How Do Working Dogs Alert Their Handlers?

Working dogs, such as police, hunting, and medical alert dogs, are carefully trained to tell their handlers when something important is happening. While the cues may vary from task to task, both vocal and non-vocal signals are used by the dogs to get their points across.


Police Dogs

Police dogs are taught to alert their handlers according to the type of job they perform. Dogs used to sniff out drugs are often taught a combination of vocal and visual signals. For example, a dog that hones in on the scent of marijuana may bark to get his handler's attention and then scratch the location of the smell. Tracking dogs, those used to hunt down and locate people hiding from the police, most often whine or bark quietly as they approach their quarry, and will howl and bark loudly once they've located the individual in question.

Search and Rescue Dogs

Search and rescue dogs may be used to locate survivors or decedents of disasters, and normally alert their handlers with vocal cues. Search and recue dogs often travel out of sight as they search for people, and will bark to show their handlers which direction they are heading. As they pick up on a human scent, their barking and vocalization gets louder and more excited, often coming out in high, sharp barks. Once they locate the source of the scent, many search and rescue dogs are trained to sit or lie down over the area to mark the spot for their handlers.

Hunting Dogs

The type of cues used by hunting dogs depends on the type of game and condition of the territory. Flushing dogs, for example, sniff the area to pick up the scent of their quarry, stalk up on it quietly, and then bound into the underbrush in a flurry of barking. Retrieving dogs are generally less vocal, watching the sky and listening to the sound of the bird hitting the water to make an accurate retrieval. Earthdogs, such as those trained to flush out rodents or those used in earthdog trials, hold their tails high and bark loudly to push game up out of the ground. Coon hunting and hog dogs bark, howl and growl as they pursue their game, using their vocal sounds to not only alert their handlers, but to startle their prey out of their hiding places.

Medical Alert Dogs

Medical alert dogs, such as seeing-eye dogs, seizure-alert dogs, and psychiatric service dogs, are normally low-key and alert their handlers in quiet, non-startling ways. If a blind person is wandering into a dangerous area, his dog may gently grab his pant leg or hand with his mouth. Seizure-alert dogs can be more forceful, bumping or pawing at their owners if they feel a seizure coming on. Psychiatric service dogs are those used to relax people with psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, and often stay calm to keep their owners in stressful situations. They may sit on their owner's laps, rub against them for petting, and provide a stable source of companionship in new or uncomfortable places.

By Louise Lawson

About the Author
Louise Lawson has been a published author and editor for more than 10 years. Lawson specializes in pet and food-related articles, utilizing her 15 years as a sous chef and as a dog breeder, handler and trainer to produce pieces for online and print publications.