Bio-Sensor Program - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-10-2010, 12:35 PM Thread Starter
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Bio-Sensor Program

Many have heard of the Bio-Sensor program that was conducted at Aberdeen Proving Grounds by the DOD through the Army.
Many times I have given my insights into the breed and in particular the breeding of German Shepherds. I figured I would give some insight into my experiences with the above mentioned and how it helped to shape some of my opinions on breeding over the years.
From 1973 to 1976 I was stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga. My military occupational specialty,(MOS), was 00C60, which is Army dog trainer. During these three years I worked daily with dogs from the bio-sensor program in Aberdeen Proving Grounds. The first 18 months I worked with these dogs being trained as Scout dogs for the infantry. The last 18 months I worked with them in Law Enforcement as Narcotic Contraband Dogs.
The Bio-Sensor was a military breeding program designed to produce the "super dog". These German shepherds were carefully bred to achieve the top physical dog they could attain through line/inbreeding, culling, socialization, and training. The goal was to produce this exceptional GS that would aid the miltary in all aspects and create a genetically superior dog. One of the dogs that I know that was foundation stock was the Lierberg lines.(Not sure if through Bodo/Bernd).
By the time I started, they were using at Ft. Benning the N through X litters. I remember "Nard" from the N litter that was doing scout training. The last shipment we got in were the U and X litter. I distinctly remeber Xcite, Xcell and Usha, Ursala as they were in the Narcotic contraband program.
The positives of these dogs were as follows, super conformation compared to average miltary German shepherd. You could look at them and see their difference. Super hips, both from radiograph and movement. The program had very strong emphasis on these aspects in their genetic genepool.Very biddable in most cases, though some were hyper and had a hard time settling down. Excellent coloration, usually saddled, with good strong pigmentation.
The negative side....many of these dogs were skittish(sp). The nerves on these dogs were weak compared to most of the other GS. The recovery of these dogs was very slow and in some cases they would get stuck at a point and just didn't have the gumption to proceed further.
Now in the infantry training school, they often made fair tracking dogs, but as the terrain got tougher to navigate these dogs tended to shut down. As for Scout dogs, they could do the scouting part of the equation, but as soon as the patrol got hit with a firefight and bullets,tracers, and grenades were flying around, these dogs were a liability. They never completed the 16 week scout dog course the first time but of course they couldn't be washed out because they had juice from Aberdeen,(through Col. Castleberry,head of the program at that time) to be successful, so we would recycle them.
There was constant conflict between the traing Sgts and the admin. over the danger of sending these dogs over to Nam. These dogs were very typical of many showline dogs of today, and the military needed and had dogs that had good nerve and courage. Lastly, these dogs lacked the courage piece in addition to the nerve piece. Everybody in the Scout dog detachment looked upon these dogs as a "joke" in terms of being useful to the mission.
In early 1975, I got transferred to 139th MP Company to train dogs in the Narcotic Contraband program. The last two litters of bio-sensor that Ft, Benning recieved were sent to the MP unit to be trained as passive alert narcotic dog. We had two types of narcotic dogs, the aggressive alert dogs and the passive alert dogs. We had a mixture of Labs and GS. In this venue of the passive alert training these dogs did much better because training was pretty much all positive with food foundation, and very little stress placed on the dogs in training. During actual application on missions, the effectiveness of these dogs correlated often with the environment. They did very well in sterile environments like baracks searches, and empty buildings, or fields. When it was time for motor vehicle searches, or highly confined areas like c-130 aircraft, or areas where the surface was slippery or high or iron grates,etc....these dogs were highly ineffective.
In summary, when I think back on those dogs I am so reminded of today and what our scientific approach to breeding today has produced. I look at what many responsible breeders have focused on and I see an eerily similar result. Not all responsible breeders, but the " I would never breed to an OFA fair dog" type of breeder. These absolutes, trying to perfect an imperfection, from the start, and ultimately missing the forest for the trees.
I only write this post to give people some insights to what i have experienced firsthand for extensive periods of time to draw some of my opinions and conclusions. Certainly, doesn't make my opinion any more valid or less valid, but I have seen first hand that the direction the breed is going is not only a result of practices, but of well intentioned but misguided practices in my opinion....Cliff
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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-10-2010, 12:53 PM
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Re: Bio-Sensor Program

Really very interesting! Thank you again for taking the time to impart your experiences.

Balanced breeding must be very difficult. My hat is off to those who have even a modicum of success at it. You try to get this and lose that. You try to add this to a program and get things you didn't anticipate.... on and on.

I was talking with some folks in another forum entirely, not GSD related. Someone mentioned that they desire heart in a dog more than anything when they are breeding. With heart, a dog can overcome other deficiencies that might be its birthright they said. What is your take on that kind of statement?

