Working dogs lead quite different lives to pet dogs

Do you know how many different types of working dogs we have in the UK?

  • Medical alert dogs are trained to alert when medical conditions become uncontrolled. For instance, unstable blood glucose levels in diabetics, seizures in epileptics, sleep attacks in narcoleptics and other conditions like allergies and even cancer detection.
  • Medical assistance dogs help disabled people by assisting with household tasks and safety when out and about. They can help people with reduced or no vision, deafness and those who are wheelchair bound.
  • Psychiatric assistance dogs work with sufferers of mental health problems, for instance post traumatic stress or anxiety. They provide stability, interaction and healthy lifestyle (taking exercise and going out) that can be beneficial for these conditions.
  • Police dogs, security dogs and military working dogs are all trained in protection, tracking, searching and detainment.
  • Gun dogs, sheepdogs and performance dogs are trained in very different environments and need quite different skills for instance retrieving game on shoots, or herding sheep in remote locations.


The numbers in these groups are quite high,  for instance currently there are approximately 4800 visual assistance dogs and 2500 police dogs in the UK. Most dogs will only work during their adult life and will spend most of their puppyhood being trained up into their profession. So it’s only in their retirement as seniors that they become pets and family members as whilst working, they have to be treated with respect and their training consistently reinforced.

These professional activities rely on the skills that dogs have naturally, which in some cases we lack completely as humans. For example, their scenting ability allows them to search over large areas for a missing child, or sniff out explosives at an airport, whilst their assertive, protective nature can make them suitable for emergency situations like crowd-control. Their intelligence, loyalty and constant desire to help makes them perfect medical assistance companions recognising when their owner needs help and assisting.

Working dogs often have quite different dietary needs to pet dogs as they have greater nutrient and energy requirements to match their busy, active lives. It’s also important that their appetite is well-controlled so they can focus on their work rather than hunger. With extreme performance dogs like racing greyhounds, the right diet can be the difference in seconds that a winner needs, so matching major nutrients and even minerals correctly to individual dogs’ requirements can be key to their performance.

Transitioning working dogs into pets once retired is not as easy as for other pet dogs – often these dogs are not used to the typical home environment and will need time and space to adjust. However, it almost goes without saying that these are highly trained and intelligent individuals who, having given years of their life working, deserve the space in your life and home if you can offer it.

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