A German shepherd on a leash.

For the sweeping majority of dogs, their primary ”occupation” is to provide companionship to their people. Tail thumps, warm kisses, constant company and unconditional love. It’s an important job, and one that most family dogs are more than happy to do every second of every day. “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” after all.

As we’re all fully aware, there are dogs with actual jobs and some dog breeds that exist because of those jobs. We’ve all seen police K9 units and guide dogs making valuable contributions to society. But there are some working dogs that are more behind the scenes (quietly brightening the day at hospitals or nursing homes), and some work so far off the beaten path that many of us don’t even know that dogs could have those jobs (see avalanche rescue dogs below!).

The following collection entries from our ongoing series about dogs and their jobs is far from comprehensive, but if you’re a dog owner looking at hard working dog breeds, it should give you some insight on the wide world of working dogs. What jobs can a working dog have? What dog breeds are best for those jobs? Read on!

Therapy Dogs Brighten the Day at Nursing Homes

A therapy dog lying in the lap of its owner on the couch.
A therapy dog doesn’t have to be one of the common working dog breeds, but it doesn’t hurt!

They’re the cuddly kind of service dogs. Even if the grandkids regularly come to visit, it’s never quite enough for those seniors living in nursing homes. Visiting therapy dogs can help ease feelings of loneliness, lift the spirits and simply provide a good time for all involved. Since most dogs are equal-opportunity lovers, they’ll park their muzzles on the nearest knee, nuzzle into palms and provide unconditional love to anyone with a soft lap and open arms.

It’s hard to say who likes the nursing home visits more: the therapy dogs or the residents. From the hands eagerly petting the soft coats to the tails banging against the floor, it’s safe to say that everyone wins when a dog visits. Service dogs like these can also help reduce anxiety, provide comfort and even promote social interaction among other seniors. Therapy dogs can come from any of the working dog breeds, but really, any of the dog breeds will do if the dog is snuggly enough.


K9 Cops Put the Teeth in Law Enforcement

A German shepherd dog lying in the grass wearing a police harness.
Police dogs can be from any of the working dog breeds, but German shepherds are the most common.

Day after day, police dogs risk their lives to work in dangerous situations and help protect their handlers and citizens from harm. As you can imagine, training a dog to handle the intricacies of patrol work, urban tracking and detection can be costly, and most police departments simply don’t have the budget for this kind of expense, relying on donations from private citizens and corporations. So our four-legged public servants who live to protect and serve are often true community efforts, and their dedication shows.


Water Rescue Dogs Take Lifeguard Duties Seriously

A dog jumping into the water while wearing a rescue harness.
A job for water-loving dog breeds.

Water rescue dogs are one of the working dog breeds who have to be trained to perform a wide range of water-related duties. Their primary job is to rescue struggling swimmers, but that’s no simple task. Water rescue dogs are trained to swim to the victim, who then grabs a handle on the top of the dog’s life jacket and is towed to safety. If the swimmer is unconscious, some dogs can flip the person on their back so their head is out of water, grip the upper arm and bring them to shore. Or if a small boat is stranded, the dog can use a rope to tow the vessel and passengers in. Although any dog can be trained for water rescue, the best water rescue dogs are large breeds that have the strength and endurance to tow people and/or boats over distances of a mile or more.


The Bernese Mountain Dog Is a Dog of All Trades

A Bernese mountain dog pulling a cart on wheels through the grass.
Bernese mountain dogs are the jacks-of-all-trades of working dog breeds.

They’re smart enough to herd livestock. Brave enough to protect the farm. Strong enough to pull carts. Cool enough to … deliver cheese? The Bernese mountain dog, also known as the “working dogs of the Alps” have a long history of important work. And today, this strong breed excels in agility, herding, tracking, rally and even drafting and therapy.


Avalanche Rescue Dogs: The Search for Survivors

A Saint Bernard standing in the foothills of a mountain range with a small barrel of supplies tied around its neck.
Saint Bernards are the primary dog breed used for avalanche rescue.

When millions of pounds of unchecked snow come barreling down a mountain, your best bet for survival often comes on four legs. Search and rescue and avalanche rescue dogs are highly trained canines who can cover ground much faster than their human counterparts. For instance, an avalanche dog can typically search 2.5 acres — roughly the area of two football fields — in about 30 minutes. To search the same area, it would take 20 people about eight times longer. These dogs have proved so successful that many ski resorts now station avalanche rescue dogs on the mountainside with their ski patrol teams.


German Shepherds: The Ultimate Working Dogs

A view from behind of a German shepherd dog.German shepherds are an all-purpose dog breed.

German shepherds have held a wide array of job titles over the decades, from herding dogs and guide dogs for the visually impaired to police dogs that apprehend criminals and detect illegal substances. They obviously make great guard dogs. They’ve also joined the military and worked as search-and-rescue dogs. When they’re not on the job, German shepherds are known to be outstanding athletes, snagging the blue ribbon in sports such as agility, rally, tracking, obedience and herding. Can a dog be a workaholic? If so, the German shepherd dog would certainly qualify.


A Series About the Working Dog

In addition to all the cool stories we discuss above, Taste of the Wild has many, many more articles about the ways that the working dog does good in the world. After you’re done checking out our favorites, dive deeper into our Dogs at Work series, where we discuss everything from doggy politicians to guard dogs to dog breeds who have noses for sniffing out electronics. We’ve talked about specific breeds like border collies and the Portuguese water dog, as well as the Siberian husky dog and other working breeds. You’ll learn about the search-and-rescue dog, hunting dogs, military working dogs and even the bodyguard dog. But it’s not just about the working group of dogs; any other dogs who can or have held jobs might make appearances!

Caution: After reading so much about the working dog, you might be inspired to get to work yourself!

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.