What made you pick the breed you own? Did you know someone with that breed growing up? Did your family own that breed? Have you always liked the look of them? Have you seen them on TV doing awesome things?
Many dog breeds were originally selectively bred for a purpose. For example Border Collies were bred to work on a farm and herd sheep. Labradors were bred to be out with their owner retrieving shot game. Mastiffs were bred to guard livestock. They were all bred with a purpose in mind. Yes, even the cute lil pugs! They were bred to keep their owner warm!
The reason breed is important in how you manage your dogs lifestyle comes down to 'intrinsic motivations'.
Lets look at our example breeds above.
What makes a Border Collie great at herding sheep? Their coat keeps them warm in the Scottish highlands. They have been bred to have a mean stalk and stare to intimidate the sheep and keep them moving. They have also been bred to have a very inhibited bite so they don't damage the sheep if they do need to make contact to keep them rounded up. All of these traits has led Border Collies to be very athletic, intelligent and with stamina for days!
Now lets have a look at our Labradors. They were selectively bred in Canada to go out all year round picking up shot game. This means they need to be very steady until the shooting has stopped. They need to have soft mouths so to not damage the game. They need to be incredibly hardy and brave in terms of running through any type of terrain when asked to do so, and have loyalty unmatched to their handler for ease of training.
What about Mastiffs and other guarding breeds? Guarding (or working) breeds are a group that is a bit... complicated. Many of todays guarding breeds originated as herders (such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Malinois) but have adopted the role of guarders over time. To be a good guarder the dogs have been selectively bred to be suspicious of strangers (or danger) and have unmatched bravery in defending their flock/handler/territory. This means they bond incredibly strongly to one or a few people and have keen senses to assess the environment.
Now, have a think about how these traits can influence the dogs' behaviour in the home?
Dogs are amazing - don't get me wrong! It is incredible that they are so popular and utterly loved by so many people in so many different cultures. The issue arises when dogs that have very strong motivations for their jobs, don't get to use them in day-to-day life.
When there is a mismatch between the dogs intrinsic motivations and their day-to-day life, we can get fallout in the form of unwanted behaviours and excessive energy. For example, defensive behaviour around resources, destruction, separation anxiety, barking, aggressive behaviour and so, so much more.
So, what can we do to meet these needs of our 'working' dogs to avoid any behavioural fall out?
GIVE THEM A JOB!
If you are a client of mine, chances are I've told you at one point or another that your dog has gone 'self-employed'. What I mean by that is your dog has decided to give themselves a job. Most dogs will do this, it is just pot luck whether we like the job they have chosen or not.
When I get to meet the dogs, the behaviour they have chosen for a job is usually... less than ideal.
Things I see commonly are: * Border Collies that chase and herd cyclists/cars/joggers/dogs * Cocker Spaniels that guard their food/toys/bed
* German Shepherds that bark at every stranger they see * Terriers destroying things
But we CAN give them a job that we LIKE!
Firstly, I want you to think about what your dog was originally designed to do. What do you think they would LIKE to do. Do you have a terrier that would quite like to rip stuff up? Do you have a Golden Retriever that would quite like to carry stuff around? Do you have a Husky that would quite like to run for days and pull things? Have a think!
Now lets look at some jobs that will fit the type of dog you have
If you have a gundog breed, it is more than likely your dog will really appreciate tapping in to those inbuilt motivations. Teach your dog to retrieve items. This doesn't have to be pheasants or rabbits, it can be made into a fun trick such as bringing you your slippers in the evening or finding your keys when you (purposefully) drop them on your walk. Have fun with it!
How about teaching them to be steady to different things such as sitting still to wait for their dinner before you release them? Sit still while you hide their ball in the bushes for them to go and find?
Agility is such a cool, mentally and physically enriching activity that is pretty widely available at the moment. This is where dogs jump over, go through and run along obstacles in a specific order. The key is speed and precision but it take a LOT of control to do well.
This is something that many herding breeds really benefit from, as it meets both physical and intellectual needs.
I LOVE teaching tricks. They are so fun and you can see the happiness in your dogs instantly as there is absolutely no pressure from us when training. The list of things to train is almost endless and you can even progress to sports such as Heelwork to Music.
The aim here is to use their brains. Get them really concentrating and thinking about their movements. This is also a brilliant way to strengthen your bond but that's a blog for another day!
Now, this is an activity that I think EVERY dog would benefit from. It builds confidence, relationships, focus, as well as meeting those motivational needs. Dogs noses are INCREDIBLE and are definitely a muscle they don't flex half as much as they should.
The aim here is to teach our dogs to sniff out specific smells. This may be lavender, catnip, or cheese if you fancy! Its a fun game that you can play in your home and it REALLY knackers them out!
This is a sport mainly designed for guarding breeds. This is the sort of stuff you see working police/military dogs do. So, biting the bad guy, sniffing out missing people and protecting their human.
If you have a guarding breed and are seriously interested in taking up a sport, this may be the one for you! It will most definitely meet those intrinsic motivations and create a content and satisfied dog!
The key with all these 'jobs' is that we are getting our dogs to use their brains on a regular (if not daily) basis. That way we can meet those needs and avoid our dogs going self-employed!
So now that we have covered a few different jobs for our pooches, which one(s) stick out to you and your dog?
Remember, these are just some examples. there are MANY more options out there such as hoopers, flyball, obedience, lure coursing to name a few.
If you have a couple of less-than-ideal behaviours your noticing in your dog that aren't resolving no matter how much walking you give them, have a think about engaging their brain!