Get Your Dog a Job

Everything you need to know about work opportunities for your German Shepherd Dog in the canine job market


From acting in such movie classics as the Rin Tin Tin films to amazing search and rescue feats, crime-busting detective work and security assignments, to being efficient and loving assistance companions to the physically disabled, the German Shepherd Dog has the cornered the canine job market. There seems to be very little that this breed cannot be trained to do. Consequently, these days they are an integral part of the everyday work force. So if you’re thinking of getting your dog a job, here’s a selection of career choices and what you need to know for your GSD to excel in a particular field of expertise.

The German Shepherd’s First Job

Originally, the breed was considered a herding dog and their first job description was to round up sheep and cattle. However, as the demand for guarding livestock diminished, breeders realized these dogs’ exceptional talents along with their high level of intelligence, strength and trainability could also be put to good use in various other fields.

As far back as the early 1900s, the German Shepherd Club in Germany started to incorporate various work-related breed traits into their breeding program so that these dogs could excel in other work environments. All dogs were required to pass working examinations before being allowed to produce offspring. Currently there are still specific German Shepherd Dog breeding programs worldwide that aim to perpetuate these very special working traits.

“While there are many such breeding programs in the United States, a lot of assistance dogs are still imported from Europe,” says Mary Blank of Landshaft Kennels in Marengo, Illinois. “They arrive in this country with good social skills, manners and tracking skills and are then trained to match the specific assistance needs of a particular person or are trained further for a particular skill such as narcotic detection or search and rescue work. A good working dog is one that has excellent ball drive and uses its nose naturally. These dogs will do anything for a ball and it’s used as a training tool.”

In fact, Blank’s job can be likened to that of an “employment agency” because apart from overseeing her own breeding program, the focus of her work is finding the right dog for a particular job for other people.

“There is no dollar amount you can put on the cost of this kind of training neither can you clock the exact number of hours spent honing these skills,” says Blank. “These dogs sell for between $5 000 and $15 000 and people pay willingly for their expertise.”

Unless a person is looking for an assistance dog as a working assistance companion for themselves, it follows that anyone interested in getting a job for their dog must have a personal interest in a particular sector of the human job market such as police or security work or general search and rescue or the entertainment industry so that they can work together as a team.

Become a Surrogate Teacher for an Assistance Dog

However, for anyone who would like to be involved with assistance dogs without requiring their personal services, becoming a Puppy Trainer or a Foster Family is something to consider.

“All assistance dogs start out being home schooled from about the age of eight weeks old until they are between fourteen and eighteen months old,” explains Jack Hayward, Director of Communications for the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation in Bloomfield, CT.

“Volunteering to be a puppy trainer is a great opportunity to mould a dog for its future career,” says Hayward . “These puppy trainers or foster families have the responsibility of taking care of the dog, socializing it in their own home and community environments so that it becomes used to the things it’s going to see on the streets as an assistance dog. They also train the dog in basic obedience behaviors. All costs are taken care of by the relevant organization that entrusts them to a foster family.”

After this informal home schooling, the dog is given back to the organization to go to college ( a specific training program) and train with a certified trainer for a further six month period to prepare it for graduation tests that will ensure its ready to enter the chosen working environment where will remain until its retired.


Assistance Dogs

Assistance dogs are trained to assist people who have physical disabilities to lead a normal life by giving them independence as they step in and perform certain necessary tasks both in the home and the work place. They are specifically trained to protect their owners at all costs too.

Seeing-Eye Dogs

Guide dogs are trained to guide their owners around obstacles, across streets and keep them away from danger. They are also trained in “intelligence disobedience” which means refusing to obey an unsafe command such as stepping off the sidewalk if there’s on-coming traffic. These dogs must have impeccable manners as they accompany their owners everywhere from restaurants, grocery stores and on and off public transportation.

Hearing Dogs

Hearing dogs receive special training in order to alert their owner to the ringing doorbells and telephones, the beeping of a smoke alarm, passing traffic, alarm clocks and the approach of people as well as any special sounds unique to a particular household. They are also taught to respond to anyone calling their name.

A hearing dog can be taught to respond to voice commands, hand signals, and whistles and obey these commands both on and off leash. In alerting their partners, the dogs touch them and take them to the sound except for the smoke alarm, for which the dog is taught to alert the partner and then lie down at the person’s feet.

Housekeeper companion

These dogs are required to perform basic household chores such as picking up something off the floor, fetching items and passing them to their owners. They become an extra pair of hands around the house. They can pass the TV remote and even be taught to dial 911 – skills that other assistance dogs such as seeing eye dogs and hearing dogs are also trained to do.

Search and Rescue Dogs

A dog involved in various kinds of search and rescue work is trained to find a human scent and effectively alert his handler to its location. SAR dogs are trained to work in all weather conditions and regardless of other distractions such as noise. Depending on the dog’s specialty, their basic training involves teaching them to find a missing person and then lead their handler to them, or, alternatively, to stay with the person and bark alerting the handler to come to them. SAR dogs are chosen for their excellent sense of smell and physical abilities. For a SAR dog, the location a human scent is like playing a game of “find the ball”.

As with all assistance dogs, standard obedience training and socialization begins as a puppy. At the age of about 18 months they also enter intensive formal training programs. Some train seven days a week. Extensive agility training is an integral part of their routine and naturally these dogs must enjoy the great outdoors.

SAR dogs work for police and government agencies but it’s also possible to train with your dog to be a volunteer and join a search and rescue club in your local area. Volunteers are often called upon to assist local or state law enforcement agencies. In this line of work, training is a life-long commitment. Dogs can be cross-trained to specialize in more than one search technique.

