Guidelines for Working Dog Programs
Mission and Vision
Many shelters in the United States have high-energy, reward-driven dogs, who may be difficult to place into homes due to their overabundance of energy and need to play. However, these two qualities – high energy and high toy drive – are the primary characteristics sought in successful candidates for conservation detection or other working dog programs.
Rescues 2the Rescue is a program created by Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). We aim to connect high-energy, difficult to place shelter dogs with detection dog trainers and other such working dog programs. Rescues 2the Rescue facilitates these connections in order to provide a sound and successful adoption option and to provide a resource to bridge the gap between shelters and working dog programs in order to provide difficult to place dogs with enriching and rewarding careers.
Rescues 2the Rescue is a facilitative body, with the capacity to connect adoptable dogs with potential trainers. Trainers and dogs are vetted according to the guidelines below in order to maximize successful adoptions and minimize failures and poor matches. Rescues 2the Rescue will maintain the final decision regarding inclusion of both dogs and trainers in this program. Rescues 2the Rescue will not be directly involved in the transfer of animals.
The following guidelines are meant to provide a general overview of the policies and practices recommended for working dogs throughout their lives, especially during training and deployment. WD4C and IFAW advocate for the health, well-being, and humane treatment of dogs during every step of the process and throughout their time in a working dog program and retirement.
We ask that anyone participating in Rescues 2the Rescue review these guidelines and use them to help their dog build a successful career in conservation detection. For more information, please visit the Contact section of our website or email Rescues2theRescue@gmail.com.
WD4C maintains a training philosophy which upholds respect for the dog and encompasses all aspects of how the dogs live and are handled. This includes employing an adequate and fair working schedule so as to maintain each dog’s health and maximize their effectiveness. It also includes ensuring that nutritional needs are met for each individual dog with respect to the environment in which the dog works, the amount of work they undertake, individual metabolic activity, dietary considerations, and supplemental needs. Play and relaxation outside of their given job are also critically important for working dogs, so play time should be allocated and tailored according to the individual needs of the dog.
Detection dog trainers and partnering organizations will undergo the screening process (as described in the Guidelines for Working Dog Adoptions document) to ensure training methods meet WD4C and IFAW standards for humane training. Potential trainers/partners agree to abide by the screening administrators’ decision regarding inclusion on the website.
Trainers and partners participating in Rescues 2the Rescue agree to maintain humane standards for housing, care, training, and nutrition.
Positive (i.e. reward-based) training methods must be the foundation of training programs in order for the trainer/organization to be in the Rescues 2the Rescue program.
An appropriate working schedule is essential for the health, well-being and working longevity of any working dog. Special considerations should include:
- Length and timing of work schedule, especially considering the specific work the dog will be doing
- Conditions of the physical environment including terrain, hot/cold weather conditions, extreme weather, and potential safety threats such as certain wildlife
- The individual needs of each dog and their health status at any given time
Dogs should never be worked to the point of exhaustion. Dogs should always be given adequate breaks according to the aforementioned conditions. Full day breaks should also be employed on a regular basis, so that dogs are able to recover.
WD4C recommends that approximate distance traveled – as measured by the straight line distance that the handler travels – should not exceed 8-12 km per day. Appropriate distance can vary significantly depending on the target and terrain, however, and it is important to ensure a reasonable distance as many off-leash jobs will mean the dog covers almost twice as much distance as the handler.
Similar consideration should be given to a dog’s schedule and the amount of days they are working and require rest.
Nutrition is critically important for conservation detection and working dogs. Dogs are often on their feet for full working days, up to five days per week. The rate at which they’re expending energy is generally greater than average house dogs, and so nutrition must be kept at a high standard in order to ensure dogs remain healthy, fit and capable of performing.
Diet should be established on an individual basis based on the following parameters:
- Individual metabolic rates
- How much work the dog does on a daily/weekly basis
- What type of work the dog is doing
- The environment in which the dog is working (ex. climate, terrain, etc.)
