Dogs have been trained and used for assistance in work and war for thousands of years, and although their roles have evolved with time, the general job requirements remain the same. This month Town and Country Animal Hospital pays homage to working dogs by taking a look at their resume.
The job market—working dog types
Working dogs are bred, trained, and employed for a variety of specialized tasks. Make no mistake—a working dog is not a tool or a weapon, but a highly valued team member. Dogs provide skills that neither man nor machine can replace, including:
- Patrol and pursuit — A dog’s presence can be enough to deter crime, and, if necessary, police or military working dogs can pursue and safely take down a fleeing suspect faster than humans, and avoid unnecessary weapon use.
- Apprehension — Apprehension canines (i.e., police and military working dogs) are taught to bite and hold onto a suspect’s arm or leg until help arrives. This method successfully stops the suspect, but prevents excessive harm or injury.
- Detection — No computer or device can rival the canine nose, which possesses more than 300 million scent receptors to our measly six million, and is capable of detecting odors in parts per trillion. Detection dogs are trained in narcotics, explosives, contraband, or missing persons, including human remains. Many military and police canines are dual purpose, specializing in apprehension and detection. Dogs are often employed at the border, airports, and large public events.
- Search and rescue (SAR) — SAR dogs are used to locate missing or deceased persons by scent, and can work for miles over rough terrain. Dog and handler teams may be further specialized in human remains detection, disaster recovery, underwater search, or buried scent location.
- Veteran assistance and support — Assistance canines help injured or disabled military veterans live a full and healthy life by performing daily tasks, improving mobility, or providing companionship and emotional support.
Job requirements for working dogs
So, what separates working dogs from working-for-table-scraps dogs? Let’s take a look at the top qualities of a working dog.
- Tenaciousness in working dogs
Police and military canines serve and protect alongside their human partners in unpredictable and dangerous situations. Dogs must be intensely focused and possess a high drive and motivation for work. When faced with a high pressure situation or physical threat, patrol and apprehension dogs—like their two-legged partners—do not stand down or blink, which could be fatal for both. This unwavering grit and determination are exemplified in the most popular military and law enforcement breeds, which include:
- Belgian malinois
- German shepherd
- Dutch shepherd
- Doberman pinscher
- Labrador retriever
- Intelligence in working dogs
Working canines must be highly intelligent, trainable, and adaptable to work closely with humans. Dogs must be able to respond to commands and direction in any situation or environment—for example, military working dogs may be stationed on aircraft carriers, at a desert base, or on the battlefield. They must also be capable of critical thinking and fast decision making, to potentially save their partner or unit from harm. Detection dogs must process and filter out millions of unrelated odors when they search for the target odor (e.g., narcotics, explosive components, or a missing person).
- Loyalty in working dogs
While dog-handler teams must stay intensely task-focused, a solid relationship is also required. All working dogs and their handlers rely on an established bond to ensure effective communication, trust, and mutual protection—for the team to work, they must be able to rely on each other.
Although these dogs are “all work” when they’re on the job, they remain devoted friends to their handler at the end of the day, or the end of their service. After retirement from active duty, many military, police, and assistance canines are adopted by their former partners or handlers.
- Strong scenting ability in working dogs
Detection work requires an incredibly keen sense of smell, and the ability to suss out tiny amounts of odor or environmental disruptions, and to follow a trail—sometimes weeks or months old, and disturbed by weather and wind—for miles over changing terrain or rubble. While the Belgian malinois and German shepherd make excellent detection dogs, the bloodhound is considered superb. The bloodhound’s long ears and wrinkled face enhance their odor detection by allowing scent to funnel toward and linger near the nose for a more concentrated experience.
Bloodhounds, along with beagles, golden retrievers, and Labrador retrievers are sometimes preferred for SAR or human remains work, as their soft features and friendly demeanor are less intimidating to the general public.
- Physical ability in working dogs
Finally, working dogs must possess the physical agility, strength, and dexterity to perform their jobs. Dogs must sometimes work all day, in harsh elements, or be ready to react in a split second, which requires impressive cardiovascular stamina and powerful muscles. While many dog breeds possess the intelligence and drive of a working dog, their physical attributes prevent them from consideration.
Working dogs provide an invaluable service to ensure human safety and wellbeing. But, while these dogs are purpose-bred for their qualities, many dedicated people play a role in their success. Town and Country Animal Hospital wishes to thank these admirable working dogs and their skilled breeders, trainers, and handlers for their selfless work every day—simply “doing their job.”