Topic Thread:      Pets & Companion Animals   »   Competition & Working Animals

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Competition & Working Animals

You have undoubtedly heard the expression, “Some of us have to work for a living.” Well, some pets have to work too! In the strictest sense, working animals are not considered to be pets; they are domesticated animals either bred or trained to perform a particular task or function. However, quite often a working animal bonds with its owner or handler to such a degree that it is, in fact, considered to be both pet and companion. Occasionally a pet may be trained as a working animal. This is especially true for dogs, which have proven to be the most versatile of all working animals.

Dogs collectively serve as eyes for the blind and assistants for the disabled (guide dogs), perform military and police work (police dogs), search for disaster victims and missing persons (search and rescue dogs), pull loads (sled dogs), herd and protect grazing animals (herding dogs), flush and retrieve game (hunting dogs), assist in therapy (therapy dogs), and sniff out explosives and contraband (detection dogs). Dogs have even shown the ability to locate precious minerals, identify cancerous lesions in patients and warn of impending seizures.

Horses have long been faithful servants, even helping to turn the tide of history in the Americas. The Aztecs, having never seen horses, believed the Spaniards who brought them were gods. This misconception gave Hernando Cortés the advantage he needed to conquer the Aztecs and destroy their empire. The opening of the American West was performed on the back of the horse.

The invention of steam and reciprocating engines initiated the decline in use of the horse as a beast of burden and primary mode of transportation in North America; this, looked upon from the horse’s point of view, was probably a good thing. Horses remain one of our most respected work animals, used for herding, recreational riding, nostalgic load bearing (romantic evening carriage rides and weekend hayrides) and the very popular sport of racing. In many Third World countries, horses, donkeys, mules and oxen continue to be used extensively for farming and load bearing tasks. In countries such as Afghanistan, horses are still used in warfare.

In some areas of the world, other animals serve purposes similar to those fulfilled by the horse. Most notable among these is the camel. In Saharan Africa and the Sahel, the camel is known as The Ship of the Desert due to its ability to carry heavy loads over long distances in harsh desert conditions with little food or water. Camel caravans of as many as 2,000 animals plied the trade routes of the Sahara at the height of the Islamic Empire. Today, smaller camel caravans are still in use, while camel racing has become a popular sport from Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula all the way to Mongolia and Australia!

Authored by Kenneth L. Anderson.  Original article published 29 July 2003, updated 18 November 2012.

Follow links to the right to learn more about competition and working animals. This page showcases working animals, with an emphasis on working dogs such as guide dogs, rescue dogs and therapy dogs, and some of the organizations engaged in their training, care and management. At the left margin, Related Links address topics of interest pertaining to locating a pet, protecting your pet’s well-being and health, and maximizing your pet’s quality of life. If you desire to become a pet owner, check out Pet Adoption & Rescue. If you already own a pet, you may be especially interested in Pet Care & Pet Health and Pet Products & Supplies. View the Pets & Companion Animals SiteMap for a complete list of pets and companion animals topics.

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