- How much energy is expended by that dog in its daily routine
The inclusion of cooked meats and vegetables into a dog’s diet is preferable for maintaining energy and health, and should be added when possible. Homemade diets, however, are often difficult to provide in working dog programs that often transport dogs to remote field locations.
When feeding kibble, it is important to research brands and ingredient contents in order to ensure the kibble is a high quality, high protein diet. We recommend consulting with a veterinarian and reading package labels, especially ingredients and nutrition, to obtain a good understanding of which kibble brands are the best quality. Often, veterinarians have guidelines for understanding your dog’s needs with respect to protein, minerals, and other supplements, which is essential in determining how to provide an individual dog with a high quality diet.
Supplements are often necessary to ensure a dog receives a robust and adequate diet. Supplementing should always be done on an individual basis, and with the consultation of a veterinarian.
Safety during training and work deployment should be the highest priority for trainers and canine partners. It is the trainer’s and handler’s responsibility to assess threats to both the dog and handler’s safety, and adjust work schedules accordingly. This includes not only the environmental conditions into which the dog is being deployed, but also understanding the dog’s physical condition.
First Aid Preparation
In order to ensure safety is addressed adequately, handlers must be trained to administer first aid care. Basic veterinary first aid kits should be on-hand to deal with minor emergencies in the field. These kits should include: self-cling bandages, muzzle or strips of cloth, a nylon leash, antiseptic wipes, adhesive tape, absorbent gauze, and cotton swabs. For more detailed information about what to include in your dog’s first aid kit, please visit the AVMA Pet First Aid Supplies Checklist.
Availability of Medical Services
Emergency veterinary and human medical services should be reachable at all times in the event of a major emergency. Handlers should know where these services are located, and have the means to reach them at all times when deployed in the field.
Handlers must exhibit situational awareness and be able to account for and mitigate any potential risks or threats to safety within the working environment. This may include extreme weather conditions, or dangerous terrain/ areas with wildlife or situations that may pose a threat to the physical condition of both dog and handler. It is critical to understand the area into which the handler and dog will be deployed in order to account for any potential dangers that may be encountered.
- In areas where there may be dangerous predators or other species that could cause harm to dog or handler (e.g. poisonous snakes), or conversely, that the dog or handler could unintentionally cause harm to (e.g. an endangered species), work schedules must be adjusted to limit potential encounters.
- In cases where a known threat is established (such as a high abundance of venomous snakes), it would be wise to have on hand any useful antidotes or medicines that could be administered if contact occurred.
Before deploying for work each day, handlers should assess their own physical condition, as well as that of each working dog, to ensure that dog is capable of completing his/her work day effectively.
Extreme weather conditions must be mitigated when necessary. Extreme heat conditions require proper equipment to cool dogs including tents, fans, and cooling coats or pads to help maintain safe body temperature. Storms or extreme heat may also limit the amount of work that a dog can do in a day.
- For example, when working in desert conditions with temperatures exceeding 100° F, it may be necessary to adjust working schedules so that dogs are only out in the early morning and for a limited number of hours so as not to overheat.
Dogs must be kept safe and comfortable during transport. Moving dogs to and from field deployment should always consider the following:
- Weather conditions, temperature and forecast
- Terrain being traveled
- Length of time in transit
- Individual needs of the dog being transported
Transporters should be prepared to mitigate any potential disasters on route. This may mean including extra equipment or supplies, having medical kits on hand, and knowing alternative driving routes to the destination.
Use of Crates
Crates utilized to house dogs during transport should be appropriately sized for that dog, so that the dog is able to turn around, stand or lie down in comfort. The choice of using a wire or hard side crate will mostly depend on weather conditions. Wire crates are more appropriate for heat and hard side crates are more appropriate for cool conditions.
Extreme heat may require the inclusion of fans, cooling boots or pads, and extra breaks to provide water and take the dog’s temperature to ensure the dog is not over-heating. Extreme cold might require covering crates with insulated covers, and providing extra blankets or heating pads. Dogs should be monitored constantly during any extreme weather conditions to ensure they are safe and comfortable.
