Italy’s lifeguard dogs work with humans to create a ‘six-legged unit’ for water rescues
If you’re enjoying the gorgeous waters off the coast of Italy and find yourself swept out by a riptide or a rogue wave or in some other kind of water peril, you might be surprised by who comes to save you.
Lifeguards on Italy’s beaches will sometimes bring a canine companion along with them to assist with water rescues. These aren’t just any old dogs—they’re specially trained lifeguard dogs who are paired with a human, making a “six-legged unit” that’s able to paddle multiple swimmers to safety.
According to Ferruccio Pilenga, president of the Italian School for Lifeguard Dogs, our furry friends make ideal lifeguard partners because they are able to remain calm under pressure and instinctively choose the safest path through the water currents to get back to shore safely.
And because the dogs are able to keep both the rescuer and the person(s) being rescued afloat, they allow the human lifeguard to conserve energy and focus on being a more effective rescuer.
“I always say, to pull a sled you need at least six dogs.To pull six people, you only need one dog,” shares Pilenga.
The lifeguard school has over 350 certified rescue dogs. They currently save between 20 and 30 people a year, with those numbers increasing each year. These heroes jump from speeding boats and helicopters to reach people in distress. The training is rigorous and exhausting, but the dogs seem to enjoy it.
Pilenga started the training school after his own dog, a Newfoundland named Mas, rescued his daughter when she was struggling to stay above water in a lake as a young child.
Newfoundlands make great water rescue dogs with their thick double coats, webbed feet, and immense size and strength that allows them to pull large loads behind them as they swim. But other breeds of dogs are trained at the Italian School for Lifeguard Dogs as well. The school is serving as an inspiration for other countries to utilize dogs to aid in water rescues. In fact, there’s even an American Academy of Canine Water Rescue in Massachusetts.
What a wonderful way to use a dog’s natural strengths to save lives.
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