In collaboration with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the Theriogenology Foundation is leading the charge to actively advance the Working Dog Project. Directed by renowned canine geneticist Dr. Elinor Karlsson, our mission is to apply cutting edge genomics to increase the healthspan and rates of success for working dogs. Dr. Karlsson is pioneering ultra-large-scale open-science approaches to explore the complex genetics of behavior and health, and driving the development of tools and tests to accelerate successful breeding & training.
By The Numbers
To date, the Working Dog Project has successfully assessed the feasibility of the collaborative approach and developed methods needed for subsequent phases of the project. Some numbers to provide a sense of the scale of the project:
A CRITICAL PROBLEM WE CAN SOLVE
Whether it’s guide dogs for the visually impaired or elite military dogs, the worldwide need for highly skilled working dogs increases every day, but selection and training cannot keep pace with the demand. Despite decades of pedigree analysis and focused breeding programs, the success rate for the most specialized working dogs is still below 50%. This leads to severe unmet needs and wasted resources that expose us to critical security and social vulnerabilities in our private and public sectors.
“This is an extremely difficult problem, but this is a solvable problem. We actually know how to do this, and that’s what makes this so exciting.”
The major obstacle hindering previous behavioral genetics studies is that they have been far too small. Unlike simple genetic traits such as coat color that are controlled by a few genes, behavior is mind-bogglingly complex. We now know that behavioral traits are shaped by vast cascades of genes, which are themselves influenced by countless environmental factors. To decode behavior, we need to study tens of thousands, not dozens, of dogs.
Ultimately, our goal is to find the genetic loci associated with key behavioral traits of successful service dogs. While decades of selective breeding practices have shaped the canine genome, we can now look to genetics to guide our selection of dogs for specific training and career paths.