Jobs that only dogs can do

From jobs that require incredible bravery and loyalty, to some more unusual canine occupations, there are certain jobs that, if you want them done properly, you need to enlist the services of a dog. Canines and humans have been working in partnership for thousands of years – and it’s all credit to that very special relationship that dogs are still part
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10th February 2022

From jobs that require incredible bravery and loyalty, to some more unusual canine occupations, there are certain jobs that, if you want them done properly, you need to enlist the services of a dog.

Canines and humans have been working in partnership for thousands of years – and it’s all credit to that very special relationship that dogs are still part of working life in the 21st century, fulfilling all manner of roles. In fact, dogs can become such skilled specialists that there are certain jobs that only they can do.

Dogs that search and rescue

With their amazing sense of smell, speed and agility, just one Search Dog, who can pick up a human scent from around 500 metres, can typically do the work of 20 humans searching on foot.

If you are lost in a mountain wilderness – as quite a few people have been since Covid curtailed foreign holidays – Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team received more than 250 calls in 2021 after visitors flocked to Snowdonia – there can be no better sight than an eager wet nose and wagging tail announcing help is at hand.

Search and Rescue dogs have been helping humans for more than 50 years. The National Search and Rescue Dog Association (NSARDA) trains and qualifies dogs to look for people who are believed to be missing – on land, in water or in a collapsed building. NSARDA qualified dogs and their handlers work with Mountain Rescue and Lowland Rescue teams, as well as with the Police and other emergency services.

Search Dogs can be all sorts of breeds, although Border Collies, Spaniels and Labradors have a natural propensity to air scent, trail and track down people in trouble with courage and dogged determination.

Sniffer dogs

A dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose (humans have just 5 million) and scientists suggest a canine’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute as a human’s, allowing them to sniff out all sorts of information.

Sniffer dogs are a familiar sight at airports, seaports and international rail stations all over the world, where border agents use them to detect illegal substances and contraband.

Detector dogs have been working at the UK’s borders since 1978 and today, there are 74 multi-skilled dogs have been trained to search for a variety of items such as drugs, firearms, tobacco, cash and even smuggled people. Gun dog breeds such as English Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels and Labradors are ideal for detection work as they have a natural instinct to hunt and retrieve, which is adapted to search for particular scents.

A new squad of dog detectors are also being deployed at airports, ports and parcel hubs across Scotland to help identify products of animal origin that carry a risk of diseases such as African swine fever or foot and mouth.

And, at a trial at Finland's Helsinki-Vantaa airport, dogs have even been specially trained to detect coronavirus in humans five days before they develop symptoms. Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, the University of Helsinki professor who is running the trial, said: “They are very good. We come close to 100% sensitivity.”

New specialist sniffer dogs on the block are the amazing Medical Detection Dogs. The charity’s pioneering work with Bio Detection Dogs hopes these specially trained canines will be able to help scientists and medics develop faster and cheaper ways to detect diseases, such as cancers, neurological diseases and bacterial infections much earlier than is currently possible.

The organisation also trains train Medical Alert Assistant Dogs to support people with life-threatening health conditions, such type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease and severe allergies, saving their lives on a daily basis. Using their amazing sense of smell, dogs can be trained to identify minute odour changes emitted prior to an emergency and alert the person to take preventative action.

Dogs that provide daily support

Assistance dogs provide practical support and companionship, giving people with a range of disabilities more independence, confidence and a best friend.

Alongside the amazing and much-loved Guide Dogs, who have been helping people who are blind and partially sighted to get out and about on their own terms since 1931, there are also Hearing Dogs who are specially trained to alert deaf people to important and life-saving sounds they would otherwise miss –  such as the doorbell, alarm clock and even danger signals like the fire alarm.

The charity Dogs for Good trains assistance dogs to support adults and children with a range of disabilities. These clever canines are trained to help with everything from dressing and undressing, retrieving dropped items, opening and closing doors and even helping with physiotherapy routines. What’s more, its Family Dog team gives advice and support to help families with an autistic child to get the most out of their relationship with their pet dog.

Plus, its Community Dogs initiative works with adults with autism, learning disabilities, and other individual needs in a wide range of community settings and with children in Special Educational Needs schools to help improve confidence, wellbeing and skills.

