Children lost in the wilderness, elderly people who have wandered away from home or the hospital, hikers lost in the woods, earthquake, flood, explosion, fire, train wrecks, plane crashes, tornadoes and other disasters - dog teams have a very special role in the world of search and rescue. The dogs' ultra-sensitive hearing, night vision, endurance and keen sense of smell have continually proven to be invaluable in the effort to locate missing persons and to return them home safe to their families and friends.
A Guide Dog team consists of a dog and a person. The dog has been specially trained to assist a person who is blind, with mobility. The dog is trained to lead, obey commands, avoid distractions and obstacles and disobey a command if it would put the team in danger. The person is responsible for directing the dog by keeping a mental map, being the leader of the team and providing care and praise. Through teamwork and companionship, they share a bond of trust and love for the entire life of the dog.
Military working dogs first entered the service in 1942 to serve in the Army’s K-9 Corps. Today, these dogs, who have an actual military service record book assigned to them, are still playing an active role in searching for explosives and seizing enemies. Military working dogs have been used by the U.S. armed forces since World War I. In World War II, 436 scout dogs walked combat patrols overseas, often detecting the enemy at a 1,000 yards, long before the enemy became aware of them. Dogs continued to serve with distinction in other conflicts, such as Korea, where the Army used about 1,500 dogs, primarily for guard duty. During the Vietnam War, nearly 4,000 dogs were employed and, officially, 281 were killed in action. Today’s conflicts include dogs at every level, still serving our country, helping to protect our troops.
Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is the use of certified therapy animals as a part of a therapeutic plan. The use of animals in therapy is described as a "significant part of treatment for many people who are physically, socially, emotionally or cognitively challenged." Those in hospitals or nursing homes often benefit from AAT, especially children and the elderly. While animals such as horses and cats can make excellent therapy animals, dogs are by far the most common type of certified therapy animals at work in our communities today.
Service Dogs assist people with disabilities other than vision or hearing impairment. They can be trained to work with people who use wheelchairs, have balance issues, have various types of autism, need seizure alert or response, need to be alerted to other medical issues like low blood sugar, or have psychiatric disabilities. These specially trained dogs can help by retrieving objects that are out of their person's reach, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking to indicate that help is needed, finding another person and leading the person to the handler, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance, and many other individual tasks as needed by a person with a disability.
The traditional role of a police dog is one used to enforce public order by tracking, chasing and holding suspects either by direct apprehension or a method known as "Bark and Hold." Detection dogs or explosive-sniffing dogs are used to detect illicit substances such as drugs, explosives or incendiary devices which may be carried on a person in their effects or may be located at a crime scene. Law Enforcement/Arson dogs are true partners to their handlers and are considered law enforcement officers in their communities.
Hearing Dogs assist deaf and hard of hearing individuals by alerting them to a variety of household sounds such as a door knock or doorbell, alarm clock, oven buzzer, telephone, baby cry, name call or smoke alarm. Dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead their deaf partners to the source of the sound.
As our understanding of animal behavior and science is ever expanding, new opportunities emerge to recognize the strength in the partnership between man and dog. Dogs are emerging as real heroes in fields such as cancer detection and lending support to traumatized children suffering from abuse or neglect. There are also pet dogs, many of them rescued or adopted from shelters, who instinctively save the lives of their human owners, although not trained as official working animals.