As if dogs didn’t do enough just by existing and being awesome, these stalwart companions have also achieved a tremendous amount of respect in some of the toughest jobs on the planet. Whether it’s braving the icy arctic, or seeking out epicurean delights, many working breeds have been plying their trades for centuries, if not millennia.
Part of this success in the working world has been from selective breeding. Humans, needing the help of their canine cohorts, began to enhance the already stellar traits of dogs into different breeds. From beefy breeds with thick coats, meant to survive in the harshest conditions, to dogs with senses of smell or sight or hearing that far exceed other breeds, there seems to be a dog for every job.
As you’ll soon see, we mean every job. Ever consider hiring a dog to be a babysitter? It might seem crazy, but get a load of this list and you might be surprised by some of the roles dogs have filled through the years. Some are no longer jobs for which we feel dogs are qualified. Others, they’ve only gotten better at.
1. Pulling sleds
Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds, and more have all been tasked at one point or another with dragging heavily-laden sleds through ice and snow. Whether in Alaska, Russia, or anywhere in between (the long way, that is), sled dogs have provided vital transportation for humans and gear to some of the most inhospitable places in the world.
2. Protectors of temples
We often think of Lhasa Apsos as lap dogs, these days, but would you believe these silky-haired cuties were bred as an alarm system for Tibetan Buddhist temples? It’s true! This is why the breed is fiercely loyal to its family but also tends to be highly suspicious of strangers, as anyone who’s ever paid a visit to a Lhasa Apso owner’s house can tell you.
Pit bulls (yes, pit bulls!) were often left in charge of babies in Victorian England. The breed was regarded then (as now) as a loyal, protective one, able to be incredibly loving and affectionate but certainly not one to cross.
4. A true mythological legend!
Well, it’s not really a career, but it’s certainly widely assumed to be one thanks to one enterprising 17-year-old painter. Edwin Landseer portrayed two rescue dogs “reviving” a traveler with a barrel of brandy carried on the collar. St. Bernards did, in fact participate in mountain rescues, but the St. Bernard Hospice that originated the breed used them much as any other dog, to sniff out lost travelers in the snow, so they could be rescued by plain old humans. The cartoons lied!
5. Maintaining the herd
Shepherding breeds like collies are not only highly intelligent, they’re also incredibly athletic, having been bred to guide sheep and other farm animals into or out of pens. But these clever dogs do more than that. They’re also fierce protector of their flocks from predators.
6. Police officer
German shepherds and also increasingly the related Belgian Malinois breeds are highly prized by police officers around the globe for their keen senses which can detect bombs and drugs. They are often also the first member of the team into a room when there might be danger. They work in the military as well, and it should be no surprise that dogs are always the most decorated non-human members of any military throughout history. The only other animal that even comes close is the horse, which hasn’t been as practical for military endeavors lately, but still finds employment in many police departments.
Newfoundlands were bred as companions to fishermen in - where else? - Newfoundland, pulling nets, hauling gear, and so forth. They’ve since been put to work as water rescue dogs, as their thick, triple coats are essentially waterproof, while their sturdy frames and webbed feet make them incredible swimmers.
In France and Europe, certain breeds of hound are prized for their ability to seek out the dirty little balls of fungal gold that fine diners know as truffles. Pigs are also used for this task, but it’s much easier and more effective to use truffle hounds, who are easily trained to find the valuable delicacy beneath the soil but - and here’s the important part - not eat them. Pigs easily find them without any training, but they do so because they are looking for a meal.