Standards and Guidelines - Forensic Science Communications - October 2008

Standards and Guidelines - Forensic Science Communications - October 2008

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October 2008 - Volume 10 - Number 4

 

Standards and Guidelines

Scientific Working Group on Dogs and Orthogonal Detection Guidelines: Selection of Serviceable Dogs

Scientific Working Group on Dogs and Orthogonal Detection Guidelines (SWGDOG)

This is document SWGDOG SC 3. It was posted for public comment from 4/22/2006 to 6/22/2006 and approved by the SWGDOG membership on 10/2/2006.


Aptitude and Temperament

1. Evaluating Potential Detector Dogs

When submitting a dog for evaluation, the supplier could provide the documentation in Paragraph 1.4 below to allow the evaluator to carry out a basic assessment of the dog’s medical history. It is normal for a full veterinarian test to be carried out upon completion of a successful evaluation.

1.1. Because of the importance of the initial selection evaluation, it should be carried out only by a competent evaluator.

1.2. It is considered a best practice to conduct business with suppliers equitably, fairly, and according to appropriate legal and contractual agreements.

1.3. During evaluation it is considered a best practice to care for all dogs in the same manner as privately owned dogs.

1.4. Before carrying out a temperament and evaluation test, the dog’s basic medical condition and physical health could be assessed to eliminate those animals that are fundamentally unsuitable for the task. This assessment should include hip and elbow X-rays and current vaccination records. Acceptance of a dog normally should be on a 30-day return policy, counting from the dog’s arrival at the training center.

2. Definition

2.1. A potential detector dog is one that is untrained on any specific odor, and the evaluation is designed to establish that the dog has the essential behaviors and temperament to be a successful detection dog.

3. Temperament Standards

3.1. A primary consideration in selecting a detector dog is that it should have a suitable temperament for the role. A potential detector dog should be even-tempered and demonstrate a confident, outgoing investigative attitude. The temperament is in direct connection with and in control of the dog’s intent, motivation, attitude, performance, response, and reaction.

3.2. Examples of temperament flaws include a variety of fears, poor past experiences from which the dog has not recovered, unwarranted aggression or shyness, and over- or underreaction to external stimuli. Dogs must be able to tolerate a variety of working conditions appropriate to the task.

4. Evaluation Methods

4.1. In general, evaluation of adult dogs should take place between 12 and 36 months of age because this is when dogs are normally behaviorally and socially mature.

4.2. Evaluation should be conducted by the buyer or a representative and be carried out in an environment unfamiliar to the dog but indicative of the type in which the dog will be operating after training. The supplier normally should not be present during the evaluation.

5. Environmental Soundness Evaluation

5.1. The environmental soundness evaluation is designed to assess the dog’s normal reactions to commonly encountered environments. The evaluation looks for confidence in all of these areas or that the dog, after one or two exposures, will start to demonstrate marked improved confidence. The evaluation also looks for independence and continuity of focus without constant handler reinforcement, thereby demonstrating levels of concentration.

The dog should be walked through an environmental conditioning area containing different examples of flooring and footing (carpet, wood, ceramic, etc.), open and closed stairs, temperatures, light values (from bright light to complete darkness), open and confined areas, with and without obstacles, and various noise distracters.

6. Search-and-Retrieve/Food-Drive Evaluation

6.1. This evaluation is to assess the dog’s ability to hunt and its retrieve/food drive in different environmental conditions. An example of this might be:

Throwing a reward item for recovery on grass, solid wood floor, steel decking, and open stairs. When the throws are indoors, the evaluations should be done from full light to complete darkness. The dog also should be evaluated as the evaluator carries out a fake throw and the dog thinks that the item has been thrown, but it has not. This evaluates the hunt drive. A further evaluation of the hunt drive should be conducted outside. The item is thrown into long grass, both upwind and downwind. The evaluator should assess the dog’s change in behavior when the dog can see the reward and is able to anticipate the hunt and the speed with which the dog goes out for the reward, as well as the speed of approach and of the strike (pickup). The dog should be assessed for its determination to retain the reward after recovery.

This evaluation is the measurement of the dog’s need, drive, and desire to obtain its reward under variable conditions. The dog’s performance is graded on its intensity to obtain the reward (speed and possession, persistence to obtain the reward).

