Types of Working Dogs
(Search and Rescue Dogs, Police Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Detection Dogs, Service Dogs)
Originally used as guard dogs, for herding, as draught animals and for military purposes, dogs are now accompanying and assisting humans in many other activities. Working dogs are bred for their working ability, strength, courage, good temperament, balanced drives, soundness and intelligence rather than for their appearance. Some breed standards, such as that of the Rottweiler and Fila Brasileiro, even recommend the passing of performance tests for conformation (see: working dogs).

However, most dog breeds that were originally classified as working dogs now include strains that are exclusively bred as show or companion dogs, sometimes to the point that these separate strains evolve into separate breeds, even though they may not always be recognized as such. (See American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier).


Working dogs can be divided in a number of categories according to the tasks and jobs they perform:
by Catherine Marien-de Luca
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Search and rescue dogs: are used to locate missing people and criminals or to find living humans or cadavers after tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters. Search and rescue is divided into field work and disaster work. Field work comprises tracking, trailing, air scent and water search. For disaster work specifically trained disaster dogs and avalanche dogs are used. Different breeds of dogs are usually used for these specific tasks. Cadaver dogs are used exclusively to locate human remains.

Trailing dogs follow a trail composed of small particles of tissue of skin cells left by the person as she or he travels and that corresponds to the scent article they were given as a reference. They can not work if no scent sample is available.

In that case,
tracking dogs are used, for example when pursuing criminals or in rescue operations. The tracking dog physically tracks the path of a person.

Air Scent dogs also work without scent article, but by picking up traces of human scent that are drifting in the air, rather than following a track close to the ground. This type of dog will generally not be able to discriminate between scents of different persons, so the presence of other people within the same area may affect the results. They are particularly useful in disaster work (collapsed building search) to detect human scent within and around a debris pile. They usually work off lead.

Water search dogs focus their attention on the bodiy gasses that rise up from under the water. They work in team with their handler from a boat or from the shore-line, and with a diver ready to search the area indicated by the dog.

Cadaver dogs react to the specific scent emitted by a dead person. They are able to detect very minute pieces of human remains (whether above ground or buried) and even blood drops.

Disaster dogs are trained to find humans in very unnatural settings as they are found after tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters. They must be able to work in small, confined spaces and on unstable surfaces without being distracted from their mission. Disaster dog must be relatively compact and short-haired, and capable to work off lead. Shepherds are most often used.

Avalanche dogs are trained to detect human presence burried under many feet of snow.



Police dogs are dogs trained to guard their handler and assist him in a variety of tasks, such as finding, intimidating, and holding suspects, or investigating the scene of a crime. Some police dogs are specially trained for detection work. Among the dog breeds that perform police work are the  German Shepherd dog, Doberman Pinscher, Akita, Airedale Terrier, Belgian Shepherd dogs, Boxer, Dutch Shepherds and Bouvier des Flandres.

Detection Dogs: are dogs used by police forces, customs and counter terrorism for the detection of bombs, explosives, and firearms.  Narcotic detection dogs are specially trained to detect drugs.
Assistance and service dogs help physically or mentally disabled persons in their everyday activities.
Photo by Joseph Zlomek

The most familiar type of service dog is the guide dog that assist blind or visually impaired people. There are also hearing dogs for the deaf, and mobility assist dogs, who open/closes doors, pull a person's wheelchair, walker dogs, who help the handler walk by balancing or acting as a counter balance, alert dogs, who are trained to hit a button to automatically
dial 911 in urgent cases, psychiatric service dog, who assist persons with a mental disability or phobias.

In the 1970s, social workers became aware that assistance dogs served not only the obvious 'physical role' of replacing a missing sense or impaired mobility, but also had a positive effect on the overall condition and self esteem of their owners. This discovery lead to the development of animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapies (see further).
Photo by Stacey Bry

Therapy dogs, refers to dogs used to detect, treat, and cure a host of diseases and conditions. Dogs may assist specific patient populations, such as children or AIDS patients, but also aid in specific settings (hospitals, prisons, independent practice, etc.). Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs do not necessarily accomplish actions, but help the sick recover more quickly and the patients or aged persons to live longer and more satisfying lives. Their therapeutic effect resides in their loving presence that can help lower blood pressure, release endorphins, and achieve specific treatment or program goals.  Specifically trained animals are now also helping stroke victims, and others to regain or build lost faculties. Increasingly, animals assist in new fields  of nonphysical/medical therapies, helping the stressed and angry relax and the shy be more forthcoming. See also: therapy dogs.

Dogs may also assist inmates in their resocialization and rehabilitation process. Juvenile offenders learn compassion, respect and responsiblity in the process of socializing and interacting with rescued homeless dogs. Other programs, where inmates help in the training of service and assistance dogs, show how the prison system can aid in the rehabilitation of inmates while serving the community at large. Read more
>>


Guide to Search and Rescue Dogs
by Angela Eaton Snovak
More information:

Therapy Pets: The Animal-Human Healing Partnership
by Jacqueline J. Crawford
More information:

Training Dogs for Protection Work
by Fred Mandilk, Marv Gangloff
Covers not only protection work but also tracking and obedience training.
More information:
Bomb Detection Dogs
(Dogs at Work Series)
(Dogs at Work)
by Charles George, Linda George
More information: