I love to see dogs that have jobs. I am always amazed at how happy dogs are that are working. Most dog breeds were developed for a specific purpose. If you look at the AKC dog breed groups, it will often give insight on what a dog was bred to do for a living. The groups are sporting, working, herding, hound, toy, terrier and non-sporting. When looking for a new puppy I always recommend that prospective dog owners review the breed standards of the breed of dog they are considering, to get more insight on what kind of care, training, and activity might be appropriate for that breed of dog.
For instance, my breed of choice is the Australian Shepherd. I currently have two Aussies as part of my family. I am lucky to have a little acreage and the dogs exercise each other running on the property and playing. Before getting my second dog, my older dog entertained herself by “chasing” birds as they fly over the property. The swallows that live in the barn seem to know our yard boundaries and fly over the property, staying within the boundaries and keeping the older dog running in circles. This breed was developed to herd livestock. They have a lot of energy and a very strong herding instinct. When you bring a herding dog home and expect it to live in your house and small yard, you need to make sure you supply it with some kind of mental stimulation and activity. If not, your dog will develop its own activity which may or may not be desirable to you. My older Aussie chasing birds are harmless to everyone (she has never caught a bird) and kept her entertained.
I recently tried my hand at dog agility with my younger Aussie, Emerson. It was so much fun spending time with my dog and learning how to have him navigate the agility obstacles. To be honest, he picked it up much quicker than I did, and my instructor even noticed that he was politely slowing down waiting for me to catch up. We both enjoyed it and I could tell all the other dogs in my class loved having the chance to work and play with their owners.
When I worked in Burien, I had the chance to work on the Port of Seattle drug and explosive detection dogs. I remember that the dogs were all very different in personalities, some very enthusiastic, others more demure and reserved. Some of the dogs had trading cards noting some of their accomplishments, and they wear their badges on their collars. There are so many dogs that help keep us safe including the dogs working with the port authorities, police and search and rescue. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I can still visualize the dogs that were in the rubble helping locate victims of the attack.
Service dogs and therapy dogs hold a special place in my heart. Through my years in practice, I am always impressed and touched by the special bond a service dog and their owner have together. I am especially in awe of the families that raise puppies for guide dog programs. They raise these wonderful, intelligent dogs only to give them back to the program to help people with disabilities have a better quality of life. Service dogs don’t only help blind or seeing impaired people, there are dogs that help hearing-impaired people, dogs that alert people when they are going to have a seizure and also dogs that assist movement impaired people. Therapy dogs are taken to nursing homes or hospitals and their job is to make people feel better. We all know how nice and comforting it is to pet a dog. In fact, being around a pet has actually been shown to lower blood pressure. There is even a program, Reading with Rover based in Woodinville, where children who have difficulty reading, read to dogs. The dogs listen happily, providing a low-stress environment for the child.
If you are looking for a new dog or your current family dog is having any behavior problems, find out what your dog was bred to do, this may help you understand your dog’s behavior better. Even if you can’t do what your dog was bred to do (I don’t have livestock for my Aussies to chase), you can realize the level of activity and mental stimulation your dog might need to decrease behavior problems.
As usual, you can email me with any questions or suggestions for articles at [email protected], or visit my website, wildernessvet.com or Facebook page.