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Last week we blogged about assistance dogs that help their owners do every day tasks many of us take for granted, but dogs have been bred to do jobs for humans for thousands of years. The American Kennel Club has given them their own category, Working Dogs.
History of Working Dogs
Dogs have been domesticated and trained throughout history to help humans with all kinds of things, including hunting and guarding human camps. Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans used dogs to guard property and instill fear in their enemies, and writings by Homer and Aeneas mention messenger dogs.
Dogs’ intelligence and powerful sense of smell makes them adept at doing a large number of different tasks to help us out.
Search and Rescue Dogs
Search and rescue dogs are trained to track and find humans in all kinds of situations - whether the person is missing or there has been a recent disaster and people are trapped.
When looking for avalanche survivors for example, a search and rescue dog is able to use its nose to detect the various scents given off by humans that indicate stress or panic. The dog can indicate to the handler by reacting a certain way whether the person is dead or alive, severely injured or merely trapped and uninjured.
Human remains detection dogs are one type of search dog that has been specifically trained to find human remains or body fragments that may be buried or submerged, and they can even tell the difference between human and animal remains.
Training for search and rescue dogs of all types is intensive, usually beginning as early as possible before the dog is retired between ages 5 and 10, depending on the breed.
Police and Military Dogs
Dogs are given various jobs when working with police or the military. In the military or when deployed abroad, dogs are primarily used to sniff out explosives that soldiers would otherwise be unable to detect.
There have even been military dogs that had their place in the trenches alongside their soldier companions.
Sergeant Stubby was an American Pit Bull Terrier that served in the trenches during WWI. He was able to notify soldiers of oncoming poison gas attacks or incoming artillery shells and helped wounded soldiers. Despite being gassed himself and wounded in the foreleg by a German grenade, he made it home and became a huge celebrity, meeting presidents and attending law school with his owner - soon becoming the school’s football team’s mascot. Sergeant Stubby is considered the most decorated war dog of WWI, having received a purple heart, three service stripes and a number of other medals and accolades.
When working with the police, dogs are specifically trained to assist law enforcement. In many jurisdictions, harming a police dog is considered a serious offense or even a felony, similar to assaulting an officer. Police dogs are trained to sniff out drugs and bombs or chase down and hold suspects.
Other Working Dogs
Dogs have many other jobs, including pulling sleds, guarding property and work as
termite-detection dogs, livestock dogs and herding dogs. There even dogs that act in movies.
When most people think of digging for truffles, they imagine a pig doing all the work. But there are truffle-sniffing dogs that do the very same, except they won’t try and eat the truffles like the pigs will.
Do you work with dogs, or think your dog would cut it as a working dog? Tell us about it in the comments!