Dogs Need Jobs

I went to see a herding dog trial this week. My friend Tom had his dogs entered in the trial and it sounded like fun. It WAS fun. We saw Tom’s dog Ki work with cattle and ducks. I’ve seen him herd sheep as well. Watching Ki and the other dogs was interesting for many reasons.
First of all, herding uncooperative livestock demands coordination and strategizing. When dog and human work on herding together, they have to share not only the ultimate goal but the plan for how to achieve it. This tells me that not only is the dog thinking, but the dog and human are clearly communicating. Some scientists (and others) believe that thinking is not possible without spoken language and that true communication only occurs when spoken language is possible. This is a convenient way to form a foundation for the claim that only humans can think and communicate on a high level. How absurd.
Watching working dogs also reinforces my deeply held belief that dogs need jobs. I am sure that there are some individuals, just as there are individual humans, who are content to lie around all day on a soft bed and do nothing, but most dogs — as most people — are bright and curious and want to be more engaged with the world than that. A dog’s job can be simple — bringing in the morning paper and cleaning up his toys at night, for example. It can be complex — guide dogs come to mind, or search and rescue dogs, or the many working dogs on farms all over the world. As with people, dogs have different aptitudes and preferences. And their circumstances might dictate their job. A dog living in a city is unlikely to have much chance to herd cattle, but he could easily be kept busy — and mentally challenged — in other ways.
Some of the dogs at the trial are herding dogs only for fun — that is, it’s their hobby, a way for them to work and think and spend high quality time with their humans. Others are real working dogs. All of them seemed happy to be there and looked like they were enjoying their work.
Finally, I am convinced that “bad” dogs (anyone see “Marley and Me” ??) are only trying to find ways to put their considerable intelligence, their problem solving skills, and their excess energy to work. Wouldn’t you rather decide how your dog expends his excess energy than let him come up with his own ideas?
Jana and I recently started attending agility classes after a (too) long break. Agility is mentally and physically stimulating for Jana (and for me) and really tires her out. It is also a lot of fun. She is bright, alert, engaged and very happy to be there. It’s not the same as a “job” but it certainly offers her the chance to think things though and offers us a chance to improve our communication and have fun together. Wylie loves it too, but his mom plans to try him out on Flyball since he’s so ball-obsessed. Whatever your dog’s passion, there might be a job or “hobby” out there that is perfect for him or her. Remember, a tired dog is a good dog!

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One thought on “Dogs Need Jobs

  1. For people to understand the need for dogs to have jobs (or other relevant stimulation), they must first realize that dogs are autonomous beings. Too many dog ‘owners’ think of their dogs as objects for their own (the owners’) amusement. Recognizing that the dog has a point of view is the essential step to see the world from the dog’s perspective.

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