My husband suggested this topic to me as he said he didn’t realize how many sorts of working dogs there were. So welcome to the world of Working Dogs!
My first true connection to working dogs was by meeting Rita Martinez back in 2002 as she was a SF/SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers presenter. Her work at the time was with Search and Rescue doing cadaver work. If you are interested in learning more check out her work. Forensic Evidence Canines: Status, Training and Utilization and Cadaver Scent Project. Rita has since transitioned to Diabetic Alert, Medical Alert, Seizure Alert, Hearing, Assistance and Balance which are all categories of service dog work.
So what is a working dog?
In the above mentioned article, Forensic Evidence Canines, they had to come up with specific definitions of specialized dogs. A working dog is not merely a pet companion but one that has had specific training to do certain tasks.
Examples of working dog fields are:
- Service Dogs
- Herding Dogs
- Search and Rescue Dogs
- Therapy Assistance Dogs
- Military Dogs
- Detection Dogs
- Police Dogs
- Sled Dogs
- Hunting dogs
Service Dogs are dogs that are either formally trained in training school or formally trained by the owner themselves. The dog is taught specific tasks to assist with a person with disabilities and they must comply with ASA guidelines. This includes Guide Dogs for The Blind, Hearing Dogs, Balance Dogs, Seizure Alert Dogs and more. The general public may NOT interact with a service dog nor should the general public allow their dog to bark at Service Dogs.
One comment I will make is that there has been a huge amount of fraudulent uses of “Service Dog” amongst pet owners. This is a huge pet peeve of mine and not to mention that it is illegal and selfish. Therapy pets ARE NOT considered Service Dogs. There are three sets of Federal statutes that allow an owner to be accompanied by their service animal. The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. http://dogtime.com/trending/29963-speak-fight-service-dog-fraud
Herding Dogs stalk, jump of the backs of, nip various kinds of livestock from ducks, sheep, reindeer and cattle. Their main purpose in life is to control the movement of other animals. Some are guarding the flock, like the Komondor.
Search and Rescue Dogs
Search and Rescue Dogs are any breed of dog that has the talent for agility, heightened sense of smell and hearing. Dogs can detect avalanche victims, track and find lost people, track down human remains above and under water. Some have talent for specific environments like the Newfoundland Dog that does water rescues. There are tracking dogs and air scent dogs, one follows a trail and the other finds people where ever they are.
Therapy Assistance Dogs
Therapy Assistance Dogs are any breed of dog and usually is a companion animal that is then trained by the owner and then certified to visit hospices, nursing homes and hospitals to bring comfort and emotional support to the sick or injured patients at these facilities. Kudos, to my dear friend Liz Woodbury, for doing this work with her dogs.
Military Dogs are similar to police dogs. They can be trained to mine detection, track people, scout out locations/buildings before entry of unit, and used as ‘guard dogs’ / sentries.
Detection Dogs are any breed of dog that have a very specific ability smell either a particular substance or a cluster of substances which may include illegal produce brought in at ports of entry, illegal drugs, explosives and such. An example is an arson dog detecting accelerants at a fire investigation. Some dogs are trained for cancer detection, bed bugs, finding truffles and even used in the conservation field research by finding buried sea turtle eggs or specific animal scat.
Police Dogs can be any breed depending on the job they are to be used in. From Chihuahuas, Labradors, Pit Bulls and the popular Malinois. They can be taught to chase and hold a criminal from escaping. They can be trained for identifying perpetrators in a line up (‘match to sample’ like the police dogs in Denmark ). Police dogs can also branch out into Detection Dog work like sniffing out substances.
Sled Dogs started with a specific type of dog and in the most recent years have been cross-bred to other endurance type running dogs to improve long-distance runs. Initially, the Canadian Inuit Dogs were the main transport of the northern people for thousands of years. Some mixes used are: Siberian Husky, Malamute, Samoyed, and Chinook. Their main instinct is to pull. Sled Dogs were used for explorers, prospectors, trappers, doctors, mail, supplies, etc. Nowadays the most popular event is the Iditarod race up in Alaska. The International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association has laid out specific criteria for a dog to meet to be entered into a competitive race.
Hunting Dogs is probably the longest form of working dog people have had. Hunters and dogs appear in ancient cave paintings all around the world. There are 30 officially recognized sporting group breeds that fall into three main categories: terriers, gun dogs, and hounds. The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association has a method of testing a dog’s ability in the field and have tests for various stages of maturity of the dog. The purpose is to assess a dog’s natural abilities such as: scenting, tracking, pointing, desire and cooperation.
There is a “new” approach to gun dogs. You no longer have to be peer pressured to follow the traditional form of using shock collars. Visit Positive Gun Dog Training by FetchMasters out of Denver, Colorado. There is also a new sport called Barn Hunt. Check out Barn Hunts trails that you can attend and if you live in South East Indiana, visit my colleague’s club – Southeast Indiana Barn Hunt with Chris Puls.
There are several more categories that I could have covered, let’s see if you can name them. It is also interesting to note that within each of these broad classifications there are a tremendous number of specializations that takes place. For example, if you see a K9 police unit, it may be for chasing down a bad guy, but then it may be a drug dog, a cadaver dog, an arson dog, etc… Typically, dogs do not do more than one specialty, so if you’re interested in working dogs, be sure to ask what is the unique skill the dog has, you might be surprised how specialized they can be.
The American Kennel Club has a specific Working Dog Group which states that a breed is to perform specific tasks and have done so throughout centuries. A lot of the dogs classified in the AKC Working Dogs Group are larger dogs that are intelligent and may require a person with dog experience and not typical for the average family. With that said, any dog, any size can be a ‘working dog’ if they have the talent for a task.
Daphne Robert-Hamilton, CPDT-KA
Daphne Robert-Hamilton is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge Assessed by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. She was a Certified Equestrian Coach by the Canadian Equestrian Federation before moving into the dog training world. She competed extensively with her two Doberman Pinschers from 1997-2002 and achieved being a finalist in the Top 20 Obedience in 2000 and 2002 with the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. In 2002 Daphne graduated from the SFSPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, which is now defunked. She went on to intern at the SFSPCA Academy and graduated with honors in dog aggression. Daphne became the go-to trainer in the SF Bay Area for aggression cases. Daphne has done webinars, been interviewed in several dog magazines and has written a two part article on “sibling rivalry” for The Chronicle of The Dog. Daphne was the Head Trainer for Washington state for Pets for Vets for about two years. She has fostered many dogs helping them find loving forever homes. Daphne is a member of The Pet Professional Guild.
Daphne has been married for 24yrs and currently lives with her two Rhodesian Ridgebacks in Washington State.
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