We know that in addition to making great companions, dogs assist people in various ways. Herding, bomb/drug detection and working as service dogs are just a few examples. Dogs provide helpful assistance you may not know about in several other ways.
How Do Dogs Help Humans?
With an innate ability to adapt and learn, dogs have taken on diverse tasks that range from safeguarding our lives on beaches to alerting us to impending health crises. These extraordinary canines have not only secured a special place in our hearts but have also become invaluable allies in enhancing human safety and quality of life.
1. Detection Dogs
Detection dogs, sometimes called sniffer dogs, are specially trained to detect the scent of drugs, explosives and even blood. These dogs use their powerful sense of smell to help keep areas like airports, bus and train stations safe. Handlers even use sniffer dogs to detect hidden currency.
In other instances, detection dogs can help find people trapped in avalanches, landslides and collapsed buildings. Besides search and rescue, wildlife biologists use sniffer dogs to locate invasive species and wildlife scat for research purposes.
2. Truffle Hunting
Pigs have been used for truffle hunting, dating back centuries. But now dogs are making a name for themselves in the industry. Truffle hunters in the U.S., Australia and Europe are now training dogs to find this valuable commodity. Training includes getting the dog used to the truffle scent by infusing it into objects and toys that the dogs will seek out.
Trainers reward the dog with positive reinforcment when they identify a truffle. The process can take a year or longer. Dogs have an advantage over pigs in this area: they don’t try to eat the truffles they find. Although various dog breeds are capable of this skill, the Italian Lagotto Romagnolo is considered the gold standard. This curly-haired cutie has been successfully used for truffle hunting in the Italian countryside for years.
3. Seizure Alert/Response
Specially trained dogs with various skills can be a source of help when it comes to epileptic seizures. They can serve as a warning system, alerting their owner/companion that an oncoming seizure is imminent. When a seizure occurs, they are trained to lay next to their companion, helping to prevent injury. Sometimes, they place themselves between the person and the floor. They also remain with their companion as a source of comfort. Additionally, they can activate an alarm or other device to summon help.
In a 2021 study, researchers exposed 19 dogs, with no previous experience with epilepsy, to sweat samples from people before, during and after a seizure. Even without any prior training, all 19 dogs exhibited behavioral changes, such as eye contact, crying, barking, or touching their owner when confronted with seizure-related odors versus non-seizure-related odors.
Some beaches in Italy have not only a human lifeguard but a canine one as well. The country has pioneered dog-assisted water rescues for several decades and even has an organization dedicated to training these dogs. It takes 18 months of successful initial training before dogs can progress to the more advanced rescue techniques, including leaping out of boats and jumping from helicopters into the water.
Newfoundlands are the perfect animal for this job — due to their strength, love of the water, webbed feet and water-resistant coat. Handlers and their dogs have come to the school from several European countries, Japan and the U.S. A beach in Maine is even hiring two canine lifeguards. They were trained at the American Academy of Canine Water Rescue, whose trainers were certified at the famous Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs.
5. Wine Production
An emerging area where dogs are being used is in wine production. Dogs can help identify the chemical Trichloroanisole (or TCA) that negatively impacts the taste of wine. Often referred to as “cork taint,” TCA also affects barrels used to age wine. When TCA taints a wine, it creates a moldy or musty smell and bad taste.
Dogs are now being utilized to detect the presence of TCA using their incredible sense of smell. They can find TCA in specific barrels or pallets, stopping the contaminated wine from reaching the consumer. Dogs can also be trained to detect the pheromone of the female mealybug, which damages the vineyard. With early detection, the infected vine can be isolated and removed, eliminating the need for wide use of pesticides.