Monday, April 5, 2010

Hard Working Dogs That Protect and Serve

By Julia Williams

The relationship between dogs and humans goes back thousands of years. Long before they became “man’s best friend,” dogs had other important jobs. Canines have been enlisted in the military for ages, serving as sentry and patrol dogs, to detect mines, bombs, booby traps, enemy troops and more. Because a canine’s keen senses of smell and hearing are far superior to human soldiers, many a wartime battle would’ve had a tragically different outcome without dogs.

Working dogs are tremendously useful to law enforcement and homeland security, and ranchers rely on them to help with herding sheep and guarding livestock. Assistance dogs provide life changing support to the disabled, and therapy dogs help the sick and elderly find joy in an otherwise challenging existence. As you can see, the list of “canine careers” is long and varied. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Police Dogs – K9 Units

Police officers rely on their K9 partner to help them chase, subdue and apprehend criminals, to provide support during building searches, patrols and crowd control, and to detect illegal substances like drugs and weapons. There’s no question these dedicated and hard working dogs help keep their partners/handlers safe in a highly dangerous job. Their very presence can also prevent crime and diffuse a volatile situation, because delinquents often rethink their actions when confronted by a formidable canine with sharp teeth and powerful jaws.

Many different breeds are used as police dogs, but the German Shepherd is the most popular. This breed is in the herding class of working dogs, and is valued by law enforcement for their size, strength, intelligence and work ethic. The second most popular police dog is the Belgian Malinois (pronounced mal-in-waw), often referred to as a smaller, sleeker version of a German Shepherd. Belgian Malinois are hard working dogs with a high level of endurance, noted for their speed, intelligence and agility.

Last year, CANIDAE donated a Belgian Malinois named Baco to the Pomona, California Police Department's Canine Unit. According to his partner/handler, Officer Theo Joseph, Baco is progressing well in his training and has proven to be a fine police dog. You can read more about Baco and other hard working CANIDAE sponsored dogs on the “Special Achievers” section of their website.

Bomb Dogs and Drug Dogs

Detection dogs are a vital part of our country’s security forces. AKC Spokesperson Lisa Peterson said, “Despite advances in security technology, the canine and its unique abilities remain a valued resource for the military and law enforcement agencies that work to keep us safe."

Bomb dogs can quickly locate explosives in a large area that might take humans hours to search. These explosive-sniffing dogs are trained to detect up to 30 different odors that might comprise a bomb, which translates into as many as 19,000 combinations. Detection dogs can also provide peace of mind by quickly confirming that large venues (convention centers, stadiums, concert halls, government buildings, etc.) are free of explosives. Detection dogs are also trained to sniff out illegal drugs, weapons, agricultural products and fire-starting accelerants, either carried on a person or in luggage, packages, vehicles and buildings. Detection dogs must learn to perform reliably in any environment, despite distractions such as loud noises, crowds, and gunfire.

A trained detection dog’s sense of smell is not only highly sensitive, but very exact. In lab tests, bomb sniffing dogs were able to detect odor concentrations as minute as one part per billion. Much to the dismay of smugglers, detection dogs are also remarkably adept at picking out contraband even when it’s placed inside smelly things or in creatively sealed packages.

Some of the dog breeds used for detection work include Beagle, Bloodhound, German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Rottweiler, Bouvier, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and Giant Schnauzer.

Military Working Dogs (MWDs)

The U.S. military has employed working dogs since the Revolutionary War, where they were used as pack animals. During World War I, MWDs were used to kill rats in the trenches. For World War II, our military deployed more than 10,000 specially trained canine troops as sentries, scouts, messengers and mine detectors. Today’s military working dogs perform many jobs, among them locating and tracking enemy troops, detecting mines, bombs and booby traps, and defending military bases and field locations. The majority are German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois, breeds valued for their aggressive, intelligent, loyal and athletic traits.

After their training (canine bootcamp?), all military working dogs are paired with a single individual, called a handler. The handler usually does not remain with one dog for the length of either's military service, but generally partners with them for at least a year, and sometimes longer.

Other hard working dogs that “protect and serve” include Search & Rescue Dogs, Cadaver Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs. There are far too many to discuss in one sitting. However, I do think these dedicated working dogs provide an invaluable service and deserve recognition, so I will talk more about these canine careers in my next post.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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