Monday, February 8, 2010
By Linda Cole
Humans have used pack animals for centuries to move belongings and supplies across distances great and small. Without them, the expansion of America would have been a lot slower. “Working dogs” not only found a place at man’s side as efficient workers, they also found a place in our heart as companion dogs. Working dogs were bred to do specific jobs for us, from guarding and herding sheep, to search and rescue. Working dogs reside in a variety of homes nowadays, but are dogs that were bred to perform a specific task harmed if they’re not used for it? Can working dogs be happy just hanging out with us on the couch?
A working dog is defined as one that performs a task for us. Ranchers use Border Collies to help herd sheep. Service or assistance dogs help handicapped people deal with tasks that make it easier for them to live at home or navigate busy intersections and streets. And sled dogs continue to pull heavy loads to and from hunting grounds or to transport goods between villages.
A companion dog is a pet whose sole purpose is to keep us company. But all dogs, companion or working, have a dual role in protecting us and our property. Some do a better job than others though, and in some households, a cat is a better protector than the canine. Nevertheless, a dog has no sense of what being a purebred or mixed breed dog is, and each one is as individual as we are. Dogs will do anything to please those they trust, and a dog who was bred to work loves to do what he does best.
Even mixed breeds from the working dog group want to perform tasks. I had a beautiful Border Collie mix who believed her sole purpose in life was to herd my cats around the house. At least once a day, she would round up stunned cats that had been blissfully relaxing in a patch of sunshine on the floor or couch. I also quickly discovered that if we missed a game of Frisbee or tug of war, I would return home and find the remains of my dog’s boredom lying in tatters on my living room floor. My poor couch pillows were never the same! But, I learned about her need for exercise to curb pent up energy, and her love of herding. The cats weren't too thrilled about the herding part, however.
Understanding breed characteristics before adopting any dog is part of being a responsible owner, because the right selection will mean a difference between a dog that fits well in your home and one that is disruptive or not what you expected. For example, even though a Beagle is small and might be fine in an apartment, they are sometimes yappers that don't always know when to stop. Bred to hunt, a Beagle is always on the prowl for something to bark at. You might find a Jack Russell terrier appealing until you discover your flower garden has been dug up. They were bred to go after vermin underground and like to dig. A Siberian Husky, with those beautiful blue eyes and stunning coat, might be a good pick until you begin to find hair everywhere or discover that these dogs are masters at breaking out of their pen. Siberian Huskies were bred to pull sleds and love to run, and have a double coat that sheds heavily twice of year.
Dogs get into trouble in the home when they become bored, and they are experts at finding something to entertain themselves with while you are away. Many a couch has fallen prey to a bored pet who also lacks proper exercise. A working dog needs to be able to do what they were bred for in order to stay in good physical and mental shape. Like a well-trained athlete who gets up every morning to run 10 miles to stay in shape, working dogs also need the same type of stimulus.
Dogs that make up the working group are intelligent with lots of energy to burn, and when properly trained to do a job, they excel at their task. If you own a dog (mixed or purebred) from the working dog group, do them a favor by learning how to properly train them to do what they love and were born to do. Dogs can become depressed, overweight, insecure and anxious when they are bored and have a lack of exercise. It's up to us to understand that working dogs are hard wired with a need to do a job, so rather than punish your best friend, give him an appropriate job. It will make all the difference in the world to him, and give you a happier and healthier dog.
Read more articles by Linda Cole