23 types of working dogs and the jobs they do

23 types of working dogs

I’m fascinated by how well-trained working dogs are. I love to watch Rex, a police dog in a Canadian TV series called “Hudson and Rex”. I’m also reading a book about a lady and her bomb detection dog, a Belgian Malinois, both suffering from PTSD after their tour in Afghanistan. So I decided to look into the topic further

What kind of work can dogs do? We’re all familiar with some of the most popular working dogs, such as service dogs and police dogs. While doing the research for this post, I found quite an impressive list of many jobs dogs actually do to help humans. Some are unexpected, to say the least.


These working dogs are trained to assist people with disabilities. As defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “a Service Dog must perform a task specific to a person’s disability which can be physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability”.

You’ll find in this category of working dogs:

  • guide dogs for the blind
  • dogs helping those with mobility difficulties
  • medical response dogs alerting in case of seizures, vertigo, diabetic episodes
  • hearing dogs assisting in the detection of sounds for individuals who are deaf
  • autism assistance dogs helping children between 3 and 12 who are on the autism spectrum
  • psychiatric service dog (or PSD for short) assisting those with mental illnesses, such as PTSD, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder

Service dogs are allowed in restaurants, stores, libraries, any public spaces, and public transports. A renter also has the right to have a service dog even if pets are not allowed.

Service dog

Which breeds do the work of a service dog

The most commonly used breeds are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Standard Poodles, and German Shepherds.

Can mutts be service dogs?

Any breed can be used, purebreds and mixed breeds. Color and gender are not important.

The dog’s size needs to be appropriately matched to the disability. For example, a small dog would not be able to pull a wheelchair but would be a good choice as a hearing dog.

How and where are service dogs trained

Professional service dog training organizations and individuals who train service dogs are located throughout the USA and Canada.

There is also a number of well-respected programs that train and provide service dogs to people with disabilities.  These are non-profit schools. In Canada, we have one called the Mira Foundation and they use host families to take care of the puppies while in training. A couple of times I’ve seen them in the grocery store ‘in training’.

You, as an individual with disabilities, can train your own dog. The dog needs to be able to perform tasks specific to your disability.

Remember, a service dog should be calm anywhere, alert, able to learn and perform repetitive tasks, and comfortable in many different social situations and surroundings.

How are these dogs selected

Service dog training programs would use puppies and test them through different stages of training. Very few dogs will graduate from the programs.

Rescue dogs are now also evaluated to see if they can be trained as service dogs.

Do you have to pay for a service dog

Some organizations offer them at no cost. Others will provide a service dog for a fee, which can be around $20,000.

Do service dogs get to play

Service dogs get downtime to be just a dog, playing, hanging out, be goofy. But they’re always on alert to the needs of the human partner.

A good comparison I read: it’s like being a parent. You can do normal stuff like cook dinner, watch a movie, etc., but you’re there for your child always.


The role of a therapy dog to provide comfort and affection to people in hospice, disaster areas, retirement homes, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and more.

Petting and just being around a therapy dog will usually lower blood pressure, heart rate and reduce anxiety.

Although therapy dogs don’t have to be trained for specific tasks like service dogs, not all dogs are good candidates.

A therapy dog has to be naturally calm, affectionate, and friendly. He also needs obedience training and to respond to commands such as ‘leave it’ and not jump on people.

The dog may need to be certified by a therapy dog organization, depending on where he will be performing his role.

Years ago, we had a Golden Retriever and up until she was 4 years old, she was a very active and goofy dog. As she got a little older she became very calm and very affectionate. I started to take her, once a week, to a small retirement home to visit with the ladies there. She loved the attention and they loved to pet her. A win-win situation.

Then a couple of years ago, my mother-in-law was in a nursing home and my husband started taking our Husky mix, Yuki, with him on a few visits. I was skeptical as to whether he would be a good boy and listen because at home he doesn’t most of the time. But surprisingly, he behaved very well and my mother-in-law looked forward to his visits.

