Dogs have helped humans since ancient times. Over the centuries, working dogs have herded sheep, guarded houses, hauled carts, rescued lost travelers and hunted both wild game and vermin.
In modern times, working dogs have entered new fields and taken on careers. Guide dogs and assistance dogs aid the disabled, drug-sniffing dogs assist the police and bomb-sniffing dogs serve in the armed forces. Although Golden Retrievers are the most common breed of working dog, any intelligent, well-trained and dedicated dog can qualify.
As owners of guide dogs and assistance dogs can attest, working dogs are highly sensitive to their owners’ needs. Consequently, working dogs are now being trained to help detect epileptic seizures in their early stages and notify their owner or others of the impending seizure.
Guide Dogs and Assistance Dogs
Guide dogs, or seeing-eye dogs, are a familiar sight in many neighborhoods as they help their blind owners navigate through daily life. Due to their temperament and loyalty, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers have become the most popular breed for training as guide dogs. While other purebreds and some mixed breeds can also serve as guide dogs, few working dogs are as well suited to the role of guide dogs as retrievers.
The success of guide dogs for the blind has led to similar assistance-related jobs for working dogs. Assistance dogs help physically handicapped people: both Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs assist people in wheelchairs or those with limited mobility.
Guide dogs can also meet the needs of the deaf. Working dogs can be taught to alert deaf people to specific noises such as telephones, alarms, crying babies and activated smoke detectors.
Therapeutic Working Dogs
Working dogs have branched out to hospitals and nursing homes as well. Cuddling and stroking dogs can be very therapeutic for patients. Stroking a gentle dog can reassure a frightened child before surgery or help stimulate a person with dementia. Gentle, friendly working dogs, such as Golden Retrievers and Newfoundlands, are trained for therapeutic work.
Dogs and Law Enforcement: Drug-Sniffing and Bomb-Sniffing Dogs
Dogs have assisted police and members of the armed forces for years, often in a security capacity. Because dogs naturally have a keen sense of scent, dogs working with law enforcement and the armed forces are trained to be drug-sniffing or bomb-sniffing dogs.
For centuries, armies have employed working dogs as guard or tracking dogs.
Did You Know . . .
. . . search and rescue dogs who work large-scale disasters (such as the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing) are so eager to help they become distressed if they don’t find survivors? Dog handlers sometimes have people pretend to be rescued to keep the working dogs’ spirits high.
Currently, the U.S. Armed Forces have a staff of 2,300 working dogs that do security work, bomb-sniffing and drug-sniffing. Approximately 200 of these working dogs are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the working dogs in Iraq are primarily security dogs and bomb-sniffing dogs, those in Afghanistan, where opium trafficking is a serious problem, are mainly drug-sniffing dogs.
When seeking working dogs, the armed forces look for aggression, intelligence, strength and loyalty. Most working dogs in the U.S forces are German Shepherd Dogs, Dutch Shepherds or Belgian Malinois. These working dogs are aggressive, physically imposing and fiercely loyal to their handlers.