7. Sociability Evaluation

7.1. The purpose of the sociability evaluation is to study the dog’s reaction to people, dogs, and other animals as appropriate. It is to assess abnormal aggression, submission, fear, and potential for distraction.

7.2. This evaluation should be done both with and without the dog’s expected detection reward (ball, KONG, towel, food).

7.3. An example of an evaluation could be:

The dog is led by its handler between a minimum of two people. The dog should move between the people without overt response, without showing avoidance behavior or aggression. Curious sniffing is evaluated as a completely natural social behavior and therefore is considered as harmless as ignoring the passive-person group. An excessive avoidance behavior and an excessive aggressive response are considered negative.

The evaluation should then be repeated to assess the dog’s ability to recover its primary reward (ball, KONG, towel, food) in and around the people. The reward should be thrown near the people, and the evaluation will assess the dog’s ability not to be distracted by those standing around the reward.

8. Tracking Evaluation

8.1. The tracking evaluation determines whether or not the dog has any natural tracking ability or has had any previous training. It measures the dog’s desire/ability to use its nose, as well as its interest level, its desire to pursue the track, and its tenacity to stay with the task to the end.

An example of the evaluation could be:

The track would be laid in an open field free from distractions and with grass up to six inches in height. The quarry will walk in a straight line, downwind, for approximately 200 feet, lay a ball at the end, and return to the start, double-laying it. The track can be marked by scuffing it, but the handler must know where the track is. The track is then aged for 10 minutes. The dog is cast over the track without encouragement to see if it will indicate and pursue the track on its own. If the dog does not, then some direction can be given. Once the dog has indicated the track, the evaluator should observe the dog’s level of interest, if the dog stays with it or distracts, and if the dog is happy working the track. This test is merely a measure of what the trainer has to work with; it is not a pass/fail situation.

9. Desirable Evaluation Outcomes

9.1. Desirable outcomes may include but are not limited to:

  • The dog is stable and outgoing in any environment.
  • The dog has an excellent retrieve/hunt drive on a thrown or hidden object.

  • The dog maintains concentration and focus over time, with attention on the object, regardless of the area and other distractions.


  • The dog maintains strong drive throughout the entire evaluation.
  • The dog demonstrates independent sniffing behavior.
  • The dog demonstrates independent searching behavior.

10. Undesirable Evaluation Outcomes

10.1. Undesirable outcomes may include but are not limited to:

  • The dog chases but does not search for the object.
  • The dog will not search/hunt for the object.
  • The dog gives up the search easily.
  • The dog will not chase a moving object.
  • The dog chases but leaves for distractions—such as animal contamination, i.e., urine/feces, and other people or casual items in the area, i.e., a piece of paper on the ground.
  • The dog is distracted/overwhelmed by the environmental conditions.
  • The dog behaves in a shy manner.
  • The dog behaves in a nervous manner.
  • The dog behaves in an overly aggressive manner.
  • The dog fails to search.
  • The dog fails to hunt for the odor/object.
  • The dog fails to find the odor/object.
  • The dog shows a lack of search intensity.
  • The dog shows a lack of stamina.
  • The dog shows diminishing interest in the reward during the evaluation.
  • The dog is overaggressive and unable to work around people.
  • The dog is overaggressive and unable to work around other dogs.
  • The dog exhibits excessive panting that is not due to heat or exercise.
  • The dog has a low drive.
  • The dog does not have the desire to complete the task.
  • The dog is easily distracted by noise, people, or other dogs.

11. Evaluation Structure and Method

11.1. Examples of a detailed evaluation assessment and scoring system are at Appendix 1, which includes three attachments. Appendix 2 provides preliminary tests to evaluate a canine’s temperament and determine if additional testing is warranted. It includes a Temperament Evaluation Worksheet. Appendix 3 is an example of a statement of work outlining the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s requirement for canines.

All three appendices are available in HTML and PDF formats. To access the PDF version, you must have Adobe Reader installed on your computer. The Reader may be downloaded at no cost from the following Web site: http://www.adobe.com/products/reader/.

Physical and Medical

12. Physical Evaluation

12.1. Preliminary requirements

To ensure proper identification, all dogs submitted for evaluation must have a collar/harness with the dog’s name affixed to it.

The collar/harness must be strong enough to restrain the dog.

It is considered a best practice to ensure that a computer microchip/tattoo for identification purposes is implanted in each dog.

