Getting the paper each morning is the classic dog’s job. My friend Sally continued her newspaper subscription long after she’d lost interest in reading it — just because it gave Mav, her Lab, such pleasure to get the paper. Jana started fetching the Jerusalem Post each morning when she was just a few months old. She’s graduated to the New York Times, which is considerably weightier, especially on Sundays. Every so often, Wylie tries to nose in on her morning chore, but she’s not giving up easily.
Our dogs have also learned to pick up their bowls after they eat. Some people have expressed surprise at this, understanding why a dog might bring an empty bowl in hopes that we’ll fill it but not why a full dog would bring an empty bowl. We explain that we try to encourage our dogs to behave responsibly. The dogs give us their empty bowls rather than actually washing them, but it’s a start. Jana can be persuaded to put her toys in the toy basket as well.
Dogs like to have jobs. This is a frequent topic of discussion with my dog-training students. These students are training future service dogs, but they are also preparing to train pet dogs — and their owners. We’ve talked about the many roles and careers available to dogs these days, and the consensus among my students is that, even if the job is a dangerous one (think military and police dogs), most dogs seem happier when they have work to do.
Most pet dogs are bored most of the time. Giving underemployed dogs some small tasks to do throughout the day can relieve that boredom and challenge them a bit.
Most people’s lives are filled with tasks that dogs can learn to handle, if only given the chance. When we miss the recycle box when tossing balled-up paper from our desks, a dog (or two) is always ready to bring the trash back or put it in the box for us. Fetching slippers or shoes is a natural. Dogs who learn to fetch the leash or their owners’ walking shoes when it is time for an outing might take the initiative and bring the items when they figure that they’ve waited long enough. Our beloved Oriel decided on her own to bring the water dish to one of us for a refill when it was empty, and she often brought discarded papers from the recycle box in hopes of exchanging the trash for a cookie.
If you can’t think of tasks, challenge your dog’s mind with games or a treat toy; dogs don’t seem to differentiate between thinking tasks that are just for fun and those that are dog jobs. Interactive dog games abound these days — these ask dogs to use their noses, paws, and sometimes teeth to open compartments, slide little doors, and nudge puzzle pieces aside to reveal hidden treats. Playing “tug” can lay the foundation for teaching dogs to open doors, cabinets, and drawers. Hiding a favorite toy or treat (or person) somewhere in the house encourages the dog to think, problem solve, and use her nose to find it. Some dogs’ desire to talk can be channeled into for alerting the humans to mail and package deliveries with just one bark. Other dogs, who like to carry things, can be taught to place plastic bottles in the recycle bin or clothes in the laundry basket.
The possibilities are endless. What are you waiting for? Give your dog a job!