Dogs of Courage: The Heroism and Heart of Working Dogs Around the World
  • Dogs of Courage: The Heroism and Heart of Working Dogs Around the World
  • Dogs of Courage: The Heroism and Heart of Working Dogs Around the World

Dogs of Courage: The Heroism and Heart of Working Dogs Around the World

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by Lisa Rogak

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A celebration of the amazing canines who perform feats of bravery every day

Dogs don't just make lovable pets. They also work at an incredible number of jobs, helping humans in countless ways. From working with search-and-rescue teams to find missing persons to helping patients recover from injuries, Lisa Rogak covers the many ways in which dogs are an

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A celebration of the amazing canines who perform feats of bravery every day

Dogs don't just make lovable pets. They also work at an incredible number of jobs, helping humans in countless ways. From working with search-and-rescue teams to find missing persons to helping patients recover from injuries, Lisa Rogak covers the many ways in which dogs are an essential part of our world. And she tells the surprising stories of regular dogs who have gone above and beyond to help their owners--and even each other.

Dogs of Courage reveals the heartwarming and awe-inspiring stories of these hard-working dogs, from the training they receive to the ways we honor their sacrifices and reward their years of service. Affirming what every dog lover knows, this book shows how deep a dog's loyalty and friendship can go.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A celebration of the many ways service dogs help humans. "Dogs of courage," as defined by Rogak (And Nothing But the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert, 2011, etc.), are not unique in that they possess courage--all dogs, she asserts, are born with it--but humans have the ability to draw out this courage in ways that benefit both the dogs and the people working with them. The author gives a broad overview of dogs in service today, as well as the history of dogs providing support in a myriad of settings. She profiles guide and assistance dogs, fire and police dogs, medical research-assistant canines, wildlife and conservation dogs and therapy dogs. Training programs were instituted when World War I began, and dogs have served in the military since. As Rogak notes, there is overlap between the different types of service dogs and the skills that are called upon; the benefits that therapy dogs provide through steadfast companionship and support offer a form of therapy to anyone working closely with them. There are also distinctly different training requirements for different types of service. A dog trained in providing therapy support, particularly when the service is being provided to children, must acquiesce to having their ears and tails tugged on by little hands, whereas a police dog by necessity requires sharper self-preservation instincts. Rogak also shares brief profiles of specific dogs working in the various service arenas. Will give dog enthusiasts plenty of reinforcement for the assertion that dogs are man's best friend.

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Dogs of Courage

The Heroism and Heart of Working Dogs Around the World

By Lisa Rogak

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Lisa Rogak
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-02175-5



On January 20, 2012, the U.S. Post Office unveiled a new series of stamps to honor a very special kind of canine: the working dog. To some people, they're also known as Dogs of Courage.

From guide dogs for the blind to search-and-rescue dogs working at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, the dogs featured on the new "Dogs at Work" series of stamps have countless chances each day to show their courage, not only to their handlers but also to any human they encounter. The sheets of 65¢ stamps show four different kinds of Dogs of Courage just doing their jobs: a military working dog, a guide dog assisting a blind owner, a therapy dog, and a search-and-rescue dog.

"We are proud to commemorate these specialized dogs on stamps," said U.S. Postal Inspection Service Homeland Security Coordinator Michael T. Butler in announcing the stamps. "These animals are critical to serving individuals with special needs and critical to enabling successful rescues."

The postal service printed eighty million sheets of the stamps, and many dog lovers said it's about time that these courageous dogs were recognized for their service.

Dogs are born with courage. It's up to the humans who surround them to draw it out of them and finesse it in a way that benefits dog, human, and society as a whole.

What Is a Dog of Courage?

Dogs of Courage are many things. Tucker, a black Lab, works alongside researchers in the Pacific Northwest to help determine the cause of a significant decrease in the orca whale population. Magellan and Moses patiently work regular stints as therapy dogs in an elementary school classroom in San Marcos, Texas, to help children strengthen their reading skills when they read books aloud to the seemingly attentive canines.

There's also Fagan, a Czech shepherd who spent eleven of his thirteen years sniffing out narcotics and chasing after bad guys with the Southaven Police Department in Memphis, Tennessee, alongside his human partners. "He was absolutely fearless," said department chief Steve Pirtle. "Fagan was truly a working dog and he loved to work."