13. Breed, Sex, Weight, and Height Requirements

13.1. Breeds historically selected for detection purposes come from the sporting, herding, hound, and working categories.

13.2. Age: The adult dog should be 12 to 36 months of age at the time of evaluation.

13.3. Sex: Dogs of either sex have shown good ability in detection work. A female in estrus should be deferred until a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks after completion.

13.4. Weight/Height: Weight must be proportional to the dog’s frame and skeletal size. An objective rating system to measure body condition (weight for frame) should be used. (La Flamme, D. Development and validation of a body condition score system for dogs: A clinical tool, Canine Practice [1997] 22:10–15)

13.5. Color: Any color typical for the breed is acceptable.

14. Medical Requirements

14.1. General: Must be in excellent health, structurally sound, and medically able to enter training.

14.2. Immunization required for evaluation and procurement. At a minimum, the dog must either have been vaccinated (essential in the case of rabies) or have a titer indicating that a particular vaccination was not needed within the previous 12 months for:

  • Rabies—vaccination in accordance with state and local laws.
  • Canine distemper (CDV).
  • Canine adenovirus (type 2) (CAV-2) (canine hepatitis).
  • Parvovirus (CPV-2).
  • Leptospirosis.

There may be particular regional/national requirements that must be considered. The 2006 AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) guidelines should be consulted.

14.2.1. A vaccination/titer certificate issued by a veterinarian with individual dog identification (name, tattoo, brand, or microchip number) must be provided on all dogs.

14.3. Socialization and ability to be examined. Dogs should be socialized to humans and should be able to tolerate medical examination procedures.

14.4. Minimum signalment data

14.4.1. The following minimum information should appear on all medical record documents and information:

  • Dog identification.
  • Name.
  • Tattoo number.
  • Microchip number.
  • Whelping date (or age at time of examination if whelping date not known).
  • Date of examination or entry.
  • Name and signature of examining veterinarian.

14.4.1.1. The following should appear at least once in the medical record:

  • Sex and reproductive status.
  • Breed.
  • Color pattern.
  • Contact information for owner.
  • Contact information for examining veterinarian.

14.5. Minimum medical examination database

14.5.1. The following list constitutes the best practice to complete in an examination for a minimum database:

14.5.1.1. Complete physical examination:

  • Gait:

    • The gait should be assessed at the walk, trot, and run.
  • Skin and coat:

    • Must be healthy in appearance.
  • Oral cavity:

    • Dentition.
  • Heart and lungs:

    • Heart sounds.
    • Heart rate.
    • Heart rhythm.
    • Lung sounds.
    • Cardiovascular system at rest.
    • Cardiovascular system upon exercise.
    • Respiratory system at rest.
    • Respiratory system on exercise.
  • Musculoskeletal system.
  • Nervous system, senses, and sensory organs:

    • Nervous system.
    • Eyes and adenexa.
    • Functional vision.
    • Anatomy of ears.
    • Functional hearing.
    • Nose and nasopharyn.
    • Demonstrated olfactory ability.
  • Reproductive and urinary system:

    • Intact or neutered reproductive system. Document monorchidism or cryptorchidism.
    • Urinary tract anatomy.
    • Urinary tract function.
  • Laboratory minimum database.
  • Hematology and blood chemistry:

    • Collection of blood sample for routine testing.
    • Blood chemistry. Complete blood count.
    • Serology.
    • Canine heartworm testing.
  • Urinalysis:

    • Collection of urine sample for routine testing.
    • Urine specific gravity.
  • Fecal examination:

    • Collection of fecal sample for routine testing.
  • Skeletal radiology:

    • Depending on the planned use of the dog, early signs of degenerative joint disease may not be acceptable.
    • It is considered a best practice to acquire diagnostic elbow and hip radiographs to evaluate elbow and hip conformation and that these radiographs be reviewed by an independent, board-certified veterinary radiologist.
    • It is a best practice to ensure that the minimum patient data are projected or imprinted (“flashed”) permanently on the radiograph at the time of exposure.
    • If further evaluation is warranted, evaluations may be completed at the discretion of the veterinarian, or the dog may be deemed unacceptable.

Appendix 1

HTML            PDF

Appendix 2

HTML            PDF

Appendix 3

HTML            PDF

To access the PDF version, you must have Adobe Reader installed on your computer. The Reader may be downloaded at no cost from the following Web site: http://www.adobe.com/products/reader/.