Why is there a shortage of domestic detection dogs?
Following the events of 9-11, the demand for scent detection dogs for use in search and rescue, as well as explosives detection, began to grow and has steadily risen since. Recent events, including the bombings in Brussels, Boston, Las Vegas and New York City, have accelerated the interest in detection dogs. Nowadays, it is not just governments and militaries that are seeking dogs. Non-governmental demand across the developed world is also increasing, especially by private entities tasked with protecting malls, movie theaters, sports complexes, schools and universities.
Most U.S. government agencies are relying almost exclusively on the importation of working dogs from Europe to meet their needs. Most private working dog trainers and private providers of security services in the U.S. are also dependent on European sources.
American experts in the importation and training of working dogs claim that for many years the U.S. has received less than the best picks of the litters in Europe, as the best dogs tend to be retained for use in Europe. However, due to the growing terrorism threats and consequent demand for working dogs within Europe and around the world, there is now a shortage of even mediocre quality foreign dogs available to protect the United States. U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense (DOD) officials say there is a need to develop a national source of dogs that meets the standards for this work and that can be made available to government agencies.
There are currently an estimated 15,000 working dogs in the United States, including dogs working in government, military, law enforcement, and private facilities. About 20 percent of working dogs retire each year. Working dogs typically go to work at 18 months to 2 years of age and have an average working life of five years before retirement.
The DOD operates a small breeding program, primarily for Belgian Malinois, at its kennels at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX, but the program cannot meet the needs so the DOD purchases most of its dogs in Europe. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had its own detection dog breeding program for primarily Labrador Retrievers until shutting it down in 2012 due to budget cuts.
AKC Vice President of Government Relations Sheila Goffe testified at a congressional hearing in October regarding the dire need for more dogs to protect the country.
“Experts recognize that there is no better or more efficient way to detect explosives than through the use of high quality, specially trained scent detector dogs. Since the terrorist attacks on 9-11, and subsequent attacks worldwide, global demand for high quality explosives detection dogs has skyrocketed,” Goffe said. “A shortage of appropriate, domestically-bred dogs available for work as explosive detection dogs presents a significant threat to U.S. security.”
Why is the American Kennel Club involved in this issue?
The AKC Board of Directors formed a task force to study this issue and how AKC could assist after receiving requests for help from government and academic officials. AKC has always been a leader in purpose-bred pure-bred dogs, and it is purpose-bred pure-bred dogs that have the skills, ability and breeding to produce the traits needed for detection dogs to successfully do their important jobs. It is a natural role for AKC to assist in meeting this national need to protect our country, and a great opportunity to promote the incredible abilities of pure-bred dogs. The AKC’s support of this issue demonstrates to the American public that purebred dogs bred by thoughtful, purposeful, American breeders are vital to the safety and security of their country.
How is AKC working to solve the shortage?
The AKC Detection Dog Task Force is helping in a number of ways. A group of about 100 breeders are working with AKC to find better ways to produce and raise puppies that are more likely to succeed. Meetings are being held with government agencies, police organizations, breed clubs, breeders, vendors and researchers. A Government Relations team is working to change government policy to make it easier and more advantageous for breeders to sell dogs to the government and make the government more accountable for the amount they are paying to import European dogs. AKC is also bringing together many of the interested parties and stakeholders to discuss the country’s need through the AKC US Detection Dog Conference. The first conference was held in 2017. The third is scheduled for August 2019.
What breeds are most in demand for detection dog work?
Sporting breeds are the most popular breeds used in explosive detection work. Breeds that excel at this work include Labrador Retrievers, German Shorthaired Pointers, German Wirehaired Pointers, Vizslas and Golden Retrievers. Sporting breeds have been found to be less intimidating to the public, and their keen noses and hunting ability are easily transferred to the search for explosives. German Shepherd Dogs, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherds are still the preferred breeds for patrol work and dual-purpose patrol/detection dogs.
At what age are the dogs purchased for detection dog training?
The US Government and most private detection dog training schools seek older puppies that are at least 10 months old, with 12 months being preferable. Some private programs are now accepting younger puppies since it can be more difficult to get older puppies that have also had the desired early socialization and foundation training. The standards for age are variable (by contract or statement of work) from one agency to another, and there is not a national standard.
What is a “green “dog and is it defined in writing somewhere?
A green dog is an informal term used to describe a dog that has not undergone advanced detection work training. It is not defined in the government requirements for potential detection dogs. Most dogs presented to the government for sale at around 1 year of age are categorized as green dogs. This does not mean that a “green” dog has not received any training. They are expected to have been prepped for the government evaluation which includes socialization to a variety of people and places; exposure to walking on different surfaces, steps and elevated areas; and has developed toy drive for a ball, Kong or another toy. The standards for performance are variable (by contract or statement of work) from one agency to another, and there is not a national standard.
What is the government willing to pay for a dog and at what age will they purchase them?
The government will evaluate dogs starting at about 10 months of age and average price for a “green” dog is about $8,000. Private detection dog schools also purchase candidates and some take younger dogs, including puppies as young as 8 weeks. Prices vary from private channels, depending on age, pedigree and other factors. The standards for price are variable (by contract or statement of work) from one agency to another, and there is not a national standard.
Where will the dogs be taken for evaluation? Do I ship them or they do pick them up?
As an example– The TSA and Department of Defense conducts evaluations at its training center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. It is up to the seller to bring the dog to Lackland, where the dog will be left for evaluation for up to 10 days. At this time, only brokers with government contracts can sell to the government. Private vendors do buy from private breeders and have different requirements, and many do travel to kennels around the country to evaluate dogs. The standards for evaluation and shipment are variable (by contract or statement of work) from one agency to another. Shipping standards are stated in the Animal Welfare Act.
Will there be any meetings or seminars I can attend to learn more and meet others?
Who is your go-to person for questions and help?
Melissa Ferrell is the project manager of the AKC Detection Dog Task Force and can assist you. She may be reached at or 919-816-3577.