Modern Working Dogs

In purely economic terms, the domestic dog is probably less important today than in the past. Despite this, different kinds of working dog serve a greater variety of useful roles in modern society than before.

Diversification is largely due to better understanding of animal husbandry and to the mechanism of genetic inheritances nineteenth century. These have made possible the systematic selective breeding of dogs in order to emphasize particular canine attributes and skills. Nowhere is this process more apparent than among sporting breeds; while the medieval huntsman had to choose from only four or five breeds of hunting dog, the modern field sportsman can choose from a vast array of hounds,  setters, pointers,  retrievers and terriers, each of which has been selectively bred to excel at one specialist aspect of hunting.

Selective breeding has also greatly improved dogs for herding livestock. Most dogs display a wolfish tendency to stalk, chase and drive large game animals, but in breeds like the Border Collie, certain elements of hunting behavior have been encouraged at the expense of others so as to produce a dog which can safely be used for controlling flocks of sheep.

Selectively-bred working dogs still need careful training before they can perform their particular task adequately. Recent advances in our knowledge of animal behavior and animal learning have made the job of dog trainers easier and more effective. Systematic training procedures, in conjunction with natural and artificially selected abilities and talents, have greatly altered the role of modern working dogs. Guide dogs for the blind (see page 24) is one outstanding example of the blend of careful selection and training in action, and similar programs are being successfully applied to hearing dogs for the deaf, and to dogs intended as aids to the physically handicapped.

New uses for domestic dogs are constantly being discovered. One novel use, which has recently received some attention, is the possibility of employing dogs to detect ovulation in cattle. The success of artificial insemination techniques depends to a large extent on the ability to discern when a cow is ovulating and therefore capable of conceiving. Present methods of detection are expensive and not always accurate; bulls perceive the correct timing by scent, and recent tests have shown that dogs with their sensitive noses are capable of the same level of discernment.

Guide Dogs
Police and Search Dogs
Racing Dogs