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Service, Therapy, and Working Dogs

Humans aren’t the only members of the workforce!  The American Kennel Club (AKC®) celebrates the evolution of our canine coworkers – what jobs they were originally bred to perform and what work you can see them doing now. 

Dogs go above and beyond each and every day, not only as beloved family pets, but as loyal members of the workforce. They do many important jobs from hunting to bomb detection to alerting people to life threatening situations. They have been and always will be valued members of the workforce.

A service dog is a specifically trained to help people with disabilities. Those disabilities may include visual difficulties, hearing impairments, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), seizures, ambulatory issues, mental illness, diabetes, autism, and more.

Types of Service Dogs:

Guide Dog – assists an individual that has vision impairment.

Mobility Dog – may retrieve items, open doors or even push buttons for its handler.  Also, this Service Animal may assist people with disabilities with walking, balance and transferring from place to place.

Hearing Dog – alert its handler with a hearing loss to sounds.  This can be telephone, door bell, smoke alarm, crying baby and more.

Medical Alert Dog – trained to alert to oncoming medical conditions, or attend its handler in the event of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, epilepsy, etc.

Autism Service Dog – Assistance Dog that is trained to alert its handler of certain behaviors so that the handler may keep these behaviors to a minimum. This dog provides stability and the dog’s presence offers a calming influence and provides focus. Abstract and concrete thinking advance, focus improves, and the length of attention span increases.  The important role of an autism service dog is affording the individual more independence and autonomy, helping those individuals become a viable part of the community.

Psychiatric Service Dog – works with a handler that has a mental disability.  Some types of tasks could be to attend a handler who may need a dog to be able to go out in public (agoraphobic), or a handler who suffers from  panic attacks, anxiety attack, PTS (post-traumatic stress) or other mental disorders.  These dogs are trained NEVER to leave their handler’s side


Borzois are sight hounds that worked originally as hunters of wolves, fox, and hare.  Today, because of their intelligence, independence, and keen sense of awareness, you’ll see Borzois working as loyal psychiatric assistance dogs, helping veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Labrador Retrievers originally worked alongside fisherman, helping them pull in nets and catch fish that escaped from fishing lines.  They also worked with hunters as an excellent retriever of game.  These days you can see Labs working as guide dogs, part of Search and Rescue teams, and in narcotics detection.                         

AKC Therapy Dog Program


Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were bred as companions to aristocratic families.  Now you can see the Cavalier performing therapy work.  They excel as therapy dogs because of their sweet, gentle natures.

working dog is a canine working animal that learns and performs tasks to assist and/or entertain its human companions. Detection, herding, hunting, search and rescue, police, and military dog are all examples of working dogs.

Beagles have great tracking ability and originally worked as rabbit hunters.  From the field they went to the airport where they work for U.S. Customs & Border Patrol as narcotics and agriculture detector dogs.  You can also see the Beagle out and about as a bed bug detector due to his strong nose.

AKC’s top five detection jobs for working dogs include:

  • Bed bug sniffing.  Bed bugs became a major problem for businesses and homeowners over the past few years, so a new employee entered the workforce – the dog.  With their excellent noses, exterminators and business owners enlisted the dog’s incredible abilities to find where bed bugs were hiding.  Dogs are also vital for follow-up, to determine if an extermination method worked.  Today, professional groups have established standards in bed bug-detector dog training, testing, and certification.  Breeds that are commonly used in bed bug detection are Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, and Belgian Malinois, among others.
  • Search and Rescue.   From missing persons cases to natural disasters, dogs have been an integral part in finding people who are in dire situations.  Search and rescue (SAR) dogs can either use a scent in the air or the scent of a specific object to find who they’re looking for.  They can be used in many different situations, including disasters – such as earthquakes where dogs can find people beneath the rubble – cadaver searches, drowning situations, and avalanches.  Search and rescue training is a rigorous process starting from puppyhood.  Once training is completed, dogs are tested and certified by SAR organizations.  Breeds that most commonly work with SAR are German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Bloodhounds, among others. These dogs are chosen for their intelligence, strength, size, obedience, eagerness, temperament, and gentleness.
  • Explosives detection.  Dogs have been serving our country at home and abroad for many years saving lives by warning their handlers of explosive devices.  These canine heroes work with the police, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and military to locate dangerous materials.  The dogs go through an intense training course to learn how to locate and identify a wide variety of explosives and to alert their handlers of its presence.  Breeds that excel in this kind of work include the German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, and Vizsla.
  • Cancer detection.  Believe it or not, scientists were able to train Labrador Retrievers to sniff out cancer in patients’ breath by smelling samples and sitting down in front of the one that was cancerous.  Cancer cells give off different odors than regular cells and they change the way a person’s breath smells– a dog’s keen nose can tell the difference.  In one case in particular, the Lab correctly diagnosed the disease 98 percent of the time, whereas a test that is commonly used found the cancer only 10 percent of the time.
  • Allergy Alert dogs.  Peanut allergies can be life threatening.  Stepping up to the job to alleviate parents’ fears when their kids leave the house are a variety of dogs that have the uncanny sense to sniff out even the slightest trace of peanuts.  These dogs are trained to detect the allergen and its residue at schools, social events, and everyday activities and alert their owner.  Their training is similar to that of a police dog learning to track scents or drugs.  Breeds that most commonly work as allergy alert dogs are the Poodle, the Golden Retriever, and the Portuguese Water Dog.