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Why Dogs Are the Most Useful Animal to Humans

For as long as anyone can remember dogs have been bred and used to help humans. Whether it be for hunting and gathering, companionship, to help with the disabled, or to help law enforcement officers do their jobs better, dogs are the most versatile and useful animals to humans.

Most scientists agree that dogs are descended from the Grey Wolf. Dr. Robert K. Wayne of UCLA has shown through DNA research that the Grey Wolf and common dog are so closely related that they can interbreed and produce fully viable offspring (Dog names, 2004).

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It is thought that a human hunting party came across a very young wolf cub and decided to take it with the members of the hunting group, and that was the beginning of the domestic dog. Wolf and man had a few important things in common as they were both hunters and hunted in packs. Remains of dogs have been found dating back 10 to 15 thousand years (Dog names, 2004). There are hundreds of breeds that have been developed by man throughout history. These different breeds were developed due to the changing requirements of man through history. (Dog names, 2004)

Breeds of Dog

There are many different categories of dogs that have been developed through history, and they all had and have a specific purpose for the people who bred them at the time and continue to breed them today. Some different categories of dogs that were bred are sight hounds, scent hounds, working dogs, sporting dogs, terrier dogs, non-sporting breeds, and toy breeds (Dog names, 2004)

Breeds in the sight hound group include the Afghan Hound, Basenji, Irish Wolfhound, and the Greyhound.

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Sight hounds are called sight hounds essentially because they have excellent vision. They also have a long jaw and neck, which help them with catching their prey (Sight Hounds, 2004). Looking closer at the greyhound they have been bred for thousands of years to hunt and outrun their prey (History and evolution of dogs, n.d.)

Another group of dogs that people bred to fit their needs are scent hounds. Scent hounds use their sense of smell to seek out their prey. People bred scent hounds for endurance. They can travel long distances to seek out their prey (Dog names, 2004). Some common scent hounds are the Basset Hound, Beagle, Bloodhound, and Dachshund.

Working dog breeds have been successful in different jobs such as herding, droving, pulling, hauling, herding, rescuing, and guarding. Working dogs are generally large, intelligent, and protective of their owners. They have replaced larger animals such as horses when horses would not be readily available. Which proves to be very helpful to humans (Working breeds, 2004).

Terrier dogs were originally bred to hunt and kill vermin such as mice, rats and other animals such as foxes that might pose a threat to a farmer’s land. This required terriers to be energetic, brave, and determined. One trait that was encouraged by breeders was to have them “go to ground” or to dig up burrows and underground tunnels while barking, to frighten the inhabitants (Terrier dogs, 2004).

Toy breeds were bred for quite different reasons than the other dog breeds previously noted. Toy dog breeds were first bred to simply provide pleasure to their owners. At the time they were developed they were providing pleasure and joy to rich people. They were a status item with little purpose (Toy dogs, 2004)

These are some reasons that dogs were bred with specific traits, all for a purpose and to help humans. The act of breeding for specific traits continues today and dogs are used everyday to help humans. While a lot of dogs are simply house pets now, a lot of the same ideas from 12,000 years ago still pertain today, and people breed their dogs to assist them with different things in life. History of Other Domesticated Animals

The first animal to be domesticated as a source of food was the sheep. This was done in the Middle East. In Northern Iraq there was a large amount of bones from one-year-old sheep discarded. Goats, cattle and pigs followed soon after.

The biggest reason for domesticating these animals and keeping them in the village is to have a secure and regular supply of food. They also produce dung to manure crops, and after they die provide leather and wool (History of the domestication of animals, n.d.).

Providing food is an incredibly important reason to domesticate these animals, and these animals are very important to mankind. But they do not have the numerous life-saving and life-changing uses that a canine does.

Cats are the only other domesticated animals to live indoors with humans. They have also remained closer to their wild cousins. While cats make great pets, their major uses are for enjoyment or pest control. A dog can be used for both of those reasons, making them more useful than a cat.

Other animals such as horses, poultry, and rabbits are all great animals. Poultry provides eggs and meat for people, rabbits provide meat and enjoyment for families, and horses provide help on farms and people are able to ride them. But, dogs can be a cheaper and more efficient alternative to horses. The uses of dogs far outweigh the uses of other animals.

Service Dogs

Starting around the 1920s dogs have begun working as service dogs or therapy dogs. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 a service animal is any animal that has been individually trained to provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability, which substantially limits one or more major life functions.

