All About Working Dogs: Their Roles, Breeds & More
From herding livestock or search & rescue, working dogs are proof of how deep our bonds go. Here are a couple of roles where they shine best & the breeds you'll find most commonly in them.
You might’ve heard of therapy dogs, service dogs, emotional support dogs – and how they support people in different ways. But what about the other ways that dogs go to work? Turns out working dogs have been bringing their intelligence, loyalty, and talents to a whole bunch of fields. Whether it’s herding livestock, search and rescue, or serving in law enforcement – they’re proof of how deep our bonds go.
Read on to discover a whole bunch of working dog breeds who’ve been helping out as loyal allies across a variety of roles.
Table of contents
- What are working dogs & what do they do?
- Should dogs really “work”?
- How working dogs benefit from a GPS tracker
- Celebrating the (p)awesome efforts of working dog breeds
What are working dogs & what do they do?
As the name suggests, working dogs are canines trained to perform tasks that help humans in a specific field. These tasks can range from labor-intensive activities to providing essential services within professional settings.
What sets working dogs apart is their innate drive, intelligence, and ability to adapt to challenging situations. Here are some roles where they shine best – and the different working dog breeds who’ve found their niche within them:
- Herding & managing livestock
- Transporting humans (and things) across distances
- Search and rescue (including water rescue)
- Law enforcement & security
- Therapy & comfort
- Assisting people with disabilities
- Military & K-9 units
Herding & managing livestock
With their strength and endurance, working dogs have historically been used for drafting and pulling heavy loads. They’re also exceptional herders. With their inborn talent for controlling and directing animals, they help humans manage livestock like sheep, goats, lambs, and even cows.
You might’ve seen a Sheepdog or an Australian Shepherd running around a meadow, getting the goats or cattle to stick together and not wander off. Plus, with their sharp instincts and responsiveness, they’re an excellent guard against wandering predators like coyotes, wolves, foxes, and even birds of prey, in some cases.
Border collies: Master herders
Highly intelligent and energetic, Border Collies are a working dog breed that excel in herding livestock and keeping them organized. Their intense focus, intelligence, trainability, and speed make them a valuable addition to farming environments – and also dog agility competitions!
In fact, farmers and ranchers around the world consider these dogs invaluable members of their families. Border Collies also respond well to complex commands and adapt quickly to their surroundings.
Transporting humans (and things) across distances
Some working dog breeds don’t just excel at pulling things – they’re also great runners. Sled dogs are specially trained to pull land vehicles (like sleds) with a harness. They’ve been delivering mail, exploring territories, and even racing through snowy areas like Russia, Canada, Scandinavia, and the Arctic.
Historically, these dogs have even saved human lives. In 1925, a heroic team of sled dogs worked together to transport a diphtheria serum between two Alaskan villages. Running over 600 miles (or 970 kilometers), the team transported the medicine over just six days. You might’ve heard of this story if you’ve watched the animated movie, Balto, which is loosely based on these events.
With time and increasing mechanization, sled dogs are less used for draft bearing – and more for fun activities instead! In countries like Norway, sled dog racing is a popular sport. Teams of 1-4 dogs run over mountainous terrain for around 9-20 miles (or 15-30 kilometers) – sometimes overnight and in sub-zero temperatures.
Alaskan Malamutes: Expert team players
With their immense strength, Alaskan Malamutes can pull loads up to 3000 pounds (or 1500 kilograms)! They’re sometimes still used for hauling freight objects or even just traveling and exploring in North America, the Arctic, and Siberia.
Malamutes are bigger and stronger than their cousins, the Husky – who are bred for speed instead. They’re also friendly, sociable, and excellent pack workers. Malamutes love to be around people, which makes them an excellent family dog as well. Just watch out for their prey drive – it might make them chase around a smaller dog or cat.
Search & rescue (including water rescue)
Some working dog breeds shine best during search and rescue (SAR) operations. If you have a Labrador Retriever or German Shepherd at home, you might’ve noticed how they just can’t help but sniff around and dig at things, right? Well, these breeds are often trained to find missing people in different environments. These include disaster-stricken areas or in the wilderness.
SAR dogs can often be certified at a federal level in the US.1 For example, in order to be eligible for a Wilderness Search and Rescue title (SAR-W), they must have participated in at least 5 wilderness rescue efforts. They should then be certified by an American Kennel Club recognized SAR certification organization. In an urban setting, SAR dogs can apply to be certified under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
K9 search and rescue teams around the world rely on the Tractive GPS for their work – especially with its LIVE tracking and accurate location features. Like, for example, Ontario-based SAR expert and trainer William Bolton and his Husky-Lab mix, Sheba.
When an elderly man went missing in their neighborhood for several days, Bolton used Tractive to trace where Sheba went off searching and sniffing around. Following her trail via GPS, the local authorities were able to quickly find the missing man alive.
Pictured here is a glimpse of Tractive’s LIVE tracking features – which shares real-time updates of where your dog is every 2-3 seconds. So you can have complete peace of mind as a dog parent and never have to worry about where they are again.
