The Surprising Intelligence of Dogs

The Surprising Intelligence of Dogs
February 28, 2019

Table of Contents

Search & Rescue Dogs

Service Dogs

Rescue Saves Seizing Marine Vet

Half-Breed Wolf Hybrid Rescues Elderly Couple from Snowstorm

Service Dogs for the Blind

Agility Champions

Conclusion: Our Most Friendly Assets

It’s truly amazing, what are furry little friends are capable of. In fact, as far as domesticated animals go, no other species on earth works so closely with humans to achieve a goal. From search and rescue to service dogs and far beyond, countless lives have been saved, people here today who otherwise wouldn’t be if it weren’t for dogs.

In general, biologists agree the avg. dog intelligence is close to that of a 2-3 year old human, which is actually far more impressive than it seems- considering what even children are capable of. That being said, dogs can do many things that children can’t, and in fact few humans anywhere can. When it comes to their teaching and olfactory abilities, very few animals on earth can even come close to matching them, and the ones that do can’t be trained to work alongside humans in the same way.

For example, a Brown Bear can boast the ability to smell far greater than even our legendary Bloodhounds, but no rescue worker anywhere is going to want to work with an animal just as likely to try and attack his handler. Dogs can be easily domesticated, where the other species on par with them can’t.

Search & Rescue Dogs

It is truly surprising what search and rescue dogs are capable of, intense feats not even our advanced human technology can match. Countless humans around the world would not be here today if it weren’t for these amazing animals. Feats no human tracker on earth would be able to match, like finding a lost child among millions of acres of forest, locating avalanche victims buried beneath several feet of snow, or even following a scent days old from miles away are all within their grasp.

Not every search and rescue dog works in the same way, some tracking (ground scent/trail) dogs and others picking up on air scents for area searches. One thing is the same however- both types are highly trained, immensely valuable, and extremely helpful!


Both skin particles and various gasses rise to the surface from underwater victims, providing scents for dogs to track even when bodies are completely submerged. Believe it or not, some talented dogs are even trained to follow scent particles that wash up along the sides of streams or rivers! 

Though water currents make it difficult for dogs to pinpoint the exact location of whatever they are tracking, human divers are able to use the dog’s alert points to estimate the most likely locations of their query.


If you happen to find yourself buried beneath several feet of snow, you’ll have little to hope for. Death would be pretty much guaranteed, if it weren’t for these incredibly talented avalanche dogs. An avalanche dog is able to search an entire acre in less than 30 minutes, picking up on victims buried up to 15 feet under the surface, while it would take around 20 devoted humans with avalanche probes about 4 hours to cover the same area. Imagine what you could do with 20 dogs?

About 90% of humans buried under snow will survive the first 15 minutes, assuming they haven’t suffered any fatal trauma, so speed is extremely important here. When it comes to this, there is no better rescue too on earth than a dog!

When it comes to mountain rescue, people normally imagine massive St. Bernards or Newfoundlands. Where as they do perform search and rescue work, Newfys are more often used in water rescue thanks to their swimming talents. When it comes to mountain rescue, German Shepherds, Border Collies and Golden Retrievers are often the breed of choice.

Urban disaster

This is in fact the most difficult and dangerous search and rescue specialty for both humans and dogs, since dogs will need to search for humans among fallen buildings and buried rubble. The 9/11 World Trade Center disaster was an example of an ‘urban disaster’ where search and rescue dogs were used. 

Not only do the dogs need to locate the scent of human victims, but rescue workers will then need to safely remove the rubble buried on top of those victims after managing to navigate the disaster zones themselves.

The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation actually recruits from animal shelters and rescue groups, not only potentially saving the lives of those dogs, but offering especially dedicated training. These dogs are first evaluated, partnered with canine handlers, then receive special training before testing and certification. The dogs are continuously trained after, to maintain their highly tuned skills.


In those cases where a dead body will be the likely outcome of a search, cadaver dogs, trained to detect decomposing flesh, are a highly valuable asset. This may not be a pleasant idea, and you’re probably wondering why we waste such valuable talents on the deceased, but bodies are often required to solve a case and bring those responsible to justice.

Without the assistance of these special animals, murderers would often go free and families wouldn’t receive the closure they so desperately seek.


These search and rescue dogs are trained to find lost victims in a wilderness setting, like forests, woods, desert terrain (which can actually be much more difficult than it seems), mountains or jungles. A trained search and rescue dog will dramatically increase the chances of finding a lost victim and much more quickly, which can be especially important for the lives of injured hikers, for example. 

In this case, wilderness search is the ‘bread and butter’ of the rescue searches, the dogs able to locate injured victims easier than in any other setting.

Service Dogs

A service dog describes a dog specifically trained to work with people with disabilities, and they are the absolute perfect animal for it. In fact, the U.S. department of Justice defines service animals as ‘Dogs’ specifically, meaning no other animal is capable of performing these intensive tasks reliable. In reality, there are many types of animals that can help assist disabled people, but dogs are the only ones who can be officially licensed under the ADA.

