Of course, you can pet a working dog! Aside from being highly trained for specific tasks such as detection, herding, sniffing, therapy, and much more, working dogs are known for their temperament, athletic abilities, and intelligence. Which makes them ideal for companionship and family life.

So, what are the different types of working dogs? What type of training do they undergo? And how could you get one for yourself?

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 Types of Working Dogs

Service dogs

Those working dogs undergo special training in order to assist people with disabilities. They are very sociable and well-behaved around people and they also accompany their owners anywhere they go.

This category of working dogs contains many sub-categories such as:

  • Guide dogs,
  • Hearing dogs,
  • Autism dogs,
  • Seizure dogs
  • Medical alert dogs,
  • Diabetes alert dogs,
  • Post Traumatic Service Dogs (PTSD) and
  • Allergy detection dogs.

The most used breeds in this category are:

  • Standard poodles,
  • German shepherds, and
  • Labrador retriever. 

Detection dogs 

Detection dogs have a great sense of smell; they are trained to sniff out narcotics, explosives, blood, and cancers.

Recently, some detection dogs are being trained to sniff out and identify even COVID-19 infection.

Detection dog

The most common breeds used for detection are:

  • German shepherds
  • Belgian shepherds
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Golden Retrievers and
  • Beagles.

Therapy dogs 

Therapy dogs are trained to offer emotional support, comfort, love, and affection to sick people and those suffering from mental disorders. Dogs of any breed can be used as therapy dogs; however, they must have the right training and temperament. 

Police dogs 

Police Dogs

Also known as K-9, police dogs are specially trained to assist law enforcement agents while carrying out their duties. They can hold down suspects and even sniff out illegal substances. Those are the 2 most used K-9 dogs:

  • German Shepherds and
  • Belgian Malinois

Search and rescue dogs 

Search and rescue dog

Search and rescue dogs are trained to have a great sense of smell and hearing. They are used for specialized search and tracking such as natural disasters and looking for missing people.

Some breeds are genetically qualified for this task including:

  • Labrador retrievers,
  • German shepherds,
  • Golden retrievers, and
  • Leonbergers.

Military working dogs 

A Military Working Dog in training

Just like police dogs, military working dogs are used for detection and search and rescue operation. Usually, dog breeds like Dutch Shepherds and German Shepherds are trained to be military working dogs. 

Herding dogs

Herding dogs are pastoral dogs that can guard and lead herds of sheep and cattle. They work based on their natural herding instincts and need little to no training.

A Herding Dog leading sheep

Among this category, the most famous are:

  • King shepherds,
  • Border collies,
  • Black mouth curs, and
  • Icelandic sheepdogs. 

Sledding dogs 

These are working dogs used for transportation or cart pulling. They carry supplies to inaccessible areas, and they require specific training, some of the common breeds used as sledding dogs include:

Sled dogs
  • Chinook,
  • Alaskan Husky,
  • Alaskan malamute, and
  • Canadian Eskimo Dog. 

How to train a working dog to provide the right service? 

Start early

Working dogs must be trained to learn about the world they live in while they are between 12 to 16 weeks old. This implies that you must expose your canine friend to places, people, and things.

Never force them to perform a task when they look fearful, instead use positive reinforcement and slowly teach them how to get through things.

All in all, your main objective should be to make your dog sociable and easygoing. 

Build up their confidence levels

Confidence and decision-making skills are key when it comes to training a working dog. Therefore, it is vital to expose him to positive things that stimulate his mind such as nose work, puzzles, playtimes, and meetings. And avoid everything that may scare or overwhelm him.

All these activities help your dog feel more comfortable and eager to undergo training. 

Train for accuracy

One way to train your working dog for accuracy is through clicker training:

By clicking precisely when your dog performs what you want him to, you mark the exact behavior you are rewarding him for and this way, your dog does not have to guess what behavior you liked.

This method will improve your dog’s clarity and make him eager to learn and train even harder. 

Ensure he gets the right amount of exercise

In addition, you must ensure that your dog gets the right amount of exercise. Do not over-exercise your dog. Remember that, unlike pet dogs, working dogs have lots of energy and stamina.

Therefore, you must try to provide them with enough mental stimulation and the right amount of physical exercise.

You can also use a professional dog training program to come up with actions and plans on how to increase your dog’s mental stimulation. 

Obedience training is key

Ideally, obedience training sessions begin when the puppy is 8 to 10 weeks old. It is during this period that dogs learn well, and it is the perfect time to start crafting your dog’s personality.

Old obedience training was based on dominance which required the owner to be a “leader” to his dog, using stressful techniques that remind of the natural communication of canids like marking.

