture shows Ffoster, one of our retired medical detection dogs, working our new scent wheel in a training session.

Collaborators: Monell Chemical Senses Center

Current Dogs: Bobbie, Osa, Ivey,  Lucy, Helen
Retired Dogs: Ffoster, McBaine, Tsunami, Ohlin

K9 Artifact Finders Project

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We are utilizing previously-trained odor detection dogs to investigate the feasibility of using these dogs in the fight against antiquities smuggling. Still in Phase 1 of the project, we have trained four dogs to alert on antiquities – specifically, sherds (pieces of pottery) from 3000-2000 BC Syria, specifically from the Tell es-Sweyhat dig site. They have been proofed off of/shown specificity by ignoring multiple controls: modern (American) pottery, odor from modern Syrian ceramics, and modern Syrian jewelry, among other odors.

The picture shows Moxie working our older scent wheel in a training session.

Collaborators: Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, the Penn Museum

Current Dogs: Grizzly, Pacy

Searching for Odor Threshold in Dogs

15937013_1382190961853153_376710409906289626_oWe know that dogs have an extremely good sense of smell – but just how good is it? At the PVWDC, we train dogs to search for odor using the Universal Detector Calibrant (UDC), which is a synthetic, man-made odor not found naturally in the environment. Using this odor allows us to train dogs HOW to search, without having to proof them off of this search odor when they move to their career scent, since UDC does not exist in the environment. Moreover, the researchers at FIU who make the odor, are able to give us packages of UDC with varying dissipation rates, so we can train and test the dogs on increasingly difficult amounts of odor. With this, we hope to find the odor threshold of the dogs, and investigate what my then affect this odor threshold – for example, vaccines and medications, weather and the environment, stress and exhaustion, just to name a few.

Collaborators: Florida International University

Development of Working K9s – Puppy to Adult

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Beginning between four and eight weeks, and continuing until fourteen months, we continually investigate the dogs’ responses to various stimuli (e.g. heights, unstable surfaces, sounds), as well as their interest in toys, interest in engaging with human, and their hunting ability and drive. With this huge amount of data, we hope to begin elucidating some of the early signs of ‘ideal’ working K9’s within each of our training programs – search & rescue, dual-purpose police, and single-purpose odor work – which would allow us and other training centers to begin focusing dogs in their likely career path earlier, reducing the number of hours spent training dogs in careers they won’t fit, and eventually producing better canines in each area.

Other Studies

Inhibitory Control & Working Dogs
Problem Solving & Working Dogs