Skip to content

Working Dogs and Service Dogs – Different Types, Training & Breeds

Breeding Business is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Published on
Thursday 28 February 2019
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
Types Working Dogs and Service Dogs
This page may contain affiliate links. We may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links.

Working and service dogs are dogs that have been thoroughly trained to perform a set of specific tasks in stressful environments. Working dogs are often assisting humans in their daily jobs. Service dogs are more of a helping hand to diminish the consequences of a man disability. Lastly, therapy dogs are a newer type of working dogs helping stabilize people victim of mental health issues.

The label of working dogs is very broad. There are different types of service, therapy, and working dogs. Whether or not you want to make one of them a member of your family, it is interesting to note the kind of jobs that the dogs are suited to perform and also be aware of the risks, if any, associated with these jobs. This way, the utmost potential of the furry ones can be recognized without them being hurt or their health compromised in the process.

Differences between Working, Service and Therapy dogs?

These special types of breeds that are considered to be working dogs can further be divided into the following types, based on their area of specialization.

The types of working dogs commonly fall into three broad categories:

  1. working dogs – they perform specifics tasks with excellence
  2. service dogs – they assist people and children with needs
  3. therapy dogs – they provide mental support to distressed people

Working dogs

Working dogs actually assist human resources in performing specific tasks. A working dog has the potential to learn and execute tasks that help in assisting its human companions. Police dogs and military dogs are all considered to be working dogs while the typical jobs that they are seen to be carrying out are detection, herding, hunting, rescue, search and so on. Breeds and types of working dogs vary widely. For instance, Beagles are known for their great tracking ability and hence, they find value in the Customs & Border related authorities.


Service dogs

Service dogs are meant to help and assist people with certain disabilities and the dogs are trained to do so. The disabilities can be visual difficulties, stress disorder, mental illness, ambulatory issues or hearing impairments or autism. Depending on the kind of disability for which the dog is required to provide support, there can be guide dogs, mobility dogs, autism service dogs, hearing dogs and so on.

Therapy dogs

Therapy dogs are meant to provide psychological support for people with mental health issues and disorders such as anxiety, bipolar disorder and more. The therapy dogs find wide recognition in schools for special children, hospitals and nursing homes.

Service dogs and therapy dogs also fall under the umbrella term of working dogs as such. But the differentiation is purposefully done in order to streamline the nature of tasks and that each is capable of performing.

What are the Different Types of Working Dogs?

Working dogs are able to perform dozens of very specialized tasks including search and rescue, cancer detection, sniffer dogs, herding, guarding, military K9, and more.

Indeed, it is a matter of great pleasure that humans are blessed to have such great companions. Working dogs are polyvalent enough to accompany in each step by either performing intelligent, physical tasks or providing psychological support. And all this is because of the different types of breeds and their uniqueness that are expressed in the dogs.

Here are some of the different working dogs and a quick look at the nature of work they are supposed to execute along with a few other related and relevant details, worth being aware of.

Service dogs

Service dogs are the most common types of working dogs and their primary job is to offer assistance to people with disabilities. Since the disabilities can vary from visual impairment to impaired mobility and so on, the service dogs are specifically trained to be of immense help to the individual. Also referred to as assistance dogs, the service dogs are very good and stable in temperament. They are required to have an altogether different type of psychological make-up, the main components of which are biddability and trainability.

Every service dog needs some special kind of custom training for the person the animal is going to help. This is because every person experiences a different disability and looks for assistance often in a very distinct and individualistic way. The main types of service dogs usually include psychiatric service dogs and guide and hearing service dogs.

There are four breeds that are considered to be the best service dogs and these are:

  • Labrador Retrievers,
  • German Shepherds,
  • Golden Retrievers, and
  • Labrador and Golden Retriever cross.

Therapy dogs

Therapy dogs are the ones that are trained to provide comfort, love, and affection to people suffering from some kind of mental health disorders. As such, the therapy dogs’ jobs require them to visit retirement homes, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and disaster homes. The interesting history of the therapy dogs dates back to 1976 when Elaine Smith noticed a positive response in patients who were suffering from mental problems and were brought in contact with a Golden Retriever.

There is not much special training that is available for therapy dogs. However, they need to be friendly, loving and caring in general. There are no potential risks to the therapy dogs except that they can be frightened by unusual sounds or the sight of canes, wheelchair, and unexpected human behaviors. That is why; some organizations provide evaluation and registration for therapy dogs. Golden Retrievers and Labradors are the main breeds of therapy dogs.

