Newfoundland dogs, known for their gentle demeanor, strength and swimming ability, have a long history of rescuing sailors and fishermen from the sea. For the most part, their lifesaving skills and response to a stricken swimmer have been instinctual, but today a new program established by the Italian Coast Guard is endeavoring to formalize the training of these K-9 lifeguards to help save lives.
Italian Coast Guard
The Italian School of Canine Lifeguards says the dogs are useful in reducing the physical fatigue of the lifeguard, increasing the speed at which casualties are retrieved, and increasing the security of both the casualty and the lifeguard. The dog becomes a sort of intelligent lifebuoy, according to the school, that goes by itself to a person in need of help and comes back to the shore on its own, choosing the best landing point and swimming through the safest currents.
In addition to Newfoundlands, Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers are also trained because of their natural instinct for swimming and their size. Many trainers say the dogs retrieve instinctively and see it as a game, rather than work.
The dogs are also trained to jump from helicopters and fast-moving boats to get to the victims. There are more than 300 dogs on duty on Italian beaches and they help save more than 3,000 swimmers each year.