Air scent dog

Air scent dogs trace human scent that drifts in the air, and look for the “cone” scent — the actual person. They work best in situations such as large national parks and state forests. The success of an air scent dog will be affected by a number of factors, including wind conditions, air temperature, time of day, terrain, and the presence or absence of other smells such as car exhaust emissions and smoke.

Trailing dog

Trailing dogs are often referred to as tracking dogs and are trained to find a specific person by following minute particles of human tissue or skin cells cast off by the person as he or she travels. The dog is given an uncontaminated scent article such as a piece of clothing belonging to the missing person to set them off in the right direction. Dogs are trained to work both on and off leash.

Cadaver dog

Cadaver dogs react to the scent of a dead human or decomposing human scent and can be trained for above ground and buried cadaver searches.

Water search dog

Water search dogs are trained to detect human scent that is in or under the water, focusing on the scent of the bodily gases that rise up.  As a team, the handler and dog usually work in a boat or along the shoreline.

Avalanche dog

Avalanche search dogs are trained to detect human scent that is in or under snow and can detect scent up to 15 feet below ground level even more!

Police dogs

These days police dogs are an integral part of any police department.

“Dogs and their police handlers are constantly training to ensure they are on top of their game,” explains Sergeant Todd Lynch, head of the Connecticut State Police Canine Unit in Meriden CT. “In our facility, more than 191 teams are trained or come for re-certification every month. Dogs are trained in the facility and then taken out and about to experience different environments so that they can work in all kinds of situations and are not scared of gun shots, loud noises and crowds.”

The initial patrol training lasts 14 weeks and then dogs can train further to specialize in a specific task such as narcotics. Police dogs are invaluable to their handlers on a personal level too and on more than once have saved the lives of those they work with.

Because police work is best suited to assertive dogs German Shepherds are excellent for patrol work, criminal apprehension, handler protection, evidence recovery, tracking and searching buildings to find criminals. Their temperament is not suitable to bomb sniffing and arson. Those jobs reserved for Labradors .

Military Dogs

As with police departments, dogs in the military provide invaluable service. They require many of the same skills needed for police work and some of their assignments are similar such as sentry duty, scout and patrol duties, tunnel exploration and casualty search. They are also used as messengers.

Government Services

Dogs that enjoy being around people will do well working for the US Customs Department at airports and other travel arenas and those that enjoy the outdoors will be happy doing border patrol duties. The training programs are similar to those for police and military jobs.

Working with Kids

Autism Service Dog

There are many openings for assistance dogs to work with children. Dogs with basic training in obedience and good house manners can be placed with a family with an autistic child. Autism is a brain disorder the affects general communication skills. An autism service dog’s presence offers a calming influence and provides a sense of security to the child and can result in improved communication and social skills .

Reading Buddy

Reading programs are being introduced around the country that encourage children to have a canine reading buddy. Often children that have trouble learning how to read, or are self-conscious about reading in front of classmates or teachers are happier reading to a dog. It’s a great way to boost their confidence as their reading skills improve. Reading buddies are actually therapy dogs.

Therapy Dogs

Nothing can lift your spirits and make you feel better than the company of a dog. Therapy work is a wonderful job for any well trained friendly animal because it doesn’t need any special training beyond standard obedience training. And its owner can be anyone who has time to devote to this wonderful work because as far as people go, this is volunteer work. Most therapy dogs take the AKC Good Canine Citizen test to prove that they are mild-tempered, loving and able to happy spend time with people offering lots of friendly doggy affection. Naturally therapy dogs have flexible working hours.

Although many assisted living centers and other places will allow volunteers to visit on an ad hoc basis, it’s a good idea to register with a therapy dog organization such as the Delta or Therapy Dogs International .

Medical assistants

Research has shown that dogs have such an acute sense of smell that they can detect any change in odor. Consequently dogs are being trained to detect anything from prostrate cancer, diabetes and even detect when someone is about to suffer a seizure and are becoming important members of the medical workforce.

According to James Walker, director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University in Tallahassee , Fl, the training is very similar to teaching a dog to detect explosives or drugs because they are being trained to detect a particular smell .

Pawing on Hollywood’s Door

Remember the famous Rin Tin Tin or the six German Shepherd Dogs that starred alongside Will Ferrell in the recent comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby? There are more opportunities for dogs to work in movies, television and in commercials both on screen and in the print media than ever before.

Pet talent agencies offer various training courses to make your dog set ready. They vary in length between eights weeks to six months and cost around $3 000 per course.

“Dogs need to be able to understand both verbal commands and hand signals to be set ready,” explains April Lynn Baker of the Le Paws Talent Agency in Los Angeles , Calif. “They need to be able to take these commands from strangers as owners are not always allowed on set. Also, they need to be able to be controlled from a distance and at a whisper so as not to interfere with the filming process.”

Most dogs that have successful screen careers are owned and trained by professionals but that doesn’t mean that your dog can’t make it in Hollywood too! Dogs can earn up to $500 a day on a movie set.

No matter what kind of career you have in mind for your dog, the skills he will learn he will use his whole life whether he’s working or not and will generally go along way in improving that wonderful human-animal bond.

The Schutzhund Test

Many working German Shepherd Dogs have to pass a Schutzhund Test to evaluate their skills for demanding jobs required by police, state and government agencies. Schutzhund is actually a dog sport that was developed in Germany in the early 1900’s to test whether German Shepherd Dogs act and perform in the manner that they breed was intended, rather than simply evaluating a dog’s appearance. The test covers the following working breed traits.

•  A strong desire to work

•  Courage

•  Intelligence

•  Trainability

•  Strong bond to the handler

•  Perseverance

•  Protective Instinct


This article is from Popular Dogs

Leave a Reply