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5 Heroic Dog Breeds That Were Powerful Enough to Make a Difference

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

The heroic German Shepherd Dog.

The heroic German Shepherd Dog.

Heroic Dogs

All dogs are loyal, all dogs are faithful, and a lot of us are lucky enough to have heroic dogs too. If my dog wanders away from me during one of our strolls on the beach, all it takes is a cry for help and she comes running to save me. I think she is a real hero, but there are a few breeds that often find themselves in heroic situations.

What makes a dog a hero? A willingness to sacrifice his life to save the humans he lives with, or sometimes to even save those he does not know. Here are the five breeds most often cited for performing heroic acts.

5 Famously Heroic Dog Breeds

  1. German Shepherd
  2. Collie
  3. Newfoundland
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Labrador Retriever
A future hero?

A future hero?

1. The Intelligent German Shepherd Dog

All of these breeds have been heroes, over and over. Some of them are listed among the most faithful dogs, and some of them are among the most loyal. This breed actually makes it in both lists, and many of his actions make him a hero.

Part of the reason that he makes all of the lists is that the GSD is one of the most common dog breeds. That is not all there is to it, however. GSDs are one of the most popular dog breeds, year after year, because of their faithfulness, loyalty, and their ability to perform heroic acts.

They have an impressive list of heroism. There are way too many stories to even tell, but a recent story (2013) from Argentina caught my eye. A GSD barked to attract help from the people in the house and then jumped into a pool and saved a four-year-old girl that had fallen in.

That is heroism. German Shepherd Dogs live about 10 or 11 years if healthy, and for all their acts of heroism, they deserve good care.

German Shepherd Alerts Cop to Burning Home

The Collie is one of the best known heroes.

The Collie is one of the best known heroes.

2. The Heroic Collie

Everyone remembers Lassie and naturally assumes that the Collie is going to make the list of the most heroic dog breed. This great dog breed does not make the list just based on a TV show, however.

Back in the early 1950s, a large dog food manufacturer started awarding a “dog hero of the year.” The award was given to courageous dogs that saved lives and property, and the Collie has won more often than any other breed of dog.

The award first honored Tang, a Collie who saved several children from being hit by cars. My favorite, however, is Duke, a dog that faced that thing that dogs fear most, fire. The 10-year-old child in his household was burning trash when the wind blew and her skirt caught on fire. The girl ran to the house, making the fire worse, but the dog grabbed the skirt, ripped it off, and in the process saved her from being burned or killed. Duke was burned in the mouth, but he was a real hero.

The Classic Hero of Film: Lassie

The Newfoundland is a famous hero in the water.

The Newfoundland is a famous hero in the water.

3. The Water-Loving Newfoundland

If all heroic activities took place in water, this breed would definitely be the most famous. Newfoundlands are well known for their ability to jump in a lake or river, withstand the cold, and use their webbed feet to swim strongly and save the human that needs help.

Many families have chosen Newfoundlands because they are willing to watch after and save any kids that get into trouble. One of the best-known stories about a Newfoundland, though, is from the sinking of the Titanic.

Several dogs were on that ship on her maiden voyage back in 1912. One, a Newfie named Rigel, was locked in the kennels with twelve other dogs when the ship hit the iceberg. A few of the small dogs were saved in lifeboats but since there were not enough for everyone, the big dogs were left on the ship to die.

The Newfoundland swam around in the cold water and eventually stayed close to one of the lifeboats. There was not enough space to haul him into the boat, and the freezing passengers of the lifeboat assumed the dog would not be able to withstand the cold.

A few hours after the Titanic sunk, the ship Carpathia began saving the survivors. Since it was still dark, the sailors aboard the Carpathia could not see what they were doing and were heading straight for the lifeboat. It was going to be struck and sunk, and the people aboard were too cold and weak to alert the ship.

The swimming dog was not too weak. He started barking and the Carpathia stopped before striking the lifeboat. They were able to follow the dog´s barking, save the survivors, and of course haul the dog up into the rescue ship. A crewman from the Carpathia adopted the dog, the hero of the Titanic.

Newfoundland Water Rescue

Hundreds of hero stories are out there about the Golden Retriever.

Hundreds of hero stories are out there about the Golden Retriever.

4. The Brave and Loyal Golden Retriever

Like all of the hero dog breeds, there is almost too much to choose from when discussing the amazing Golden Retriever. A simple web search will reveal hundreds of stories that I could not include here.

My favorite Golden story is a simple one from England. A young woman was attacked by a gang and only her Golden saved her life.

The dog, normally gentle and quiet, was being walked by her owner when she was attacked. The dog realized something was wrong, reacted, and bit one of the gang members on the thigh, scaring off the others before giving chase. When she was able to leave the hospital, the woman reported that the Golden never left her side. She is pampering the hero too, of course.

Golden Retriever Braves Fire

Another future hero?

Another future hero?

5. The Faithful Labrador Retriever

There are a lot of other great dog breeds that are heroic. The St. Bernard was a heroic dog that served in the mountains and saved numerous travelers. Australian Cattle Dogs and Border Collies are energetic, intelligent, and there are several great hero stories about those breeds.

