Working animal: Wikis


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A working animal is an animal that is kept by humans and trained to perform tasks. They may be close members of the family, such as guide dogs, or semi-domesticated animals such as logging elephants. They may also be used for milk, or at the end of their lives for meat or other products such as leather.

The history of working animals may predate agriculture, with dogs used by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Around the world, millions of animals work in relationship with their owners. Domesticated species are often bred to be suitable for different uses and conditions, especially horses and working dogs. Working animals are usually raised on farms although some are still captured from the wild, such as dolphins and some Asian elephants.

A bullock team hauling wool in NSW, Australia

People have found uses for a wide variety of abilities found in animals and even in industrialized society many animals are still used for work. The strength of horses, elephants and oxen is used in pulling carts and logs. The keen sense of smell of dogs and, sometimes, rats are used to search for drugs and explosives as well helping to find game while hunting and to search for missing or trapped people. Several animals including camels, donkeys, horses and dogs are used for transport, either riding or to pull wagons and sleds. Other animals including dogs and monkeys provide assistance to blind or disabled people.


Animals used for their strength

The horse-drawn winch of a former limestone quarry (France)

A draught or draft animal is an animal used for its physical (i.e. muscular) power, as in transport and haulage, such as pulling carts or sleds, ploughing fields and hauling goods. Animals are also used for animal-powered transport, for movement of people and goods. People ride some animals directly as mounts, use them as pack animals to carry goods, or harness one or a team to pull vehicles. Such animals are sometimes known as beasts of burden.

Riding animals or mounts

They include equines such as horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules; elephants; ostriches[citation needed]; yaks; and camels. Dromedaries (with one hump) live in arid areas of Australia, North Africa and the Middle East; the far rarer Bactrian camel inhabits central and East Asia; both are used for transportation and haulage.

Some mythical creatures are believed to act as divine mounts, such as garuda in Hinduism and the winged horse Pegasus in Greek mythology.

Pack animals

A pack llama

These often belong to the same species as mounts or harness animals, though animals such as horses, mules, donkeys, or the Arabian camel may be of specialized breeding for packing. Other species are only used to carry loads, including llamas in the Andes, and the Bactrian camel in Central Asia.

Bovines include water buffalo (as distinct from bison and the extremely dangerous African Cape buffalo both of which cannot be domesticated[citation needed]), oxen, bullocks, and yaks (the latter adapted to extreme conditions in the Himalayas). Other species include dogs, reindeer and goats.

Homing pigeons transport material, usually messages on small pieces of paper, by air.

Harness animals

Mule used to pull a wheeled vehicle, Morocco, Africa

An intermediate use is to harness animals, singly or in teams, to pull (or haul) sleds, wheeled vehicles or plough.

  • Draught or Draft horses are commonly used in harness, but pound for pound are often not as strong as draft mules for the heaviest pulling.
  • Mules have been considered to be very tough and strong draught (UK) or draft (US) animals who require less feed than horses, but a separate breeding program must also be maintained because they are a hybrid animal and usually are infertile.
  • Ponies and donkeys are often used to pull carts and small wagons, historically, ponies were commonly used in mining to pull ore carts.
  • Several breeds of medium-weight horse, including the Standardbred and ancestors of the "warmblood" types of horses are used to pull lighter wheeled carts, carriages and buggies when a certain amount of speed or style is desirable. For example, the Amish make extensive use of buggy horses, and the Windsor Grey horses are an integral part of any pageantry involving the British Royal family. Other light and draught horses are seen pulling carriages for tourism purposes.
  • Dogs are used in some countries for pulling light carts or, particularly, sleds. (e.g. sled dogs such as Huskies)
  • Reindeer are used in the Arctic and sub-Arctic Nordic countries and Siberia.
  • According to Juan Ignacio Molina the Dutch captain Joris van Spilbergen observed the use of chiliquenes (a llama type) by native Mapuches of Mocha Island as plough animals in 1614.[1]

Other draught animals

Animal power is also used to drive machines and devices, and for ploughing, especially oxen. Water buffalo in tropical, or very wet subtropical, areas help in rice-growing. Elephants are still used for logging in South-east Asia.

Animals used for their senses or instincts


A dog working as a retriever

As predatory species are naturally equipped to catch prey, this is a further use for animals and birds. This can be done either for sustenance or sport, to reduce the population of undesired animals (pests) that are considered harmful to crops, livestock or the environment.

  • Hounds and other dogs are used to kill and fetch prey. Certain breeds have been bred for this task such as pointers and setters.
  • Mousers (Domestic cats used for hunting small rodents and birds) are one of the oldest working animals having protected food supplies from pests since the foundation of human agriculture.
  • Ferrets prey on creatures living in burrows, such as rabbits and hares.
  • In falconry, birds of prey are used as hunters in the air.
  • Aquatic birds, such as cormorants in China, can be used to catch fish.

Searching for people

  • Dogs, with their highly developed sense of smell, are used to catch human 'prey', such as escaped prisoners or people lost in remote areas. They are used also to find people who are trapped, such as in avalanches or collapsed buildings.
  • Horses are used in remote areas to help human searchers cover large areas of rugged terrain. Their natural awareness of their surroundings will often alert human handlers to the presence of anything unusual, including lost hikers, hunters or other. Like some dogs, some horses are trained to follow scent. See Search and rescue horse.

Assistance animals

  • The best-known example is the guide dog or seeing eye dog for blind people. Miniature horses are also occasionally used for this purpose as well.
  • Trained African monkeys or golden retrievers have been taught to provide other functions for impaired people, such as opening mail and minor household tasks of the same like.


A dog herding sheep

A very close working relationship exists between the shepherd, the Herding dog, and the flock of sheep. Certain breeds of horses also have an innate "cow sense" that allows them to effectively carry a rider to the right place at the right time to muster (gather or round up) livestock.


  • Dogs and pigs, with better smell sense than humans, can find valuable products, such as truffles (a very expensive subterranean mushroom). In France mainly pigs are used, in Italy mainly dogs. See Truffle hog.

Other uses

The defensive and offensive capabilities of animals (such as fangs and claws) can be used to protect or to attack humans.

  • The guard dog barks or attacks, to warn of an intruder
  • War elephants were trained for battle in ancient times and are still used for military transport today. Use of elephants is now discouraged because elephants are an endangered species.
  • Military uses of horses have changed over the millennia but still continue, including for police work.
  • Sniffer dogs and pigs can detect contraband, such as illegal drugs and truffles.
  • Dolphins carry markers to attach to mines
  • On land, dogs can be trained to find landmines. Rats, which are lighter and less of a risk to set the mines off, have recently been used more frequently. [2] Detection rats such as those trained by APOPO can also be taught to identify diseases, especially pulmonary tuberculosis.[3]

See also


  1. ^ The Geographical, Natural and Civil History of Chili, Pages 15 and 16, Volume II
  2. ^ Bees, Giant African Rats Used to Sniff Landmines. In National Geographic, February 10, 2004. Webpage found 2010-03-12.
  3. ^ APOPO, Dutch organization that raises and trains detection rats for worldwide use. See also HeroRAT.
  • Falvey, John Lindsay (1985). Introduction to Working Animals. Melbourne, Australia: MPW Australia. ISBN 1-86252-992-2. 

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