Dog rescue units watch over Italian beaches

In Italy, 350 canines from the Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs (Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio, or SICS) act as lifeguards and watch over 30 of the country’s busiest beaches.

These dogs undergo 18 months of basic training, followed by sessions to learn the more intensive lifesaving techniques such as jumping from helicopters and leaping from speeding boats. At the end of the training, each dog is paired with a trainer to form an elite SICS unit that saves lives.

The man behind this initiative, Ferruccio Pilenga, had the idea to train his dog in the late 1980s after discovering how good a swimmer he was. According to Ferrucio, his dog “pulled a water-filled dinghy with three people on board for half an hour”: a feat that no human could achieve!

Why does it matter? Thanks to their strength, willingness to perform, and bond with their trainer, SICS dogs save around 30 lives every year. Moreover, their intensive training makes them particularly effective in life-or-death scenarios where the capabilities of one or two lifeguards might be easily overwhelmed.

Italy is currently the only country to recognize canine lifeguards officially. However, SICS is setting up training centres in the US, Germany, Switzerland and Spain to spread its knowledge and ensure safer waters worldwide.