Long transport trips will require water and toileting breaks. Dogs should take a break at least as often as the human members of the traveling party. Age is an important factor to considering in break frequency, with some dogs requiring breaks every three or four hours, while others may be able to sleep straight through a seven hour trip. It is therefore important to know the dog you’re transporting and understand his/her needs for breaks.
Regular veterinary care is essential for healthy, happy dogs. Individual dogs’ needs for veterinary care are often dependent on where the dog will be deployed for field work. International travel requires handlers to check each country’s vaccination requirements and ensure they are met beforehand. It is also necessary to understand any local disease threats that the dog may face in a certain area.
A dog’s job may also dictate what type of regular medical upkeep that dog requires. For instance, determining whether a dog should be on heartworm year-round will depend on where that dog tends to deploy for work. Each handler should consult with their veterinarian about appropriate and necessary vaccinations to ensure their dog is safe and healthy under a variety of circumstances. All dogs should receive rabies vaccination regardless of location or job status.
Working Dogs for Conservation tends to seek out multiple veterinarians across disciplines (e.g. wildlife veterinarians and veterinarians practicing allopathic, naturopathic, chiropractic and acupuncture disciplines ) and geographic locales, to consult based on where the dog will be going and what other species of animal he is likely to encounter. It is critical to understand prior to deployment what the handler must do to maintain a dog’s health, given whatever geographically specific parasites, diseases, or other health risks that he may encounter
Placement for Dogs Who Cannot Complete Training
A contingency plan for dogs who are unable to continue with training must be put in place and agreed upon by both parties – the shelter relinquishing the dog and the adopting trainer/organization – prior to the adoption taking place.
Reasons a dog might not be suitable for training include:
- The dog is uninterested in the job
- The dog has a general lack of motivation or willingness to learn
- The dog is not sufficiently reward driven
- Physical constraints
- Other health problems
Recommendations for dogs not suitable for training:
Dogs who are unable to complete their training program for whatever reason should either be delivered back to the shelter from which they came (in coordination and agreement with that shelter) or adopted out through the new network.
We also recommend contacting a breed-specific rescue as such a rescue might be in the best position to find an adequate home with a good understanding of that dog’s needs.
It is essential that shelters and trainers determine the course of action in the event that a dog is not suitable for training prior to any transport or training of that dog. Agreements made and upheld through the process will ensure the best possible outcome for each dog, shelter, and trainer. Though some dogs may be challenging to place, every reasonable effort should be made to ensure they are provided with an appropriate home.
Guidelines for Working Dog Adoptions
General Guidelines for Trainers
Trainers will be screened through a process created by WD4C prior to gaining access to the adoption aspect of the site. The screening process consists of a form for trainers to complete, geared at obtaining relevant information which includes: the trainer’s objective, philosophy, and fit within the Rescues 2the Rescue program. The form aims to glean information related to the trainer or their respective organization through a series of questions.
Also included in this form is a Code of Conduct agreement for trainers and shelters, outlined below.
WD4C and IFAW advocate for the health, well-being and humane treatment of dogs during every step of the process and throughout their time in a working dog program and retirement. Trainers must be able to describe and verify their use of positive training methods as the foundation for their program.
General Guidelines for Shelters
Shelters looking to post a dog will also need to undergo a screening process for each individual dog, in order to assess that dog’s potential for success within a working dog program. Dogs will be screened through a video testing process whereby each individual is filmed engaging in a series of play based behaviors, and scored on their progression through each play session or behavior command. An example video and instructions on how to conduct a screening test can be found on the Rescues 2the Rescue website.
The score that the dog receives based on this video will be used to determine the dog’s suitability as a working dog and presence on the website.
The two primary qualities being assessed are: energy and toy drive. Dogs whose temperament, as exhibited within the video, does not fit with WD4C expectations for working dogs, will not be accepted. This screening process is in place in order to minimize the risk of dogs entering training programs and later being deemed unsuitable.
A WD4C staff member and primary manager for the Rescues 2the Rescue website project will curate both trainer and dog screening processes.