Dogs provide incredible value to many people during normal, day-to-day life. They not only provide emotional benefits via the unconditional love and companionship they offer, but they are also capable of providing real, tangible health benefits, ranging from reduced blood pressure to improved cardiovascular health.
These benefits are well chronicled and discussed frequently in both pet- and health-related circles. But unfortunately, the value dogs can provide in survival situations is rarely a topic of discussion. We’ll try to correct this issue below, as we discuss a few of the myriad ways in which dogs make amazing companions for those trying to survive during difficult times.
First Thing’s First: Your Dog’s Breed Matters
Before getting into the specific ways in which dogs can help you in a survival situation, we must first acknowledge that domestic dogs vary incredibly in terms of size, disposition and the aptitudes they possess. Any breed can provide comfort and companionship, but some breeds (and mixtures thereof) will undoubtedly prove more useful than others when the SHTF.
A Great Dane, for example, will obviously provide greater assistance in an encounter with a grizzly bear or human adversary than a Chihuahua will. But that doesn’t mean giant breeds are always better survival companions. After all, a 200-pound dog needs much more food than a lapdog does.
However, even the tiniest terrier would still be a useful watchdog, who could help alert you to potential dangers. But ultimately, the ideal dog for a survival situation would likely be medium to large in size and a member of the working or sporting group. This would include specific breeds such as the Rottweiler, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, pit bull, Newfoundland and just about any pointer, Spaniel or retriever.
Four Ways a Dog Will Help You Survive
Having discussed some of the breeds likely to be most helpful in a survival situation, it is time to turn our attention to four different ways in which a good dog will help you stay alive.
1. Most Canines Make Great Watchdogs
Just about any dog of any size will serve as a good watchdog. But it is important to understand that “watchdog” is not a synonym of “guard dog,” “sentry dog,” or “attack dog.”
Watchdogs are simply expected to remain alert for signs of danger. If they notice something amiss, such as a faint and unfamiliar odor or an unusual sound far off in the distance, they’ll alert their human by barking. In fact, most dogs will provide these services without any training at all. But guard, sentry and attack dogs are expected to take further action in the face of danger, and they’ll usually require extensive training to do so.
Nevertheless, a barking dog of any size will often discourage large predators (who are often risk-averse) from approaching your camp, and they’ll also make it hard for humans with bad intentions to sneak up on you.
2. Some Dogs Can Help You Procure Food
Humans have been leveraging canines to put food on the dinner table for thousands of years, and many continue to do so in modern times. However, the degree to which a dog will help you secure food varies based on a variety of factors.
In an ideal scenario, you’d find yourself equipped with a rifle, shotgun or bow and in the company of a bird-flushing or tracking dog who’s already an experienced hunter. In such situations, you should have no trouble sustaining yourself and your dog with quail, rabbit, or other small game.
But other circumstances may require you to be more creative. Some water-loving dogs, for example, display a surprising aptitude for catching large fish in their jaws. You’ll likely want to be standing at the ready, with a stick in hand to pummel the fish once your dog drops it.
Alternatively, you may find the combination of your dog’s nose and sense of curiosity will allow you to find things like the eggs of ground-nesting birds, as well as those of turtles or snakes. Varmint-killing breeds (such as most terriers) may be naturally inclined to dig up burrows containing squirrels, chipmunks and other critters.
3. Some Large Breeds Will Help Defend You from Threats
While people may sometimes believe that their dog is more willing to protect them from danger than is actually true, most dogs will provide some degree of protection from threats.
Large, confident breeds may be willing to bite aggressive people or wildlife, which will cause most to turn tail and flee. For that matter, the mere presence of an imposing dog will dissuade many predators and humans. But even the frantic barking and ankle-biting of a lapdog may help you get the upper hand on a foe if you find yourself in a physical confrontation.
Just remember that dogs are not infallible defenders – they can become injured in altercations too. Because you likely love your dog and won’t have access to veterinary care in a survival situation, you’ll want to do your best to limit the risks you expose him to.
4. Dogs Can Serve as a Source of Labor
Dogs – especially large, strong individuals – can also contribute meaningful amounts of labor. You may, for example, fit your dog with a crude backpack to help lug things around. Most canines can haul about 10% of their body weight without issue, and you may be able to gradually increase this amount over time if your dog appears up to the task. This could be helpful when hauling water or fish from a creek to your camp or collecting firewood.
Some dogs can also make effective sled pullers. Huskies and others have been doing so for decades, and they continue to do so in competitions like the Iditarod. More simply, dogs who like to play tug of war can easily be trained to help cinch knots, move large tarps, or pull fish traps from the water.
It is important to note that dogs also present a few challenges to survivalists. They may, for example, bark at inopportune times, and they’ll increase the amount of food you must procure on a daily basis. However, on balance, we think that you’ll agree that the benefits they provide will outweigh the liabilities they create, and a good dog can dramatically increase your odds of surviving in a difficult situation.