Types of Working Dogs

While many dogs are simply companions, other dogs have serious jobs. Working dogs generally have natural instincts that are carefully honed with intensive training to perform a specific task. Kennel clubs and dog breed organizations categorize certain breeds into a “working group.” While those breeds traditionally worked (such as herding or guarding), today those dogs may or may not perform those functions. In fact, many canine jobs can be done by multiple dog breeds as well as by mixed breed dogs.

Here are some types of working dogs and the jobs they are specially trained to perform.

Service Dogs

Service dog

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Service dogs or assistance dogs are working dogs that have been trained to assist people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act has special guidelines regarding service dogs and their treatment in public places. A true service dog is trained to behave well in all types of situations, so the dog can accompany the handler anywhere. Therapy dogs and emotional support dogs do not service dogs.

Some examples of service dogs include:

  • Guide dogs for people with visual impairments
  • Mobility-assistance dogs
  • Seizure dogs and other medical-assistance dogs
  • Hearing dogs for people with hearing impairments

Dog breeds commonly used include the golden retriever, Labrador retrieverstandard poodle, and German shepherd.

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Therapy Dogs

Child with a therapy dog

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Animal-assisted therapy involves the use of trained, certified animals as part of a medical patient’s therapeutic plan. These therapy dogs offer emotional support to sick or injured people, often visiting hospitals and nursing homes. They also visit schools and daycare centers to help educate children about dogs.

Dogs of any breed, size, and age can become therapy dogs. But they need the right temperament, socialization, and training. Therapy dogs must be even-tempered, well-socialized, well-trained, and non-fearful.

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Police Dogs

Police dog with officer

Photo from Lori MacDougall

Police dogs, often called K-9s, are trained specifically to assist police and other law-enforcement personnel in the line of duty. Police dogs protect their handlers. They can chase down and hold criminal suspects who try to run from the police. In some cases, K-9s might be trained to sniff out substances. Those dogs also might be categorized as detection dogs.

The most common dog breeds used as police dogs include German shepherds and Belgian Malinois.

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Military Working Dogs

Soldiers with military dog

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Similar to police dogs, military working dogs assist members of the military with their operations. These dogs may be used as detectors, trackers, sentries, and scouts. And they can take part in search and rescue.

Most of the military working dogs are German shepherds, Dutch shepherds, and Belgian Malinois.

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Detection Dogs

A detection dog sniffing a suitcase

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Detection dogs have exceptional senses of smell and are highly motivated by positive reinforcement. A detection dog is trained to sniff out a particular substance or group of substances. Common types of substances to be sniffed out include illegal drugs, explosives, blood, and human remains. Some detection dogs even learn to detect cancer, abnormal blood sugar levels, certain types of insects (such as bed bugs), or even animal feces. Detection dogs are used in law enforcement, wildlife biology, and health care. One of the oldest uses of detection dogs is in hunting for truffles.

The breeds often used include beagles, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers.

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Search-and-Rescue Dogs

Search-and-rescue dog

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Search-and-rescue dogs have great agility and exceptional senses of smell and hearing. These highly trained animals serve in many different fields, including tracking, specialized search, avalanche rescue, and cadaver location.

Breeds often used include Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, border collies, Leonbergers, and German shepherds.

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Herding Dogs

Border collie working a flock of sheep
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Herding dogs work with various types of livestock, such as sheep and cattle. A herding dog is basically born for the job, meaning the dog is a specific breed and part of a herding breed group. However, not all herding breeds are naturally expert herders. Some need their skills honed with training while others are better suited to lives as companion dogs. Dogs that do become herders can also compete in dog herding trials.

Breeds include king shepherds, border collies, black mouth curs, and Icelandic sheepdogs.

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