Like many serious dog fanciers of today, most of us were introduced to dogs by someone else. Someone with some knowledge of different breeds, or training, or care. Through the years an interest in dogs often turns into a passion that consumes our thoughts and our dreams. We may become breeders, amateur or professional trainers, competitors in dog sports, veterinarians or dog handlers. Throughout it all, it’s the dogs that make us who we become. A hunter chasing game. A competitor chasing ribbons. A trainer chasing perfection. But as a breeder, we can chase a number of dreams within a single breed, or even a single litter. A family pet, hunting companion, field trial or hunt test competitor, or a canine working to keep America safe.
In 2016, the American Kennel Club (AKC) created the AKC Detection Dog Task Force to help address the shortage of U.S.-bred dogs that were available to, and met the standards for, US law enforcement detector dog programs. From there, the Patriotic Puppy Program (PPP) was created to determine if AKC breeders could produce the quality of dog needed by TSA and other agencies. Here are just a few of the stories of patriotic AKC dog breeders and the incredible pups they have produced.
A Special “Agent”
I was traveling the country looking for dogs to help fill a recently awarded federal contract. In addition to owning my on canine company, I was also the Program Manager for AKC’s Patriotic Puppy Program. I arrived in Rochester Hills, MI to meet with Greg Guidice and his team of trainers who were participating in PPP. The team from Elite Detection K9 had prepared a group of dogs that were ready for testing and, hopefully, new jobs. Greg’s facilities were amazing and the dogs tested well. At the end of testing, we had discussions about several of the dogs; things I liked and areas for improvements. Overall, 5 out of his 6 candidates were selected to move forward in medical testing and test preparations for a federal contract. And then there was Agent. He was young. Did he need more time in Michigan with Greg’s team or did he need a change of scenery to further develop his skills in new environments with different exposures. Ultimately, we decided he’d continue his journey as a potential detector dog training with me in North Carolina.
Agent progressed in training and continued to develop a consistent work ethic and began to mature just as the testing date for this group of canines was preparing for the trip to Virginia to be tested for placement on my federal contract. Agent had progressed enough to make the trip. But test day came and went and Agent returned to NC to continue training. However, shortly thereafter we selected him for a trip to Maine for testing as a potential drug dog. The trainers were thorough but quickly narrowed their choices down to two. Agent and Griz. Both Black Male Labrador Retrievers. Both AKC Patriotic Puppies. Only 2 months separating them in age. After some one-on-one time for both dogs with the handler and final discussions with the trainers, who would they select? By the slimmest of margins, Agent became the newest addition to the Ellsworth Police Department with a new home in southern Maine! Since that first Patriotic Puppy placement, Greg and his team at Elite Detection K9 have gone on to place 6 additional littermates as working detector dogs.
The Trials of Griz
Roxane Dutson is a PPP participant from South Dakota. After her first PPP pup was deemed better suited as a hunting dog, Roxane bred a litter of Labradors and kept a black male from the litter and named him Griz. Griz progressed through training and when he was just over a year old, I visited Roxane while on a procurement trip for a federal contract. After a short evaluation, Griz was loaded onto the dog trailer and began his trip to North Carolina. Griz passed his medical evaluations and begin preparing for a delivery with a federal agency in Virginia. Griz wasn’t selected that day, despite a solid showing. Plans were in place for a trip to Maine to meet local and state police agencies who were in need of dogs.
Our first stop was in the southern part of the state for a local law enforcement agency that needed a new drug dog. After looking at 11 different labs, the trainers and handlers had narrowed their choices down to two…Griz and Agent! Once Agent was selected, the trip continued north for a meeting with the state police. There, evaluators were looking to replace a retiring canine. After evaluating of 10 labs, Griz was their choice, but selection was contingent on final approvals for funding. Two weeks later, Funding delays meant Griz was on his way back to North Carolina.
A second chance…
Before Griz even got home, another call came in. Customs and Border Protection wanted to re-evaluate Griz and Agent. Agent was preparing for a new life as a drug dog in Maine and was unavailable. But Griz was already on the road. A short diversion off I-95 and Griz was back in Virginia, ready for another opportunity. Everything went well, as expected, and then…the last test of the evaluation, the “unexpected umbrella pop” put Griz off his game. He didn’t respond or recover well, and he was soon headed back south to North Carolina.
Griz trained for a few more weeks before the next opportunity came in. The next call came from Maine Game and Fish, Game Warden section. A replacement canine was needed. Canine Trainer, Lucas Bellanceau, evaluated multiple dogs for the job. With multiple dogs to choose from, the discussion gradually turned to “which dog was the best fit for the handler?” Griz was loaded up once again. Would this trip this time be more successful?
Several weeks passed and I didn’t hear anything further. Then, unexpectedly, I woke up to a text on my phone with a picture of a lady sitting in the woods. Next to her was a black lab wearing a safety orange vest. The caption read, Well it did not take long for Griz and Alan to get on the board! Located a 72 yo with dementia in Acadia National Park last night”. Griz had made his mark as a detector dog!
A Different Breed…A Different Reward
Marie Appel of Mechanicsville, Iowa is an active PPP participant who breeds and trains German Shorthair Pointers (GSP). On the same procurement trip that brought Agent and Griz to NC, Justice, a German Shorthaired Pointer female that she bred was also brought back to NC for further training. Justice had a great search effort. Like many GSPs, she hunted hard but had preferences for specific toys that she liked to work for. Unfortunately, the toys she liked weren’t part of the testing protocols for the federal contract. Justice was strong environmentally: She would search anywhere you asked, but she wasn’t consistent about picking up and returning the toy to the handler. After supplemental training in NC, it was decided that Justice should head back to Iowa and continue her development with Marie.
A few weeks go by and Marie calls to ask if I could discuss Justice with another vendor/trainer that was looking for dogs for other detector dog contracts. Marie had reached out to another vendor with different contracts. “Through contacts I made in the PPP program I was able to network with another company that selected Justice for another contract”, said Marie. Within the hour, we were on a conference call to discuss Justice’s strengths and weaknesses and her health info was shared right away. Marie drove 13 hours to meet Nick King, with Von der King Canine, who evaluated Justice on the road and decided to take a chance on him. However, Nick was concerned that Justice’s toy drive wasn’t strong enough to be successful as a detection dog, and decided to change her training from toy to food reward. According to Nick, “Now, with toys out of the equation, we still have another great motivator to use—food!! Instead of searching for a toy, we utilized Justice’s natural enjoyment of food to build her searching skills. She thought it was amazing!” That was exactly what Justice needed and soon certified with a private canine company under TSA’s 3rd Party Cargo Screening Program.
Finding the Right Job for the Right Dog
Shortly after taking the reins for Phase 2 of AKC’s Patriotic Puppy Program, I took a short trip to upstate South Carolina to visit with PPP participant Sharon Smith. Sharon had a line of conformation show labs that she was training through the program. We spent time discussing training techniques and the differences between field labs and the conformation lines Sharon had. After an evaluation, we decided that one of this litter, “Boss” would come back with me for further training and some “boot camp” to improve his consistency. Despite a great foundation and strong environmental stability, on test day, Boss just didn’t have quite enough stamina to make it through the selection process for Customs.
Boss went back home, and Sharon continued to train her pups. With continued training, Boss transitioned to a job as a service dog for a veteran. Shortly thereafter, two more littermates transitioned to service dog work. Finally, Boss’ littermate, Lake, transitioned from toy rewards to food and successfully passed the testing process to begin work within the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms’ (ATF) detector dog program. As a participant in the PPP, Sharon had taken a litter of conformation labs and developed the skills needed to allow them to succeed in very different jobs.
Lessons Learned and Challenges Accepted – Diesel and Rebel
For Roxane Dutson, each pup she developed as part of the PPP added to her development as a detection dog trainer. Her first PPP dog was sold as a hunting dog. Her second, Griz, is working in Maine with the Game Wardens, but went through challenging selection processes before he landed in the right job. Next up were Labrador littermates, Diesel and Rebel. Both dogs developed consistently throughout training. I was able to evaluate their progress in person when they were 9 months old. I liked what I saw and encouraged Roxane to continue. As they approached 12 months of age, I shared with the Maine State Police that dogs with genetics similar to Griz, the dog they had passed on due to budget issues, were coming available in case they needed additional dogs. My phone rang less than 24 hours later. They needed a couple of good dogs for experienced handlers on an upcoming course and wanted to see these pups.
A few days later Roxane was contacted by a company from Minnesota needing a dog immediately to be trained for a drug dog for the Duluth Police Department in Minnesota. Diesel was tested and selected and off to start training immediately. For Roxane, this time selection was easy. Diesel was ready to start his new career!
Rebel was in NC for only 2 days before making the trip to Maine to meet with her potential handler with the Maine State Police. Seven dogs made the trip to offer the handlers an opportunity to find the one that was the best fit, but it was obvious after the first test that Rebel would have a new address in Maine. She even conquered the set of steps that many great dogs wouldn’t go down the first time they encountered them. Rebel never hesitated while exploring the building on her own. This was something I had challenged Roxane to prepare for once Griz wouldn’t go down them on his first exposure a year earlier. Roxane had done a fantastic job as breeder and trainer of both Rebel and Diesel, and now had placed her third detector dog working with law enforcement.
Are you a Patriotic Breeder?
When we first get started in the world of dogs, we don’t fully understand the impact these animals will have on our lives. The snuggles on the couch, the lunches shared in a duck blind, the walks along the beach … our quality of life improves with the addition of a great dog. They each take a small piece of our hearts because of the unconditional love they share. As breeders, we dream about the quality of the homes we entrust our pups to go live in, hoping their quality of life is as high as it would be if they stayed in our own homes. We get attached to them after only 8 weeks in our world; but we send them out into the world knowing that when they will live up to our standards for health, ability and personality. They are making the world a better place.
Patriotic Puppy Program breeders start this process just like many other breeders, but they raise these pups for months, putting their heart and soul into their training and development. There are hours spent building toy drive, establishing strong environmental stability, and building a great work ethic. Sometimes they have to make hard decisions and acknowledge that an individual dog isn’t capable of being a great detector and needs to change directions in their training. At approximately a year of age, they show them to the people who need them most, including government, law enforcement and private industry working dog professionals. Sometimes selection is easy, and sometimes they have to be willing to hear no and not see that as failure. Sometimes, it’s just not the right job for that dog. These breeders aren’t chasing game or ribbons. They’re chasing the ultimate goal with these pups; they’re protecting American lives. They’re making a difference in the lives of every person who directly, or indirectly comes into contact with that dog. Their Dog. Their Patriotic Puppy!
Do you have what it takes to be a breeder in the Patriotic Puppy Program? www.akc.org/ppp