Captain Wayne Perkins, who served as the commander of Southaven's K-9 Division, worked alongside Fagan for most of the dog's tenure. His colleague, Lieutenant Mark Little, tells a story that exemplified Fagan's bravery. "We had one pursuit that raced into Memphis, where the driver bailed out and ran into some woods," Little said. As the car's other passenger also fled the scene, "Perkins released Fagan, who followed the suspect into the woods, found him and then brought him back out of the woods. As Fagan got the driver, the driver hit him in the head, but after a few minutes of recovery time, Perkins then released the dog on the trail of the passenger in the vehicle. Fagan tracked the passenger to an apartment house about 100 yards away. He made both catches on the same case even though he had been hit."

"The only term that comes to mind is 'countless,'" said Pirtle about the number of officer injuries — even possible deaths — that Fagan had likely prevented. "We always said that if we could have taught Fagan how to drive, his handlers would have been out of jobs. He was just that good."

At the same time, a Dog of Courage could be a Hollywood dog from the 1930s who was heroic because he served as the bright spot in the day of millions of people who had the misfortune to live during the Depression.

But many more Dogs of Courage go unnoticed to all but their human companions. Their courage and valor are smaller and quieter, but no less important.

Of course, anyone who has spent any amount of time with a dog — especially one who's been abandoned and unwanted — already knows that while he may feel that he's the one saving the dog, in most cases the dog is actually saving him.

Case in point: David James Knowles from Oak Brook, Illinois, adopted Lucy, a Lab and whippet mix barely six months old with a surfeit of energy. He realized he had his work cut out for him.

Considered to be unadoptable because of her nonstop curiosity and motion, Lucy required patient training. Knowles had no way of knowing that he and Lucy had begun an eighteen-year relationship that would forever change his life.

"Life is about the simple details," Knowles said. "The simple details are what dogs understand. That's what they convey to us — the simple details for genuine quality life."

And so that's how Knowles approached training the dog. But the changes Lucy would bring to his own life would turn out to be profound. You see, at over three hundred pounds, Knowles ignored his own health while he doted on his canine companion.

It took a crisis to turn everything around. In July 2000, Lucy was diagnosed with cancer, and it served as a wake-up call for Knowles. He knew that his remaining time with her was extremely limited, but while others might have used the excuse of the loss of their best friend to wallow in self-pity — not to mention food — Knowles was inspired.

In an effort to boost Lucy's precarious health, the two began to take long walks around the neighborhood before venturing farther afield to nearby parks and forests, something that was new to the both of them. Knowles also learned about good nutrition and began to eat better.

To his delight, Knowles began to lose weight. By the time Lucy succumbed to the cancer, he had lost sixty pounds. Knowles was of course devastated, but he continued to work on his lifestyle changes, and by the end of 2001, he had lost close to half his body weight. He wrote Lucy's Lessons: Thirteen Lessons to Help You Find Joy and Happiness in Your Life, in which he detailed their history together in the form of the life philosophies that Lucy had taught him through the years.

"The lesson here is not about my weight loss," said Knowles. "Your pets want to get out and enjoy life, they want to exercise, and maybe that's a lesson for people. All of the lessons are intertwined with each other. My lifestyle changed, and that allowed me to understand the lessons she was giving me."

Indeed, Marjorie Garber, in her groundbreaking book Dog Love, writes that "the dog becomes the repository of those model human properties that we have cynically ceased to find among humans. Where today can we find the full panoply of William Bennett's Book of Virtues — from Courage and Responsibility to Loyalty and Family Values — but in Lassie and Beethoven and Millie and Checkers and Spot?"

It's no wonder that humans look up to dogs. After all, they embody many traits that people aspire to — and often fail at. This makes perfect sense, because the truth is that when it comes to people and dogs, we're not really too far apart. According to gene-mapping research, humans and dogs share about 75 percent of their DNA.

