Dogs are not only man’s best friend. Some are also hardworking employees! Search and rescue, safety and protection, health aides, and military work are just a few of the areas that use K-9 support to help their operations run smoothly.
Regarding a job a dog can have, a Secret Service dog is perhaps the highest honor. Based in Washington, D.C., as part of the security team, these dogs are trained at an expert level. However, only the best and most responsive ones get chosen for placement, and they operate under strict guidance by professional handlers.
In the past, Belgian Malinois dogs were the only breed the Secret Service used. But since 2014, others have joined the ranks because the duties of the dogs have changed somewhat, as they now patrol the grounds surrounding the White House and need to have a temperament for weaving through public crowds.
Read on to learn more about these impressive canines helping the U.S. government function its best.
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About the Secret Service
The Secret Service was established in 1865. Its origins were very different from what they are today. In the mid-19th century, America’s financial system was still new, and counterfeiting was widespread.
The Secret Service’s initial purpose was to check out counterfeit attempts and preserve the integrity of national money circulation.
This changed drastically after the 1901 assassination of President McKinley. The Secret Service is now a full-time protective agency over the U.S. President, encompassing the White House grounds and Naval Observatory. In 1970, it took on foreign embassies and consulates, and in 1998 it expanded further to include several other areas:
- Political conventions
- World leader summits
- Presidential addresses
- State funerals
- Sporting events where a head of state is in attendance
- United Nations meetings
Though it’s not guaranteed, a squadron of Secret Service dogs is usually on hand to do their protective job at these events.
What Makes a Good Secret Service Dog?
Depending on the work a dog needs to do, they need specific qualifications to perform their duties well. For example, if a dog is trained to sniff out explosives, a breed with a strong sense of smell (such as a Bloodhound) will be best suited for the task.
Secret Service dogs are the James Bond of the dog world. Cunning, quick, and unendingly loyal, they don’t hesitate to follow directives. It’s amazing that, though the government has tried to craft machines to do the same job, nothing still beats the instincts and abilities of a dog.
When it comes to protecting the highest human office in the country, only top dogs meet the qualifications.
A Secret Service dog must follow orders from its handlers with zero hesitation. A dog is sometimes the first line of defense if there is a threat present.
Pups chosen for this elite task begin at eight weeks old and complete 20 hours of training before they’re ready to go on the job. Once employed, they retrain for eight hours a week and usually stay in their position for about ten years.
For purposes of training, independent or aloof dogs don’t make good choices. The Secret Service needs to choose a breed that will respond immediately and continue to strive to please their handler long-term.
For some of the expected work, Secret Service dogs need to be quick on their feet and able to maneuver obstacles. If security assesses a threat, they want a dog that will be up to the physically demanding work necessary to protect their boss.
A dog that tends to be a couch potato is not a good option for this work. The more energetic, the better!
Secret Service dogs essentially guard dogs on a government scale. Part of the efficacy of the job is all in the image. A dog that’s cute and pettable doesn’t exactly deter someone with malicious designs on a government official.
So, of course, the dog needs to appear a certain way for this sort of work. No one wants to mess with someone who’s flanked by a large, intimidating breed! A Terrier or other small dog wouldn’t have the same effect.
What’s more, these dogs are trained to attack and bite if it comes down to protection against a real threat and not just deterrence. So a dog weighing almost as much as the human it’s attacking – is the only way to go.
Secret Service Dog History
Since 1976, police dogs have been used to protect areas where the president might appear in public. With the expansion of the Secret Service’s duties, more dogs have been added to the force with each decade.
These K-9 safety agents travel to state locations just as protective workers do. A service dog can fly as many as 30 times in its career! As part of the Emergency Response Team (ERT), these tactical animals are trained to attack if needed but will also halt mid-air if their handler assesses the person under attack is no longer a threat.
The schooling a service dog undergoes is rigorous and extensive. The police who train and handle them 24/7 sometimes come under fire for overworking their dogs. But the reality is that the canines they choose are built for this sort of work.
There’s nothing a good police dog loves more than performing his job well and receiving praise from his trainer!
Traditionally, a Belgian Malinois is a favorite choice for the job. In recent years, however, other breeds have entered the workforce and proven their ability to match the Malinois in work ethic and trainability. Shepherds are just as hardworking and have the loyalty that makes them dependable to their trainers.
Though Labradors and various Hounds are used for some police work, they’re not quite cut out for the high-ops scale that a Secret Service dog requires.
The Winning Breed: Belgian Malinois
The Malinois has every quality the government might want in a protective agent. They are:
- Extremely fast on their feet, reaching running speeds of 25mph.
- Incredibly smart and responsive to training.
- Powerful and aggressive (if trained to be so).
- Able to attack and bite if needed.
- Confident and unlikely to react to loud noises or other distractions.
- Healthy and hardy so they can work for many years.
The many qualities that make the Belgian Malinois an ideal service dog are the same that prohibit it from being a good family pet. Their height and athletic bulk, sky-high energy levels, and tendency towards protective aggression mean the Malinois is not a good option for a household – especially those with small children.
The Runner-Up Breed: German Shepherd
Anyone who’s owned a GSD knows that they possess an unparalleled loyalty to their human and an insatiable drive to work. These characteristics make them a perfect addition to the K-9 police force.
Though perhaps a little less intense than a Malinois, a German Shepherd holds many of the same qualities. Their athleticism means they can easily handle any physical situation, and their wolf-like appearance deters many a threat before it becomes a dangerous reality.
The Labrador and Golden Retriever are two more breeds you might see drifting around state events, doing their professional duties. The reason they aren’t as common as the Malinois or German Shepherd is due to their cuddly appearance. When a police agent wants to intimidate, a beautiful yellow dog who looks like he’s smiling isn’t the greatest breed for the job.
Government agencies sometimes utilize Bloodhounds and other scent hounds for their amazing capacity to smell out a certain item or person. However, this is more for search-and-rescue efforts and bomb-sniffing work.
One wrong move, a brief moment of hesitation, could change the course of American history. It’s no joke that the job of a Secret Service dog is an important one. In most cases, they are held to the same standard as their human handlers!
Fortunately, there are dog breeds available that possess all the characteristics needed to protect and defend the U.S. president. The loyalty, work ethic, trainability, and intensity of the Malinois and German Shepherd are what help keep the president safe, deterring dangerous threats from the White House and other state locations.
These beautiful and impressive dogs truly deserve a place in U.S. history for the high caliber of work they do.