4 Unconventional Jobs for Dogs

We’re used to seeing-eye dogs, hearing-ear dogs, and even emotional therapy dogs but the service industry’s not the only place where dogs can find work.

On October 12, 2012, NOVA explored the exceptional canine nose, which experts estimate is somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than our own. According to Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts, dogs can pick up certain molecules at a concentration of only 3 parts per trillion, which is more sensitive than a mass spectrometer. “Dogs can even pick up the odor of a person’s fingerprint on a glass slide six weeks after the person has touched it,” he says. No wonder they are so effective in tracking and rescue efforts.

Disease Detection

One of the fastest-growing fields for working dogs is medical detection. According to Dodman, dogs have been scientifically proven to detect breast, prostate, lung, and bladder cancer as well as melanoma.

Other medical detection dogs include those that alert their diabetic owners to low blood sugar levels or epileptic owners to imminent seizures.

Weapons and Contraband

Police and military forces around the world use dogs to detect illicit drugs, explosives, and evidence in arson investigations. Customs agents employ dogs at border crossings to check for contraband as well as fruit, vegetables, and smuggled animals.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture used 13 agriculture sniffing dogs in California to intercept packages that contained fruit, vegetables, and other plant matter because a potentially harmful Oriental fruit fly threatened tomatoes, bell peppers, and cherries. The dog teams intercepted more than 39,000 packages that year.


Bug Detection

In 2006, the Wine Institute of California reported that grape growers in Napa and Sonoma Counties had turned to specially trained golden retrievers to patrol vineyards to detect the female vine mealy bug—an invasive insect species that arrived in Southern California in the late 1990s. Vine mealy bugs are almost invisible, so early detection allows growers to treat or remove affected vines without having to apply large quantities of pesticides.

The trend has spread from vineyards to cities. Some dogs are trained to identify bedbugs, termites, and other destructive species in homes and offices around the world.

Lost and Found

The Dutch airline KLM has an unusual staff member—a Beagle named Sherlock. His job is reuniting passengers with items they left behind. As reported by Telegraph Travel in September, Sherlock wears a blue and white KLM uniform to which found items are attached before he races through Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in search of the items’ rightful owners.

Next time your dog stops to sniff every single thing on your walking route, just think of it as job training.

Meet the Author: CJ Puotinen

CJ Puotinen, author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care and other books, has written over 100 articles about holistic health, positive dog training, and the benefits of feeding a natural diet. She and her Labrador Retriever, Chloe, are active Intermountain Therapy Animals and Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) volunteers. She and her husband live in Montana with Chloe, Seamus (a Cairn Terrier), and Pumpkin (an 18-year-old red tabby cat).

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