Therapy dogs refer to dogs that are trained to provide affection and comfort to people in nursing homes, hospitals, retirement homes, schools, mental institutions, and situations such as disaster areas. German shepherds and Labrador retrievers are the most common breeds used for service dogs (Van Dalsum, n.d.). It is estimated that over 20,000 people with disabilities in the United States use assistance dogs, and those numbers are rising annually. Service dogs have been helping people with disabilities since the 1920s (What is a service dog?, n.d.).

Service dogs are used for many different types of jobs. They can be used as guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs, walker dogs, psychiatric service dogs, hearing alert dogs, and service dogs for diabetics, seizure alert dogs, medical alert dogs, and autism service dogs.

Individuals who suffer a loss of vision use guide dogs. They are the most common types of service dogs that are used. They help their owners get around their homes and community safely (Van Dalsum, n.d.). Guide dogs are taught to do things such as, walk in a straight line in the center of the pavement unless there is an obstacle, not turn corners unless told to do so, stop at curbs and wait for the command to cross the road, they are taught to judge height and width so its owner does not bump themselves. They are also taught how to deal with traffic. It takes a lot of skill and experience to match the correct dog with the correct owner. The owner’s stride length, height, and lifestyle all contribute to the type of guide dog they will be matched with (Guide dog facts, n.d.)

Mobility assistance dogs are trained to help people who have physical disabilities. They are trained to retrieve objects, open and close doors, and even push buttons for their owners. They can help people with disabilities walk, balance, and get safely from one place to another. Some mobility assistance dogs may even be trained to pull wheelchairs. If they do this they wear a specially designed harness that distributes the weight in a manner that keeps the dog safe from injury (Van Dalsum, n.d.).

Psychiatric service dogs are specifically trained to assist individuals that suffer from psychiatric disabilities that range form post-traumatic stress to schizophrenia. They are trained to provide environmental assessment if their handler has hallucinations or shows signs of paranoia. They can help their handler with different tasks in emergency situations (Van Dalsum, n.d.).

Hearing alert dogs are trained to alert their handlers to different sounds primarily in the home setting (Van Dalsum, n.d.). These dogs are trained to get the attention of their owner by touch, and then the dog leads the owner to the source of the specific sound. Some dogs will be trained to lie down next to their owner to indicate a smoke alarm after they have been alerted by touch. It would be unsafe to direct their owner toward the source of sound in that case. Some specific sounds these dogs are trained to alert their owners to are doorbells ringing, knock on the door, smoke alarms, timers going off, baby crying, child saying the owners name, alarm clock going off, and horns honking (Assistanace dog tasks, n.d.).

There are also service dogs for diabetics, which are trained to help people who suffer from diabetes. They are able to identify minor scent changes that occur when a diabetic suffers from hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. They can alert their owner when their sugar conditions are changing. The training the dogs go through also includes alerting medical response teams (Van Dalsum, n.d.). There are also seizure alert dogs. They are trained to alert people that suffer from epileptic seizures. Training for these dogs have to be very specific because people that suffer seizures have different behaviors before or during the event.

These dogs are trained to notify their owners that a seizure is coming on. The dog makes sure their owner is safe and they are responsible for getting their owner to safety before the onset of the seizure. They are also able to summon for medical help, and provide physical support if needed for the owner (Van Dalsum, n.d.). Seizure alert dogs are born with the ability to detect when a seizure is coming, it is unknown how they are able to do so. Many people with epilepsy are scared to do everyday tasks that involve leaving the house in fear that they will have a seizure, these dogs allow them to live their lives without the fear of not knowing when a seizure will come (Mott, 2004).

One more type of service dog to talk about are autism service dogs, they are trained to help people with autism. This can include helping them with daily activities, and allowing them to gain the necessary confidence to help them become independent. One example of what an autism service dog can do is to coax their owner to get out of a burning building. They can also do simpler tasks such as alerting their handler to a baby crying or a doorbell ringing. They can alert parents if their autistic child were to become involved in an emergency or dangerous situation (Van Dalsum, n.d.).

Another name for autism service dogs is Sensory Signal Dogs or Social Signal Dogs. They can help with the sensory overload that people with autism suffer from and help calm their social fears. They could let an adult or child know when they are doing a repetitive motion so the person can stop. For children who are challenged by autism, the service dog becomes a friend that the child may often speak to when they won’t speak to anybody else. Some children have been known to give verbal commands to the dog even when they won’t speak to anyone else. Service dogs help increase the willingness of people with autism to communicate with others.

