Off the coast of Italy, distressed swimmers are getting more than just a human lifeguard-they are also getting a dog.  There are some 300 fully-trained “Lifedogs” helping to keep swimmers safe at popular Italian beaches during the summer months.  These specially trained canine lifeguards wear a harness and can tow swimmers needing assistance back to safety by providing them with a buoy or a raft to sit on.  The dogs can easily jump from speeding boats or helicopters, and have been credited with saving several lives each year.

According to a story on NPR, dogs can complete the training at schools such as the Italian School for Canine Lifeguards, which is located outside of Rome.   To earn the license, the human-dog teams are required to pass a series of difficult tests on both the ground and in the water. It takes about three years of training and working alongside a human lifeguard for the dogs to reach expert rescue status. 

Dog lifeguards can be extremely helpful, because unlike humans, the dogs are not scared of dangerous tides or large waves.  To them, the rescue is more of a game.  The dogs are also able to contain the fatigue of the lifeguard, and can allow for three people to be saved at a time, reducing the need for back-and-forths.  Most breeds can be trained, but the best candidates are Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and Newfoundlands because of their natural instinct for swimming and their calm nature.  The presence of a dog after the rescue can be calming, especially if the victim is a child. 

Have you ever witnessed a rescue by a human-dog team?

Photo by Vurnman.

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About The Author

Christie Erdman, a guest contributor to the Healthy Travel blog, is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond with a degree in Economics and Marketing. She enjoys traveling, and had the opportunity to spend a semester studying at Universita Bocconi in Milan, Italy during her junior year.

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