Odd Jobs: Unusual Occupations of 5 Breeds

Coach Dog

Dalmatians have a job description unique among AKC breeds:coach dog. They were bred to trot beside horse-drawn coaches, and to guard the horses and rig when otherwise unattended. Dals were alongside the caravans of the Romani people, commonly known as gypsies, during their ceaseless wanderings around Europe. British nobles, too, employed Dals as handsome accents to their livery.Back when horses pulled fire engines, Dals began their longassociation with firefighters. These days, Dal coach dogs accompany the famous Budweiser Clydesdales on parade.

Beneath the famous spots is a graceful, elegantly proportioned trotting dog. Dals are muscular, built to go the distance; the powerful hindquarters provide the rear drive needed for the smooth, effortless gait careful Dal breeders strive for.

Duck Toller

Old-time Canadian sportsmen-breeders were responsible for developing the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Nova Scotia’s greatest gift to the world since smoked salmon.

The Toller is a small, energetic retriever that can imitate the curious activity of foxes, whose color and quick movements exert a strange fascination over waterfowl. The sight of a Toller playing fetch along the shoreline arouses the curiosity of ducks offshore. The dog’s feathery tail and red coat all scream “I’m a fox!” to the gullible ducks. The birds are enticed into gunshot range, where the duck’s goose is cooked. (The breed name comes from a Middle English word, “tollen,” meaning “to lure”—as in John Donne’s famous poem that begins, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls ...”) The Toller is then sent out to retrieve the downed game and gently return it to his human partner’s hand.

Canada’s little red tornado shares his unusual occupation with a Dutch breed, the Kooikerhondje.

Puffin Puller

At a glance, Norwegian Lundehunds seem a typical northern breed: A spitz type with triangular ears, curving tail, and a dense double coat. But a closer look reveals several unique traits.

They have feet with at least six fully functioning toes and extra paw pads, an “elastic neck” that can crane back so the head touches the spine, ears that fold shut, and flexible shoulders that allow forelegs to extend to the side, perpendicular to the body. This last anomaly produces the breed’s distinctive “rotary” gait. All these traits were bred into the dog so it could best perform its unique function.

For centuries Lundehunds were bred on Vaeroy, a remote and rocky island off the Norwegian coast. Puffins nest in crevices in the island’s cliff walls. Islanders depended on pickled puffin meat to sustain them through long Arctic winters, and the strong, flexible Lundehund was the only way to reach them. These compact puffin dogs would climb the sheer rock walls, worm their way into tiny passages, and snatch the birds. Then they’d skid down the cliffs, with the squawking, flapping prize in their mouth.

Puffins are now a protected species, and Lundehunds have eased into the roles of house pet and show dog.

Reindeer Herder

Finnish Lapphunds, with their luscious coat, sweet spitz-like face, and profusely coated tail curving over the back, are instantly recognizable as Nordic dogs. Built for hard work in frigid temperatures north of the Arctic Circle, Lappies stand about 20 inches at the shoulder and are surprisingly powerful for their size, with well-developed muscles and substantial bone beneath a double coat that comes in many colors and patterns.

Lappies are agile dogs of effortless movement, capable going from a trot to full gallop in a second flat. These qualities were purpose-bred into Lappies to help them contend with their age-old doppelganger, the reindeer.

Lapphunds were created in ancient times by the semi-nomadic Sami people of Lapland, in the far north of Scandinavia. At first, they were used for hunting reindeer. When the Sami began to settle, their dogs switched from hunting reindeer to herding them.

Unlike the adorable cartoon characters who pull Santa’s sleigh every December, actual reindeer are stubborn, cantankerous beasts whose antlers can do serious damage. It took dogs of great courage, quickness, and intelligence to control them, and modern-day Lappies retain these qualities.

Spit Turner

Glen of Imaal Terrier are tough terriers from tough country, the remote and rocky Glen of Imaal in mountainous County Wicklow. Old-time farmers worked hard to scratch a living from the desolate landscape, and the dogs they bred were expected to work just as hard. Glens were developed as badger hunters, but they also did various odd jobs around the farm. Glens carry the nickname “Turnspit Dog” because, according to some, they were used in kitchens to run in a hamster-wheel contraption that turned meat over an open fire. Some Glen experts refute the “turnspit” story, saying it was the breed’s ancestors, not modern Glens, who ran the rotisserie treadmill. But, conceding it’s even plausible that today’s Glen could do such work tells us these are strong and vigorous dogs, unspoiled by excessive pampering.