"Working dogs often act as human surrogates and share many capacities with humans," writes William S. Helton in Canine Ergonomics. "Dogs, like humans, are products of uncontrolled evolution — they were not built with a purpose in mind. Dogs, unlike machines, do jobs roughly the way humans do. ... Dogs, like humans and entirely unlike machines, are flexible. No machine in existence can replicate all the tasks a dog can be trained to do. Like people, dogs cannot really be forced to work; they must be persuaded, encouraged, threatened, or enticed and the possibility of a revolt is always present."

There have been Dogs of Courage as long as humans have had canines as their companions and their coworkers. "Dogs are sharers in human fortunes and have been since the Mesolithic Era," said Diana Schaub, professor and chairman of the Department of Political Science at Loyola College in Maryland. "Whether in times of rising or falling civilization, dogs share not only our lot but also many of our virtues and vices."

But contrary to popular sentiment, dogs don't derive their courage from their relative the wolf. Another well-known writer on dogs, Vicki Hearne, points out that a wolf "will not have the courage of a good dog, the courage that springs from the dog's commitments to the forms and significance of our domestic virtues."

Here's just a small sampling of Dogs of Courage throughout the centuries:

• In the Swiss Alps, Great Saint Bernard Pass is named for the heroic dogs who rescued hikers who had lost their way or were caught in avalanches.

• As early as the eighteenth century, police learned to train dogs to work alongside them.

• In the 1920s, the aviator Charles Lindbergh developed his flying chops with a dog named Booster sitting shotgun in the passenger seat.

• During World War II, dogs helped patrol the beaches and borders of the United States to keep an eye out for spies and intruders.

Dogs have proved their mettle in recent disasters as well, from helping to recover survivors after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 to searching for people left behind in flooded homes in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

And of course dogs played a vital role in New York City in the weeks and months after 9/11, first to search for people in the rubble and then to serve as therapy dogs for workers and volunteers who needed a bright spot in weeks filled with despair.

More courageous dogs throughout history are explored in each chapter of Dogs of Courage.

Senses: Where Dogs Excel

One of the reasons that dogs can become Dogs of Courage is because of their highly acute senses of smell and hearing. That, combined with their unique capacity for loyalty, gives most dogs the ideal skill set for doing their jobs.

When it comes to sense of smell, dogs clearly excel. Whereas humans have around forty million olfactory receptors in their noses, dogs have around two billion, which means their sense of smell can be up to one hundred times better, depending on the breed.

"Their sense of smell is so good — for instance, with a cheeseburger, we might only smell the cheese or the burger, but they smell the cheese, the pickle, the tomato, and the lettuce," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Patrick D. Spivey, a military working dog handler teamed up with Bodro, a Belgian Malinois. "It is almost as if they smell it all in 3-D."

"A dog can actually detect whether a scent is coming to his left nostril or his right," said Louise Wilson, head trainer at Wagtail UK, a company that trains dogs in several areas of detection, from explosives to drugs. "The dog's brain and the dog's nose is amazing — I don't think there is any machine that can rival their senses."

"A K-9 can find what he is looking for in a box of black pepper hidden inside a container of mothballs," says Marilyn Jeffers Walton, author of Badge on My Collar: A Chronicle of Courageous Canines.

And they can do it at a distance, too, up to 250 yards away with no distractions and about 50 yards away with wind and lots of competing scents. In fact, one study conducted at the Canine Detection Research Institute at Auburn University in Alabama — which has a department devoted to studying military working dogs — theorizes that dogs have the ability to detect the equivalent of a single drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool, which translates to fewer than five hundred parts per trillion.

"If it has an odor and that odor can be identified, you can teach a dog to locate it," said Jill Marie O'Brien, cofounder of the National Canine Scent Work Association. "The dog's nose is like a machine. Nature has created something that human beings can't duplicate artificially."

"Dogs have the incredible ability to determine the direction that a person has walked because the fact [is] that the odor in the direction walked is always fresher than the odor in older sections of the trail," explains Allen Goldblatt, of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior for Security Purposes at Tel Aviv University. "Dogs are even capable of determining the direction of travel by detecting the concentration gradient when the difference in concentration of the scent at the start of the trail was only two seconds older than the scent at the end of the trail."

