Working Dogs: The Basics

Posted February 18, 2021 by in Career

A working dog is a dog that is trained to perform practical tasks, such as managing livestock or working as rescue dogs. They are different from companion dogs or pets and have certain requirements to keep them happy and healthy.

Here are just a couple of basic facts about working dogs:

Man petting his dog.

Food and Health 

Your dog’s diet should fit their many different needs, and there is no one size fits all solution for working dog diets. The type of diet a working dog has can depend on how much energy they are using and over how much time, and you can get specific information about carbohydrates for working dogs here. Your dog should be receiving food that has high-quality ingredients and plenty of nutrition to keep them happy and healthy. Your vet will be able to make recommendations of an appropriate diet for your working dog, as well as answering any questions you may have.


There are certain breeds of dogs that make good working dogs. The type of work they do will depend on the breed. For example, Doberman were bred to be guard dogs. They are strong and sleek, with great stamina, and are generally territorial and suspicious of strangers. Historically, certain breeds of dogs will have been bred to perform certain tasks, and those physical and mental characteristics will still be present in that breed of dog today, allowing these natural talents to be trained and used in their work. 


Working dogs are trained to perform practical tasks. These can include being assistance and service dogs, working with livestock, as guard dogs, rescue dogs, or with law enforcement. There are generally seven categories into which working dogs may fall:

  • Police dogs– they protect their handlers, as well as chasing down and holding suspects who run from police. Common police dog breeds include German Shepherds.
  • Service dogs– also known as assistance dogs, are trained to assist people with disabilities. This can include guide dogs, hearing dogs, and medical assistance dogs, and common service dog breeds include Labradors and poodles.
  • Therapy dogs these dogs provide emotional support to people who are ill or injured and are often part of a patient’s therapeutic plan.
  • Herding dogs– these are dogs that work with livestock, and include breeds such as the Icelandic sheepdog or the king shepherd. However, just because a dog is a herding dog breed, does not mean it is an expert herder, and some are better suited to being companion dogs. 
  • Search and rescue dogs-these dogs are agile and have great smell and hearing senses. They are used in tracking, specialized searching, and avalanche rescue, among other jobs, and Leonbergers and Border Collies are just two of the breeds that are commonly used for this type of work.
  • Detection dogs– detection dogs are trained to sniff out a certain substance or group of substances and therefore have exceptional senses of smell. Substances can include blood, drugs, and explosives, and common detection dog breeds include beagles and golden retrievers. 
  • Military working dogs– these dogs assist members of the military with operations, and their tasks can involve detecting, tracking, and search and rescue. Common breeds that work as military dogs and Dutch and German Shepherds.

*Photos by Zen Chung