Training dogs has been a way of life for Roxane Dutson since she was a teen. She taught the family dogs tricks and then became involved in competition through an obedience training group.
“My love for working with dogs became stronger as my husband and I got our first Labrador in 1996,” Dutson says. “From there, I learned about retriever training, and my husband developed a passion for hunting.”
Before long, the couple had a breeding program and a kennel devoted to producing Labrador Retrievers who excelled in the field. Despite their success, she felt something was missing.
“A couple of years ago I came across an opportunity with the AKC to breed working detection dogs. I was excited about this because I felt there was more that I could be doing with our dogs and more that the dogs could be doing for people,” the South Dakota resident says. “I was particularly interested in how our dogs could serve our country.”
Dutson applied to the AKC Patriotic Puppy Program and was accepted. The AKC Detection Dog Task Force launched the program in late 2018 to coach and support breeders and trainers who dedicate a year to prepare a puppy as a candidate for advanced detection training.
Today, Dutson’s dogs are hunting more than birds as they find missing people, firearms, bombs, and more. And the foundational training program Dutson uses for her pups is now available for free by the AKC Detection Dog Task Force: the Confident Puppy course, for those raising or considering raising future detection dogs, as well as anyone bringing up a puppy for a sport or even a family pet.
A black Lab that Dutson selected in the whelping box went to work last year for the Maine Warden Service K9 team. Griz was just a year old when he started the job, but his journey to become a detection dog started the day he was born.
With coaching and support from the AKC Patriotic Puppy Program, plus educational materials, Dutson gave Griz the tools he needed to handle the rigors of detection dog training. “I worked with him from the time he was born to a year old by raising him to have a high toy drive and desire to search, and to make sure he was well socialized to be able to handle the many different environments that he would be working in,” Dutson says.
A big help to Dutson, she says, was the Confident Puppy course, which provides information from detection-industry professionals about what is needed to raise a well-rounded, effective detection dog from puppy to adult. “The course focuses on key training principles like taking it slow, keeping it positive, building on natural behaviors, and keeping records for progress and correction,” Dutson says.
There is a great need in the United States for dogs trained to sniff out bombs, firearms, and more. As the world faces more threats, the competition for these canine specialists is high, creating a shortage of dogs to protect the country. The United States also has relied on foreign breeders for protection and detection dogs.
The Patriotic Puppy program strives to help American breeders produce and train the dogs needed to protect the country. Government agencies and most private vendors will not accept dogs until they are at least a year old. But there is a lot of preparation that must be achieved in those 12 months for the puppy to be successful.
The Confident Puppy course provides a guide for anyone considering raising a detection dog, starting with how to choose the right puppy. Important traits include a strong sense of smell, energy, boldness, independence, and resilience.
“The Confident Puppy course gives a great overview of what skills a future detector dog will need. For our Patriotic Puppy participants, it provides some consistency and potential training techniques that will help them successfully raise a future detection dog,” says Stacey West, Patriotic Puppy Manager.
Popular breeds for detection work, in addition to Labradors, are the German Shepherd Dog, German Shorthaired Pointer, Belgian Malinois, English Springer Spaniel, Brittany, Parson Russell and Russell Terrier, Golden Retriever, Dutch Shepherd, and Beagle. But puppies of any breed—from Chihuahuas to Great Danes— can benefit from many training tips in the course.
“The confidence and environmental stability we emphasize in Patriotic Puppy and the Confident Puppy course also provide a great foundation for a dog’s success as a well-adjusted pet and success in AKC events,” says Sheila Goffe, vice president of AKC Government Relations. “In making Confident Puppy available to the public for free, we wanted to be sure that all dog owners could benefit from the resources the Detection Dog Task Force is producing in its goal of addressing the shortage of high-quality U.S.-bred, -raised, and -trained detection dogs.”
Glenda Mazzuca breeds Brittanys for hunting upland birds. She took the Confident Puppy course because many desirable traits for detection jobs are similar to what she wants in her dogs. “I want high-drive, independent dogs that are bold and want and need a job to do. I also want them to make good family dogs and pets as well,” Mazzuca says.
Especially helpful, she says, were the sections on socialization. “They would be incredibly useful for someone new or unfamiliar with how to properly socialize a puppy and are a helpful reminder to those more experienced,” Mazzuca says. “To take a puppy with potential and create a wonderful hunting dog, proper socialization and correct exposure to new people, places, things, sounds are incredibly important.”
The course provides many tips on how to give your puppy lots of positive experiences with the world, including different surfaces, stairs, and enclosed spaces. Play yards and puppy-size obstacle courses can be of great value in building confidence and coordination.
“Socialization of new puppies is critical to developing any canine as a confident dog,” West says. “Also, consistency of effort and training techniques is key to developing a great dog, whether it’s a detection dog or a family pet.”