Neither dogs ever had any training or been certified as therapy dogs, but in both cases, it wasn’t required.

Any mix or breed can be trained to become a therapy dog.


Dogs and other pets can be emotional support animals (ESAs).  They help people suffering from anxiety and depression. They provide comfort to a person by being with them.

The dog should be devoted to its owner. An emotional support dog should be calm, and respond well to its owner’s emotions, and trained to obey commands. No formal training is needed.

Dog breeds that are people-oriented work well for this role, such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Poodles.


Police dogs are specifically bred to do complicated tasks and assist law enforcement.  Not all dogs can do this kind of work. That’s why you’ll more often see specific breeds being trained as police dogs.

The popular breeds are Belgian Malinois, German Shepherd Dogs, Bloodhounds, Dutch Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers.

On the other hand, Beagles are narcotics-sniffing dogs and can be found in airports and border zones.

Some of the tasks police dogs are trained to do:

  • Apprehend and restrain a suspect
  • Detect various drugs, explosives, accelerants, and crime scene evidence
  • Searching for lost victims, alive or deceased
  • Assisting TSA at airports to search for explosives and weapons
  • Helping Customs and Border Protection to search for concealed narcotics and people

What type of training do police dogs receive

Training will include: obedience, agility, tracking, all kinds of searches, narcotics or explosives detection.

Tracking dogs, with their powerful sense of smell, are trained to follow a scent on the ground. They help find lost children or the elderly.

Some police dogs are also trained as cadaver dogs also known as human-remains detection (HRD) dogs. These dogs are trained to detect the odor of decomposing bodies or parts, such as blood, bones, and tissues. It could take 18 months to two years for a dog to be certified as a cadaver dog.

How long does it take to train a police dog

A police dog requires from eight months to more than a year of training before it is paired with its handler. At that point, they are partners and are known as a K-9 unit. They train together for another three to six months.

Where do police dogs live

When off-duty, police dogs live with their handler in their home and spend time just being dogs. A K-9 unit is a team that stays together 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A police dog will normally retire around the age of 10, assuming he is healthy. He will then live at home with his handler as a family pet.


SAR dogs track people lost in the wilderness, after a natural disaster, avalanche, or other disasters such as collapsed buildings, which was the case at ground zero on 9/11.

SAR teams would assist in mountain and ground search and rescue, air-sea rescue over water, search and rescue in cities.

Becoming a K9 SAR team

Most search and rescue jobs are volunteer positions. Paid SAR jobs are with the Coast Guard, the sheriff’s emergency department, the Air Force, and law enforcement.

If you want to become a SAR volunteer with a dog, you need to own and train your dog. You need a team and a mentor to help you. You also need to meet the requirements to become a searcher.

The process involves lots of hours of training a dog and training yourself, to eventually go out on missions to find lost or missing people.

You are responsible for all expenses, such as buying required equipment, training, taking care of your dog, and the cost of transport to searches.

Breeds often used for SAR are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, Leonbergers, and German Shepherd Dogs.

If you’re considering this volunteer work, do a Google search to find a local group and contact them to get all the information you need to decide.


The act of herding is when a well-trained dog can move a large number of animals from one place to another at the hand or whistle signals from the handler.

For example, these herding dogs can be used to herd sheep, goats, Canadian geese and guard livestock.

Herding dog gathering geese

While the Border Collie is the most popular breed of herding dog in the U.S., other common herding breeds include the Australian Shepherd, the Australian Kelpie, the New Zealand Huntaway, and the Australian Cattle Dog.

If you own a ‘herding dog’ breed, don’t be surprised if it starts rounding-up small groups of children, other pets or even you. These dogs have very a strong instinct for herding and their instincts are triggered by movement.


All military working dogs are trained as patrol dogs, guarding checkpoints and gates, detect intruders, secure bases, apprehend suspects, and attack on command.

But most military working dogs are also specialists. They are specifically trained to sniff out bombs, weapons, or drugs.

