The Hero Hound. The Dog Who Became Famous for Saving Lives


Dogs have a long history of helping humans in a variety of ways, from herding and hunting, to providing security and companionship. Some breeds stand out for their iconic roles in search and rescue efforts. When people are lost or in danger, these intelligent and brave dogs are ready to find and save them. This article will highlight the most famous dog breeds renowned for locating and rescuing humans.

We’ll explore the background, characteristics, and rescue accomplishments of breeds like the St. Bernard, Newfoundland, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Siberian Husky, Bloodhound, Collie, and Golden Retriever. Understanding the origins and skills that make these dogs ideal for rescue work can deepen our appreciation for their life-saving service. While difficult to definitively rank one breed over another, we’ll review their notable achievements and how certain breeds rose to widespread fame and recognition.

St. Bernard

St. Bernards have a long history as mountain rescue dogs in the Swiss and Italian Alps, originally bred by monks at the Great St. Bernard Pass to search for lost travelers. According to the Smithsonian, monks at the St. Bernard Hospice first started using the dogs for mountain rescues in the early 18th century. The most famous St. Bernard rescue dog was Barry, who saved over 40 lives during his career in the 19th century.

st. bernard history as rescue dogs in the alps

St. Bernards became famous as rescue dogs in popular culture in the 1800s and early 1900s. Images of St. Bernards with brandy barrels around their necks searching for lost travelers in snowstorms became iconic, even though the brandy barrel myth was not accurate. St. Bernards are still associated with alpine rescues and are considered a symbol of search and rescue dogs, even though they no longer serve actively in mountain rescue operations.


The Newfoundland dog breed originated in Newfoundland, Canada, where they were bred as working dogs by fishermen. Known for their excellent swimming skills, strong work ethic, and sweet temperament, Newfoundlands have a long history as water rescue dogs.

According to the American Kennel Club, Newfoundland dogs were relied upon by Canadian fishermen for dramatic water rescues as early as the 17th and 18th centuries. Their natural instinct to rescue people in distress in the water made them indispensable companions during that time period.

One of the most famous Newfoundland dogs was a dog named Seaman who accompanied explorers Lewis and Clark on their expedition of the Louisiana Purchase. Seaman helped the explorers hunt for food, warned them of approaching dangers, and even rescued members of the expedition from drowning.

Other well-known Newfoundland dogs include Swansea Jack, who is credited with saving over 25 lives in the early 1900s, and Titus, an award-winning lifesaving dog who served with the Italian Coast Guard in the late 1800s. Their legacy as lifesavers and companions continues today.

Labrador Retriever

The Labrador Retriever has a long history as a water rescue dog. The breed originated in Newfoundland, Canada where they were used by fishermen to retrieve fish and equipment from the cold North Atlantic waters (Source). Their water-resistant coats, muscular builds, and webbed paws made them excellent swimmers and ideal for the job.

One of the most famous Labrador life-savers was Endal, who assisted his disabled owner in a variety of day-to-day tasks. In 2001, Endal even rescued his owner from a dangerous situation where his wheelchair had rolled into the path of an oncoming car. Endal threw himself over the owner’s body to protect him from injury until help arrived (Source).

Today, Labrador Retrievers continue to be one of the most popular breeds for service dogs that assist people with disabilities. Their loyal and gentle temperament, combined with high intelligence and strong work ethic, makes them well-suited for guiding the blind, detecting seizures, and other important jobs where they can save lives.

German Shepherd

german shepherd war dogs and service dogs

The German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds for police, military, guide, and rescue work. Their intelligence, trainability, strength, and loyalty make them excellent working dogs. Some of the most famous German Shepherds in working roles include:

Rin Tin Tin was a legendary Hollywood dog star in the 1920s known for his acting ability. He starred in 27 Hollywood films and helped popularize the German Shepherd breed. Rin Tin Tin was rescued from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier.

Strongheart was another famous 1920s German Shepherd movie star known for portraying “wolf” roles onscreen. He later went on to promote kindness to animals.

Blondi was Adolf Hitler’s German Shepherd who was constantly by his side in the 1940s. She was part of Hitler’s propaganda efforts to portray him as an animal lover.

Gander was a Canadian German Shepherd war dog who saved Canadian soldiers by grabbing a grenade in his mouth and carrying it away from them during World War II. He lost his life in the act.

Sgt. Stubby was a stray puppy adopted by soldiers training for World War I combat. He warned troops of gas attacks and incoming artillery fire. He was the most decorated war dog of World War I and became a national celebrity.

Apollo was a Swiss search and rescue dog who found many survivors in the aftermath of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. He searched day and night for weeks after the tragedy.

Siberian Husky

The Siberian Husky played a heroic role in the famous Serum Run of 1925, where sled dogs transported lifesaving medicine 674 miles across Alaska in just 5 1/2 days. An outbreak of diphtheria had struck Nome, Alaska and the only serum that could stop the epidemic was in Anchorage. The Serum Run is considered one of the most famous feats of mushing. Siberian Huskies like Togo and Balto led sled dog teams racing against time to deliver the medicine and save the town.

siberian huskies in the famous serum run of 1925

Leonhard Seppala was the musher who made the longest and most hazardous part of the journey across the icy Norton Sound. He had a lead dog named Togo who covered 260 miles during a round trip to and from Nome. Togo was 12 years old at the time and considered by many to be the true hero of the Serum Run. Together with around 150 other sled dogs, their collective effort to transport the medicine is credited with saving the town.


The Bloodhound is one of the oldest breeds of scent hounds and has a long history of tracking lost people. Bloodhounds have an exceptional sense of smell thanks to their large, droopy ears which help stir up scents from the ground. Their ability to follow even the faintest scent trail makes them invaluable for search and rescue operations.

One of the most famous examples of a Bloodhound’s tracking abilities is a dog named Nick Carter. In 1938, Carter successfully followed a 64-hour old scent trail over 130 miles to locate a missing 5-year-old child alive and well. Thanks to Carter’s keen nose, the little girl was reunited with her family.

More recently, a Bloodhound named Pudding helped police locate an 82-year-old woman with dementia who wandered away from her home in 2007. Pudding managed to follow the woman’s scent trail for two miles through a busy town center and locate her safe and sound. Stories like these demonstrate why the Bloodhound remains the gold standard for scent tracking and locating lost people.


The Collie breed traces its origins back centuries to the Scottish Highlands where they were used as herding dogs (source). Valued for their intelligence and loyalty, Collies became popular as family pets in the late 19th century when Queen Victoria brought one into the royal household. Their popularity further increased in the 20th century through movies and television shows starring the famous Collie, Lassie (source). Today, Collies are still known to be gentle, playful, and extremely intelligent dogs that excel at various jobs such as search and rescue, therapy work, and of course, herding.

Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever has a long history as a water rescue dog. According to the Golden Retriever Experience California (source), the breed originated in Scotland in the mid-19th century. The original Golden Retrievers were bred to be gundogs and assistance dogs who could retrieve waterfowl from land or water. Their water-repellant coats and webbed feet made them well-suited for swimming and working in cold conditions.

One famous example of a Golden Retriever water rescue dog was Buster. According to the Golden Retriever Rescue Tampa (source), Buster served with the Italian Coast Guard’s canine rescue unit in the late 1990s and early 2000s. During his career, Buster participated in over 100 rescue missions and reportedly saved the lives of over 300 people who were drowning at sea. His dedication and lifesaving skills made him a canine hero in Italy.


In summary, some of the most famous and effective rescue dog breeds include the St. Bernard, Newfoundland, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Siberian Husky, Bloodhound, Collie, and Golden Retriever. Each of these breeds have unique qualities that make them well-suited for search and rescue work.

conclusion on top rescue dog breeds

St. Bernards are probably one of the most iconic rescue dogs, known for carrying barrels of brandy to help revive lost travelers in the mountains. Their large size, strength, endurance in cold weather, and sense of direction serve them well in alpine rescues (AKC).

Newfoundlands also excel in cold environments and water rescues due to their muscular build, webbed feet, and waterproof coat. Their brave and gentle nature makes them ideal for helping save drowning victims (A-Z Animals).

While all these breeds have contributed their skills and devotion to the vital work of search and rescue, it’s clear any dog with the proper training and temperament can help save lives.

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