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8 Dog Breeds with Surprising Past Professions

Written by: Arlene D.
| Published on February 12, 2024

Dogs have been our companions for thousands of years, not just as pets but as working partners, performing roles critical to human survival and societal development. The diversity in dog breeds we see today is a testament to their varied roles throughout history, ranging from herding and hunting to protection and companionship. This rich history is often forgotten in the modern context, where the primary role of a dog is that of a family pet. However, many breeds we welcome into our homes have legacies that trace back to surprising past professions. These roles have shaped their physical characteristics, behaviors, and temperaments, making them uniquely suited to their historical tasks. Exploring the origins of these breeds enriches our understanding of our canine friends and offers fascinating insights into human history. This article highlights eight dog breeds with surprising past professions, revealing the depths of their heritage and the roles they were initially bred to fulfill.

1. Bloodhound

The Bloodhound, known for its incredible sense of smell, has a storied history that extends far beyond its modern use in search and rescue operations. Bred initially in medieval Europe for hunting deer and wild boar, the Bloodhound’s exceptional tracking abilities were quickly recognized for their value in law enforcement and search efforts. Their keen nose, capable of distinguishing individual scents over great distances and time, made them indispensable for tracking fugitives and missing persons. The Bloodhound’s medieval tracker role laid the groundwork for its use in modern police and search and rescue teams. This breed’s unparalleled scenting ability, combined with a gentle and tenacious temperament, illustrates how its past profession as a hunter has evolved into a lifesaving role in contemporary society.

2. St. Bernard

The St. Bernard’s iconic image as a mountain rescue dog, equipped with a brandy barrel around its neck, belies its humble beginnings as a monastery dog in Switzerland. Monks in the Great St. Bernard Pass originally bred these gentle giants for companionship and as working dogs capable of clearing paths and protecting the grounds. However, their exceptional strength, endurance, and ability to quickly navigate through snow and cold made them invaluable for mountain rescue operations. The St. Bernard’s keen sense of direction and resistance to freezing temperatures made them perfect for locating and saving stranded travelers and pilgrims crossing the treacherous Alps. Their transition from monastery guardians to rescue heroes showcases the breed’s adaptability and the deep bond between humans and dogs in overcoming natural challenges.

3. Dachshund

With its distinctive long body and short legs, the Dachshund was initially bred for hunting badgers in Germany. This breed’s unique physique was meticulously developed to dig into badger dens and combat these fierce animals underground. Their courage, tenacity, and persistence made them formidable hunters, capable of taking on animals much larger than themselves. Beyond badgers, Dachshunds were also used to track wounded game due to their acute sense of smell. Today, while they are commonly seen as companions, their playful yet stubborn nature reflects their historical role as determined hunters. Dachshund’s past profession highlights the specialized breeding practices aimed at enhancing specific traits for particular tasks, demonstrating the intricate relationship between form, function, and breeding in the canine world.

4. Border Collie

Border Collies, renowned for their intelligence and agility, were originally bred on the borderlands between Scotland and England for herding livestock, mainly sheep. Their remarkable ability to understand and respond to complex commands makes them unparalleled in herding. This breed’s intense gaze, known as “the eye,” controls and maneuvers sheep precisely. The Border Collie’s stamina, work ethic, and responsiveness to human cues have made them indispensable to farmers and shepherds. While many still serve in this capacity today, their skills have also made them stars in dog sports and obedience competitions. The transition from herding to competitive sports and companionship roles illustrates the adaptability and intelligence of the Border Collie, traits that were honed through their past profession.

5. Newfoundland

The Newfoundland dog, known for its massive size and strength, has a past profession rooted in lifesaving and working alongside fishermen. Originating from the Canadian island of Newfoundland, these dogs were bred to haul nets, carry boat lines to shore, and rescue anyone who might fall into the icy waters. Their webbed feet and water-resistant coats make them excellent swimmers, a trait that is indispensable in a maritime environment. The Newfoundland’s gentle disposition and strength were also utilized in pulling carts and carrying heavy loads. Today, their heroic rescue instincts and affinity for water are celebrated in water rescue demonstrations and competitions, continuing a legacy that goes beyond their historical role as helpers of fishermen and rescuers of drowning.

6. Rottweiler

Rottweilers trace their origins back to the Roman Empire, where they were used as drover dogs, herding livestock, and guarding soldiers’ camps. Following the collapse of Rome, these dogs found their way into Germany, particularly in the town of Rottweil, where they were used to protect and drive cattle to market and pull carts for butchers. The Rottweiler’s strength, loyalty, and protective instincts made them invaluable in these roles. Today, while they are often found in homes as loyal companions, their past professions as guardians and herders have imbued them with a strong protective instinct, making them excellent guard dogs. The transition from a working dog to a companion animal highlights the adaptability of the Rottweiler to various roles throughout history.

7. Greyhound

Greyhounds are best known today for their speed and grace on the racetrack, but their original purpose was far different. These dogs were bred for hunting by sight and chasing game such as deer and hare across open terrain. Their lean build, deep chest, and long legs are adaptations for high-speed pursuit, allowing them to reach up to 45 miles per hour. In ancient Egypt, Greyhounds were revered and often found in the company of pharaohs, who valued them for their hunting abilities and companionship. The transition from esteemed hunting companions to racing athletes and beloved pets underscores the enduring appeal of the Greyhound’s speed, elegance, and gentle nature.

8. Airedale Terrier

The Airedale Terrier, the largest of the terrier breeds, was initially bred in the Aire Valley of Yorkshire for hunting small game and rodents. Their versatility, intelligence, and size allowed them to excel in various tasks, including guarding, hunting, and later, police and military work. During World War I, Airedales were used as messenger dogs, carrying communications between front lines and rear positions. Their bravery, determination, and ability to work under challenging conditions made them highly valued in these roles. Today, while Airedales are often kept as family pets, their energetic and adventurous spirit reflects their diverse past professions, showcasing their adaptability and the multifaceted roles dogs have played in human history.

The dog breeds highlighted in this article are just a few examples of how the roles and professions of our canine companions have evolved. These breeds were developed with specific purposes in mind, shaped by the needs and challenges of human societies. Understanding the historical context of these breeds enriches our appreciation of their unique characteristics and reminds us of the deep, symbiotic relationship between humans and dogs. It’s a testament to the versatility and adaptability of dogs that many have transitioned from work-focused roles to being cherished members of our families while still retaining the traits that made them invaluable to our ancestors.