So you want a working dog?
Quite often on a regular basis I get either a message or a phone call from someone who has either adopted from a rescue or has bought a working bred dog. and the amount of times I have told owners that I am not a magic wand, and I don’t have all the magic solutions when it comes to the dog’s high energy, the need for mental and physical stimulation, the persistent desire to problem solve and the ingrained ability to find ways to deal with boredom. For dogs who are born working dogs, then they are going to be working dogs.
Whether its a Belgian Malinois, Border Collie, German Shorthair Pointer or a German shepherd, Whilst your reading this, you may at some point met or perhaps even owned a breed of dog who was born to work, and was persistent in finding some sort of work to do, whether this was intended by the owner or not.
When it comes to breeding, no other species has ever been bred and developed with an approach even close to being as comprehensive as the approach our ancestors took to creating different breeds of dogs.
The number of different traits, physical appearances, personalities, and working types that we can find in dog breeds all over the world is absolutely amazing. I sometimes look at a client’s dog that I’m training and wonder how we were able to come so far, starting from a wolf, whether its a lively Terrier, an graceful Saluki, the tiny Italian Greyhound, a slow and attentive Great Pyrenees or a high drive high energy Belgian Malinois.
Now to think that dogs all started out and were developed from exactly the same species, into their many present forms just by considerate selection and the consistent improvement.
However with the huge variety, there is a very strong nature to do what we actually bred them for.
Not that long ago, actually owning a dog just for the fun of it was an absolute privilege and only the rich and wealthy could afford one. Some dog breeds were created to just be companions before anything else for these type of people.
However the vast majority of the population would own a dog because they required their help with daily tasks, for example, guarding livestock and keeping it safe or moving it, hunting, property guarding etc.
These dogs were heavily relied up on by our ancestors, having their dogs tirelessly work all day. Giving up just after a couple of hours was certainly not an option. If the dog required frequent naps all throughout the day or if they flaked out whilst working then these dogs were not a dog who would be used for breeding to pass on their genes. The ones who were bred were fantastic at their job, strong workaholics.
Times have definitely changed for working dogs over the years. Nowadays the majority of working dogs do not need to help their owners from dawn to dusk every day. Rather than us going to work on the farms, we now go to work in the office and our dogs, well they just stay at home, having nearly nothing left of their original jobs.
But these dogs genetics are still strong, with the need to do something, to work, to be active, to achieve and the need to accomplish something. This can really be a massive problem for them when all the work we have for a working dog is a walk around the estate or park once or twice a day and a visit to the woods or countryside twice a month.
The dogs genetics haven't changed that quickly compared to their living situations. These dogs are not ready to chill on our sofas for 8-12 hours a day.
One thing that working dogs are really good at is finding something to do. And if owners aren't able to give them the choices that are good for them, then your definitely not going to like what the dog chooses to do themselves for a job.
As a dog behaviourist, I have seen some of the brilliant ideas some dogs have had with entertaining themselves when they were not mentally or physically challenged sufficiently.
Here is a little list of some dogs that stuck out in my memory:
• An adult German Shepherd who was constantly mouthing the family and all the object in the home, all day, every day
• Cocker Spaniel who would run around in circles for hours on end
• A Fox Terrier who would bark constantly and dug holes all over the garden
• A Border Collie who would spend all day licking the walls
• A Belgian Malinois who just spend hours humping its bed or spin constantly in its crate
• The Parsons Russel who would constantly keep jumping in the air trying to catch anything that flew over
Normally, Dogs who bark excessively, are destructive, have difficulty in focusing and they engage in obsessive behaviours, are very common signs of a working dog that is bored and underworked.
Some dog owners attend weekly dog training classes. And at times this can be even more discouraging as the dog, when they do finally get to work for that one hour once a week, gets so excited that the dog doesn’t actually really excel at the task.
He doesn’t fail due to lack of intelligence or being “untrainable”, but rather over-arousal and inability to calm down enough to be perceptive to training (because how can he be calm when he has the built-up energy of a whole week inside him?).
This applies to the designer cross breeds, they might look like little teddy bears and they look cute and cuddly, but these labradoodles, Foodles, Schnoodles, Goldendoodles are actually high energy cross breeds from athletic working breeds!
Now there’s some good news when it comes to owning a working breed, your dog is most likely not going to need to do their original job to be happy and behaved, well there is the exception of some bite sport and hunting dogs. I have met some amazing herding breeds that have never seen any livestock in their entire lives. But Instead these dogs go for daily swims, long hikes, do agility, play Frisbee, do scent work, do obedience, compete in flyball or Protection sports.
Your dog may not actually need a job in the context of a certain sport, but saying that I am pretty sure that your dog would love to try out some sort of sports, a dog that has a healthy balance of sniffy walks, brain games, play etc can be kept entertained, busy and definitely out of trouble.
You don’t need to be the most physically fit of people nor do you need to actually compete in any kind of sport, here’s an example a retired lad who owns a Malinois x with a German Shepherd. She takes her dog to the woods every morning, and goes on a long sniffy walk every evening, she spends time practising obedience a couple of times during the day. The dog is lovely mannered as well as being well socialised.
Your dog will however require some form of entertainment every day. Ideally, this should be a combination of both physical stimulation and mental stimulation. A working breed dog doesn’t want to be staying inside the house during the working week to only being able to go out and about at the weekend. My advice is honestly do not try it, it will more than likely not end well
The more time, effort and training you invest in your dog, then the better and more engaged your dog will become. Working dogs are as it says working dogs, and these dogs will happily train with you all day long, or go for 3 or 4 walks a day and then relax next to you in the evening. Their love, commitment, and determination as well as dedication for their owner is truly amazing and we don’t give them the credit they certainly deserve.
If you love spending time with your dog, then why not work out different training challenges, think of some new ideas for engagement and enrichment and enjoy having that long term partner, a working dog might be exactly what you actually want and need.
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