In fact, probably the only dogs that are not heroic are the small dogs that are usually not big enough to act as heroes. They might want to, they just can´t because of their physical limitations. A 10 pound Maltese cannot break down the door when there is a fire, and a 5 pound Chihuahua cannot guard the family, no matter how much he barks.

One big dog that is able to fulfill the role of hero is the Labrador Retriever. There are almost as many good stories about Labs as Goldens; my favorite is the story about the dogs in Wisconsin that saved their owner after a terrible automobile crash.

The owner usually locked her dogs up in the back but for some reason, she decided to leave them free inside her SUV. When she crashed, her skull was fractured and she lost consciousness—the dogs were not hurt.

One of the dogs stayed with her while two others ran for help. They barked and scratched to attract attention, but when the farmer came out on his porch and did not hurry to help, one of the dogs grabbed his sleeve and pulled him far enough down the driveway so that he could see the wreck.

He called for help. The rescue team later said that it was only the efforts of the dogs that saved the woman´s life. Her dogs were inducted into the Hall of Dog Hero Fame in Wisconsin. They were real heroes, like a lot of Labs.

How to Select Your Best Friend

When choosing a dog, there are a lot of things to look for. You can choose a dog because you like his looks, because you like his energy and intelligence, or even because you like the color of his eyes.

If you are looking for a dog, be sure to check your local animal shelter before searching further. If you want a special breed and they don’t have what you are looking for, check the website

If you only want a puppy, visit a dog show and talk with some breeders. DO NOT buy your puppy from a pet shop or some backyard breeder that will not even show you the pup´s mother. You will be encouraging the type of irresponsible breeders that keep dogs locked up in “puppy mills”.

Whatever you are looking for, good luck. Who knows? Maybe your next dog will be the hero you were searching for.

More About Great Dogs

  • Most Loyal Dog Breeds
    Almost all dogs are loyal. A few breeds are more loyal than others. Find out why and how to choose one of the best.
  • Most Faithful Dogs And Dog Breeds
    Many dogs are faithful, in ways that we cannot even describe. Some of the most faithful dogs are here.

© 2014 Mark dos Anjos DVM


Norma Lawrence from California on May 15, 2016:

Great Hub. These dogs are all great. There are so many dogs that are heroes in their own right.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 02, 2014:

Thanks for reading and following, misterhollywood! I appreciate your comment.

John Hollywood from Hollywood, CA on September 02, 2014:

Very informative hub and I loved all of the information you gave about heroic dogs. The pictures are adorable by the way.

Judy Specht from California on August 20, 2014:

Dogs are amazing. Interesting read

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 21, 2014:

I agree the actions of the Newfie, again and again, make that dog very likable!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 21, 2014:

I love dogs. All dogs are heroes because they love their people, and so they save them emotionally. But these dogs you mentioned are pretty spectacular. I like the Newfoundland.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 21, 2014:

That sounds pretty heroic to me, Bob. The first Collie that was awarded the "Dog Hero of the Year" award, back in 1954, saved a little girl who had climbed into the back of a milk truck. The dog sat at the back of the truck, barking, and did not move until the driver came around and found the child among the crates. He did not risk his life, but he still saved the little girl from being buried under more crates, and probably saved her life.

Lucy sounds pretty amazing! That is definitely a story that the family would remember.

Bob Bamberg on July 21, 2014:

Another good read, Doc! Back in the early 60's my brother had a German Shepherd named Lucy, a family pet who performed a life-saving act. I don't think it qualifies as heroic since she didn't risk her life, maybe it would come under faithfulness.

My nephew Kurt was a toddler who got out of his outdoor playpen one day and wandered down their 300 ft. driveway. When he was about 10 feet from the road, Lucy knocked him over and laid on top of him, barking to get my sister-in-law's attention.

Lucy had never received any type of training nor was ever given any responsibilities. That was over 50 years ago, and the family still marvels at Lucy's wisdom. Voted up, useful and interesting.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on July 20, 2014:

Hahaha K2 yes, but his heroics don't even come close to those of Rin Tin Tin.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 20, 2014:

Suhail, I read a book about that amazing dog many years ago. I am surprised you did not vote for K2 though. He sounds as heroic as my dog, who thankfully has never had to save me from a burning building or an attack.

Thanks for sharing. I hope you all have lots of nice hikes this summer.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 20, 2014:

Thanks Pam, you are so fortunate to have that wonderful dog. Newfies do not do well here in the tropics, but I bet he loves Alberta!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on July 20, 2014:

A creative piece and great stories indeed!

Rin Tin Tin (the original one) and Lee Duncan who saved him are all time heroes. Rin Tin Tin became the highest earning movie hero of his time after he was saved by Duncan on the battlefield where he was born. His acting captivated millions during the movies silent era.

I also liked the way you ended the article by discouraging readers from buying puppies from pet shops and backyard breeders.

I am sharing it with my friends.

howtopam from Alberta, Canada on July 20, 2014:

Hi DrMark;

Great Information!

I love the story about the titanic. My Newfie Collie cross does have webbed paws and has never been exposed to a lager body of water where he might display his swimming abilities, but I have noticed that he does not seem to appreciate it when I spray him with the water hose.

Thanks for posting this hub.