Dogs can be trained to do any number of things. Sit, roll over, lay down, speak and fetch. They can also be trained to do more serious activities that enrich a humans daily life such as assisting the blind and even locating tumors in the human body. Dogs can also be trained to jump from helicopters and speeding boats to rescue swimmers in distress.
In Italy, 300 specially trained Newfoundland dogs, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers (among other breeds) form the corps of canine lifeguards that help stranded swimmers each summer.
The dogs are equipped with harnesses, tow buoys for swimmers to grab or rafts for swimmers to sit on to be towed back to shore. The Italian Coast Guard and their big furry friends rescue around 3,000 people each summer.
The Italian School of Canine Lifeguards outside of Rome in Civitavecchia trains the dogs for the Italian Coast Guard and the criteria for a rescue dog is tough. While any breed will be trained, the school prefers Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands and Golden Retrievers because of their natural swimming abilities and instincts. All dogs must weigh at least 33 kilograms (66 pounds) and works with a human lifeguard who serves in the capacity as the trainer. The animals train for three years to reach expert rescue status. The school has been training expert lifeguard canines for more than twenty years. Its very first trainee was the Newfoundland dog belonging to the founder, Ferruccio Pilenga.
I loved this story and I loved the pictures even more. The best picture I've seen in a very long time is the boat full of Newfoundland dogs. I positively adore Newfoundlands and seeing an entire boat full of them is awesome! The photo of the Newfoundland jumping from the helicopter amazed me. They are truly remarkable dogs and kudos to Italy for allowing these dogs to use their natural skills the same way the monks of St. Bernard at one time allowed the gorgeous St. Bernard dogs to use their natural skills in the Swiss Alps rescuing stranded skiers.
For more information and to see some amazing pictures (they are a must see!) of these awesome dogs, visit these articles:
MSNBC Health & Pet Health Article (article & Photos)
Times Union (photos with description only)