Breeds commonly used as military working dogs (MWD) are German and Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. The latter has proven to be one of the most outstanding working dogs used in military service.

The Belgian Malinois is the predominant breed utilized by SEAL teams. These dogs are fierce and fast with acute vision. Some Navy SEAL dogs are trained parachutists.

According to akc.org, “about 10% of military working dogs for the U.S. are bred at Lackland Air Force Base. The rest are purchased from approximately 30 vendors stateside and overseas.”

Do military dogs get PTSD?

Just like humans, military dogs can get canine PTSD.

Interesting Fact: Military working dogs are traditionally awarded one rank higher than that of their handler, as a reminder that the handler must always treat their animal with respect.

The dogs are typically retired when they’re ages 10-12. It’s possible to adopt a retired military working dog, although it’s a long process. If you don’t mind the wait and meet the requirements, there are organizations dedicated to helping,  Save-A-Vet and Mission K9 Rescue are two of them.


How do dogs get into show business?

It’s a process that requires time and patience.

Basically, a dog is trained to act like a regular dog but on cue.

A dog needs extensive training to be ready for auditions and find work in film, television, commercials, and print.  Of course, basic obedience training is a must. Thereafter, more advanced training involves tricks such as waving/shaking a paw, rolling over, taking a bow.

A dog actor or model also has to be calm, confident, and able to respond to commands, (especially when the trainer is out of sight), bark, or be quiet on command.

If you want your dog to be a star, you will need to prepare a portfolio to include its best photos. It would be a good idea to also take pictures of your dog doing any special tricks or expressions.

A dog agent is helpful but not necessary in the beginning. Do a Google search to find dog agencies, extras agencies as well as casting directors in your area. You can also check Craigslist in the TV/Film/Video section to book acting or modeling jobs on your own.


There are five types of hunting dogs. Specific breeds and specific work is defined for each kind.


These hunting dogs are used to retrieve the birds killed by the hunter in different locations, such as marsh, river, field, etc.

The dog is trained to remain still and not move when the hunter shoots the bird. Only at its master’s command will it recover the bird. The most important quality for this kind of hunting dog is obedience.

Main breeds: Golden Retriever, Labrador, and Chesapeake Bay.


These scent dogs are trained to follow and track hares, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and big game like bears and moose. They bark to signal the direction of the wounded animal to the hunter. The hound dog specializes in tracking wounded game through scent clues.

This type of hunting dog must be calm, stable, with lots of physical endurance and of course a very good nose.

Main breeds: Beagle, Redbone, Bluetick Coonhound, Walker, Fox-hound.

Pointer Dogs

These dogs are used to hunt small game birds, such as a woodcock or grouse. They walk the field in search of the birds. They don’t see them but smell their presence. Once they detect birds, they stop and point where they found them.

The hunter waits for the bird to fly away and shoots. The dog then goes to find the fallen bird and brings it back to his master.

Main breeds: Setters, Pointers, Braques, Griffons, Spaniels.

Flushing Dogs

The primary goal of these dogs is to flush out the birds and force them into the air fast. These hunting dogs hunt close to the hunter, searching immediately in front and either side of its master.

Flushers need a strong foundation in obedience and be trained to stay within gun range. The master needs absolute control over where the dog goes and how fast it does.

Main breeds: Springers, Cockers 

Blood Tracking Dogs

These hunting dogs are primarily used for the recovery of injured big game such as deer but also recover bear, moose, elk.

In spite of the name, blood trackers are usually used to track when there is little or no blood. The dogs do not catch the game but track it using their sense of smell.

Probably the most important quality for a tracking dog is its drive, which cannot be taught. A good blood tracking dog will also need intelligence and a very good nose.

Main breeds: Teckel, Basset Hound, Beagle, Border Collie, German Braque, Portuguese Water Dog, Hanover Hound, Labrador, Springer Spaniel.