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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-10-2010, 12:55 PM
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Re: Bio-Sensor Program

This is so interesting!!! Please tell us more about your experiences. I love reading stuff like this.

So, if I am understanding this right, despite trying to breed a physically perfect GSD, and raising them with the bio-sensor program, the dogs where not what they expected because of the lines they came from? Seems to me a no-brainer today, but maybe back then there wasn't that much understanding of the differences in nerve strenght from different lines?

Why did the military not see that they were missing that genetic component in their breeding program? Did they just not understand the concept of nerve strenght? How did they come to the decision to use these particular lines for their breeding program?

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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-10-2010, 01:03 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Bio-Sensor Program

No no no, what they got was not because of the lines. They had the right foundation dog in the Lierbergs.( I personally think Bernd v Lierberg may arguably be the most complete GS ever based on confornmation, work ability, and able to produce both).
What they got was because they bottlednecked the genetic pool trying to eliminate inherent parts of the breed. They focused more on health/physical than they did mental. The breed will always have a certain degree of imperfections, they come with the breed. And though you try to minimize, you can't do it to the point of excluding the better dogs working.
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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-10-2010, 01:24 PM
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Re: Bio-Sensor Program

Clifton, I have to strongly disagree. When you say, "Certainly, doesn't make my opinion any more valid or less valid," this statement is <u>in</u>validated by your following conclusion, "but I have seen first hand that the direction the breed is going is not only a result of practices, but of well intentioned but misguided practices. Let me be very clear...IMO, those who have seen 1st hand *do* have additional credibility. Experience isn't synonymous with knowledge or wisdom. It's not entitled to a free ride, ie experienced people aren't exempt from critical review & questions, but there's no worthy substitute for actual experience.

Experience, knowledge, wisdom...You & several others bring all of that to breeding discussions. Consequently, my ears prick up a bit whenever I see such breeders posting. I always wish I could sit at their feet for an eon & LEARN.

Some questions...Did you see a difference b/w the earlier & later litters in terms of weakening nerves & loss of courage? Do you think this was the result of excessive inbreeding/line breeding? Or an emphasis on physical health/conformation over mental health & stability? Or do you think it was the bio-sensor training program that was faulty? (I doubt it was the training. I'm just covering all bases here)

Just for clarification, when you say there was a "Mixture of Labs and GS" do you mean pb Labs & pb GS rather than Lab/GS mixes? Assuming, pb Labs, what did you see with their temperament, conformation, abilities? Did you see them also changing? Were the changes comparable to those in the GS? Perhaps even greater? Possibly not as great???
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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-10-2010, 01:25 PM
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Re: Bio-Sensor Program

LOL...I type too slowly. I see you've answered some of my questions already!
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-10-2010, 05:36 PM
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Re: Bio-Sensor Program

I agree with you Cliff - where are the bernd lierberg dogs of today?
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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-10-2010, 06:10 PM
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Re: Bio-Sensor Program

Wonderful and valuable information here, made even more fascinating and pertinent as it comes not from heresay, but first hand experience. Thank you so much for sharing this, Cliff!


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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-10-2010, 06:21 PM
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Re: Bio-Sensor Program

Thanks Cliff, that was very insightful.


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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-10-2010, 09:18 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Bio-Sensor Program

Ruby, the Labs were purebred labs. We had 25 dogs in the infantry tracking unit. 14 were Labs, and 11 were GS of which 4 were Bio-sensor dogs. The worse lab was better than the best GS, but having said that all of these dogs were superb trackers.
Once a dog was part of the tracking unit(which meant ready to go to Nam or Korea or Okinawwa), the following was a typical training exercise. You report to dog detachment at 4 am. (tracklayer). They chop(helicopter) you out to a place in the middle of Benning. You are instructed to take off into the woods and go for either two or three hours without stopping. You can backtrack, go through streams of water, go from branch to branch like a monkey(kidding), they don't care as long as its not in a circle. At the end of the 2 or 3 hours you are to crawl up in a ravine and they will see you around 12 o'clock. They would chop the dog out to the site at 9am or 10 am depending on track length given to tracklayer. Then they would start.
This exercise desensitizes the dog to flying in an open chopper(which the bio-dogs always were nervous about), and made the problem as real as possible. I did the tracklayer routine once even though I was an instructor, because you get the rest of the day off if you lay the track...LOL About 1215 am, I heard all this rustling and woke up to the dog team and instructor bearing down on me in the ravine. During my track I tried my best to lose the dog to include walking about two hundred yards up a riverbed among other things.
Anyway, these dogs were like bloodhounds in their ability and the labs were phenomenal. the temperament of the labs was basically solid and lots of drive. But remember, we trained five days a week, all year so you got to see dogs reach an advanced state of efficiency.
As for the nerve strength of litters, you are right on the money that the U and X litters were not as strong as the N and O litters. By this time the Army was ready to discontinue the program because it wasn't successful.
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