CPT President Mark Spivak Co-Presents at the 2014 Department of Defense Canine Science & Technology Workshop

The 2014 Department of Defense (DOD) Canine Science & Technology Workshop was co-hosted by the United States Army Research Office, the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the US Marine Corps, the US Air Force Security Forces, and Defense Science Technology Laboratories of the UK. The Workshop was held proximal to the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC from July 29 to August 1, 2014.

From Tuesday through Thursday, the Workshop featured ten sessions and a total of over 40 speakers who discussed a variety of topics related to improving the identification, training, performance, and health of military working dogs and service dogs. Most of the speakers were from the USA. However, multiple speakers came from allied countries, including the UK, Israel, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. On Friday, the Workshop concluded with a trip to K2 Solutions, the military’s largest contracted kennel for the training of improvised explosive detection dogs.

On Tuesday, July 29, CPT President Mark Spivak and Emory Professor Greg Berns presented, “Functional MRI Biomarkers of Potential Service Dogs.”   The presentation discussed the evolution of Spivak’s and Berns’s novel project training dogs to cooperatively take MRIs without the use of sedation or restraints. The major advancement Spivak and Berns covered was their methodology for using fMRI testing protocols to determine the probability of a candidate dog succeeding in a service dog or working dog program.

Since the training of a military working dog or service dog can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000, a reliable identification test has the potential for dramatically reducing the overall cost of training for the military’s programs. For instance, if the cost to train a service dog is $25,000 and only 33% of enrolled dogs graduate and then work successfully in the field, the true cost of training one dog is $75,000. If the Spivak/Berns fMRI protocol can improve the predictability of candidate identification to just 50%, then the cost per dog decreases to $50,000, which saves the government $25,000 per dog. Since it costs close to $50,000 to train IED working dogs, the savings should amount to $50,000 per dog. Moreover, as they accumulate more field data, Spivak and Berns believe they can gradually improve the predictability to as high as 80%. Furthermore, by releasing low-probability candidates early and concentrating only on high-probability candidates, the military can use the fMRI protocol to conjunctively improve the allocation of labor and facility resources dedicated to the training of service and working dogs.

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Other category areas and subjects included:

1)    Chemists

  • The chemical composition and characteristics of pertinent IED explosives.
  • The creation of safe, inert simulants for canine explosive detection training.
  • The creation of standards for simulant training aids.
  • Contamination, degradation, and diffusion issues.
  • The vapor path of explosive chemicals.

2)    Biochemists

  • The biochemical and electrochemical process of canine olfaction.
  • Using zinc nanoparticles to improve olfactory sensitivity.

3)    Neuroscientists

  • Using fMRI protocols to more accurately identify high-potential service dog and working dog candidates.
  • The relationship between brain activity and working dog performance.

4)    Psychologists

  • Odor categorization
  • Enhancing motivation during olfactory detection training.

5)    Animal Behaviorists

  • Olfactory performance by breed
  • Visual discrimination abilities in dogs.
  • How to consider generalization and discrimination when training dogs in an olfactory detection behavior.
  • Cognition and problem solving abilities in working dogs.
  • Assessing for cognitive abilities, distractibility, reactivity, and anxiety.
  • The relationship between cognition and performance.
  • The importance of handler communication on performance.
  • Epigeneticis.
  • Optimizing puppy development.

6)    Software Developers

  • Development of a real-world dog handler simulator to aid in the training of working dog handlers.

7)    Hardware Developers

  • Developing canine neurological interface equipment.

8)    Veterinary Performance Experts

  • Preventing and treating Chagas Disease.
  • Reducing problems with fibrinolysis (poor clotting).
  • Reducing the likelihood of hyperthermia.
  • Optimizing hydration in the working dog.
  • Pharmokinetics and pharmacodynamics.
  • Performance enhancing drugs for the working dog.
  • The effects of common drugs on olfaction.
  • Canine audiology and its relationship to performance.
  • Psychopharmacology.
  • Using salivary cortisol and other benchmarks to measure stress.
  • The effects of dietary protein intake on working dog performance.

9)    Security Experts

  • Preparing biosurveillance dogs to address eco, agri and bioterrorism.
  • Causes of death in military working dogs.
  • The effects of ballistic vests on working dog fatigue and performance.

10) Trainers

  • Using cameras to perceive the dog’s perspective.
  • Using cameras and communication devices to handle a dog remotely.
  • Reasons for errors.
  • The value of the electronic collar and negative reinforcement in training a reliably obedient dog.
  • The establishment of consistent rules.
  • Measuring and addressing handler stress.
  • Demonstrations of K2’s trailing, stationary IED search, mobile IED search, and service dogs.


Mark appreciated the invitation to the Workshop and the opportunity to speak. The Workshop exposed Mark and Greg to valuable information and insightful networks that should continue to improve the performance and outcomes of The Dog Project and of CPT.



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