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Dogs need Jobs too.....!

Whenever I get an enquiry about pet dog training my first question is "What do you want your dog to do?” The response to this inevitably includes a list of what the owner doesn't want the dog to do, and the usual reply is that they want him to stop jumping up, stop barking, stop chewing, stop chasing the cat/children/cars etc etc. When I press the question and ask if there is anything they want their dog to do they tell me they don't care what he does as long as he doesn't ….etc etc etc. I find this very sad as it seems to me that what these people want is a stuffed toy or a statue, as they do not appear to want to do anything at all with the dog.

That said, I am still surprised to find how many knowledgeable dog people still believe that all a dog needs is a long walk, and I have lost count of how many people tell me that even though they walk their dog miles every day he still misbehaves. Although I am not one of those people who use dogs as substitute children, there is still a similarity between a small child's intellect and that of a dog, and I think we would all agree that if a child was left to run and play unsupervised, and never taught anything useful, it would soon use its intellect to invent games and occupy itself with something that may well prove destructive at best or dangerous at worst. That is the way with young things, and without structured instruction and something to occupy the mind very few will turn into well balanced individuals.

My working trial dogs are far more tired after a 20 minute track than after an hours run in the woods, and this is because they have been concentrating and using their minds as well as their bodies, and it is obvious to me that when for any reason my dogs have a break from work, but have plenty of free running, they are far more difficult to manage than when they are regularly working, but perhaps not getting any free running at all. This is further borne out but the lady who came to me with a five month old working cocker puppy and told me that so far they had never seen the pup asleep. Their life was being made into a misery by this lively pup that constantly demanded attention and was never still, and despite taking him out every day and letting him run loose, he was driving them mad. Mocca the cocker duly arrived, and what a charming little character he was – he just wanted a job to do, and when we showed his owner how to teach him to use his nose and find things he turned into a different dog, and at last the family had some peace when the discovered that after the finding game he was quite happy to go to sleep.

The point of this story is to show that all dogs need something to do, and although it is recognised that working breeds have busy minds and need a job to do, most people don't realise that the same is often the case for the other groups, and even toy dogs need puzzles to solve and tricks to learn to keep them from mischief. It is easy for those of us that have a job for the dog to do, such as sheep dogs, gun dogs, police dogs and sport dogs, but there is no reason why pet dogs should not be given an occupation, and it really does not matter what it is, as long as it uses the dog's mind. As I child I owned a boxer and she was my constant companion. Sandy was a very boisterous puppy, and I was often sent out with her to "wear her out,” but instead of just letting her run I started teaching her tricks and eventually she did all manner of silly things like speak on command, open and close doors, jump home made "show jumps” and find missing things. As a child I was very proud of my dog and loved to show off all her tricks, but what I didn't realise then was that these games are what made her the wonderful companion and well balanced all round pet that she became.

So for those of you that may be struggling with a boisterous or busy dog, instead of trying to think of ways to stop them doing something, why not try to give them something they can do. Anything you teach your dog, be it work or tricks is of benefit, as it gives it something to think about, and even playing hide and seek with the children will use the dog's mind and not just his energy. Hiding toys for him to find, or letting him find your shoe in a pile of others will teach him to use his nose and teaching him to negotiate obstacles will teach him balance, timing and problem solving skills. Little jumps can be made with any sort of household items such as canes on buckets or a broom on bricks and other more challenging obstacles such as weaving poles or a tunnels can be achieved canes, boxes an old blanket and a little imagination. All these games will present your dog with something to think about, and your delight at his every achievement will cement the bond between you and make for a stronger partnership.

So my New Year message to all dog owners is "Give your dog a job to do” and prepare to be amazed not only at his ability, but also the change in his character and behaviour. Good luck!


credit: Meg

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