The breeding of dogs by humans was started as a way to accentuate on certain traits for specific working conditions such as guarding, herding or hunting. Although the strict definition for working dogs has changed a little since the majority of us are no longer living off the land there are other functions that dogs have adapted quite well for lending a hand for humans.
The broader classification of types working dogs would include; guide dogs for the blind, search and rescue dogs, police dogs, detection dogs, service dogs and therapy dogs. These are new functions we have found for dogs to work at. There are, of course, the traditional jobs that dogs still do well such as herding, hunting and protection.
Working Dogs, Modern Types
Search and Rescue Dogs
Search and Rescue dogs are trained to locate people live or dead. The search and rescue functionality is divided into field and disaster work. Dog rescue work includes trailing, tracking, air scent and water search work. Disaster work includes search and rescue in non ordinary settings such as an avalanche site or a tornado area. Cadaver dogs are specifically trained in recovery of human remains.
Police dogs are trained in various skills to be able to assist their handler in capturing and holding a suspect. Some police dogs are trained especially to detect something and alert the handler of the situation. These dogs can perform bomb and firearm detection or narcotics detection for the presence of illicit drugs.
Service dogs are trained to assist a handler that has physical or mental disabilities. These dogs assist in jobs that the handler cannot do for themselves, such as opening doors, leading the way for a blind person or alerting a person with hearing loss that the phone is ringing. The handlers of service dogs are protected under the Americans for Disabilities Act and can take their dogs with them in public places where they are not normally allowed. Service dogs can be trained to alert a handler of an impending seizure, a heart attack, an anxiety attack and so on. It is absolutely amazing what these animals can provide for assistance to humans.
Therapy dogs are usually owned and handled by the same person. Therapy working dogs provide comfort and often visit nursing homes, children hospitals, hospices, etc. It seems that just the touch or company of a dog can have physical effects on an individual such as lowering blood pressure, lower anxiety and a host of other benefits. A therapy dog is not covered under the ADA definition of a service dog and is therefore not allowed the same privileges that a guide dog would have.
Dogs are amazing creatures and incredibly brilliant to be able to perform all these functions for disabled individuals and humans in general. They have come a long way from simply guarding the flock. They are essential parts of law enforcement, rescue work and helping individuals with handicaps function as productive individuals. Although some of their former jobs have disappeared there are new jobs for working dogs.