Throughout history, dogs have not only been man’s best friend, they have been his best employee.  Here’s a line up of some of the work that dogs are asked to do, some of it right here in NYC!

Detection Dogs


Detection dogs are cool.   A dog’s nose is estimated to be 60 thousand times more sensitive than a human nose.   Dogs can detect the smell of something even if it has been diluted a million times over. That’s like placing a drop of human blood in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Detection dogs come in all breeds and all sizes, but beagles, retrievers, German shepherds, and hounds are leaned on the most to do detection work.  They are acquired both through breeders and rescue organizations.

Attempts have been made to fool detection dogs to no avail.  Detection dogs have uncovered drugs that were placed in sealed containers and then immersed in gasoline.  They have found illegal drugs that had been wrapped and inserted into human body cavities. They can detect where drugs are, and where they have been.  Their success rate at finding the substance that they have been trained to smell is typically in the 90 percent range.

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Detection dogs are used at all of NYC’s airports and may public spaces for a variety of reasons.  If you passed through customs at Kennedy recently, you probably noticed dogs being walked by their handlers through the long cues of people entering the country.  If one of these dogs sits next to you, look out.  The dog has probably smelled food, excessive quantities of cash, or other kinds of contraband that you have brought into the country.

Detection dogs have been trained to search for a wide variety of substances.  Here’s a short list of the vast array of substances or things that detection dogs have been trained to find.

  • Drugs

  • Bombs

  • Electronic devices

  • Rare wildlife scat

  • Hyper and hypoglycemia in diabetics

  • Cancer

  • The onset of seizures in humans

  • Bedbugs

  • Mold

  • Illegal agricultural products brought into the country

  • Invasive species

  • Money

  • Dead bodies

Native American Working Dogs


Long before horses arrived in America in the 16thCentury, Native Americans used dogs to help them hunt, to protect the tribe, and to carry load sleds called travois.  George Catlin, in his book, Illustrations of the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians, recalls seeing thousands of dogs pulling travois as Indians roamed the Plains.


American Indians were exceptionally loyal and protective of their dogs.  Indeed, the dogs were not just considered work animals, but members of the tribe.  Women of the tribe were responsible for breeding and training the dogs and the dogs accompanied the women throughout the day as they gathered food and wood for fires.  Dogs with especially good hunting skills were crossbred with dogs from other tribes and it is believed that lineages of certain dogs spanned the distance from Canada to Mexico.  Occasionally, Native Americans tied their dogs in heat outside so that wolves could breed with them.  Some current breeds of dogs are thought to be direct descendants of the Native American dog.

Royal Companion


Chinese emperors and courtiers carried Pekingese dogs in the flowing arms of their vestments.  These dogs were known as ‘Sleeves’ and were not just companions, but guard dogs that could be unleashed at an unwary enemy by the extension of a seemingly friendly hand. Asians have been breeding, domesticating, and living with dogs for more than 7000 years.


Corgis are the loyal companions of Queen Elizabeth, but her father was a Labrador retriever fan.  In the 18thCentury, the nobility of France courted the Bichon Frise as the ‘Royal Lap Warmer’, and the Great Pyrenees breed was given the title, The Royal Dog Of France.  Beagles were a favorite of King Henry VII. It is believed that William the Conqueror brought the breed to England after the Normal Conquest.


War Dogs


Humans have been using dogs in combat for thousands of years.  As terrible as it sounds, the Spanish brought dogs with them to the Americas and trained them to attack and kill Native Americans.


Dogs fought in both World Wars on both sides.  During the Second World War, a bull terrier mutt named Stubby was decorated by his company as a hero for sniffing out enemy gas and bombs.  He even earned the rank of sergeant!  Stubby has been immortalized in the National Museum as the progenitor of our current, formalized division of canine soldiers.


There are anywhere from 1600-3500 war dogs in the armed services, but only about 1000 are actively deployed at any given time.  All war dogs are trained at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Breeds selected for service are usually German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and Belgian Malinois.  Only about 50% of dogs make it through training because it’s tough to find dogs that possess the right amount of courage and aggression. War dogs need to be tame enough to handle, but aggressive enough that they will attack and bite a human if commanded to do so.


War dogs are trained to sniff out bombs, track, and attack the enemy. A war dog named Cairo was used in the Bin Laden raid in 2011 (you have to click the ‘Cairo’ link; the full story is incredible).  Well-trained war dogs can cost as much as 150,000 dollars and are mostly purchased from Germany and the Netherlands, though the U.S. has recently stepped up its training efforts. War dogs that are retired because of age, injury, or because they did not pass basic training are available for adoption, but the screening process is highly selective.  It can take more than a year before a suitable dog is found for a perspective adoptive family.  Form more on war dogs, visit this well written and detailed blog.

Dogs have been used in warfare since the mid 7th Century BC

Seeing Eye Dogs

WE could devote a whole blog to Seeing Eye dogs.  It’s estimated that there are 10,000 working Seeing Eye dogs in America serving approximately 2% of America’s visually impaired. Seeing Eye dogs are typically golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and German shepherds.  The oldest and one of the biggest training schools for Seeing Eye dogs in America is called the Seeing Eye, in Morristown, NJ.  The school was started in 1929 and after it trains guide candidates for 4 months, it sends some of them to NYC to see if the dogs can still function in the midst of multiple distractions and obstacles.