Dogs for Good is even exploring new ways to help people with dementia in England and Scotland to help them lead full and active lives at home and in their local community. As part of this programme, the Forest of Dean Dementia Action Alliance teamed up with dementia community dog Georgie and her handler, Julia. Together they provide goal-focused regular therapy visits for people in the early to moderate stages of dementia. Julia says: “Georgie is a very gentle and calm dog that loves being around people. She bonds quickly with people she works with and has a very natural way in which she makes them feel important and safe.”

Dogs on the farm

The intense gaze of their ‘herding eye’ enables just one well trained Border Collie to keep control of an entire flock of sheep.

While modern farms utilise the latest in agricultural technology, nothing can replace the role of the traditional farm dog.

From the super intelligent Border Collie – described by the late Eric Halsall, frontman of the famous BBC TV series One Man and His Dog, as “the wisest dog in the world” – whose standout feature is their ‘herding eye’, which is an intense gaze that allows them to completely control their flock, to terriers of all types – who act as all-purpose farm hands – dogs are just as much a part of farm life today as they have always been.

Other popular farm breeds include the Bearded Collie, the black and tan Huntaway, which originated in New Zealand and is renowned for its problem-solving skills, and the dingo-like Kelpie, a breed developed in Australia that’s expert at 'backing' sheep into a pen.

Unusual canine occupations

TRUFFLE HUNTING Truffles, a pungent fungus prized by top chefs, grow underground near specific types of trees. For centuries, pigs were used to hunt these gastronomic delicacies. Unfortunately, pigs are not only skilled at finding truffles – they also like to scoff them. Enter the Italian Lagotto Romagnolo. Originally used as a gundog/water retriever, their keen sense of smell and lack of inclination to eat their finds, has trumped the pigs and makes them the only pure-bred dog in the world recognised as a specialised truffle hunter.

ARTWORK PROTECTION The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has come up with a way to protect artwork, delicate materials, wooden objects, and books from bugs – a dog. A Weimaraner named Riley is being trained to sit down in front of an object when he detects the smell of pests. Since humans can’t smell insects, Riley can save countless hours and thousands of dollars by detecting the offending insects before the damage to priceless artworks is done. The museum chose a Weimaraner because the breed has a keen sense of smell and the stamina to work long hours without becoming bored.

SAVIOURS OF FINE WINE Chile-based cooperage TN Coopers has enlisted the help of dogs to track down TCA, TBA (2,4,6-tribromoanisole) and other harmful compounds that make wine unpleasant or even undrinkable. The Natinga Project, (Natinga translates to ‘search of origin’ in the Zulu language) five Labrador Retrievers – Ambrosia, Odysé, Moro, Mamba and Zamba – have been trained to search for compounds that create aromas of wet cardboard, damp newspaper or mouldy basement that ruin the flavour of wine. The four-legged pollutant-detection experts patrol the TN Coopers property near the town of Curacaví in Chile and also provide their services for wineries.

PROTECTING RARE SPECIES In 1997, University of Washington research pofessor Samuel Wasser’s biology lab was extracting DNA and hormones from wildlife droppings (scat) – a technique that allows researchers to study a species’ diet, behaviour and health without disturbing the animals. When Wasser heard dog handlers describe their scent-training techniques, he saw an easier way to find those samples – and Conservation Canines was born. Conservation Canines, trained with a ball-reward system, have tracked down endangered tigers in Cambodia, monitored the health of Southern Resident killer whales off the San Juan Islands and proved that human activity­ ­­– not wolves ­– was causing a decline in the caribou population in the Alberta oil sands. To find the right dogs for the job, Wasser’s team heads to local shelters to find candidates with boundless energy, a willingness to work and a singular focus on playing with a ball as a reward. The dogs, who are trained and cared for by their individual handlers, can cover 10 times more area than humans.


Working dogs are always on the go and their nutritional requirements vary from those of the average pet dog. Burgess Supadog Active has been developed exclusively to meet the needs of ‘outdoorsy’ working, sporty and active dogs. It contains highly digestible proteins for muscle and tissue maintenance and optimum levels of balanced carbohydrates for the energy needs of working dogs. It’s also VAT free for working dogs. This delicious, complete recipe contains:

  • 25% protein to help support healthy muscle
  • Balanced carbohydrates for high energy throughout the working day
  • Calcium and phosphorous to help support healthy teeth and bones
  • Supports healthy digestion

Is your dog a Burgess dog? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

Find out more about caring for your dog from the pet experts >>

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