Working Dogs & What Makes Them Heroes

April 29th & 30th are very special days on our calendar..

These two holidays shed lots of light and appreciation onto our furry heroes! Yesterday we celebrated Guide Dogs for the Blind, and today we thank our Therapy Dogs.

As we learned yesterday, these hard workers put in lots of hours in order to do their job! No matter what their exact title may be, they are all heroes in their own way.

“Working Dog” is more of an umbrella term.

While Service Dogs, Working Dogs, Therapy Dogs, and ESA’s (Emotional Support Animal) are all similar, they are not interchangeable titles.

Service dogs 


According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks while working with people with disabilities. These disabilities include but are not limited to “physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”  The work of the service dog is directly related to the handler’s disability.

  • Guide dogs help blind people navigate freely.
  • Hearing (or signal) dogs alert the deaf to sounds like a knock on the door.
  • Psychiatric dogs detect and lessen the effects of a psychiatric episode.
  • Service dogs help those in wheelchairs or who are otherwise physically limited. They can open doors or cabinets, fetch things their handler can’t reach, and even carry some items.
  • Autism assistance dogs are trained to help those on the spectrum to distinguish important sensory signals, such as a smoke alarm, from other sensory input. They can also alert their handler to repetitive behaviors or overstimulation.
  • Service dogs that are trained to recognize seizures and will stand guard over their handler during a seizure or go for help

Working Dogs

  • Search and rescue.  Search and rescue (SAR) dogs can be used in many different situations, including disasters, cadaver searches, drowning situations, and avalanches. From missing persons cases to natural disasters, dogs have been an important part in finding people in dire situations. Bloodhounds are commonly used in this role.
  • Detection. Cancer, Explosives, Drugs, you name it. Believe it or not, scientists were able to train Labrador Retrievers to sniff out cancer in patients’ breath by smelling samples and then 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. These canine heroes work with the police, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and military to locate dangerous materials as well.  They through an intense training course to learn how to locate and identify a wide variety of explosives and how to alert their handlers of its presence. Breeds that excel in this kind of work include the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.
  • Allergy alert dogs. 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 specific scents. Breeds commonly trained as allergy alert dogs are the Poodle and the Portuguese Water Dog.
  • Guard dogs or commonly known as a watch dog, are heavily trained to watch for and guard against unwanted or unexpected intruders – people or animals! They are different from attack dogs as such and their main capability lies in discriminating familiar and known people, from unfamiliar and potentially-threatening intruders.  Doberman Pinscher, and the Rottweiler most known to be used in this role.
  • Sledding dogs are working dogs used for transportation or cart-pulling in the polar or arctic environment. They were required to carry supplies to the otherwise ice cold and inaccessible areas. These dogs have been used for both the Arctic and the Antarctic exploration though their uses have become limited to some rural areas only these days. Sled dogs were popularly used during the Alaskan gold rush as well, as a means of fast transportation. Common breeds used in this job are Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies.

  • Pastoral Dogs assists farmland workers in guarding and herding livestock and other farm animals, and pest control.
  • Hunting dogs are highly skilled and recognized widely in police and intelligence services. Different breeds and types of hunting dogs are used to perform certain specific tasks. The broad categories of hunting dogs include:
    • Spaniels – flush game out of dense wood or brush
    • Hounds – track or chase prey
      • sighthounds – gazehounds that hunt by sight and speed
      • scenthounds – hunting dogs that hunt by scent rather than sight
      • lurchers – sighthounds mated with a pastoral or terrier-type dog
    • Setters – gundog mostly hunting game (e.g. pheasant, grouse, and quail)
    • Pointers – bird dogs used to find and point game to move it into gun range
    • Terriers – selectively bred for varmint hunting and rat killing.

Therapy Dogs

These pups trained to provide affection and comfort and are often used in therapeutic settings. Therapy dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA and do not have the same legal right in public spaces.

They are not trained to work for a specific handler,

instead they are trained, insured and licensed through non-profit organizations to volunteer in clinical settings, such as hospitals, mental health institutions, schools, and nursing homes, where they provide comfort, affection, and even love in the course of their work.

Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s)

While incredibly similar to the functions of a Therapy Dog, ESA’s do not have the same legal rights as any other Working Dog according to the ADA.

They may be trained for a specific owner, but are not trained for specific tasks or duties.

In order to be considered an emotional support dog, it must be prescribed by a mental health professional for a patient with a diagnosed psychological or emotional disorder, such as anxiety disorder, major depression, or panic attacks.

The Fair Housing Act mandates “reasonable accommodations” for emotional support animals even in buildings that don’t allow pets. The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to allow ESAs on flights, but travelers must have a letter from a doctor or licensed therapist, and there may be additional requirements as well. Because so many people abuse the concept of an emotional support animal, including the traveler who tried to bring an “emotional support peacock” on board a United Airlines flight, airlines are tightening restrictions on emotional support animals. We can expect other commercial and public spaces to follow.

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