Check out the whole story of how Tractive makes for such a life-saving tracking device and brings incredible value to K9 SAR teams.
Newfoundlands: Water rescue heroes
Newfoundland dogs are excellent swimmers. They take to ponds, lakes, and rivers like fish to the water – so they’re intensively trained as water rescue dogs. This means they can tug along an entire boat full of 30 or so people and save them from drowning.
Tractive’s LIVE tracking and Location History features come in handy for water rescue teams as well. Water makes it difficult for SAR teams to follow an exact path or key spots in the vicinity. But with Tractive’s 30-Day Location History, SAR teams can backtrack and verify areas they’ve already searched.
Law enforcement & security
You might’ve been tempted to give a passing police dog a pet or some scratchies. But they’re hard at work sniffing out drugs and explosives and helping keep the public safe. Intelligent, trainable breeds like the Dutch Shepherd and Belgian Malinois are perfect additions to law enforcement and security teams. They’re trained as guard dogs to bark at intruders and intimidate them, as well as apprehend suspects.
Law enforcement working dogs can also be certified under a number of different organizations.2 For example, the American Kennel Club (AKC) offers the Public Service Dog Titling Program, which provides titles that can become an official part of working dogs’ names.3 Some of these include:
- Public Service Detection Dog (PSDD), for dogs who are trained to locate and alert to illegal substances or explosives.
- Public Service Patrol Dogs (PSPD), who are trained to detect scents, find evidence, and track down criminals.
- Public Service Tracking Dogs (PSTD), who are trained to detect and follow an individual person by their scent.
So because of these important tasks, it’s advisable not to pet or approach a police dog when you do see them around. Their tasks involve a great deal of concentration and focus and you might end up distracting them from doing the best job they can.
German shepherds: Versatile guardians
The German Shepherd is a versatile working dog that’s earned its role across a variety of fields. These include police and military work to search and rescue missions.
Their strength, loyalty, and keen sense of smell make them an excellent addition to a bunch of professional settings. German Shepherds are also highly loyal to their handlers and families and trust them deeply.
Therapy & comfort
Therapy dogs provide a comforting presence in care environments – like hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. You might’ve seen a Golden Retriever wandering around a pediatric ward, offering cuddles and affection to the children and staff. With their human parents, therapy dogs often volunteer their services at care environments where they interact with different people.
Because of this, therapy dogs are different from emotional support dogs. Emotional support dogs are meant to meet the needs of an individual person at a time. They might also be prescribed by a mental health professional as part of a therapeutic treatment plan. And usually, they don’t need any formal training to provide support and comfort.
Therapy dogs, on the other hand, might be trained to follow basic good behavior commands – like interacting with different people and remaining calm when surrounded by them. Here’s a deep dive into therapy dogs, what they do, and some dog breeds that fit excellently into different care environments.
Great Dane: Gentle giants in therapy
Despite being the size of a small horse, Great Danes are just big old softies. They’re so gentle, caring, and affectionate, that they make excellent therapy dogs.
One of the criteria for qualifying as a good therapy dog is being able to sit patiently and provide solace (and smiles!) to patients in hospitals, elderly folks at care homes, and even rehabilitation centers. So with their naturally gentle temperament and awareness of their big size, Great Danes are excellent partners for people in therapeutic environments.
Assisting people with disabilities
Service dogs aren’t just an important type of working dog – they’re even legally recognized and protected as such. These dogs receive intense training (sometimes over 1-2 years) to assist persons with disabilities with specific tasks. Like, for example, fetching far-away items, reminding their parents to take their medication, switching off lights, or even intervening during a psychiatric emergency. Through this training, service dogs help people with disabilities live a more independent life and accomplish important tasks.
You might’ve seen a service dog out in public wearing a special harness or gear – maybe helping a wheelchair user open a door or guiding a visually-impaired person across the street. This indicates they’re hard at work looking after their parent. So, much like with police dogs, it’s advisable not to approach or pet a service dog if you see one out in public. They’re trained to be attentive to their surroundings and their parent at all times – so it’s best not to distract them.
Service dogs are also legally protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Because of this, they have full access to public facilities and spaces where dogs might not be allowed (like airplanes and public transport). On the other hand, therapy dogs and emotional support dogs might not have the same accommodations because they haven’t had the same kind of training.
Bernese mountain dogs: Accomplished assistants
Getting certified as a service dog means intensive training – so any dog breed could make for an excellent service dog. So when you think of popular breeds of service dogs, you might think of the Retriever family or German Shepherds. But did you know Bernese mountain dogs also make for excellent service dogs? They’re intelligent, trainable, and strong enough to help their parents get around physically.
Bernese mountain dogs are also friendly, loving dogs who bond deeply with their parents. At the same time, they’re also slow to warm up around strangers. Which actually makes them excellent service dogs, because they’re less likely to get distracted when out in public. So they can focus on staying attentive to and meeting the needs of their parent.
Military & K-9 units
Throughout history, dogs have been loved, valued members of military units, bravely fighting along soldiers. Breeds like the German Shepherd and even Labradors are often trained as “sniffer dogs” – employed in military and K-9 units to track, patrol, and sniff out explosives. With their skills, they can also detect enemies in the dark, scout out ambushes and snipers, and search and rescue casualties in hard to find places.
