Most dog owners agree that their furry friend is amazing. Some can do tricks, while others win competitions, and almost all can lift your spirit just by wagging their tails. However, there is a class of canines that specialize in navigating their owners’ worlds, protecting the public, and assisting first responders. Meet seven dogs who dedicate their lives to serving others.
Which Breeds Are Heroes?
Many dogs are capable of heroic feats, however, some breeds are easier to train and more popular among service training organizations. These include three main breeds: German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers. All three breeds are known for their intelligence, trainability, focus, activity levels, and loyal nature.
Per the American Kennel Club (AKC), other common service dog breeds include:
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Great Danes
- American Staffordshire Terriers
Hero Dog Awards
Dogs are trained to help everyday people and those in specific occupations as well. The American Humane Hero Dog Awards recognize outstanding canines in five categories:
- Law Enforcement and First Responder Dogs
- Service and Guide/ Hearing Dogs
- Therapy Dogs
- Military Dogs
- Emerging Hero and Shelter Dogs
Each year, owners or authorized agents submit an entry form with their dog’s photograph and a short essay describing their pup’s heroic work. The awards were first held in 2011 and have recognized seven to eight fantastic dogs annually. Although only one receives the title of “Hero Dog,” all the finalists are superstars who support their families and communities every day.
2023 Hero Dog Winner
Maverick, a European Blue Great Dane and registered therapy dog, took home the crown for 2023’s Hero Dog winner. This six-year-old, 150-pound bundle of sunshine was honored for his work with American troops and their families. One of Maverick’s most important roles is providing comfort and affection for troops battling with mental health illnesses. His positive energy helps military members cope with difficult emotions and trauma they experience while on active duty.
He also supports the children of military families. Maverick is there in times of deployment, injury, physical illness, and loss. This hero will accompany children during burial services and provide a soothing presence as they say their goodbyes to relatives. Maverick, we salute you!
Poppy, a Law Enforcement and First Responder Hero
A chocolate Labrador Retriever named Poppy was a runner-up this year in the Law Enforcement and First Responder category. She lives and works in Columbia, South Carolina, as a firearms and explosives detector. Poppy assists the law enforcement detection team on the University of South Carolina campus. She patrols the university with a massive smile, lets students interact with her, and makes appearances at safety presentations.
Poppy didn’t win this year, but she’s gained recognition in other competitions. She’s won second place at the United States Police Canine Association’s (USPCA) National Field Trials twice!
Raina, a Special Needs Inspiration
This Pennsylvania-based Australian Shepherd secured a spot as a finalist under the Emerging Hero and Shelter Dog group. As a dog who was born deaf and blind, Raina inspires owners and community members across the country. She is an advocate for dogs with disabilities. Together with her owner, they remind future pet parents that pups with special thrive in loving homes.
Rain and her family have worked with the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance to foster other special needs dogs. Additionally, her owner started a Lending a Paw program where students hold fundraiser concerts that benefit local shelters. Raina is an unstoppable force of paw-sitivity for all shelter dogs.
Moxie, a Service and Guide/Hearing Mini-Goldendoodle
Moxie, a Service and Guide/Hearing mini Goldendoodle, is the ultimate proof of how one dog and one owner can benefit an entire community. The five-year-old canine’s heroic abilities kicked in when her owner suffered an accident at home. Moxie’s human companion needed an ambulance but was too far from a phone. The pup ran and retrieved the phone, her owner called emergency services, and Moxie even grabbed shoes and let the paramedics in when they arrived.
This incredible story sparked the creation of Moxie’s Mission, a non-profit started by her owner and dedicated to fully financing service dogs for Veterans and those in need. In their spare time, the pair also visit schools and community events to spread awareness of service dogs and living with disabilities.
Buda, a Military Hero
The final runner-up in this year’s Hero Dog Awards was Buda, a German Shorthaired Pointer, for the Military category. Buda completed the Explosive Detection Canine Course and works with the U.S. Coast Guard, making him one of only 18 dogs with this certification on the team. His senses protect and serve thousands of people on any assignment.
Buda has participated in security measures for Superbowl LVI, New Year’s Eve patrols in Las Vegas, and San Francisco Fleet Week. He’s also conducted 75 vessel sweeps and protected attendees at music festivals, parades, and marathons. When he’s not on duty, he also visits schools and job fairs and spreads explosive safety information.
Most Heroic Dogs of All Time
This list wouldn’t be complete without the most heroic dogs of all time. In this case, two pups from Alaska earned this title. In the mid-1920s, Alaskan residents developed diphtheria, a nose and throat infection that led to breathing difficulties and even death. The small town of Nome needed treatment but was surrounded by ice, preventing ships from delivering the medication. Townspeople decided to transport the medicine via dog sled teams.
Togo, a Siberian Husky, was an inexperienced runner when he joined the team. He tapped into his inner canine athlete and ran an impressive 75 miles on his first day, completing a total of 261 miles across dangerous terrain. For the final leg of the journey, an Alaskan Husky named Balto ran another 55 miles to the town. Since Balto delivered the antitoxin, he’s often seen as the hero and earned an animated film depicting his story. However, Togo’s bravery is well-known, and a live-action retelling of his efforts was released in 2019.