Article by Joseph M. Sabol
When someone mentions “working dogs”, most people think of the breed group recognized by the American Kennel Club. This group includes Dobermans, Rottweilers, Akitas, Newfoundland, Bullmastiffs and several other breeds. These dogs were developed to perform specific duties, such as guarding and protection, sled pulling, herding and farm work. They are successful because of their intelligence, strength and determination.
Today, the term “working dogs” refers to a much wider variety of dog breeds because of all the different jobs they have been trained to perform. Naturally, different breeds excel in different tasks depending upon their physical abilities as well as temperament. Now working dogs do many different jobs and assist their human counterparts in so many ways.
Dogs that will be used as guard or protection dogs require a certain temperament and instincts. Police and military K-9s are trained in Schutzhund, which consists of obedience, tracking and protection. Strong instincts required in guard and protection dogs include, prey instinct, which drives the dog to chase. Active aggression, which is the fighting drive for defense and self preservation and reactive aggression which defines their protective, territorial nature. Social aggression characterizes the dogs desire for pack leadership and dominance. This is most notable in male dogs. These dogs also must display a pack instinct, which leads to close bonds with handler or family.
One of the most familiar roles of working dogs is in Search and Rescue. The American Rescue Dog Association (ARDA) is the organization that tests and certifies dogs for Search and Rescue. The dogs and handlers of the ARDA are volunteers that work with local law enforcement to find missing persons in wilderness and disaster locations, water search, rescue and recovery, and even help locate human remains. Some of the dog breeds used for these jobs include, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and for water rescue especially, Newfoundlands. The ARDA requires 2 days of tough field evaluations for certification and dogs must be tested every 3 years.
Search and Rescue or SAR dogs also work around the world doing avalanche rescue. When skiers are buried under tons of snow, there is not much time to find them and dig them out. If not for the specially trained dogs, it would take rescuers far too long to locate the skier and it would become a recovery rather than a rescue.
We have seen Search and Rescue dogs working many hours alongside their handlers going through the rubble after the World Trade Center towers came down. They showed determination and a willingness to keep going in spite of the danger. The stress of that environment took its toll on the dogs as much as on their handlers. One dog, Worf, found the bodies of 2 missing firefighters the first day. He was so overwhelmed that he lay down, curled up and began shedding profusely, quit eating and would not play with the other dogs. His handler decided that the 12 year old dog would retire right then. Some of the handlers explained that their dogs were trained to find lost people and would be rewarded when the person would praise and pet and thank the dog. In the case of the World Trade Center disaster, the dogs were not finding people alive and became discouraged. The handlers would have to set up a “find” where another volunteer would hide and the dog could find him and be rewarded with hugs and praise. Some dogs were brought in specifically to provide emotional support and stress relief to the men and women working so hard in such a depressing environment. The motto of the ARDA is…”these things we do so others may live”.
Dogs have been trained to track people for miles, sniff out drugs and bombs and some dogs have even been able to detect when a person is about to have a seizure. We are all familiar with guide dogs for the blind and assistance dogs for the wheelchair bound. Dogs have been trained to detect land mines in war torn countries and detect accelerant in arson fires. Dogs are not just our best friends and companions, they help us accomplish things we could never do on our own. They love to work and will work for nothing more than praise and some special playtime. I cannot imagine our lives without these amazing animals.
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