Friday, April 9, 2010
By Julia Williams
It’s estimated that around 77 million dogs are kept as pets in the U.S. today, but there are no similar figures for working dogs. I’m guessing this is because the list of canine careers is impressively long, and there is no central reporting agency to keep track of all the amazing canines that are willing to work for praise, toys, treats and love instead of a paycheck. In my last article I talked about police dogs, detection dogs and military working dogs. Today I’ll cover a few more dogs that have important jobs.
Search & Rescue (SAR)
These hard-working heroes of disaster relief are called upon to help in the aftermath of avalanches, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, bombs and other catastrophes. With their keen sense of smell and the ability to navigate through debris, confined spaces and unstable terrain, “Disaster Dogs” save countless lives every year. SAR dogs are also trained and used to help to locate missing persons and prison escapees.
Of the three types of SAR dogs, Air Scenting is the most common. This SAR dog is trained to pick up traces of human scent that drift in the wind. Air Scenting dogs are always worked off lead and are more successful in isolated areas. This is because they normally don’t discriminate scents, and if other people are nearby there is a possibility of false alarms.
A Tracking Dog is trained to follow the physical path of a certain person, without relying on air scenting. Tracking Dogs are nearly always worked on a lead about 30 feet in front of their handler, and are trained to follow each footstep.
A Trailing Dog uses a combination of tracking and air-scenting. They’re trained to follow minute particles of heavier-than-air skin cells that are cast off by a person and land close to the ground or on foliage. Because of this, Trailing Dogs frequently travel with their nose to the ground.
Bloodhounds are renowned for their prowess as search dogs, and have long been used by U.S. law enforcement to track criminals. They're extremely athletic and can follow even the faintest of scent trails. Newfoundland and St. Bernard dogs are often used to find people lost in challenging environments like mountains and thick forests, or buried in an avalanche. Other breeds used for search and rescue work include the Black and Tan Hound, Doberman, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.
This specialized search dog is trained to locate dead bodies, either above ground or buried, as well as underwater. Also known as Human Remains Detection Dogs, these hard working canines are vital to police investigations because without a body, it can be difficult to prove that a crime took place. Cadaver Dogs are also used to locate deceased victims of explosions, fires, avalanches and other disasters.
According to Cincinnati search and rescue handler/trainer Gina Flannery, Labrador Retrievers are “the best cadaver dogs in the world. They love things that smell bad.”
Research has proven that animals can dramatically improve the quality of life for the elderly, they can help sick patients recover faster, and can bring a renewed zest for life to the lonely or depressed. Therapy Dogs are trained to provide affection, comfort and joy to people in nursing homes, retirement homes, hospitals, schools and even some prison facilities.
In addition to standard canine training, Therapy Dogs receive specialized training to learn how to behave around people with difficult medical conditions. However, they aren’t classified as Service Dogs because they’re not trained to stay with people and do not directly assist them with tasks.
Therapy Dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic is temperament –a good Therapy Dog enjoys human contact and is patient, gentle, confident and comfortable in a variety of situations.
These working dogs are specially trained to help disabled individuals with daily tasks. Service Dogs can dramatically improve the quality of life for their human companion. In some cases, they can even mean the difference between life and death. Some of the different types of Service Dogs available are guide dogs for the blind or visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf, seizure and diabetes-alert dogs and psychiatric service dogs. The breeds most commonly used are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.
CANIDAE sponsors many of these hard working dogs with jobs, including Avalanche Rescue Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs. You can read more about these Special Achievers on their website.
Although my “pet of choice” is a cat, I greatly admire these remarkable dogs that contribute to our society in so many ways. Life without these hard working dogs just wouldn’t be the same – for any of us.
Read more articles by Julia Williams