Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Give a Dog a Job!

As I had briefly mentioned in my "Natural Career Path" blog post, I "employed" Gaci with various jobs at home as part of her treatment in some of the issues she was having. Giving dogs a job to do at home carries many benefits, many of which were what helped Gaci during her transition to the dog she is today.

It exercises the mind. This cannot be understated, as it may be one of the most important concepts. It has always been said that a "tired dog is a good dog". This is true, however a lot of dogs may get lots of physical exercise, but end up with a mind that still has not been stimulated and challenged. Thinking and interactive games ("jobs") really can calm down, and tire out a dog mentally so that they aren't left with pent-up stress and energy they need to release in more unappealing ways, such as chewing, barking, digging, etc. Even ten minutes of challenging the brain can be more effective than a drab half-hour walk on leash around the block.

It exercises the body. It can work to keep the body in shape as well, by focusing on muscles the dog may not use a lot in everyday behaviours. It is fabulous for exercising on rainy days or during storms when you just can't exercise in other ways.

It helps build good manners. Any form of successful training will help to build manners and impulse control, but doing it in the form of fun tasks where the dog can do something actively (like closing a drawer) really makes you relevant and makes it a lot more fun for the dog. This type of fun activity can also bleed over to some of the more mundane tasks like sitting, waiting, and laying down that dogs don't always enjoy quite as much.

It is a great relationship builder. Once again, we live in such a busy society now that any little bit of time you spend directly interacting with your dog will go far in improving your relationship. It can really strengthen relationships by working together to accomplish a task. This way too you generally know where your dog is more often, so that perhaps your dog is not off becoming self-employed in, say, the laundry hamper. It can increase your overall communication with your dog so that you learn to read each other better, and in the end it's just plain fun.

It can boost confidence. This is a bit harder to describe, but giving your dog jobs that she knows she can be successful at, can go a long way to building confidence in other areas. You can see the glimmer in Gaci's eye when she is doing one of her "jobs", and she does it with gusto, to the point where the more eager you get, the more eager she gets, and it becomes a game of how animated one can make the game.

It can help treat or prevent behaviour conflicts. This one applies to Gaci in many ways, in the "treating" part. I was able to use a lot of her fun "jobs" to work through her fears of strangers, her trust in me (that I would handle situations and not force her to make decisions that always ended up being the wrong ones!), her focus on me around arousing distractions, and to build better associations with those things she didn't like. Whenever we have small social functions at the house, generally somebody will ask about Gaci and whether I can bring her out to "visit". Now, their version of visit is generally different than mine, as Gaci does not overly enjoy busy social gatherings. However, I can put her to "work" and let her demonstrate what she can do, and then let strangers reward her, and it takes away often the need of people to want to touch and coo over her. For a dog that doesn't really "like" strangers, she seems to enjoy putting on shows for them!

Some dogs need a job to do. Not all dogs are created equal, in the needs that they have. Some purpose-bred breeds - often seen in the herding dogs, the working dogs (Shepherds, Malinois, etc), and some terriers - do best when they have jobs to do. Not only do they do best, but every inch of their being tells them they need to do something. The realistic part of it all is, if you don't help them by letting them know what appropriate jobs they can do, they can, and will, become self-employed, and find their own jobs to do. But you can prevent many common issues if you pre-empt that, acknowledge the need, and give them things to do before they make up their own games.

So take a few minutes, give your dog a job - she'll thank you for it!

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