The History of the Service Dog, Part I — Ancient Humans and Dogs

In celebration of International Assistance Dog Week, NEADS guest blogger Michele Fournier takes us on a journey through the history of service dogs. Come back each day this week to learn more about the history of working canines!


Annubis, Ancient Egypt, 3000 B.C.

Since 2009, International Assistance Dog Week has been celebrated in early August. It is important to honor and pay tribute to the thousands of dogs who have served their human companions as well as those who raise and train these amazing animals. Humans and dogs have enjoyed a unique and mutually beneficial relationship for tens of thousands of years. No one knows exactly when the first canine (probably a wolf) first overcame their fear of the human and entered into the camp. Initially, the dog must have lived on the outside edge of the human’s circle, eating the scraps of food left behind. But then, the humans noticed that the dog would sound the alarm and protect everyone from outside harm. Perhaps that was the beginning of the human and dog living alongside one another to hunt, live and take care of one another. We know that dogs have served as friends and helpers to people since the early days of history and some archeological finds have uncovered scenes of dogs and humans living together in a peaceful relationship. The Ancient Egyptians kept dogs as treasured pets and some even went to the expense of mummifying the dog in exactly the same way as the human was preserved for the afterlife. A fresco discovered in the ruins of an Ancient Roman city depicts a blind man being led by a dog and Chinese scrolls show similar scenes of dogs acting as a helper to a person. It is believed that prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus; the Native Americans had no notion of a domesticated animal except the dog.  These people lived with no goats, sheep, cattle, pigs or horses—only dogs were a part of their communities. Of course, we know that dogs have been used in military capacities since the Roman Empire as well. In the 1700’s dogs were used in Europe to track down wounded soldiers and carry messages to the front lines. In all of these ways, dogs have been used as “service” animals for humans, and could be considered the forerunners to the highly skilled and amazingly talented NEADS dog of today.

For more information:
Burke, Alex. “The History of Service Dogs.”

Cohen, Jennie. “Assistance Dogs: Learning New Tricks for Centuries.”  August 8, 2011

Lobell, Jarrett A. & Powell, Eric.  “More than Man’s Best Friend. “ Archeological Institute of America. Vol 63, No 5 Sept/Oct 2010.

“Service Dogs Through History—Work, Friendship, and Loyalty.”

Schwartz, Marion. A History of Dogs in the Early Americas. “The Creation of the American Dog.” Yale University Press: 1997.

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