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The Project

APPROACH

Leveraging Dr. Karlsson’s collaboration-focused initiatives, we are pushing a new era of ultra-large-scale dog genetic research that will dramatically expand our understanding of the complex genetics of both behavior and health. This understanding will provide the foundation for developing actionable results and associated tools for breeders while creating an unparalleled “open-science” canine genomics resource that is accessible to the global community of researchers and the public.

This project is anchored around three core tenets:

Innovation

This project will have the benefit of leading-edge technology from collaborating scientists at the forefront of dog genomic research. To date, we have already developed or harnessed resources and technology not previously available and will continue to do so with our culture of innovation. We expect to establish a knowledge base that will fuel future expansions into new behavioral traits and dog populations for the benefit of all working dogs.

Collaboration

Because individual working dog populations are relatively small, we are hyper-focused on creating an ethos of collaboration in order to achieve the scale necessary. We also need new methods that can combine information from many different populations. While this is complicated due to complex genetics of dog breeds, lack of resources, and diverse approaches to phenotyping behaviors, our new technology collaborations now make it possible.

Scale

We are embarking on a comprehensive program, the scale of which is unprecedented in dog genetics. Decades of exploration have proven that while small genomic studies fail, large ones can revolutionize entire fields of research. Case in point: human genomics has yielded priceless benefits, but only after decades and billions in investment. While we can do it faster and cheaper, ultra-large-scale is the only way the working dog community can achieve the results we need.

Impact

The Working Dog Project has already demonstrated successes by enabling the rapid development of new assays and methodologies. Our continued efforts are expected to produce a wide range of technologies and applications from trait prediction tools to biomarker tests necessary to address the complexities of high-performance working dogs. The availability of these tools will all but guarantee the success of the working dog community and by extension, every citizen with interests in community safety and service.

Long-term outcomes expected from this research include:

Greater availability of successful working dogs

Lower cost of obtaining and training working dogs

Better performance of working dogs and outcomes

Longer, healthier, happier lifespans for working dogs

Higher public safety

Working dog types

Successful working dogs, whatever their job, tend to share certain behavioral characteristics. To maximize our potential to support them all, we endeavor to work with dogs filling diverse roles. Currently that includes:

Science

To increase successful training, we need to identify a dog’s career potential at birth. Genetic tests focusing on behavior could help us make these predictions, but this has been an insurmountable challenge. Canine behavior is complex—involving many genes and environmental factors—and tens of thousands of dogs need to be studied to fully understand it. Today, new technologies are making it possible to efficiently sequence genomes and investigate complex traits on a large scale. 

This innovative initiative is convening scientists at the forefront of genomics, and soliciting detailed behavioral information from training organizations as well as individual dog owners to integrate data from diverse dog populations. We are assembling large cohorts, with thousands of dogs, to overcome a major stumbling block in previous canine genomic studies. This will enable us to develop a working toolset for predicting behavior in dogs. 

Additionally, the data, tools, and tests generated by this project will be freely accessible to the global scientific community, galvanizing a new era of large-scale dog genetics research that will ultimately benefit people and the dogs we rely on.

Phase overview

Wins from the pilot phase:

  • Successfully implemented our collaborative approach, bringing together disparate parties that normally do not work together.
  • Successfully optimized novel sequencing technologies to test over 20 million genomic markers for under $100 a dog.
  • Successfully demonstrated that polygenic risk scores are a powerful approach for predicting complex traits in dogs.
  • Successfully illustrated that we can combine phenotype and genetic information from assistance dogs, police dogs, guide dogs, and pet dogs.
  • Successfully validated the predictive nature of ultra-large-scale functional analysis in complex traits.

(1) Assess the feasibility of the collaborative approach;
(2) Develop methods needed for subsequent phases of the project.*

Pinpoint genetic variants linked to heritable behavioral and health traits critical for working dog success, including trainability, confidence, and resilience.

Develop and validate polygenic predictive tests for working dog performance.

Build software and genomic tools that will enable working dog breeders, shelters, and other organizations to provide a greater supply of successful, healthy working dogs.

2019
N PHASE 1:
PILOT (completed)

$600,000

2021
N PHASE 2:
Identification

$2.5M

2023
N PHASE 3:
Development

$3.5M

2025
N PHASE 1:
VALIDATION
AND PRODUCTION>

$4M