And once a dog is hot on a trail, you better get out of the way. "When a dog is searching for an olfactory cue, the amount of sniffing increases, and the more difficult the task, the greater the sniff rate," Goldblatt adds.

In a remarkable example of the power of a dog's nose, Goldblatt tells this story: "In a controlled experiment, the FBI gave a Bloodhound a letter written by a woman who had moved to a new house in a different state 6 months prior to writing the letter. Using the scent from the letter, the dog was able to select the house where she had previously lived even though she had not approached the house for 6 months."

"I tell people they're buying a nose with four legs to carry it," jokes handler José "Pepe" Peruyero of the J&K Canine Academy in High Springs, Florida. "They love to eat, love to smell. It's what they live for."

Lieutenant John Pappas with the New York City Police Department agrees. "The real technology [in police work] is the dog, and a lot of it is centered on the nose," he said. "That's the most useful tool we have."

They're no slouches when it comes to hearing, either, which is at once broader and more selective than humans'. A dog can hear up to 35,000 Hz per second while humans can barely manage 20,000, which means it's a piece of cake for them to hear footsteps nearby even if a fighter jet is taking off right next to them. They're also more sensitive to high-pitched noises and have the ability to close off their inner ear, which can help them block out background sounds in order to concentrate on a noise that's directly in front of them.

It's this combination of natural sensory perfection that makes Dogs of Courage so much better attuned to the world. Sometimes it seems like they're clairvoyant and have a sixth sense that helps them to do their jobs. One bonus is that it also helps the humans around them to save a huge amount of time. "[Dogs] help the investigators try and determine if it was an arson or an accidental fire," said Chief Garry Alderman of Horry County Fire Rescue in South Carolina. "[They have] helped us tremendously as far as pinpointing some arsons throughout the county. The sensitivity of their noses is just unbelievable. If we didn't have a dog, you'd have to go in there with a piece of instrumentation, and it would probably take you five times longer."

Conventional thinking in the scientific community when it comes to a dog's abilities has come a long way. "In the eighties, we thought, Let's build a machine that can mimic the dog!" said Robert Gillette, the director of the Animal-Health and Performance Program in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University in Alabama. "But you can't mimic a dog. It's just a superior mechanical working system. So in the nineties we began to think, Hmm, let's put some of that research into the animals."

Significantly, training methods have changed as well. "You used to wait until the dog did something wrong, then corrected it," said Michele Pouliot, director of research and development at Guide Dogs for the Blind. "Now you're rewarding a behavior you like before it goes wrong. If you're constantly on top of him — punishing, punishing, punishing — that behavior is not going away. You have to get that dog to try to figure out what you want."

Indeed, the study of dogs is spreading throughout the culture. It's not just for dog trainers anymore and may go a long way toward helping those who are experts in the study of humans to expand their horizons. "For psychologists, dogs may be the next chimpanzees," said the psychologist Paul Bloom. Bruce Blumberg chose to address this question by offering a course at the Harvard Extension School titled "The Cognitive Dog: Savant or Slacker." It turned out that Blumberg was on to something; the topic was so intriguing that the course quickly turned into the second-largest psychology course offered that semester, though Blumberg came in for a fair bit of criticism for suggesting that dogs could ever be slackers.

"In the last couple of years there have been a number of scientific studies ... on certain social problems involving humans, [and] dogs seem to be better able to perform the task than chimpanzees," said Blumberg. "For example, using pointing gestures to find hidden food is something the dogs respond to better than chimps. A dog has been shown to learn words really, really quickly based on one or two repetitions, so they are able to associate a novel word with a novel object. This is something never seen in chimps."

Every Dog Needs a Job

Whether they do it full- or part-time, all Dogs of Courage are working dogs, and in many cases they're just doing what they were born to do.

In fact, dogs have always worked. It's been only in the last few decades that humans have thought the best way to treat dogs is to coddle them, serving as a kind of helicopter parent to their canine companion.

Certainly, some breeds do best as companion dogs, particularly the toy breeds. However, the vast majority of dogs — like people — thrive when they have a task to perform that serves a useful purpose. And when they don't, watch out.


Excerpted from Dogs of Courage by Lisa Rogak. Copyright © 2012 Lisa Rogak. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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