Search & Rescue dogs

Search and rescue dogs are used in tracking and locating missing people, generally in the wilderness during natural disasters and mass casualty events. They work in coordination with dedicate handlers and are worked by a small team on foot. The search and rescue dogs primarily detect a human scent that might be generated from skin cells, respiratory gases, or even perspiration.

SAR dogs can further be categorized into air-scenting dogs and trailing or tracking dogs. They also find the application of their skills in water searches, avalanche searches, and rubble searches.

Some of the breeds that are considered the most suitable search and rescue tasks are the:

  • Beagle,
  • American Pit Bull Terrier,
  • Bloodhound,
  • German Shepherd,
  • Coonhound, and
  • English Springer Spaniel.

The SAR dogs need rigorous training for years that begins with obedience training right at the puppy stage. Scent training is carried out last once the basic agility required has been developed by the animal.

Herding dogs

Herding dogs are working dogs used for herding livestock or farm animals. They are a type of pastoral dog who can help in herding either by natural instincts or through training.

Certain herding dog breeds created by humans by means of selective breeding. The process ensures that the dog’s natural inclination to treat cattle and sheep as potential prey is reduced to a significant extent. At the same time, the dog’s hunting skills are maintained to allow them to be effective in gathering and herding every animal in the group.

As far as the process of herding is concerned, different breeds do it differently. While some breeds like the Australian Cattle Dog nip at the heels of the animals, others like the Border Collie use their strong eye to stare the animal down. A lot of training in the field is also required.

The popular breeds of herding dogs include the:

  • Border Collie,
  • Australian Cattle Dog,
  • Bearded Collie,
  • Berger Picard,
  • Black Mount Cur,
  • Croatian Sheepdog,
  • English Shepherd,
  • and a few more.

A dog’s herding instincts, as well as trainability, are measured through non-competitive herding tests and an introduction to livestock.

Sledding dogs

Sledding dogs, or sled dogs, are working dogs used for transportation or cart-pulling in the polar or arctic environment. They were required to carry supplies to the otherwise ice cold and inaccessible areas. Sled dogs have been used for both the Arctic and the Antarctic exploration though their uses have become limited to some rural areas only these days. Sled dogs were popularly used during the Alaskan gold rush as well, as a means of fast transportation.

A sledding dog has the natural physical potential to survive the cold. Yet, it has been found that carrying loads and transporting them has certain risks to their long-term health. Sled dogs require little training for hobby sledding and cart pulling, as they tend to work very instinctively.

Some of the common breeds of this type of working dogs include:

Historically, Togo and Balto were the two famous sled dogs assisting human teams in extremely adverse weather conditions. There are plenty of friendly competitions for the Arctic and Siberian dog breeds to compete on sled dog racing, cart pulling, or even on-snow racing.

dog sleigh
A dog sleigh pulling by a group of arctic and siberian sled dogs.

Farm dogs

Farm dogs are yet another type of pastoral working dogs. They are different from the herding dogs in the sense that most of them are all-purpose and execute a lot of tasks at the same time. With a combination of natural instincts and a bit of training, a farm dog can be categorized depending on the specific tasks they perform, which include:

  • guarding livestock,
  • herding farm animals,
  • pest control, and
  • engaging in multipurpose farm activities.

These farm dogs find wide acceptance in urban farming, which is on the rise these days. The dogs, here, are meant to serve the role of companions to the farmers and agriculture experts.

Some of the most popular farm dog breeds include the:

Farm dogs are often mutts coming from very good working bloodlines that are sold between local farmers. Some farmers make a lot more money via their small dog breeding operations than their farming activities.

Guard dogs

A guard dog, also referred to as a watchdog, is a heavily trained dog used to watch for and guard against unwanted or unexpected intruders – people or animals! They are different from attack dogs as such and their main capability lies in discriminating familiar and known people, from unfamiliar and potentially-threatening intruders.


The breeds that work most effectively as guard dogs include:

A powerful and threatening bark is one of the striking characteristics of guard dogs. They bark loudly to alert their owner of the presence of an intruder. Unlike the watchdog that can only bark and make people alert, the guard dog is actually capable of restraining, stopping and attacking the intruder.

