Terrorism experts, law enforcement officials, US military officials and dog breeders will meet next week in the ballroom of a hotel in Durham, North Carolina, to try to remedy the a dangerous national security deficit: the shortage of high-quality detection dogs bred in the United States.
On the agenda are sessions such as “The Federal Procurement of Detection Dogs,” “National Standards and Certification for Explosives Detection Dogs,” and “Career Options for Detection Dogs: Options and Specialties.” in the detection work.
But the annual gathering since 2017 this year has an added sense of urgency. Terrorism is on the rise and creating a much greater demand for detection dogs, while the shortage of US-bred dogs available to detect explosives remains stubbornly persistent. In total, the US government buys about 90% of its detector dogs from Europe and elsewhere. The best dogs tend to be held back for use in Europe, where the United States finds itself competing with military competitors Russia and China for the same dogs.
The government’s first comprehensive review in 15 years of domestically bred working dogs warned last year that the United States remains dangerously short of this frontline defense against terrorist attacks and for critical security tasks. such as bomb sniffer and narcotics interdiction.
The federal government “faced a chronic shortage of qualified national-bred working dogs for use by both the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. While adversaries, both peers and near-peer , become more adept at bypassing detection systems, the need for working dogs has steadily increased to address security vulnerabilities.
“The lack of a robust domestic supply of working dogs creates increased supply chain risk and may threaten the ability of departments and agencies that use working dogs to remain ready if supply to foreign markets is contested or discontinued for an extended period,” said the 157.-page report concluded.
The federal government currently maintains approximately 5,000 working dogs in four departments – the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State. But only 7% is raised in the country and the rest is imported.
The American Kennel Club established its Detection Dog Task Force in 2016 to help address the issue. The task force interviewed key participants involved in explosives detection, including experts from academia, government, military, police, training and farming. Subsequently, the AKC and others launched initiatives focused on developing a national detection dog breeding program.
These include the Patriotic Puppy Program, which provides one-on-one assistance to breeders of Labrador Retrievers, German Shorthaired Pointers and other sporting dogs, interested in learning how to raise a puppy suitable for advanced training as a detection dog. Auburn University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Pennsylvania are also developing their own programs to improve home ranching. The Department of Defense maintains a modest breeding program at its kennels at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. And in late 2021, Congress authorized a pilot program to improve the acquisition of US-bred working dogs that has yet to start.
But these combined efforts are far from enough to reverse a problem in which the opaque procurement process and uncertain government requirements play a prominent role.
Many domestic dog breeders have the capacity to produce exceptional working dogs, according to the government report, but the government’s “onerous procurement process discourages vendors from supplying dogs to the government sector of the market. The non-standard requirements, the rating system and, most importantly, the uncertainty of future government demand for working dogs make it difficult for sellers to continue doing business with the government.
The detection dog conference comes after a series of reports warned of a dangerous rise in domestic terrorism. One of the most pointed was written by the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Security.
“There has been a significant increase in the number of domestic terrorist attacks and plotting at protests in the United States, according to new data from CSIS,” the organization saidadding that “the most frequent targets of attacks were government, military and law enforcement agencies, which are increasingly at the center of domestic terrorism by extremists of all ideologies.”
With American lives at stake, there has never been a more critical time to come together and address this national security deficit.
Sheila Goffe is Vice President of Government Relations for the American Kennel Club.