These days, most dogs enter a new household as a simple companion that isn’t expected to complete chores or execute tasks as part of their daily and weekly routine. For the most part, modern-day dog owners are content with their dogs as leisurely walking partners or exercise buddies, so long as their pups use the bathroom outside.
However, dogs haven’t always lived such work-free lives. In fact, throughout most of history, domesticated dogs have found their place in humanity through useful work and service in the field, the city, and the wilderness. In doing so, dogs have performed some truly amazing and courageous jobs over the centuries! We’re highlighting four of the most dog-gone awesome ones below:
High-Mountain Rescue Agents. In the 1800s, travelers between Italy and Switzerland would often cross through the Saint Bernard Pass, a snowy and treacherous area named after a nearby monastery. Fearing more and more travelers would perish in the crossing, the monks of the Hospice du Grand Saint-Bernard began training a local dog breed to patrol the area and assist any stranded travelers. These pups would eventually become today’s Saint Bernard breed.
Surprisingly, the wooden brandy casks you often see tied around the necks of these iconic dogs is thought to be purely mountain myth—likely dreamed up by a few hopeful mountaineers looking for a warm drink. But, Saint Bernard rescue dogs were still truly amazing! Barry, perhaps the most well-known Saint Bernard during this period in the 19th century, is said to have rescued over 40 wayward travelers from 1800 to 1812.
Pioneering Space Explorers. In 1957, the Russian space program launched Sputnik 2 out of the Earth’s atmosphere. This satellite would set two records! It would be the second spacecraft ever to exit the atmosphere and enter Earth’s orbit, and it would also be carrying the first living organism larger than a microbe to orbit the planet: Laika, the daring dog Cosmonaut.
Laika was a stray dog picked up in Moscow, but she quickly won fame and attention from those watching the “space race” begin on television. Her original name, Kurdryavka, meant “Little Curly,” and she was nicknamed “Muttnik” by the captivated American audience across the Pacific Ocean. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be until 1963 that domestic cats would join the ranks of “space explorer,” when the French government sent up Félicette, the tuxedo cat, as part of the Veronique rocket program.
Protectors and Leaders of Livestock. The oldest livestock dogs began as guardians. In more primitive cultures (as animals would rarely need to be confined or moved from place to place) dogs were used as guards to protect free-roaming livestock from nearby predators. Then, nearly 4,000 years ago, as humans slowly began to organize their agriculture, dogs were trained and adapted for herding—controlling and directing smaller herds of animals within structured farms or fenced-in areas.
Each herding dog breed has a different method of directing its charge. Australian Cattle Dogs, known as “heelers,” will typically bite and nip at the heels of the animal, driving them forward. Border Collies, known as “headers,” will stand in front of the animal and use a “strong eye” stare to direct or stop their movement. To finish a herding exercise, which has become a globally-known competitive sport with rulebooks and sponsorships, the owner will remark, “That’ll do.”
One of our Primal ambassadors, @modiboandrudy, maintains the herding tradition.
Battlefield Nurses. At the height of World War I, it is estimated that over 50,000 dogs were employed by both the German and European alliances as scouts, trackers, and messengers. However, the concept of “Mercy Dogs” with medical use during the war actually began in Germany, then quickly spread to European and American forces. Mercy Dogs would carry critical medical supplies across an active battlefield, offering medicine and first aid equipment to any roaming military medics—plus, they would provide comfort to those already critically injured. On top of that, dogs also provided important messenger services during World War I, carrying vital information across fields of chemical gas, barbed wire, and deep trenches.
To learn more about the daring doggos of the world, check back at the Primal blog this coming Veterans Day!