Working dogs – a growing segment in the pet industry

With an ever-increasing number of working dogs, this segment offers interesting opportunities for innovative solutions in the field of nutrition and accessories. Especially now that the demand for psychiatric assistance dogs is growing.

Every dog is a working dog

Working dogs are dogs with a special task. However, from a cynological viewpoint all dogs are working dogs. Over time, we humans have created more than 300 dog breeds: each breed with a specific purpose and characteristics and bred to perform specific tasks. Although a companion pet dog also has its inbred work needs, their ability to perform tasks depends on the breed. In fact, companion dogs have a less inherent need to work than, for example, sheepdogs and hunting or tracking dogs. 

Special types of working dogs

For thousands of years already, dogs have fulfilled various functions for us humans. Starting with sheepdogs and hunting dogs, nowadays dogs assist us to carry out an increasing number of tasks. To name
but a few: dogs are used by the army, at airports, by the police, as search and rescue dogs in disasters and as assistance dogs to aid people with a disability. Based on experience in training such special needs dogs – and based on new scientific insights – it is expected that dogs will perform even more tasks in the future. 

Already, thanks to their excellent sense of smell, dogs are being used to detect cancer. But, undoubtedly, the most important role of dogs will remain as companion animal for humans!

Working dogs in healthcare

We are familiar with assistance dogs that help people with a physical or visual impairment. Increasingly, however, assistance dogs are specifically trained to assist people with psychosocial disabilities. 

Scientific research has shown that when a person strokes a dog, it has immediate beneficial effects on their heart rate, blood pressure and the level of stress hormone present in their body. 

Psychiatric assistance dogs are already successfully being used in numerous therapies with children and adolescents, including Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Interventions. The dogs mirror a client’s behaviour, leading to a process of recovery. Contact with the dog results in improvement in the psychological, social, emotional, behavioural, cognitive and physical functioning of a client. Psychiatric assistance dogs that help war veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome are also widely used.

What new developments are to be expected? 

The most striking development is the rise in demand for detection dogs. Used to detect explosives, after 9/11 such dogs are now widely used to give the ‘all safe’. A new phenomenon is the so-called whisper dog: trained to stay silent (and not bark) during work. Now that the benefits of psychiatric assistance dogs are widely recognised, it is expected that the demand for such dogs will increase, as will the demand for sniffer dogs to detect cancer. 

Focusing on the specific needs of working dogs

Working dogs need physical and mental challenges – more so than companion dogs. Providing such challenges makes for a stronger dog. It is important for a working dog that it is rewarded for its efforts. It makes the dog even more motivated to do well. Of course, mutual trust and motivation to fulfil a task together are also important. And, at the end of a working day, a dog needs well-earned rest.

As demand for working dogs grows there are many opportunities for the pet industry to latch on to.
Two of the most interesting are:

  • Food

Working dogs, whatever work they carry out,
require food with a high energy content: 3,700 - 4,200 (kcal/kg). It is important that food is easily digestible so that the digestive process does not
impair the dog’s performance. The most essential ingredient is protein. Ideally, the highest possible percentage of animal proteins is supplemented
with vegetable proteins. Of course, protein source quality is key: food that is rich in animal protein and fat supports a dog’s endurance. The demand for such innovative, high-protein dog food will increase. However, manufacturers looking to market high-protein dog food successfully internationally, must
be able to offer an affordable solution.

  • Accessories

This lucrative market is especially interesting where working dogs are concerned. After all, these dogs need a vast array of tailor-made accessories, such as covers, harnesses, shoes and much more.

This article was written in cooperation with Jeroen Oomen, Cynology Netherlands and Frank de Koning, Champ Europe.


Desirée van der Hoeven

Communication & Event Manager