Monday, November 26, 2012

Important and Cool Jobs Dogs Have Done

By Linda Cole

Whether it's guarding a flock of sheep or following a scent, our canine friends have been working by our side for centuries. Some breeds, however, have some pretty important and cool jobs they were bred to do.

Saint Bernard

In 1050, an Augustine monk set up a hospice and monastery in the Alps to give travelers crossing the mountain pass between Switzerland and Italy a place to find shelter. The first dogs were brought to the monastery in the late 1600s when monks added the Saint Bernard for use as guard dogs and pets. These dogs had a shorter coat and were smaller than today's breed. In the mid 1700s it was discovered the dogs had a good nose for finding people buried under snow, and the monks began to train them for search and rescue. The dogs were so good at their job, they were sent out on their own in pairs to search for people who needed to be rescued. “Barry the Great Saint Bernard” was a favorite of the monks and Swiss people, and is credited with saving more than 40 lives. Despite the many pictures we've seen of Saint Bernard dogs wearing a keg, no kegs were ever used during search and rescue missions.

Alaskan Malamute

Cousin to the American Eskimo, Samoyed and Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute is a true workhorse of the North. Used by the Mahlemuit Eskimos in Alaska to haul goods and supplies, these dogs gained fame for their endurance, work ethic and strength. Considered an American made dog, the Malamute was so highly sought after by miners during the Alaska Gold Rush years, that a good dog could be sold for a hefty $500 price.


This is an ancient breed developed by the Samoyede people in Siberia. The Samoyed is as close to a primitive dog as any breed, and there is no fox or wolf genes in this dog's DNA. Used to haul heavy loads, to hunt, as guard dogs and to herd reindeer, the Samoyed was a much loved animal to the Samoyede people. Because they were so dependent on their dogs for survival, the dogs were welcomed inside their tents at night.

French Bulldog

Related to the English Bulldog and American Bulldog, this little bully breed has a reputation as having a stubborn streak, a good sense of humor, and being very clever. In fact, the French Bulldog is described as “a clown in the cloak of a philosopher.” This little dog originated in Nottingham, England and was used by laceworkers to keep work areas free of rats. The dogs were very popular and in high demand. When lacemakers moved to France, they took their beloved pets with them, and the dog was officially named the French Bulldog.


Known as the “Little Captain,” the Schipperke is a playful, fearless, clever, smart, devoted and adaptable dog with a good sense of humor. This breed originated in Belgium in the 1880s when restrictions were placed on the size of dogs people in the working class could own. The Schipperke was created by breeding down in size an already popular black sheepdog called the Leauvenaar. The hunting, guarding and herding abilities of the larger sheepdog were kept in the Schipperke and this little dog soon found a home among tradesmen and merchants who used them to guard their shops and catch rats and other vermin. The Schipperke became of favorite of river boat captains piloting barges, who used them as watch dogs and to herd hesitate livestock onto boats. They would also run behind mules and donkeys pulling the barges and nip at their heels to help hurry them along.

Portuguese Water Dog

In the early 1900s, new technology changed how fishermen did their job and the Portuguese Water Dog began to decline in numbers when his services were no longer needed. A native of Portugal, this breed was a perfect deck hand and worked alongside fisherman on their boats. This dog is a strong and skilled swimmer and capable of diving after fish, which was one of his jobs. He also carried messages between boats and to shore when necessary. In foreign ports, his job was to guard the boats. For centuries, the Portuguese Water Dog was well known along the ports of Portugal's coast and highly cherished for his loyalty, strength and spirit.


At one time, this dog was only owned by royalty who ruled Hungary and other European empires in the 15th century. King Matyas I trusted his dogs much more than he trusted people. These dogs were given as royal gifts. However, after the King died, Kuvasz returned to the job they were bred to do – as a guardian of flocks, and hunting game like wild boar and bear. The breed originated in Tibet, but the dog we know today was developed in Hungary.

Top photo by Grace Smith
Middle photo by Dave Fayram
Bottom photo by Raymond Brow

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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