In the old days, sled dogs were used for transportation over ice and snow in cold arctic weather. Today they are still used in remote communities in Russia, Canada, Alaska, and Greenland.

Mostly the role of sled dogs involves mushing for recreational purposes, offering tours to tourists and for some participating in races such as the Iditarod, 1,100 miles of endurance over 10 – 11 days.

A sled dog needs to have specific qualities to be a good racing dog: be lean, strong, attentive, and ready to affront the cold. These dogs are bred for speed, endurance, and leadership.

The Samoyed, Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and Chinook are the most popular breeds for a sled dog.


Yes, there is a difference between the two, mostly how they are trained.

guard dog is to protect a property against unexpected intruders. A guard dog is trained to work alone without their owners present to give a command.

A protection dog will protect the owner and his family and listen to the owner’s commands and act on them.

Popular breeds used would be German shepherds, Rottweilers and Doberman Pinchers.

Lifeguard dogs/water rescue dog

Water rescue dogs work in pairs with their trainer. They perform water rescues from shores, boats, and even helicopters.

These dogs trained hard and need to pass tests. They perform amazing tasks, such as towing a person to shore, taking a life jacket out to a person, even towing a boat.

If the person is unconscious, some dogs are trained to flip the person on their back making sure their head is out of water, and bring them to shore.

Newfoundland dogs are the most popular for water rescue because of their powerful stature, their waterproof coats, and webbed toes. They are built for speed and endurance. Portuguese Water Dogs and Labrador Retrievers are also ideal for this job.

Prison dogs

Inmate dog training programs exist in a few States.

The Florida Department of Corrections-approved TAILS program, which stands for Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills pairs an at-risk dog with two inmates, a trainer, and a handler. The dog lives in prison and sleeps in a kennel next to them.

The Marley’s Mutts Pawsitive Change Prison Program in California operates in certain prisons to provide at-risk rescue dogs training by selected inmates. You can follow them on Instagram here @pawsitivechangeprogram where you can see some very powerful pictures.

Also in California, Paws for Life K9 expanded their program into three California State Prisons. Some of their graduates, after getting out, have become professional dog trainers, and business owners.

In Minnesota, an organization called Can Do Canines has puppy raising and training programs in seven local prisons. These puppies when ready will become assistance dogs.

DAWGS Prison Program in Pennsylvania rescues dogs from high-kill shelters in the South and then transports them to Pennsylvania. A dog is paired with two inmates who will train him/her in basic obedience. The program is about four to six weeks, and the dogs are then available for adoption.

Watch this video where 22 dogs from shelters were driven to Frackville prison to enter the program.

These programs benefit both inmates and hard-to-adopt dogs. Wonderful results for both men and dogs are achieved.

I literally had tears in my eyes while scrolling through pictures of big tough men either holding a tiny dog or cuddling a bigger one. The bond between human and dog can work wonders on an emotional and mental level.

The goal is to prepare the prisoners and dogs for the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification, the gold-standard in canine obedience.

How does a prison dog classify as a working dog? In my opinion, these dogs’ job is to just be there and do what dogs do best: give unconditional love and thrive. It’s a win-win situation all around.


A show dog has been specially bred, trained, and groomed to conform to the standard of its particular breed. The reason is the dog will produce puppies that also meet the standard. That’s why “mixed-breeds and spayed or neutered purebreds are ineligible to compete” as mentioned on the AKC website.

The requirements for a show dog are:

  • be six months or older on the day of the show
  • be a recognized breed by the AKC (American Kennel Club)
  • be registered with the AK.
  • NOT been spayed or neutered
  • not have disqualifying faults, as stated by their breed’s parent organization.
  • be in good health and up-to-date on vaccinations

The show dogs should know the basics, such as how to walk on a leash on the left side of the handler. They also need to learn “stacking” which means the dog needs to stand in the proper position for the written standard for its breed. 

It’s expensive to enter a dog in dog shows, in the range of $5,000 to $8,000. Owners might enter their dogs in 10 to 15 shows a month.

