Dog Facts: The Amazing Powers of Working Dogs - PetHelpful - By fellow animal lovers and experts
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Dog Facts: The Amazing Powers of Working Dogs

Amanda was raised with dogs and has kept dogs all her life. "Dogs aren't just pets," she says, "They're workmates, friends, and family."

Dogs and humans have worked together for over 15,000 years

Dogs and humans have worked together for over 15,000 years

Humans and Working Dogs

I've known dogs all my life. One of the first dogs I ever owned was a retired sheep dog, a Welsh Collie. I remember the day I went to pick her up from the farm where she had been born and worked all her life. While I was there, I had the opportunity to see her cousins at work rounding up and guiding a large flock of sheep into a holding pen. The intelligence, loyalty, and skill of those sheep dogs, working in perfect harmony with the shepherd and each other, is something I'll never forget.

Dogs and humans have worked together for thousands of years. Working dogs have played a vital role in hunting, herding, rescue, security and law-enforcement. The sheer strength and resilience of working dog breeds is marvelous.

While most dog-owners think of their pets more as friends or family than "domesticated animals", there can be fewer closer bonds between humans and animals than those between working dogs and their handlers.

Only the most powerful, well-adapted, resourceful, intelligent, and responsive hounds make the cut. The intimacy and understanding between a good working dog and its human companion are second-to-none.

The first working dogs were hunters bred from wild wolves by early humans

The first working dogs were hunters bred from wild wolves by early humans

Working Dogs and Breed Adaptations

There are dogs as big as bears, and dogs small enough to fit in a ladies' handbag. Dogs can be short-haired, long-haired, slender, stocky, bred for speed, intelligence, or docility. But despite the variety in height, weight, looks, and behavior of the different breeds, all dogs have powerful muscles for their size, and anatomical adaptations which make them capable of extraordinary feats of endurance and strength.

For thousands of years during which dogs and humans have worked side-by-side, these natural attributes have been developed and refined through training and selective breeding. Many dogs are now far more skilled in their specializations than their ancient, wild cousins.

A beautiful Newfoundland dog. Newfoundlands are powerful swimmers and also work in harsh, snowy conditions

A beautiful Newfoundland dog. Newfoundlands are powerful swimmers and also work in harsh, snowy conditions

The Variety of Working Dog Breeds

Once you begin to explore the astonishing variety of dog breeds alive on the planet today, you may begin to understand the depth of the ongoing relationship between humans and their dog companions and co-workers. Human impact on the natural world has been considerable and the new science of genetics may change nature beyond recognition. But the way that canine-human interactions have altered the animals themselves, each fine-tuned to its role, is still the most impressive example of its kind.

Selective breeding over millennia has led to the plethora of breeds, each endowed with particular powers. The huge, long-haired Newfoundland, for example, is a powerful long-distance swimmer and can drive through snow like a plow. It's one of the largest breeds and has strong lungs and a heavy skeleton bred for endurance. The beautiful Alaskan Husky can pull a sled over three times its weight.

A single Alaskan Husky can pull a sled up to three times its own weight

A single Alaskan Husky can pull a sled up to three times its own weight

15,000 Years of "Man's Best Friend"

Dogs and humans have worked together to their mutual benefit for almost 15,000 years. Many prehistorians believe the original inhabitants of North American arrived from Siberia by crossing the Bering Strait on sleds pulled by working dogs. But what are the qualities and adaptations that give dogs these amazing powers of strength and endurance?

Ancient Working Dogs and Humans Documentary

A Wolfish Bite

All modern dog breeds descend from their wild cousins, the wolves. Dogs, like wolves, are both natural predators and scavengers. They have strong jaws evolved to grab, pull, and tear the flesh and bones of prey animals and carrion. A dog's bite-strength is vastly superior to a human's. This extraordinary bite means dogs excel as hunting companions, guard dogs, and rescue dogs.

The ancestors of modern working dogs were all bred from their wild cousins, the wolves

The ancestors of modern working dogs were all bred from their wild cousins, the wolves

The Advantages of Canine Anatomy and Physiology

Wild wolves spend many days travelling through mountains and forests in search of food. Domestic dogs have retained many traits which enable them to sustain running and walking over long periods of time. Besides this high degree of stamina, they can also sprint at speed and swim.

Canine anatomy and physiology account for a dog's remarkable stamina. A long body on four legs enables it to keep a steady rate of movement without exhausting its reserves of energy. A dog can also regulate its core temperature during intense exercise by panting and raising or lowering its fur.

All dogs, large and small, love to run. They are specially adapted for a wide range of conditions from desert heat to freezing snow

All dogs, large and small, love to run. They are specially adapted for a wide range of conditions from desert heat to freezing snow

Working Dogs and Thermoregulation

Dogs can survive under a range of extreme environmental conditions, from the icy wastes of the Arctic to the hot, humid tropics. A dog's cardiovascular system has evolved to regulate its brain temperature and enable it to respond rapidly to environmental changes. In cold, harsh conditions, warm blood circulates around the brain, keeping the dog alert and its nervous system functioning well. In hot, humid, or dry conditions, blood carries heat away from the brain so it doesn't overheat.

A History of Working Dogs

The Metabolism of Working Dogs

Another reason for the dog's remarkable powers of endurance is its unique ability to metabolize fats with carbohydrates as a source of energy. Anyone who has tried to lose weight through exercise alone knows how tough it is for humans to break down excess fat reserves. Because dogs can use fat as easily as carbohydrates they can switch between energy sources without difficulty. This means they have double the relative energy resources of a human. Any dog owner who has tried to tire a dog out will understand the truth of that.

The Border Collie is among the most charming and adaptable of all the working dogs

The Border Collie is among the most charming and adaptable of all the working dogs

Humans and Dogs: An Enduring Collaboration

Human intelligence, coupled with the dog's loyalty, strength, and resilience has led to a potent, beneficial relationship between the species. But it would be a mistake to take "man's best friend" for granted, or assume humans are superior. Dogs have extraordinary powers at which humans can only marvel.

© 2018 Amanda Littlejohn

Comments

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 23, 2018:

Hi Shelley,

Good for you! A dog-friend can make all the difference in the life of an elderly or disadvantaged person.

In fact, now you've brought it to my mind, I should write something about therapeutic dogs; dogs who work with the elderly and disabled in their homes and with children in hospitals. Many studies have shown the positive impact on well-being that such dog-human interactions can have.

And yes, all of those Arctic dogs are bred to be tough and strong; they're working animals. So, no surprise that he tired you out on your walks and not the other way round!

But I'm sad he got no other attention. All dogs, and breeds like that especially, are pack animals, sociable, and need lots of interaction.

Thanks for your lovely, thoughtful comment.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 22, 2018:

Although I have never had dogs, for several years I volunteered to transport elderly, disabled and poor people’s dogs for spay and neuter surgeries. I’ve always loved animals and the spirit and personality that each dog brings. I used to walk a neighbor’s malamute who got zero attention and he totally wore me out but was so sweet and energetic, running the entire way.