Everyone knows that dogs are man’s best friends, right? That famous adage actually comes from an 1870 court case, Burden vs. Hornsby, where one brother-in-law sued another for shooting his favorite hound dog, Old Drum, and was awarded $50 in damages.
But the mysterious bond between man and dog dates back much further than that — about 15,000 years, in fact. It appears that all current breeds of our contemporary canine companions can trace their roots back to a common ancestor, probably from Asia. Man and dog have been inseparable ever since.
In addition to unconditional love and constant companionship, dogs and man have had strong working relationships throughout history. Dogs have helped herd everything from cattle to sheep — even poultry. They have been bred and trained to help hunt by tracking, flushing and retrieving.
Dogs have been used by law enforcement to patrol, police and guard, as well as to sniff out all kinds of contraband, from illegal drugs to bomb materials. They often play a big role on search and rescue teams, tracking and trailing, and searching for missing persons, evidence and cadavers. Dogs have also been trained to pull sleds and wagons, helping humans transport themselves and all manner of goods over huge distances and difficult terrain.
Perhaps the most intimate working relationship is between humans and service dogs. This week, August 9-15, is National Assistance Dog Week, which honors the devotion and hard work that these remarkable dogs provide to humans with disabilities. The range of disabilities and conditions for which dogs provide assistance is astounding:
- Guide dogs help people with vision loss cross the street, avoid obstacles, and navigate the physical world.
- Hearing alert dogs help people with hearing loss. They can be trained to identify a ringing phone or doorbell, a crying baby, sirens or alarms, and the sound of other people.
- Medical/Seizure alert and response dogs are specifically trained to recognize the signs and respond to a wide variety of medical conditions, including seizures, heart attack, epilepsy, stroke, diabetes, panic and anxiety attacks, and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Many new service dogs are being trained to assist our returning veterans who have suffered injury as a result of their service. In an innovative program called Puppies Behind Bars, prison inmates train service dogs who are later assigned to an injured veteran. (In the movie My Sister’s Keeper