By Juliana Weiss-Roessler

Every dog needs a job, whether it’s carrying a backpack on the walk or fetching a ball. It helps boost their self-esteem to feel like they’re contributing to their pack. But some dogs play an important role beyond their immediate human family. They help keep us safe, assist those with disabilities, and manage our livestock.

Here’s an overview of these dogs, their duties, and the training they must go through to become employed in these essential canine positions.

Police Dogs

A dog’s nose is its biggest asset in police work. They receive special training to help their human handlers sniff out drugs, bombs, guns, or missing persons and suspects. But that’s not all they can do. They also help dissuade confrontations with officers. Often, just a simple growl from a serious-looking German shepherd is enough to make a suspect think twice about causing trouble.

Guard Dogs

A well-trained guard dog can help keep its household and property safe from intruders and thieves. But the keyword is “well-trained.” A good guard dog is obedient and easily controlled by its pack leader, not a barking, snarling bundle of energy lunging at every passerby.

Guard dogs must pass basic obedience, socialization, and often go through Schutzhund training, which includes tracking and protection training. Dogs are typically trained to bite but also to release on command.

Herding Dogs

Herding dogs are trained using calm livestock who already have experience working with other dogs. A round pen is used, so the livestock can’t become wedged in a corner, or the help of a mature dog can be enlisted if training will be done in an open pasture.

Typically, a leash is used to guide the animal until the dog’s natural instinct to circle the animals takes over. From there, the trainer will monitor the dog’s behavior to help him out if he’s in danger of being hurt by the livestock — or if he’s about to collapse with exhaustion but is having such a great time he doesn’t want to stop!

Search and Rescue Dogs

Search and rescue dogs are ready to respond — day or night — to assist in search efforts when someone goes lost or missing. They can help find children in the wild, the elderly who wander away from their home, bikers and hunters lost in the woods, and victims of drowning accidents, fires, train and airplane crashes, tornadoes, avalanches, earthquakes, floods, explosions, and other natural or man-made disasters. They undergo a year of search and rescue training before they are considered “mission ready” by the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR).

Military Dogs

Military dogs have worked alongside American troops since World War II. They can serve as scouts, sentries, trackers, and bomb detectors, and also help improve troop morale. Some dogs are outfitted with cameras and microphones to allow their handler to see and hear an area when they scout ahead. Training can cost between $20,000 and $40,000 per dog, depending on their specialty, so the care of these dogs is taken very seriously by the military.

Service Dogs

Service dogs include any training to assist someone with a disability, which can be physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or mental. The type of service dog that most people are familiar with is the guide dog, which helps those who are blind get around safely.

Other types of service dogs include hearing dogs that help deaf or hard-of-hearing handlers; medical alert dogs that can sense an impending medical crisis such as a panic attack or seizure; psychiatric service dogs that help alleviate symptoms of disorders like bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, PTSD, and anxiety; and mobility dogs that help the physically disabled to get around and perform tasks, such as opening doors or holding packages, which may be difficult for their handlers.

If you encounter a service dog, it may be tempting to say hello, but you can help the dog better focus on its job by not petting or interacting with it.


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