Tell me, do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
New dog owners get an adorable Husky puppy. By six months of age, the puppy can easily be described as confident and bold. Pet people might just say that he’s “tenacious and playful”. However, it soon becomes obvious that the puppy will need a strong leader in the house. Obedience training begins and the puppy excels quickly, which is to be expected with a working dog. Unfortunately, the puppy returns home to no consequences, no jobs, no purpose, no clear boundaries, full freedom, and certainly no continued education. All too soon, the animal turns to being destructive, resource guarding food/spaces/toys, and all around misbehavior.
A seven year old working Malinois gets retired after working for years alongside soldiers in Afghanistan. Obedience is refreshed, and his new owners are warned that the dog will still need outlets for his energy. Unfortunately, the owners don’t realize that this means more than just physical exercise. Although they commit to running the dog each day, they otherwise give him absolute freedom with minimal rules and corrections. And why not? He’s had a hard life, plus he’s “part of the family”. Soon, the dog is running out the doors, intimidating the other household dogs, developed horrible storm phobias, losing the ability to respect leadership, and now showing many signs of aggression.
A sweet hound mix is rescued from the local shelter. She had been roaming the back country streets for years. Almost immediately, the dog begins to tear everything apart when left home alone. She also begins to jump fences, and even dig up the yard. The owner is furious! Especially after the kindness he showed in adopting the dog from the pound. The dog finally has a cozy home, how could this be happening?
So, what do each of these situations have in common? Every single one of these dogs is actually a genetically wired machine bred for mentally (not just physically!) challenging work. Both the Husky pup and the Malinois were craving a leader and wanted to understand the rules/boundaries of their home. Most importantly, they needed consequences when they tried to develop their own rules. Dogs want leaders, not friends! The hound mix probably loved her life roaming the streets. Her job was primal; finding food and shelter. She was a wanderer and because of that developed many “street smarts.” Sitting in a cozy home to her probably felt like she was trapped, and she was missing all of the intellectual stimulation she had before! Her new owner should have recognized the dog needed more outdoor stimulation. Long hikes, tracking for food, and other satisfying outlets would make her much easier to live with, and would let her enjoy the best of both worlds.
When we try to make them simple “pets”, we are actually turning them into confused souls without a true purpose! Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that the outcomes to each scenario above are set in stone. Instead, simply embrace your dog’s true background and follow the five tips below:
- Physical versus Mental Stimulation– It does not matter if you are taking one of these dogs out for a 5 mile run everyday, they still need mental exercise! This includes regular/continual obedience training, creating new jobs for your dog around the house, interactive toys/games, and giving clear consequences for bad behavior (which creates respect for leadership).
- Creating New Jobs– Does your dog bark, dig, or jump up no matter what you do to correct them? Sounds like you haven’t given them a job, so they’ve decided to take one on for themselves. Redirect this drive by researching what their bred was engineered for, providing positive reinforcement when they execute these behaviors the “right” way, and consequences when they do not.
- Don’t Try to Change Them– If you want a pet that is “part of your family” with limited rules or structure, DON’T GET A WORKING BREED! If you already have a working breed, you need to realize that these behaviors are not something you can train away or that will get better as they age. Take ownership of both the good and challenging about your dog’s breed and create a training/exercise schedule (both mental and physical) that will keep both of you happy.
- Don’t Let Popular Culture Dictate What “Happy” Looks Like for Your Dog– No matter what society suggests, not all dogs want to spend an afternoon inside the dog park playing with random dogs. They certainly do not all want every human to rush up to pet them while downtown. Most working dogs are more similar to introverted individuals, and that’s ok! They like having their “inner circle” of people.
- Be Prepared for a Stage Five Clinger!– If you’re ok with being followed around from room to room for the rest of your life, maybe a working dog really is for you! These breeds of dogs love to work, and are normally obsessed with their people. If you don’t assign them “down time” via a place command or their favorite crate, they will not rest. Therefore, just like other working dog behaviors, you must teach them to relax on cue.
I am a working dog girl, it’s in my DNA. However, I see so many frustrated clients, unhappy dogs, and uneducated trainers that just rely on basic obedience as the only solution. If you ever have the honor of living with a working dog, they will be the most loyal, affectionate dog. So please, return them the favor by respecting their innate being because it is truly unique and amazing.