Severe Allergy Alert Dogs

Also known as ‘Anaphylaxis Prevention Dogs’, these talented dogs work with people suffering from life threatening allergies, able to sniff out & detect the presence of specific allergens in the environment and alert their human partner, preventing a possible emergency.

Autism Assistance Dogs

These highly specialized dogs are trained to act as a sort of ‘anchor’, providing both stability and safety for autistic children while helping them avoid dangerous situations, like traffic or water hazards.

Hearing Dogs

These dogs are specifically trained to alert their deaf or hearing impaired owners to common sounds like alarms, doorbells, children crying or anything else by physically nudging or pawing at their partners, alerting the handler then leading them to the sound’s source. 

Medical Alert Dogs

Emergency medical response dogs, often known as seizure alert dogs, are specifically trained to respond to a medical emergency like seizures. Many of these highly trained dogs are able to detect subtle changes in a person’s odor, sweat or behavior prior to seizing, something that humans can’t. 

These dogs are often trained to alert the owner prior to such events so they can take measures to either prevent them from happening, like taking medication, or alerting EMS while they still can.

Rescue Saves Seizing Marine Vet

Unfortunately, Pitbull type breeds have probably the worst reputation of any dog breed in existence. In reality, as any educated dog enthusiast already knows, these are all fantastic and very social breeds (ex. American Pitbull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bully). Thanks to illegal dog fighting and negative media attention, many people have negative feelings toward them.

Because these are such social dogs and fantastic companions, one elderly U.S. marine vet decided to adopt one. This vet also happened to suffer from service related seizures.

Upon the onset on one particularly violent episode, his rescue sprang to action, doing something very few dogs can. Not only did the dog manage to dig his owner’s specialized iPhone from the seizing man’s pocket, he actually dialed 911 by biting at the specially designed phone. He didn’t do this once, but several times, alerting EMS by emitting a series of uniquely trained ‘barks’. 

This is just one example of the feats service dogs are capable of, and this was a rescue- not a dog pampered and trained from birth. Who could ever imagine a dog dialing specific numbers on a phone, much less emitting a specific series of uniquely sounding barks? All this after the dog is even able to recognize the situation for what it was.

Half-Breed Wolf Hybrid Rescues Elderly Couple from Snowstorm

When the couple rescued a sick, emaciated 3 week old hybrid pup, they had no clue he would return the favor one day. You see, the elderly Fertigs ran an animal rescue in the woods behind their home.

One fateful day, when the 81 year old couple were treating injured animals in the sanctuary behind their home, a massive blizzard hit New York with astonishing speed and ferocity. The blinding blizzard, combined with fallen trees and freezing temperatures, prevented the fragile couple from making their way home. They soon lost power, and along with that, heat.

And then Shana began to do something few other dogs could, and the Furtigs certainly never expected. The powerful dog actually began to burrow underneath the fallen trees blocking the Furtig’s path home, before returning to pull her caretakers to safety.

Service Dogs for the Blind

Our eyesight and vision is probably the sense we as humans rely on the most, and few could ever imagine the devastating impact not having it could be. Thankfully, there are highly specialized dogs out there meant to be the ‘eyes’ for an owner that doesn’t have them.

These dogs are often selected from birth among some of the most intelligent breeds on the planet. Labrador Retrievers are popular candidates. They are then sent to temporary homes where foster parents begin to raise them. The dogs are then tested to see if they possess the qualities desired for the program even before training begins.

The dogs that do gain entrance into the ‘Dogs for the Blind’ program are then given very specific, intense training- more intense than almost any other service dog related task. These dogs are trained to guide their owners around obstacles, stop at road crossings, curbs and stairs, and even be trained to locate objects for the owner. But there is one very special talent, a unique ability no other service dog possesses.

These unique animals are actually trained to judge a situation, and disobey a command if they deem the situation to be unsafe. No other dog is trained to do this; every other service dog is trained to follow every command no matter what! For example, these dogs will stop their handlers before a moving vehicle, though the handler may not know it is there and orders the dog to proceed.

Agility Champions

These dogs can not only do tricks (for example- backflips) that few humans could, they aren’t difficult to train. Even better, almost any dog can compete in an agility tournament; you don’t need a ‘specially bred select animal’. 

Jumping over hurdles- just as easy for dogs as it is for humans. In fact, this is one of the easier tricks to teach. Simply scroll over to YouTube, and check out an agility competition; the real trick isn’t teaching the tasks at all. The real trick for the trainer is speed; how fast can he get the dogs to complete the course with as few faults as possible? 

Even though we are advanced humans and already know exactly what needs to be done, few people could beat many of these championship dogs at their own agility trials.

Conclusion: Our Most Friendly Assets

Dogs are widely known as man’s best friend, but they can do things no other human, or animal, on Earth can do. Dogs, from simple companions to service dogs to rescue workers, have made a difference in the lives of thousands! For those that do some simply research, dogs are surprisingly easy to train, and they can be trained to do almost anything.