The idea of putting a dog to “work” might seem strict or tough. However, the breeding origins of dogs are almost always based on some kind of work or service and they will be happier and more fulfilled when given a job to do. There are also many added benefits of giving your dog a task or employing it in a productive activity. One of the most rewarding reasons to put your dog to work is the bond it will develop with you. You’ll both learn to problem solve and achieve goals together. The mental stimulation that a dog experiences when engaging in a new activity is healthy and will aid in a more active, robust life. Mental stimulation will also result in a calmer dog around the house each day that the pet is worked or trained.
Another benefit of giving your dog an outlet or employment is that it will rectify a lot of bad behavior. Engaging in an activity as a team enhances your connection, so find one that you and your dog enjoy together. I like a Frisbee and plan to participate with my dog in “Disc Dog” when he is old enough. The age at which you would want to put a dog to work depends on the sport. If it requires fast speed and quick turns, wait until the dog is full grown, at 18 months. Nose work, however, can be done immediately.
When deciding which type of task or job to give your dog, an important consideration is what kind of activity your dog is bred to perform. For example, a German Shepherd is bred for herding and will be happiest when using its natural skills. Since most people don’t get a German Shepherd to herd their livestock, you will want to find herding classes where that activity is made possible as a recreational sport in the more urban environment.
Some of the common dog job/hobbies are:
Fly Ball: This is a relay race and social sport for pets and their owners. You compete in a club environment in teams of four (four owners and four dogs), which allows you to get to know other club members and dog lovers. This can be a great meeting place for dog play dates. The sport can be physically demanding and is good for healthy dogs. There are currently over 400 active clubs and more than 6,000 dog teams that compete. Be aware that many dogs, when in a competitive environment, will act unruly and you shouldn’t correct it for the sake of your dog’s peak performance. The sport is made by a handler sending their dog off on a straight-away course where the dog maneuvers over various hurdles. At the end of the course is a box containing a ball. They pounce on the box, pressing a lever which releases a tennis ball. The dog grabs the ball and runs back as fast as possible, passing the starting line which sends out the next dog in this relay race.
Agility: Arguably the most well known organized dog sport, agility, is a convenient way to work and compete with your dog. It is more accessible as you can set up an obstacle course in your backyard. It is easy to obtain the supplies from your local home improvement store, such as PVC pipe, to make your own obstacles. In the competition environment, handler and dog are critiqued by their time and accuracy in completing the course. The positions of the obstacles are changed every time, so the dog relies on the handler to guide it in the direction of which obstacle to go over, and in what order. The dog isn’t supposed to go on the course alone, without the handler’s direction. The handler is only allowed to provide guidance by means of voice and hand signals. There are no training aids such as food or leash allowed. Some of the familiar obstacles are: weave poles, hurdles and tunnels.