By Chandler Lutz

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Those big, tough working dogs are pretty incredible, they’re great rescuers and great detectors. Now a Penn Vet center that trains those dogs is bringing in “citizen” dogs, letting pet owners contribute to important research.

Lily, a fluffy golden retriever sporting flowers in her fur, is just one of the pet dogs enrolled in the Citizen Science Class.

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“What we know is that dogs use their noses, and they use their noses well,” said Dr. Cindy Otto, D.V.M., who is an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of the nonprofit Working Dog Center at Penn Vet.

In the Citizen Science Class, the dogs search for an odor hidden in a device called a scent wheel. After each round, staff rotates in new test scents. This helps with research that could one day help dogs find infections and diseases that are hard for humans to detect.

“I’m a physician and I understand the need,” said Lily’s owner, Sarah Sorlien. “It is so phenomenal.”

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The Citizen Science Project, started in 2018, is a new project for the Working Dog Center.

“You’re really contributing to the greater good. And there’s just something, I don’t know, for me, that’s so important and so valuable,” Dr. Otto said.

“And it’s win-win too, because I figure a lot of the dogs that come here have fun,” CBS3’s Chandler Lutz said.

“They love, they love it!” Dr. Otto said.

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Dr. Otto created the center in 2007 to train future K-9 units and other working dogs for first responders.

“I started to learn how much these dogs bring to us and how little we really know about enhancing their lives, making sure they’re doing the best job, the safest job, in the best way possible,” Dr. Otto said.

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“A lot of dogs don’t know they have back feet,” Dr. Otto said.

She and 18-month-old Blitz demonstrate a fun, inexpensive, and safe exercise for dogs to become aware of their back feet.

The Citizen Science Class has added a new dimension.

“We thought, what a great collaboration: bring in dogs that have already been excited about doing nose work, and see if they can’t help us answer some really important scientific questions,” Dr. Otto said.

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We’re giving 3 Cheers to Dr. Cindy Otto and the Working Dog Center team for doing the research and training the dogs that save us.