Although there is no prize money for the Best in Show winner for the Westminster Dog Show, the owner has the opportunity to earn money from breeding fees.


Dogs performing very specific and unusual jobs

Anti-poaching k9s

These dogs help protect wildlife from poachers, in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa.

A variety of traditional hunting dogs are used, such as Belgian Malinois, Beagle, Fox Hound, Bloodhound, and mixed breed Coonhounds.

Airport runway safety dogs

These dogs have a cool job: they work with their handler at airports, finding and safely chasing birds away from the tarmac and runways. This company specializes in wildlife hazard management and are working with their two dogs, Pilot, and Flight, to keep the runways safe at Vancouver Airport.

Truffle hunting dogs

Truffles are not plants or animals, they’re a kind of mushrooms that grow underground, making them hard to find. Dogs can be trained to use their nose to smell and find them.

Truffles are very expensive, the black truffles from France and white truffles from Italy are the two most highly-priced. But there are a few farms cultivating them in California, Oregon, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Pest control dogs

The pest control industry has been using dogs to detect live bed bugs through mattresses, inside walls, and furniture. The most common breed used is Beagles.

Dogs are one of the most successful and humane forms of ridding cities of rats. Most breeds used for rat hunting are different kinds of Terriers.

Courthouse facility dogs

In Canada, since 2014, courthouse facility dogs help children, youth, and vulnerable adult witnesses in criminal courtrooms.

In 2015, Arkansas was the first state to allow certified facility dogs to accompany child witnesses while testifying, and half a dozen other states joined in.

Courthouse facility dogs are professionally trained to be quiet, calm, and not obstructive as well as be able to remain still for long hours. A facility dog will typically sit at a child’s feet while he/she testifies.

In the States, Courthouse Dogs Foundation’s mission is to “train people for successful partnerships with courthouse facility dogs”.

In Canada, Dogs with Wings offers training and accreditation for dogs.

Therapy dogs for funeral homes

Funeral homes have recognized that a dog can provide comfort to people who are grieving.

These therapy dogs should be confident and trained to be quiet and calm. The dogs should also have the temperament to allow strangers to pet them, and have learned these basic commands: sit, down, come and stay.

Mostly the dog belongs to the funeral home owner, but volunteers are also bringing their own dogs.

Therapy dogs at airports

These therapy dogs and their handlers patrol terminals and concourses to help travelers feel less anxious. The dogs wear vests with “Pet Me” printed on them. Travelers are encouraged to pet, nuzzle and play with the trained dogs.

The airport therapy dogs must be very comfortable with large crowds, noises, people of all sizes, baggage, and the general hectic atmosphere of a busy airport.

The dogs chosen are middle age because young dogs can be overly stimulated and the amount of walking for older dogs can be too demanding.

Not only do the airport therapy dogs help passengers, they also provide comfort to airport and airline employees.

But wait! Dogs are not the only ones doing this cool job. LiLou, the pig, does her part at San Francisco International Airport to help ease travel stress.

Allergy alert dogs

An allergen detection dog searches the environment and alerts the handler to traces of specific allergens in the environment.  The dogs can be trained to detect nearly any substance.

These dogs are not only helping children at home, but they can also accompany a child to school and social activities to identify food allergy threats.

Cancer detection dogs

Because of their remarkable sense of smell, these Medical Detection Dogs are trained to identify cancer odor signatures from a person’s skin, urine, breath, feces, and sweat.

The InSitu Foundation trains dogs to detect colorectal cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer.  These cancer detection dogs work with research teams at hospitals and universities.

All of their dogs have loving homes, but they go to work during the day, in a laboratory setting and they love their jobs.

The foundation uses “high drive dogs, such as German shepherds, Australian shepherds, Shepherd/Lab mixes, Beagles, Belgian Malinois, and most mixed breeds containing any of these combinations”. Most of their dogs come from shelters or death rows.

Dogs Are Truly Man’s Best Friend!