People with autism are not always able to decipher between the many external stimuli and know which is the most urgent one. The dog is trained to alert its owner to important noises or other important things that require an intervention, such as a smoke alarm or telephone ringing. Many families are also nervous about “wandering” or “bolting” who are real dangers associated with autism. Many of the dogs are trained to be tethered to the child in public places with a parent holding the main leash. Many dogs are also scent trained, so if the child did bolt away the dog could trace them through their scent.

Dogs are trained to respond to certain behaviors that are presented by a person with autism. When the person is self-stimulating the dog will signal that the person is doing the behavior, they choose whether or not to stop. If a person is self-harming the dog will stop the behavior. If the person is experiencing overstimulation, having a breakdown or shutting down the dog will use deep pressure by putting their paws on the persons lap, stepping on their feet, or laying on the person. If the person becomes disoriented the dog will guide them to safety. The dog can also alert to sounds or guide the person around obstacles if they auditory or visual processing problems (What is a service dog? n.d.).

Glen Gregos had a motorcycle accident when he was 15 years old; he ended up paralyzed from the waist down. He went on to build a rewarding life by going to college, getting married and having a successful career. But, he struggled for decades after the accident. He faced challenges everyday from going to the grocery store, or even just going out the front door. Just six years ago at the age of 48 his life took another turn. He met a Labrador retriever Miss Bo, who has been at his side every since. She opens doors, carries bags, pulls his wheelchair, and picks up anything he drops on the floor. Gregos said, “It’s hard to put into words everything these dogs do for you. It’s physical. It’s emotional. It’s all encompassing. You probably have to live it to understand it.” (Ravn, 2011).

Therapy dogs are another important part of society and are becoming more and more popular. Therapy dogs visit hospitals, nursing homes, mental health centers, and shelters, where they do everything from lift spirits to assist with physical therapy. There has been scientific support that brief visits once a week from a dog can have a positive therapeutic impact. In Los Angeles a woman named Marcia Sturm started bringing her golden retriever, Bo, to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to the AIDS unit to visit patients.

They are only able to go every other week because Bo must be bathed thoroughly before each visit, and more frequent bathing would cause skin problems. Some patients are so happy to see Bo that it brings them to tears. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center there is a program called POOCH or Pets Offer Ongoing Care and Healing. It is an informal program where a dog can stay with a patient for as little as five minutes or as long as an hour. For dogs to be therapy dogs they must have the correct temperament. Being trained is not enough; they must also be easygoing and patient.

Nurses have noticed that after a POOCH visit patients sometimes have slower heart rates and require less pain medication. Researchers in St. Louis completed a scientifically controlled study showing that brief weekly visits with a therapy dog reduced the loneliness of elderly patients in a long-term care facility (Mott, 2004).

Laura and Star were two dogs that regularly visited retirement homes, nursing homes, and hospitals. Most of the residents at these facilities are lonely, bored, and depressed, and these dogs bring them joy. One story that really stood out with them was when they were visiting a nursing home. The dogs were brought into the day room where the residents were waiting for them. Everyone was delighted to see the dogs, and then the dogs noticed one man in the corner who was sleeping. A nurse at the facility told the owner of the dogs not to bother going to see him because he had not talked in the year since he had been there. The dogs though did not care and went right over to him. He woke up immediately and started petting and hugging the dogs. He even said “dog”, which was the first he had spoken. The healing power of a dog is truly amazing (Wilson, 2009). Law Enforcement Dogs

While personal pets and medical service dogs are popular and well known, there is another very important use for dogs during this time. Law enforcement dogs are extremely important parts of our law enforcement agencies in today’s time. Formally training dogs for use in police work began in the late 1800s in Europe. But, there is an early account dating back as far as 300 BC where a dog helped a detective in finding a murderer

. Ghent, Belgium was the first city to open a school where dogs were trained for law enforcement work in 1899. England started readily using law enforcement dogs are 1910. Around 1907 the New York City Police Department was using trained police service dogs as a normal part of its law enforcement program. At the time instead of being trained police dogs, the dogs were roamers or personal pets taken along more for company (History of police service dogs, n.d.).

Police dogs are trained to track missing people, track fleeing criminals, search for evidence in large areas, crowd control, narcotics/explosive/cadaver detection, handler protection, and building searches. The most common breed of dog being used, as police dogs are German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. They both have attributes that make then excellent work dogs. Both breeds have a large size and stable temperament. They are known for their stamina and their desire to protect their handler; also they have a great willingness to serve. Their hearing acuteness is about eight times more than a human. This becomes extremely useful in area or building searches.

Many of these dog trainers compare the speed and stamina to that of world-class athletes. Beyond speed and hearing the power of smell is the most important asset a police dog must posses. In general a dog’s power of smell is about 100 times more than a human. A dog has the ability to differentiate between individual odors and can follow a track of this odor ignoring all other smells present. The Courts in Canada and most in the United States will accept “expert evidence” of the dog’s performance on a track. It has been said that a dog’s sense of smell is so powerful that while we can smell beef stew cooking; the dog can smell every ingredient that went into the beef stew (History of police service dogs”, n.d.).

In March of 2009 in Comstock Township, Michigan a family was moving into their new home when their two children wandered off. The police immediately started looking for the children. The kids were following a trail in the woods an got lost. One of the responding officers, Deputy Neuman, and his police dog, Apollo, found the child in about 10 minutes (Kzoo police dog finds 2 missing kids, 2011). Dogs save a lot of time in searching for people. If the dog was not there the children could have been missing for much longer and could have possibly been hurt from the time.

A dog’s sense of smell is so strong that dogs that have not even been trained to find missing people can do so. When a five-year old boy from Prescott, Wisconsin who has autism went missing this summer more than 500 volunteers spent a day looking for him. Hundreds of volunteers continued searching the next day. Among those volunteers was a man named Jason Moser who brought along his eight-year-old Golden Retriever, Autumn. Untrained Autumn was the one who found the five-year-old boy (Lauritsen, 2012). Proving that many dogs, even untrained, have great noses and can aid in missing people searches.

Canine substance detections dog are commonly Golden Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers. They are being used in different situations such as, workplaces, airports, and schools, to detect weapons, contraband, narcotic drugs, abused medication, alcohol, firearms and explosives. This type of dog work is becoming necessary due to the increasing incidents of drug abuse and violence among young people and employees. The dogs acute sense of smell can penetrate many hiding places which are inaccessible to other detection methods. A dog has about 200 million sensitive cells in its nose, compared to about five million or so in a human (Sassoon, 2004).

A dog’s sense of smell is made even keener by an organ in the rood of the mouth that a human does not have. This enables them to “taste” a smell. Dogs can be trained to detect the smell of heroin, marijuana and cocaine hidden in suitcases even if there are strong smelling perfumes in the suitcase. Canine drug dogs are now employed at airports, bus stations, border crossings, and ports. The dogs are trained to detect the drugs and then alert the authorities, either by pawing at the surface near the location of the smell or by sitting down next to the source.

Detection canines were introduced into American public schools in Texas in the 1980s. This concept became popular quickly as a tool for safety and as a drug deterrent on school campuses. There has been an increased violence in schools recently so this has been very helpful. Some dogs are trained to detect the acidic smell of nitroglycerin and the sulphur in gunpowder for work with explosives detection. Fire investigators use dogs to help in criminal investigations where arson may be suspected. They are trained to accurately detect traces of arson about the size of a thousandth of a drop (Sassoon, 2004).

The United States Customs and Border Protections has a workforce of more than 1,200 canines that detect narcotics, hidden or lost people, explosives, currency, and contraband agriculture products. These dogs’ work in air-conditioned airports, rough and dangerous terrain, in deserts and deep forests, through vehicles and in warehouses that are either hot or cold. The dogs are mostly trained to be specialists. A dog can screen a vehicle in seconds and do a thorough search in minutes. A canine team can process 400 to 500 packages in about 30 minutes, where as it would take several inspectors an entire shift to do the same job. The different categories that dogs are trained for can be explosive detector dogs, currency/firearms detector dogs, agriculture detector dogs, BORSTAR canines, narcotics detector dogs, and concealed humans/narcotics detector dogs.

Explosive detector dogs are trained to detect explosive odors that could be concealed in cargo, vehicles, aircraft, in luggage and on passengers. Currency/Firearms detector dogs are trained to detect firearms and the odor of large amounts of undeclared U.S. currency being smuggled out of the country. Agriculture detector dogs can detect fruits, vegetables, meats, or other prohibited items that may carry animal, pests, or plant diseases. The agriculture detector program started in 1984. Beagles are commonly used because of their strong sense of smell and gentle nature with people. Currently there are 115 agriculture detector dog teams around the United States primarily located at international airports, seaports, land border ports of entry and international mail facilities.

In 2006 these teams seized 1,145 prohibited meat, plant materials, or animal products. BORSTAR canines assist with Border Patrol search, trauma, and rescue teams. These dogs are trained to search without a leash and perform a recall-re-find indication. This has the dog returning to the handler after finding the target individual and leading the handler to the location of the missing or injured person. The training for BORSTAR canines includes rappelling, helicopter, and boat operations. Narcotics detector dogs are used in the detection or narcotics such as, marijuana, hashish, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. Concealed human/narcotics detector dogs are used to detect concealed people attempting to enter the United States illegally, as well as narcotics. These dogs go through a 13-week training course, where they first learn to detect narcotics and then human.

The United States Border Patrol began its canine program in October of 1956 when the Border Patrol purchased surplus dogs from the military. A few years later Congress put the program on hold until 1986 when interest sparked in reviving the program. In January 1987 four Belgian Malinois were trained to detect concealed humans, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine. By the end of the first year the dogs had seized more than $150 million in narcotics and had detected numerous concealed people. They get approximately 20 percent of their dogs from animal shelters, or are donated by owners who can no longer live with their dogs’ very active personality. Many dogs are tested, but relatively few are accepted (Detector dogs, n.d.)

Besides training dogs to be used in law enforcement, dogs are also trained to be family protection dogs. There has been an increase of violent crimes such as home invasions and carjackings. Sometimes calling 911 is simply not enough. Having a dog there will often deter someone from committing a crime on your family. Dogs in War

In the past and present dogs were used in wars as well. Even in present day dogs were used in Iraq and Afghanistan. As far back as the Roman Empire dogs were used in wars. The Romans would clad their dogs in armor and spiked collars. The English would equip their dogs with long spikes over their heads. The United States did not use dogs extensively up until 1942. Up until then Germany was the biggest user of dogs, using them mostly to give warning of an enemy approaching. The French would use dogs for transportation purposes, carrying food and supplies. The first American dogs were used in 1942 in North Africa. The most common war dog breeds were Airdale Terriers, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Boxers, German Short Haired Pointers, and Bull Mastiffs among others.

A War Dog Programs was developed in 1943 by James M. Austin. This helped relieve a huge financial burden that war dogs were. By July of 1943 over 11,000 dogs had been obtained. Training for war dogs was divided into eight different areas. These were Sentry Dogs, Attack Dogs, Tactical Dogs, Silent Scout Dogs, Messenger Dogs, Casualty Dogs, Sledge Dogs, and Pack Dogs.

Sentry Dogs were trained to assist in guarding arsenals, ammunition dumps, ration depots, and water works. They worked on leashes and warned people of trespassers. Attack dogs would apprehend undesirable people. Tactical dogs were initially done on an experimental basis. Their training involved using combat situations. Silent Scout Dogs were trained as tactical dogs to give silent warning of the presence of enemy troops. Messenger dogs were trained to deliver messages on the battlefield. Most of these dogs were smaller dogs because they could get around on the battlefield easier. Casualty dogs aided the medical corps in finding wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Sledge dogs were trained to find downed airmen in snow bound regions. Pack dogs were trained to transport load of up to 40 pounds. Only 92 of these types were ever trained (War dog history, n.d.).

Dogs being used in Afghanistan are commonly being used as bomb sniffing dogs, especially used for detecting roadside bombs. In 2007 the Marines began a pilot program in Afghanistan with nine bomb-sniffing dogs. By the end of 2011 there were 650 of these dogs. Overall before September 11 there were 1,800 dogs on active military duty and today there are about 2,700. These dogs are used for protection, pursuit, tracking, and search and rescue. But they are more commonly being used for sniffing out homemade bombs, which cause the majority of American casualties in Afghanistan. The Marines have been using purebred Labrador Retrievers because of their good noses and good temperament. They accompany their handlers on foot patrol wandering off-leash 100 yards or more in front as bomb detectors. The cost to the military for one of these dogs can be as high as $40,000 (Bumiller, 2011). Conclusion

Since the first dog was bred they have been used to assist people and make their lives easier or more fulfilling. Dogs were originally bred to assist people with hunting, war, pest control, and working on their farms. Some breeds were even bred as a status symbol in the early years. And even today not much has changed. While there are many more dogs bred today to be family house pets, many are still bred for the same reasons they were thousands of years ago. And in more recent years people have found new uses for them such as service dogs, therapy dogs, and detection dogs.

I cannot think of one other animal that is as versatile and used for as many reasons as a dog is. They are loyal beyond belief and have many traits that make them so useful. At the moment there is a huge pet overpopulation problem, with 6-8 million dogs and cats in humane societies and 3-4 million of them euthanized every year, it is a huge issue. Many of these dogs would make great house pets or excel at other jobs that dogs are being used for. About 78.2 millions dogs are owned in the United States which goes to show how popular and loved dogs are (ASPCA pet statistics, n.d.).

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Why Dogs Are the Most Useful Animal to Humans. (2017, Jan 07). Retrieved from

Why Dogs Are the Most Useful Animal to Humans

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