FAQS

1. As a handler, am I going to have to pay more money the next time I certify because of SWGDOG? Also, will I now be required to certify with SWGDOG or a different agency/organization than I already work with?

SWGDOG is not in the certification business. One of the hopes, however, is that an accreditation program will be established by an independent body, whereby agencies and organizations which already certify detector dog teams, could choose to undergo accreditation to reflect the fact that their standards meet or exceed those recommended by SWGDOG. We can not speak for the organizations who perform certifications, nor predict the future, but one would not expect the cost of undergoing accreditation, if in fact there is any, to have any appreciable impact on the price an organization may charge, if any, to handlers undergoing certification. Furthermore, the present system of certifying teams via a network of federal and state law enforcement agencies and canine organizations is good in the sense that it's geographically distributed, so that handlers, provided they have the support of their employers, generally have opportunities to certify (with some notable exceptions, such as private sector handlers who report being excluded by some organizations because they're not technically law enforcement). When the accreditation program gets underway, certain organizations may either choose not to take part or may not meet the accreditation requirements, in which case a handler or their agency may of their accord choose to certify under other organizations.

2. What is SWGDOG?

The Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal detector Guidelines (SWGDOG) is a forum aimed at addressing the broadly expressed need to improve the performance, reliability, and courtroom defensibility of detector dog teams. It is also charged with recommending best approaches to the use of detector dogs in conjunction with electronic detection devices, or so-called orthogonal detectors. Modeled after the successful precedent of a variety of other scientific working groups, SWGDOG aims develop internationally recognized consensus-based best practice guidelines developed by a membership of respected scientists, practitioners, and policy makers representing diverse backgrounds within the detection community. SWGDOG guidelines will be made available to the public via the SWGDOG website. SWGDOG is funded by the National Institute of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Transportation Security Administration.

The overall VISION of SWGDOG is TO ENHANCE THE PERFORMANCE OF DETECTOR DOG TEAMS

3. Who's involved in SWGDOG?

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The approximately 50-person membership of SWGDOG includes representation by local, state, federal and international agencies including law enforcement and first responders, the private sector, and academia. The overall objective in the membership nomination process was to achieve a diversity of technical expertise, perspective, geographical location, job function, and organizational affiliation. A partial list of members' affiliations is as follows:

4. What is the role of the SWGDOG Executive Board?

The Executive Board has invested significant “sweat equity” pioneering SWGDOG and serves a number of roles as outlined in the SWGDOG bylaws. They vote on membership decisions, serve as chairs/co-chairs of subcommittees, help formulate objectives for each of the subcommittees, help plan and arrange for meetings, and vote to ratify work product that has already been approved by a prior vote of the general membership.

5. I heard SWGDOG is run by an academic chemist. How is a chemist qualified to provide advice about handling dogs?

SWGDOG is chaired by an academician. Dr. Kenneth Furton, an analytical chemist at Florida International University who is an expert on the chemical basis of detector dog alerts to forensic specimens. The Vice Chair and Chair of the SWGDOG Membership Committee is David Kontny, who has decades of hands-on experience in the detector dog community. Aside from bringing a wealth of complementary and relevant knowledge to the table, they will be promoting an unbiased, scientifically-supported (not to mention practical) approach to the initiative. That said, SWGDOG is fundamentally a consensus-based, group effort. Most of the actually work will be performed within subject-specific subcommittees comprised of anywhere from 6 to 14 members, whose expertise reflects the particular issues at hand. So someone like Dr. Furton might be involved in the research and technology subcommittee, whereas someone coming out of a handling or training background could be assigned to subcommittees addressing those issues. Because SWGDOG is a cooperative effort, no one individual's professional background will characterize its findings.

6. Do the people involved in SWGDOG have financial motives for doing so?

SWGDOG is strictly a volunteer effort by the entire membership, including the Executive Board. No one receives compensation for their involvement in SWDOG with the exception, by necessity, of the Executive Secretary, whose salary is paid for by the federal grant supporting the project management component of the effort. The SWGDOG co-chair, Dr. Ken Furton, must, according to Florida International University guidelines, have 1% of his existing salary supported by the grant. The latter is a nominal part of the SWGDOG budget.

SWGDOG, by design, has no revenue model. The guidelines will be disseminated for free via the SWGDOG website and SWGDOG is not in the certification business (see question 6.). Any expenses incurred by the project, such as meeting costs, as one example, are covered by the federal agencies supporting the effort.

7. I know my dog and I know what I'm doing works. Is SWGDOG going to try to impose changes on my agency and/or how I carry about my business?

SWGDOG is not a mandate but rather a forum to produce recommended best practice guidelines. By definition it carries no authority over other agencies and organizations including the authority to impose changes on any agency's policies and practices. That said, the expressed hope of SWGDOG is to catalyze raising the bar across the board with regard to performance, reliability and courtroom defensibility of detector dog teams. The guidelines will be a free resource for individuals and agencies looking to improve these factors.

8. I heard there were “national standards” already being formulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives. Why is another group attempting to do what's apparently already been done?

The ATFE has an established scent-discrimination line-up test for explosives detection canines. However,current recommended best practices established by the National Detector Dog Conference series between 2001 and 2005 are that at a minimum, a certification should include not only the ability of the dog to recognize scent, but also the ability of the handler to properly recognize canine alert behavior and the ability of the team to perform a proper search pattern through an area. These ideas were put forth at the 2nd, 3rd and 4th National Detector Dog Conferences, which have served as a stepping stone for elements of SWGDOG. Furthermore, SWGDOG will be developing certification guidelines for not just bomb dogs, but virtually all types of canine detectors, including drugs, arson, cadaver, search and rescue, agriculture, tracking, trailing, etc.

9. When can we expect to see the consensus best practice guidelines developed by SWGDOG?

The initial phase of SWGDOG will last two years, beginning mid-year 2005. Draft best practices guidelines emanating from each of the subcommittees will be available for public comment on the SWGDOG website by an large during 2006 at various points, with final, publicly-vetted guidelines from the initial phase posted by no later than mid-2007, and perhaps earlier.

10. If I want to find out more about SWGDOG and/or get involved, how do I do that?

You have several options. The website, www.swgdog.org, will provide updates on the progress of the project. You may also want to be on our email list to be alerted when draft documents are posted to the site for comment. All draft best practices will be available for public comment for at least 60 days and all comments will be considered by the appropriate subcommittees. Please contact Jessie Guevara, SWGDOG Executive Secretary, grebj@fiu.edu. You may also contact members of the Executive Board with any specific questions or comments. Contact information for members of the Board is posted under their links. We regret that we can not accept new members at present, but from time to time we may need to, so if you are interested in being on file for consideration and have not already contacted us, please send a brief relevant bio to grebj@fiu.edu and indicate on which subcommittee(s) you would be interested in serving.