Penn Vet Working Dog Center was founded in 2012 and serves as a national research and development center for detection dogs.
“The center was founded after Dr. Cindy Otto served in 9-11 as a veterinarian caring for the dogs working 9-11, part of the Pennsylvania Task Force. She knew that there was nowhere where research was being done on working dogs, there wasn’t a place set for training. She thought this would be an important project and she founded it. The foundation of what we do is scent detection. The dogs can pick their major because we are at UPenn. So they get to pick their major. They come in as puppies at 8 weeks of age, and we really look to see what they are going to excel until they pick their major and we head them down that career path as a single purpose sent detection dog, explosives, narcotics for and search we do for medical detection or agriculture. They also have become police dogs as well as search and rescue dogs for our federal search and rescue teams finding people that are missing,” Kaynaroglu said.
Finding missing people is what 14-weeks-old Vega is learning to do. “So that’s Vega, and she is a Labrador Retriever from our breeding program,” Kaynaroglu said. “Vega is the offspring of proven search and rescue dogs that work for task forces. We are really excited about her intensity you saw that her hunt is remarkable, but that commitment once you find that person to bark, bark, bark, bark to get your toy she’s already got down,” Kaynaroglu said.
The puppies are imprinted at a young age. “Really amazing noses, that’s why we focus on the scent detection here. So, we’ve seen dogs learn very quickly to transferring odor from the universal detection calibration we use imprint them on to their careers, the odors they will do for their jobs. They learn how to seek odor out as young puppies and so when we transfer them to the odors, they will finally do their work it’s very easy because they have already been trained to hunt and have confidence and to give a final trained response,” Kaynaroglu said.
Vega is one of many K9s from the Working Dog Center that goes on to shine. “The dogs are always going to have other people when they are looking for someone that is missing or an odor. So, they are very good at inventorying who we each are very quickly, and they rule us out faster than we can imagine, and they go to the odor of the person they can’t see because that’s what would happen if they were on disaster response. The people that are trapped down below, the ones that nobody can see, that’s who the dog needs to go find,” Kaynaroglu said.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center uses mostly Labrador Retrievers, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, and Dutch Shepherds.
There are some graduates from the Working Dog Center, including Harrisburg Police K9 Zoe, a Dutch Shepherd, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s, K9Lucky, a German Shepherd that can sniff out Spotted Lanternfly egg masses.
“What we look for is a dog that has intensity, interact with the person but also the reward system is very important,” Kaynaroglu said.
“So they hear the word yes or click and they know that they have done it right and that their toy is going to come or their food is going to come, but also that interaction they have with that person that they have found is really important because that game is a game they will want to play all of their life and it’s so much fun that it doesn’t matter the challenges they may face if they are on some very scary rubble piles or it’s dark or scent conditions are very challenging. They don’t care they push through because that game with that person is so important to them,” Kaynaroglu said.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center relies on foster families, donations, and grants to support the center. “I think what I would like people to take away from this when they see our story the collaboration you can have between the animals and the people and the scientists and the people working the dogs in the field learning about how to make these dogs do what they do well to serve our society weather it’s medical, whether it’s detection work, or protecting us or finding a loved one that’s lost that they’re this collaboration that happens it doesn’t happen with one person or one dog. It’s a team of people and that’s what we are about here. that everybody is welcomed to participate in that teamwork. It’s the teamwork that makes our program successful,” Kaynaroglu said. To learn more about Penn Vet Working Dog Center, including fostering, donating a dog or making a monetary donation click