Yet, recent studies have proven that those methods can cause more harm than good to your dog. In fact, if you use the old obedience training, you can cause some serious behavioral defects in your dog such as aggressiveness, especially if you are not a specialist.  

Nowadays obedience training is based on Positive reinforcement methods that adopt reward, praise, and non-verbal communication, instead of punishment.

How much does a working dog cost in the US?

For many people, working dogs are of great importance due to the benefits they offer and the functions they play. However, it is vital to note that workings dogs are generally very expensive to adopt due to their training, and vet care, among other reasons.

The specific amount you pay for adopting a working dog generally depends on the breed and the type of work, but you should expect anything from $15,000 to $30,000. In fact, some service dogs can cost up to $50,000.

In addition to the initial cost, pet lovers interested in adopting a working dog should provide anything from $5000 to $10,000, to cover the costs of one year of dog food, training, frequent medical check-ups, and vaccinations. 

Training your dog to be a working dog

Although adopting a working dog can be extremely expensive, it is possible to cut down on the costs by training your own dog yourself with the assistance of a certified working dog trainer. 

However, it is vital to note that the amount of money you will be spending on training will largely depend on your dog’s breed, age, and the type of work you want him to learn.

A dog that already took obedience training sessions will only need 4- 6 weeks to become a working dog, while it may take up to 2 years to fully train others.

Also, take note of the hourly fee to hire professional trainers can be as expensive as $150-$250 per hour

How to Pay for a Working Dog?

If you choose to adopt a working dog, there are many financing solutions such as:  

  • Applying for a non-profit grant: Many organizations offer help to people with disabilities who are willing to adopt a service dog, for a small token (e.g. the Service Dogs for America and Assistance Dogs International).
  • Personal savings: It is easier to adopt a working dog if money is no big deal to you! 
  • Take a loan: If you cannot secure some grant from a non-profit, you can easily get a personal loan that covers the cost of buying a working dog. 
  • Crowdfunding: You can also take advantage of your social network to reach out to people and raise some money by creating a fundraising campaign on sites like GoFundMe

 How to adopt a working dog?

Know your needs and lifestyle

Before adopting a working dog, it is crucial to know what your needs are and take into consideration the space you own and the lifestyle you lead.

This will help determine the type of working dog you need and help you choose the breed that suits you the most.

Also, you need to consider the needs and lifestyle of your family members and other eventual pets you own.

Note that a working dog may or may not feel comfortable around cats or other small animals.

Find a rescue group

If you want a specific breed, then the best place you can go to is a breed-specific rescue group.

On the American Kennel Club website, you can find a large list of working dogs.

Also, nearby dog shelters can be a good option to pick a working dog who meets your needs.

Consider being a foster parent

Fostering a dog can be an interesting alternative if you cannot afford to buy or adopt a working dog.

Basically, it is very similar to adopting a dog, except that you only need to provide a loving home for the foster dog and the shelter will pay for food, medicine, and veterinary care.

This experience will give a good taste of what it is like to adopt a working dog and understand his specific needs.

Also, you have the option to adopt the dog you fostered, if you meet the adoption requirements of the shelter.

Adopt a military or police dog

US residents can opt for military or police working dogs by applying on the Mission K9 Rescue website. Before your application is accepted, you need to meet certain conditions such as:

  • Possessing enough space at home for the dog
  • Being able to afford regular vet care.
  • Being stable and having plenty of time to devote to the dog.

Although there are no adoption fees, you need to consider the cost of traveling from your house to the rescue and the way back.

Note that those dogs are retired working dogs, which means that they cannot be certified as working dogs and are not trained for that anymore.  

Here are some additional websites if you want to adopt a working dog:

Finalize the adoption  

Once you find the right working dog for you, the next step would be to sign the contract and finance the adoption process. Also, you need to check if the dog is properly vaccinated.

Even though adopting a working dog is free, you need to consider the costly daily expenses.  

Understand the health risk of working dogs

It is vital to note that most working dogs are generally prone to some conditions like joint issues. In addition, they love eating foods that are difficult to digest, and this makes them predisposed to suffer from some digestive disorders. Therefore, you need to have them regularly checked by your veterinarian.

Start training your working dog

You must get your canine friend familiar with the house rules. First, start by teaching him or her the basic command and also offers them a combination of physical and mental exercise.


Finally, working dogs can serve as good pets. However, they must be allowed to use their brain, release energy and perform their duties. Otherwise, they may display some negative behaviors like excessive barking or aggressiveness towards their owners, if they don’t get enough mental stimulation, 

Although the cost of adopting a working dog can be extremely high, there are some options to minimize the costs such as training your own pet to be a working dog or adopting/fostering one.

Have you ever had a working dog for a pet? Share with me your experiences!

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