NEW YORK (
) -- For most dogs, the closest they'll ever come to holding down a 9-to-5 is Take Your Dog to Work Day. But that doesn't mean every dog spends all day sleeping by the window and eating whatever's in sight.
Dogs were originally domesticated for working (as hunting dogs), after all, and some have continued the tradition of actually providing something beyond companionship for their masters. Dogs today are used to sniff out everything from drugs to corpses, and as service animals for people with a range of disabilities. Here are a few gigs a well-trained dog can land even in this mangy job market.
Not every dog spends all day begging, sleeping and chasing squirrels. Dogs were originally domesticated for working, after all, and some have continued the tradition.
Sometimes you just need to pet a dog. Therapy dogs make a profession out of what dogs do best: sitting there and being a soothing, steady companion. Therapy dogs are used to comfort everyone from elderly nursing home residents to traumatized survivors of natural disasters. Recently they made the news when Rosie, a Golden Retriever comfort dog, was used to comfort a teenage girl testifying at a rape trial.
In the aftermath of the successful raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, news came out that one member of SEAL Team 6 was of the four-legged variety. Dogs, often German Shepherds, have fought alongside military units for years, and apparently the canine members of SEAL teams are trained to distinguish combatants from civilians and are equipped with bulletproof vests and infrared cameras.
Since dogs have such versatile noses, they're used by police to detect a variety of illicit substances. Narcotics police can train a dog to sniff out cocaine, others are used to sniff out bomb-making materials at airports and other terrorism targets, and some are used in search-and-rescue efforts. Customs agents even use dogs to sniff out foreign produce tourists try to smuggle into the country.
Other police dogs work with their teeth rather than their nose. Much like the dogs found in the military, these dogs tend to be tough, trainable breeds such as the German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois, and they're trained to brutally take down fleeing or attacking suspects.
Dogs' noses aren't just used by cops. Case in point: In New York City and other cities, there are now dogs trained to sniff out bedbugs. Companies such as Advanced K-9 Detectives will bring a beagle to your apartment to rapidly inspect every nook and cranny for the bugs and their eggs, and let you know whether you need to take further action.
Is there anything dogs can't smell? A recent study by German researchers found that dogs were able to detect lung cancer by sniffing a patient's breath, with an impressive 71% accuracy rate. They also achieved a low 7% false positive rate among cancer-free patients. While the study used an admittedly small sample size -- just four dogs -- it's not unreasonable to think dogs could become part of the diagnostic process in the near future.
Everyone knows dogs are used to guide the blind, but service animals go far beyond that role. Case in point: Many people with epilepsy own service animals to alert them to an impending seizure (though their actual ability to predict a seizure is limited) and are also trained to stay close to their owner and fetch medication during one. Other dogs are trained to help pull people in wheelchairs and retrieve items for them.
Hitching a dozen dogs to a sled and slogging through the Alaskan highlands isn't exactly the most efficient (or safe) way to travel. But the practice is still widespread in competitions such as the Iditarod, which makes use of breeds including the Alaskan Husky, which have been bred to be strong, tireless and well-insulated against brutal Alaskan winters. Mushers test the dogs' insulation by having them spend a night sleeping on snow; if the snow beneath them is melted in the morning, it means their coats offer insufficient insulation for long winter journeys.
Models and actors
There may be more to a dog's life than being really, really, ridiculously cute, but don't tell these dogs. The pooches that appear in print ads, movies and commercials (you'll be missed, Taco Bell dog) are trained professionals, many of whom are represented by agencies like Le Paws. As the agency notes on its website, very few dogs have what it takes to make it in Hollywood -- they must, for instance, be capable of taking nonverbal commands from 30 feet away to ensure things run smoothly on set.
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