Dogs have been known to work alongside humans for years. We employ them as service dogs, search and rescue aids, and military troopers.
In Italy, there’s a new way that dogs finding a place in society and that’s at the beach.
Thanks to the Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs, dogs are being trained as lifeguards and can patrol the waters along the coast.
The school has trained 350 dogs to work as lifeguards. Each dog has a trainer and the teams are tasked with watching 30 of the country’s most popular beaches.
Dogs are eager to perform, fearless, and strong. Because of their characteristics and intensive training, they’re able to jump from helicopters to save at-risk swimmers and swim into the surf to rescue people. The Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs believes their dogs save 20 to 30 lives each year, and the number continues to climb.
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59-year-old Ferruccio Pilenga had the idea to train dogs to be lifeguards back in 1989. He had a Newfoundland dog named Mas who was a powerful swimmer and it inspired him to train other dogs to save lives.
In an interview with The Times, Pilenga said, “[Mas] pulled a water-filled dinghy with three people on board for half an hour. A human cannot do that.”
The training program the dogs go through to become lifeguards is extremely intensive. It includes 18 months of “basic training” followed by specialty training in lifesaving techniques.
The dogs and their trainers that complete the program are thought to be especially effective in responding to large-scale life or death events. When multiple swimmers are in need, a lifeguard dog can perform at a higher capacity than a human lifeguard.
Speaking with Great Big Story, Plienga said, “To be able to use a dog in a water rescue mission gives the rescuer a leg up. The rescuer who operates on his own is alone. We are never alone. We are always in a team with our dog so it’s a six-legged unit. I can conserve my energy and become a more effective rescuer.”
Not only do dogs perform at a high level during stressful situations, but they also bring a sense of lightness to tough situations. Dogs can help alleviate stress and fear in those that they’re saving which can play a huge role in the rescue’s outcome. Speaking from experience having worked as a lifeguard for years, panicked swimmers are much harder to rescue and more likely to go unconscious than those who remain calm – and a dog can help people remain calm.
“The presence of the dogs helps to lighten up the situation. The biggest reward is the emotion that the dog and the owner feel at the moment of the rescue, which further unites that special bond between dog and human,” Plienga explained to Great Big Story.
Currently, Italy is the only country that recognizes canine lifeguards. Hopefully other countries follow their example and create training centers for rescue dogs.
Watch the video below to learn more:
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