It’s really incredible what NYC seeing eye dogs must do. Not only must they remain vigilantly focused on their charge, but they must see things as a person would see them so that they don’t lead the visually impaired person beneath signs or overpasses that they might bump into.  The dogs must also retain their focus in the chaos of  busy subway platforms, packed escalators, other dogs, and bicycles, cars, joggers and pedestrians.  There’s an excellent article on the topic in the Times.

Movie Star


Dogs that appear in motion pictures can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Probably the most popular of all movie star dogs, maybe even more than Lassie, was Rin Tin Tin.


After being rescued from a World War I battlefield as a puppy, German Shepherd, Rin Tin Tin, was smuggled into the U.S. by a soldier and trained to do tricks by the soldier’s film star friend. After Rin Tin Tin won an agility contest in L.A., the owner, Lee Duncan, got the idea that Rin could be in motion pictures.  The dog’s first role was in 1922 and in 1923, the dog had a starring role in Where the North Begins, a film so popular that it is credited to have saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy. In 1929, Rin Tin Tin received the most votes by the Academy of Motion Pictures for Best Actor, but the Academy withdrew him as a possibility because they worried that if he won, people wouldn’t take the award seriously.

    Nostalgia buffs, this may be worth a look-see


On the day of his death in 1932, radio shows were interrupted to broadcast the news.  Other celebrity dogs include Strongheart, the original German shepherd screen star, who was so popular he had his own train car when he toured the U.S., and Moose, the Jack Russell terrier on Frazier that earned 10,000 dollars per show.


PTSD Service Dogs

Hundreds of dogs across the U.S are used to ameliorate PTSD in soldiers returning from combat. These dogs offer an array of services to their caregivers including providing reassurance, keeping people from encroaching too closely on the wary PTSD sufferer, and alerting their human companions of things that would otherwise take them by surprise.  According to a study conducted by Purdue University, veterans working with dogs had a 22% higher rate of life satisfaction than those who were still waiting to receive canine assistance. There are more than 500,000 service dogs currently working in the U.S. helping people with many kinds of physical and emotional issues.  Service dogs can fetch medication for patients, alert patients who are about to have a seizure, and warn diabetics when their blood sugar level is too high or too low.

How Detection  Dogs Are Trained (All Work is All Play)

Many trainers, working with police and detection dogs, use the dog’s love of play to teach them to find things. It starts by using a white towel to play a game of tug of war with the dogs, an activity that the dogs love. Soon the dog understands that a white towel means play time.  Next, the handlers infuse the scent of whatever they want the dog to find into the towel and allow the dogs to equate the scent with the towel.  When the dogs are accustomed to the scent of the towel, trainers hide the towel.  The dogs are then allowed to sniff around, and if they find the towel, the trainers play another game of tug of war with the dogs to positively reinforce the dog’s action. Over time, additional scents can be added to the towel so that the dog learns to search for more than one substance or thing.



Some years back, the Countess Karlotta Liebenstein willed 106 million dollars to her dog Gunther III, a German shepherd.  The dog’s care providers wisely invested the money, so when Gunther’s son was born, Gunther IV, he was worth 375 million! Oprah Winfrey’s dogs have a trust fund that tops out at 30 million.  Gigoo, a Scots Dumpy chicken, gets an honorable mention for having inherited 15 million. Seems like some dogs, and at least one chicken, have nothing to do, but to sit back and count their money.


Farm Dogs


Dogs have been working with man to herd domesticated animals like sheep, goats, cows, and horses for millennia.  Actually, herding dogs tend to herd anything that they can.  People that own collies know that their dogs often cannot rest until they figure out a way to get all members of the household sitting and interacting in one room. Herding comes naturally to herding dog breeds, 25 of which are recognized by the American Kennel Club.


In addition to herding, Farm Dogs help their masters to keep herbivores from eating crops, birds from eating berries and fruits, and predators from eating livestock.


Internet Celebrity


Several pet owners have promoted their pooches online and turned them into Internet stars that rack up millions of dollars in annual advertising revenue. In fact, there are so many Internet pet celebrities these days that this woman created The Dog Agency, a company that helps manage the many offers that these online stars receive.


A day in the life of an Internet Pet Celebrity may start with a brief photo or video shoot taken by the pet owner.  The pictures are then posted to the Internet and (hopefully) shared by the pets thousands of followers.  Advertisers may select to pay for advertising on the site, to use images of the pet in their advertising, or book the pet to appear at special promotional campaigns.


NYC Police Dog


NYPD dogs are invaluable in keeping New Yorkers safe.  NYPD dogs are trained to protect their handlers (they will attack anyone that tries to harm one of their handlers), to search for missing persons, and are trained to detect drugs and bombs.  They regularly patrol the subway system.


Cool video on the life of a NYPD dog at work

In 2018, 13 new handlers and their dogs were graduated by the Transit Bureau into the Canine Unit.  Each of the dogs was named after a fallen police officer. NYPD are typically a mix between German shorthaired pointers, German shepherds, and Malinois. You should never attempt to pet a police dog without the handler’s permission. NYPD dogs typically work on the force for 6-10 years before they are retired. Despite the seriousness of their looks, all police dogs are driven by their love of play.  Even the dogs that were sent to the ruins of the Trade Towers were given breaks away from the scene so that they could play with their handlers and recharge their minds and spirits from the grim, often hopeless effort to find survivors.


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