Kola with a job as sled dog and his human, Gaby Sip.photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
By Jodi Schneider McNamee
Fido stays home five hours a day while you're working. He naps most of the day on his usual spot that is now worn down on the couch. He's bored because he has nothing to keep him mentally and physically stimulated.
Dogs are amazing creatures and they are our wonderful loving and nonjudgmental friends, but they also have an innate and instinctual need to work.
Dogs need a job that provides appropriate release for their mental and physical energies. Even before domestication, dogs had a job; they worked to survive. Pack members worked to define, protect, and retain their territory.
Domestic dogs have been helping and working alongside us for thousands of years, and most are bred for a specific purpose. Many of our four-legged friends have regular jobs, and all of us depend on these working dogs to do those jobs well.
There are service dogs, police dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, therapy dogs and herding dogs. They pull sleds, herd farm animals, hunt for game, search for missing persons and inspect luggage for illegal drugs. Their job possibilities are endless.
There are hundreds of breeds of dogs, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Many breeds have been trained for specific jobs that fit their type, for instance among the dog breeds that perform police work are German shepherds.
What if you don't have a dog that is appropriate for search and rescue? What if there isn't a flock of sheep at your disposal for your border collie? It isn't necessary to quit your job to take up duck-hunting to keep your dog busy working.
Nowadays pet parents lead busy lives, and their pooches often end up spending a portion of their day home alone. Give your dog "jobs" to do when he's by himself. Dogs are mentally, physically, and emotionally healthier and happier when they fulfill a "sense of purpose." Even your couch potato will benefit from having defined "jobs" in your home.
Start with food puzzle toys when you're away. They are sturdy food containers usually made of hard rubber or plastic, that hold food or treats inside but don't give your dog easy access to the food. They have holes on each end or on the sides, so your four-legged friend must work by pawing, rolling or licking the toy to get the food to come out. Food puzzles require time, patience and problem-solving, which is great mental stimulation for Fido. If you want to make it even more fun, try hiding a couple of food puzzle toys around the house.
You've finally returned home from work and your furry friend hears you unlock the door and is anxious to greet you. Maybe Fido can find a good task during your usual walk with him.
Don't underestimate the value of a good walk or jog with your dog; it gives him a job opportunity by sniffing out different scents, especially if you try a new route every now and then.
Start looking for ideal places for you and your dog to play. A fun game or "task" for your dog is learning to play frisbee. Many dogs love to play frisbee, although most dogs don't know how to catch a flying disc. With a little patience you and Fido can learn to do this fun and rewarding activity. Take it a step further and enter your dog into a flying disc competition with other dogs.
Train your dog on an agility course. There are agility courses set up in specific areas, like off-leash dog parks. Or make your own course in the backyard. Agility is a sport that has swept the dog world in recent years. Many agility competitions are open to any dog, regardless of a pedigree. The sport teaches shy dogs confidence and gives lively dogs a positive channel for their energy.
If you cannot determine what it would be that your dog would excel in, you can begin with basic obedience with a good trainer who is knowledgeable in each dog group and can evaluate your dog individually for his capabilities.
There are endless jobs that you can train your four-legged friend to do, including everyday little tasks like fetching the paper or putting his own toys away.
For centuries, humans have been privileged to have the benefit of dogs as loving and faithful companions. Dogs have accomplished amazing feats to earn the title "Man's Best Friend." Dogs can perform tasks that demand great responsibility. Dogs have saved many lives while working in the field of emergency response, and have aided soldiers in wartime. They serve as companions to the disabled and serve as eyes and ears to the blind and deaf.
Life is better the help of these dedicated canines.