Oftentimes, these highly certified dogs are owned by government agencies or official kennels contracted by the government. But military dogs can still grow very attached to their teams. They continue to show steadfast loyalty and dedication even after their service is complete. As a result, military families often adopt them – sometimes as a way to overcome any mental health difficulties they might face as a result of experiencing war and trauma.
Belgian Malinois: Tactical partners
Belgian Malinois are excellent partners in law enforcement and military units. Like their cousins, the German Shepherd, their agility, high intelligence, keen sense of smell, and high energy levels make them excel at scent detection, protection, and apprehending suspects.
These dogs are also focused and quite calm temperament-wise, so they adapt well to high-stress environments.
Should dogs really “work”?
Experience shows that dogs who have a task to fulfill (no matter how small or big), live a longer, happier life. In fact, studies on working dogs have shown that giving dogs a job they actually enjoy can help to prevent other behavioural issues (such as stealing socks, chewing on furniture, digging, barking for no reason, anxiety issues and many more).
Plus, being around other people is what most playful dogs really love! And, staying active will improve the general fitness and health condition of our furry friends as well.
So by definition, being a working dog is a rewarding experience both for the dog, family, and parents.
How working dogs benefit from a GPS tracker
The tasks that a working dog can receive are very diverse. But here are some ways a GPS tracker can come in handy:
|Type||Breed (can include, but not limited to)||Benefits of a GPS tracker to this working dog|
|Search and rescue dogs: great agility and sense of smell.|
Mostly used for avalanche rescues, cadaver location, & tracking skills
|Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies and German Shepherds||Situation: The dog risks getting stuck in snow or another sticky situation, when searching for a lost person buried in an avalanche.|
Benefit: A GPS tracker will always tell you the exact position of your furry friend in real-time.
|Police dogs: K9 assistance dogs||German Shepherds and Malinois||Situation: Imagine how much you can make use of a Tractive GPS Tracker, when a police dog is chasing a running thief, for example. Often, dogs run faster than humans, so one can easily lose track of the dog.|
Benefit: With a GPS Tracker, you can share the dog’s position with the entire crew and follow your dog in real-time!
|Detection dogs or “trackers”: Trained to sniff a particular substance, such as illegal drugs, blood, explosives, etc.||Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Malinois, Beagle, Bloodhound and Coonhound||Situation: Often, people try to cross borders carrying illegal substances. Dogs follow instincts intensely. Should a “search dog” detect a scent, you can be sure he will be long gone, completely ignoring your voice.|
Benefit: You want to follow your dog fast and this is where the LIVE Tracking function of Tractive GPS is a big help! Just activate it and see where your dog is right now, instead of losing precious time searching for him in the entire airport.
|Herding dogs: Mostly work with sheep and cattle||German Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, Border Collies, Canaan Dogs, Komondors, etc.||Situation: Your dog is guarding a herd of sheep, when one of them gets away from the herd. The dog will automatically follow the lost sheep and try to bring her back to the herd. But what if the two of them get too far away from the herd or the herd has already moved on?|
Benefit: The Tractive GPS Tracker will tell you immediately where your dog is, no matter how far away your dog or the lost animals might have gone.
|Service dogs: assist persons with disabilities|
Guide dogs for blind persons, assistance for moving, etc.
|Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Standard Poodle, and German Shepherd||Situation: Service dogs are very special to people with disabilities. Imagine your dog helping a blind or wheelchaired person at home.|
Benefit: With the Tractive GPS Tracker attached to your dog, a third person can always see directly on their smartphone, where for example the blind family member is, since the dog will always be near the person. This will definitely lessen your worries.
|Military dogs: assist military operations|
Mostly trained as detectors, trackers, search and rescues
|German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds and Malinois||Situation: Military dogs are often exposed to unpredictable situations. Despite intense training, uncommon incidents (fights, loud noises, etc) might still scare a military dog and make him run away.|
Benefits: Track the position of your military dog in real time with a Tractive GPS Tracker, no matter if your dog is rescuing someone or got scared in a particular situation.
Why a Tractive GPS Tracker is a smart choice for your working dog
So now you know what working dogs are and what type of jobs many of them fulfill. And given their tasks, what all these dogs have in common is that they are mostly unleashed and trained to run free.
That’s why, the best gadget for working dogs is definitely a dog GPS tracker. With the Tractive GPS Tracker, you can track your dog’s position at all times and with real-time LIVE Tracking. Which helps you take an active role in finding a dog who’s lost or has wandered too far away.
Celebrating the (p)awesome efforts of working dog breeds
From farms to battlefields, from search and rescue missions to therapy settings, working dogs are living examples of how deep the bond between humans and dogs go. Through centuries of training and working together, these furry companions have evolved to perform tasks that are vital to our daily lives, safety, and wellbeing.
So give your dog an extra long hug from us today. And let’s celebrate how our best friends work hard as much as they play hard.
Here’s a feature from National Geographic which showcases working dogs in all their focused, furry glory: