Top Dogs: The Superhero Canines Saving Our Skins

Any dog lover is familiar with the “Top Ten Dog Breeds” lists, which generally focus on which breed makes the best pet, or is the most intelligent.

One such list, published by Science 101, takes things a step further. As well as looking at which dog breeds are the smartest, it also includes several examples of superhero dogs, who save our human asses on a regular basis.

We at Homeland Security Today couldn’t possibly rank these canine heroes, but here they are, in no particular order:

Italian Coast Guard Lifeguards

The Italian Coast Guard employs several Newfoundland dogs to patrol the water for anyone in danger. These Newfoundlands save around 3,000 lives a year. Each dog trains for three years on the shore and in helicopters and boats. Their calm temperament keeps them from panicking easily, they are strong enough to carry a person, and of course they love water.

Navy SEAL Detection Dogs

The U.S. Navy SEALs employ quite a lot of dogs, many of which are Belgian Malinois. These dogs jump out of airplanes, usually strapped to their handler, and are trained to detect explosives and find hiding hostile humans. They’re also incredibly fast, so they can chase down anyone who’s trying to escape.

Fundraising Police K9s

Every year, the Vancouver Police Department makes a light-hearted police dog calendar to raise money for charity. In one picture, a German shepherd sports a pair of aviator sunglasses and sticks his head out the window of a police car. In another, a police dog and handler display their best good cop/bad cop routine.
For 2019, the charities to benefit from the calendar are the B.C. Cancer Foundation and the B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Avalanche Rescue Team

The Vail Avalanche Rescue dogs are trained at Vail Mountain, Colorado to find people buried under snow or trapped in a storm. A trained avalanche dog can search two and a half acres in a quarter of the time it takes 20 people to search the same area. Dogs’ noses are so exceptional, it has been known for them to locate someone buried 40 feet deep in snow.

Poacher Trackers

The Big Life Foundation at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya employs dogs to help catch illegal hunters. The Park is home to over 900 elephants, plus giraffes, lions, zebras, and other animals, many of which are endangered and a crucial part of the world’s ecosystem. Poachers hunt elephants to sell their ivory and often pour these funds into organized crime or terrorism. The dogs are able to track the criminal all the way to his front door.

Crimebuster With a Bounty on Her Head

Sombra the German shepherd works with the Colombian National Police at airports to find illegal narcotics. She’s been responsible for more than 200 arrests and detected approximately nine tons of illicit materials. Unsurprisingly, criminals have put out a bounty on her head, and police are increasing security around her in response to the threat and she’s been moved to a different airport.

Smuggled Goods Trackers

Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research uses dogs to search for scents associated with illegally owned artifacts and training the dogs to find pottery. The program is in the early stages, but they’re hoping the dogs will work at airports to find smuggled artifacts from places like Iraq and Syria, where terrorist organizations make money from the trafficking.

Courthouse Therapy Dogs

There are about 155 courthouse dogs in the U.S. now, who sit in the witness box or do their comforting in the hallway. The dogs help to ease witnesses’ anxiety so they can testify in criminal cases.

Natural Disaster Search Specialists

SAR dog Amelia “Mia” Earheart took a trip to Northern California recently, to help in the search for lost people at the wildfire site in Paradise, California. Mia was one of several cadaver dogs sent to the site. Many of the dogs and their handlers were volunteers, coming from several hours away to help. The dogs found 67 people in the fire’s aftermath and the list of missing people dropped from over a thousand to less than 30.

Cancer Detection Dogs

A study has found that dogs can identify cancer with about 90% accuracy, which is better than some lab tests. Dogs can distinguish between cancer patient urine and cancer free urine. Larger studies are in the pipeline to determine the wider use of cancer detection dogs.

Who’s Next?

Do you have a canine partner who deserves some recognition? If so, we would love to hear your stories and share them with our readers. Please email and tell us about your four-footed workmate and how they contribute to safety and security.

Read Science 101’s full list here

Kylie Bielby has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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