Canine Companions: How Dogs Have Helped Humans Throughout Time

Dogs have long been known as ‘man’s best friend’. Movies such as Turner & Hooch and K-9 have been created on the back of the partnerships man and dog have made. But, where exactly did the phrase come from? According to the History World, animal domestication started during the Ice Age approximately 20,000 years ago!

Here, alongside Cliverton, who provides insurance for dog trainers, we take a look at the history of dogs and how we’ve trained them to partake certain roles.


When it comes to the history of dogs, in the Ice Age, mammals as big as mammoths were big enough to undermine both humans and wolves. While there isn’t specific evidence that shows this led to the two ‘teaming up’, archeologists who excavated an Iraqi cave found a jawbone that was over 12,000 years old and showed potential signs of domesticated breeding. This is because the structure had a smaller jawbone and teeth.

Some textbooks refer to Roman ladies having lapdogs in a bid to keep their stomachs warm and to try to cure stomach aches. It’s been suggested that dogs were the first animals to have been domesticated due to their human-like tendencies. This is because the presence of an animal has been found to have a soothing effect and helps build rapport between a therapist and their client. Be sure to check out the process of obtaining a legal and valid emotional support animal letter to make it official

So, how have dogs’ skills been used by humans to help in everyday life?

Guide dogs

The first attempt to train a dog to help someone with sight problems can date back to Paris in 1780. By 1788, a blind sieve-maker from Vienna named Josef Riesinger had people doubting that he couldn’t see following how well he trained a Spitz to help him.

Fast forward a little closer to the modern day and guide dogs were used during the First World War in a bid to help soldiers who had returned from battle suffering sight loss, often by poison. This concept was the brainchild of German doctor, Dr Gerhard Stalling, who noticed dogs were looking after a patient when he wasn’t around. While it took several exploratory attempts, by August 1916 he had opened the first guide dog school for the blind in Oldenburg. This quickly grew, and many new branches were opened across the country, training up to 600 dogs each year.

Nowadays, the UK has around 5,000 guide dog owners, with the lifetime cost of a guide dog being approximately £55,000. The partnership allows people with no sight or limited sight to continue to live their life to the fullest integrated in society.

Hearing dogs

In the same way that they are used to help with sight, dogs have the ability to work as a hearing aid. The concept for training a dog to help with hearing issues didn’t actually exist until the early 1970s following a simple request by a hearing-impaired woman. Before Mrs Elva Janke’s request, her dog naturally helped with hearing around the house before it died. This led to her enquiring whether it would be possible to train another canine to alert her in the same way.

They are used to alert individuals who are hard of hearing with their alarm clocks, oven buzzer, telephones, smoke alarms and even a baby’s cry. Generally, they are mixed breed dogs that have come from an animal shelter.

Police and military dogs

The first recorded use of canines working alongside the police force was in the 14th Century in St Malo, France. At this stage, they were solely used to guard dock installations. By 1888, the London Metropolitan Police Force used bloodhounds to track suspects in the Jack the Ripper case. While the killer evaded the law, the use of dogs continued.

In the modern day, dogs have many uses in police forces and military personnel across the world. These include, but are not limited to, narcotics detectors, explosive detectors, specialised searches, mine detection, combat trackers, and multi-purpose roles.


While there are many possible dates of when dogs were first used to herd sheep, a doctor named Johannes Caius first mentioned the ‘shepherd’s dogge’ in the 1500s and could well be the earliest reference to dogs working in this way. Fast forward to the late 18th Century, and shepherd and poet, James Hogg, stated: “Without [the sheep dog], the mountainous land of England and Scotland would not be worth sixpence. It would require more hand to manage a flock of sheep and drive them to market than the profits of the whole were capable of maintaining.”

Sheepdogs are responsible for keeping flocks of sheep in line when moving them. They are thought to be the safest and most efficient means available, because sheep aren’t scared of a sheepdog that is well trained.

Animal-assisted therapy

There are roots in ancient Greece when it comes to animal-assisted therapy when the Greeks used animals – normally horses – to boost the spirits of those who were severely ill. However, dogs also have a place in the history books regarding animal-assisted therapy.

In the 1880s, Florence Nightingale noted that small pets were a good way to reduce levels of anxiety and stress, and this is still something which is used to date. In the 1960s, the first formal research on this theory was undertaken. Dr Boris Levinson discovered a dog provided a positive effect on young patients who were mentally impaired.

There are many purposes for animal-assisted therapy, including improving self-esteem, enhancing social skills, and helping with post-traumatic stress disorder. This is because the presence of an animal has been found to have a soothing effect and helps build rapport between a therapist and their client.

Simply pets

Finally, while it’s clear that dogs have many positive uses in a work sense, they also help by simply being a pet. Their companionship offers a great way to reduce our anxiety or stress levels and can provide the motivation needed to take part in exercise. This is because dogs require a lot of exercise, so you must take part in the activity too. Then, in doing so, you open yourself up for the social aspect also. Walking your dog can lead to conversations and bonds forming with other dog walkers and helps those who are perhaps socially withdrawn.

Research has found that people who have more friends and social relationships are generally mentally healthier. Also, by stroking them, it provides a sense of calmness, while caring for a pet can add a purpose and reward to your day too, which can help combat depression.

With so many great benefits, it’s clear that a dog really can be the best friend for a human.

Diana Simpson

Diana is a passionate journalist and a curious soul who is on the quest of finding what she loves the most; coffee, dogs, books or traveling? Born and bred in London, writing is her healing power.