A dog may be man’s best friend but it doesn’t have to end there. Throughout history, human beings have relied on their four legged friends’ special skills and unique talents. We all know about sheep dogs, guide dogs and sniffer dogs – but how much further can you develop canine characteristics such as intelligence, loyalty and dedication? Here are 5 incredible examples of going above and beyond, doggy style.

Sniffing out fungus

Dry rot in buildings is a serious problem that can cause timber decay and potentially disastrous structural damage, and period buildings are particularly affected. Whereas invasive investigations used to be the norm to establish the presence and spread of the problematic fungus serpula lacrymans, specially trained dogs are now employed to detect traces of any fungal infestation at the very beginning and long before the human nose catches a whiff of it.

Rot detection is an important job and it requires a four legged candidate with good scenting ability, single-mindedness and the willingness to work, plus at least 6 months’ specialist training. Here’s an example of Pip the Sprocker Spaniel at work. The firm of historic building surveyors considers her services so valuable, she even has her own profile on the company’s team page! The video below shows Sam, one of Pip’s predecessors in action.

Special Ops Dog

The Columbian Air Force has a secret weapon up their camouflaged sleeves. They’ve been training dogs of various breed for special operations for nearly 30 years, for rescue operations, sniffing out drugs, explosives and foreign currency notes. But that’s only half the story. “In many parts of our geography it is complicated for our armed forces to reach in certain methods of transportation, be it by land or helicopter. So we found the need for different specialized dogs to be able to reach those remote areas,” explains Maj. Bayajordo Jose Rodriguez.

That’s why their dogs are not only trained in search and rescue work as part of an elite anti-terrorist team, they also go through parachute and skydiving training at an air force base near Bogota, known as the ‘palace of dogs’. Just take a look at this jump from over 1,000 feet above the ground, human and dog strapped together in perfect synergy.

Anyone for tennis?

Four mistreated rescue dogs were trained for months for the important job of ‘ball boys’ during the Brazil Open tennis tournament in 2016. Frida, Costela, Mel and Isabelle dutifully retrieved balls during an exhibition match between Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena and Portugal’s Gastao Elias. They wowed the crowds by fetching balls that were often deliberately missed so that the dogs could show off their fetching skills.

“It’s not easy to get a dog to only pick up the lost balls, and then to give them up,” explained their coach Andrea Beckert from the Association of Animal Wellbeing, adding that “we want to show that abandoned dogs can be adopted and trained.” Tellingly, no-one seemed to be interested in the outcome of the tennis encounter – it was game, set and match for the ‘ball pups’. Specially recruited rescue dogs have chased down rogue tennis balls at various matches at the Brazil Open ever since, helping to promote the adoption of shelter dogs.

Ocean Clean Up

Black Labrador Lila first went viral when her owner taught her to dive for lobsters on the seabed off the coast of Florida. Even though Labradors are well known for the love of water and their ability to catch waterfowl, it took 2 years of training for Lila to learn to dive down 15 feet, hold her breath and pick up lobsters.

If that wasn’t amazing enough, there’s more. Lila is now part of the 4Ocean team, a business that works to remove garbage from the ocean and coastlines. While on duty retrieving bits of plastic waste from the water, she wears a branded blue 4Ocean buoyancy vest so that her human companions can keep an eye on her. She also collects plastic for beaches and shorelines and deposits them into recycling bins.

Airport Security

If you were a Border Collie, what would be your perfect job? How about chasing birds, foxes and other wildlife all day long? Piper, the furry face of the Cherry Capital Airport K-9 Team in Michigan, took his job very seriously indeed, keeping the runway clear of wildlife and keeping the Traverse City airport safe for both planes and passengers.

Clad in noise-cancelling headphones and protective goggles, he became an internet sensation soon after starting his duties in 2014 alongside his owner and airport operations manager, Brian Edwards. With his own social media accounts and a website, he soon captured American hearts – not just for his amazing skills but because he was smart, loyal and had the perfect character. He passed away in 2018 and will be sorely missed.