Hunting and Gun Dogs

Hunting dogs are highly skilled and able working dogs recognized widely in police and intelligence services. Different breeds and types of hunting dogs are used to perform certain specific tasks. The broad categories of hunting dogs include:

  • Spaniels – flush game out of dense wood or brush
  • Hounds – track or chase prey
    • sighthounds – gazehounds that hunt by sight and speed
    • scenthounds – hunting dogs that hunt by scent rather than sight
    • lurchers – sighthounds mated with a pastoral or terrier-type dog
  • Setters – gundog mostly hunting game (e.g. pheasant, grouse, and quail)
  • Pointers – bird dogs used to find and point game to move it into gun range
  • Terriers – selectively bred for varmint hunting and rat killing

All breeds of hunting dogs require a lot of training with their dedicated handler. Physical agility and a unique sense of sight and sound are quintessential requirements of for all types of gun dogs.

Military K9

german shepherd handbook
Check out the German Shepherd Handbook – everything to know about choosing, feeding, and caring for a GSD.

The military K9 dogs or the warfare dogs are the most historically prevalent working dogs out there. They were trained to support the military, scouts, sentries, and trackers. They continue to be extremely useful in modern times as well. The training that these already active breeds of dogs require is rigorous and often, time-consuming. It is however required to be allowed in the field during critical missions.

The contemporary roles of these dogs include law enforcement, intimidation, and police forces. The most common breed of the military dog is German Shepherd although smaller and more resilient breeds like the Dutch Shepherd or the Belgian Malinois are being preferred these days for activities such as patrolling. They are typically found to have a keener sense of smell.

Police K9 Units

Police dogs also referred to as K-9, are highly respected and acclaimed working dogs. They are specifically trained to assist law enforcement officials and police personnel. Their primary job includes searching for explosives and drugs, identifying pieces of evidence on crime scenes, locating missing people and attacking targeted people by the police.

The police dogs need to be extremely fit, both physically and mentally. Their work areas pose certain risks of hazards as well. Training these dogs is a lengthy process, usually handled by a specialized K9 handler.

The most common breeds of Police dogs are the:

  • Belgian Malinois,
  • Bloodhound,
  • Dutch Shepherd, and of course,
  • the German Shepherd.

In many countries, injuring or killing a police dog is a criminal offense.

military and police dogs
Warfare dogs, as well as K-9 unit dogs, are used in support of a tactical group. They can be used to sniff out explosive substances, drugs, or simply as a first line of attack.

Detection dogs

Detection dogs are also called sniffer dogs. Detecting dogs are trained to sniff out substances like drugs, explosives, blood, wildlife scat, by means of their senses. Smell is the primary sense used by most of the detection dogs that are used to assist police forces.

In different countries, detection dogs are used for specific tasks. The two most common types of these dogs are the bed bug detection dogs and the wildlife scat detection dogs. The former is used to identify the scent of bed bugs while the latter is used to detect wildlife scat.

Some of the popular breeds of detection dogs include:

  • Coonhound,
  • English Springer Spaniel,
  • Labrador Retriever,
  • German Shepherd,
  • Beagle,
  • Bloodhound, and
  • Basset Hound.

Detection dog breeds have a perfect combination of sensory power, mental alertness, and physical strength.

Bio Detection Dogs

Among the category of detection dogs, cancer detection dogs happen to be a very special type of working dogs. Recent studies have found that the olfactory ability of the dogs in detecting the presence of alkenes and aromatic compounds in urine and breath can be used in an approach to cancer screening.

Some research in the field has led to positive results leading to some media coverage as well. However, there has been no valid, conclusive result in many cases, which is why; the use of working dogs in cancer detection is somewhat questionable. The breeds that work as detection dogs, in general, are the same for cancer detection as well.

Dogs, the most loving and friendly animal that you ever come across prove to be a perfect member of any family. However, apart from their unconditional love, care and obedience to human beings, they do come with the potential to be an integral part of the human workforce. Not all breeds are suitable for this though. There is a special category of purebred dogs that are referred to as the working dogs. Each of them is found to be suitable for certain kinds of tasks, almost all of which require unique characteristics as well as special physical and mental strength and abilities.

One comment on “Working Dogs and Service Dogs – Different Types, Training & Breeds”

  1. Nina

    I love dogs and so I suggest that you use this website

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *