Italy’s Coast Guard has K9 lifeguards who can leap from helicopters or speeding boats to aid swimmers in trouble. The Newfoundland dogs have a minimum of three years training before they can jump from moving transports and are considered expert rescuers.
Their tremendous strength and swimming ability means these dogs can paddle to shore with a person quite easily. They wear special harnesses or can tow a buoy or raft over to the person in trouble. Over 300 dogs are on duty at beaches throughout Italy, where millions of people visit each summer. The Italian Coast Guard says it rescues about 3,000 people every year, with their canine helpers credited with saving several lives.
Here’s a video of these amazing dogs jumping out of a rescue helicopter.
Roberto Gasbarri who coordinates the program at one of the 10 schools (called the Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio or Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs in English) says: “Dogs are useful in containing the physical fatigue of the lifeguard, to increase the speed at which casualties are retrieved, to increase the security of both the casualty and of the lifeguard. The dog becomes a sort of intelligent lifebuoy. It is a buoy that goes by itself to a person in need of help, and comes back to the shore also by himself, choosing the best landing point and swimming through the safest currents.”
In addition to Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are also trained because of their natural instinct for swimming and their size. Many trainers say the dogs retrieve instinctively and see it as a game, rather than work.
Great Big Story explains the work that these doggie lifeguards do in the video below.
Here’s another video – it’s in German so switch on captions as required.
And if you’d like a “deep dive” into how these dogs (and people) train to become lifeguards, here’s a 24 minute documentary.