A reader told us he had repeatedly read that “dogs need work.” Such advice is not difficult to find, including on the AKS website, dog-jobs-to-do-at-home/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>How to give your dog a job.“ Then our reader asked: are they? indeed? Ah, good question. Before we all try to send our Border Collies to coding school and turn our Labradors into delivery drivers, it might be wise to start with the definition of “job.” Here is a common one: “Assignment or essay, especially the paid one.” Ah, then we’re left with “what a piece of work” and we risk getting so far into the weeds that even a K9 trainer won’t be able to find us.
I’m going to jump to the head of the line and assume that dogs do not necessarily need to perform tasks. I think the standard advice is that dogs need mental exercise as much as physical exercise. That dogs can be bored, and boredom often creates behavioral problems, like chewing on TV remotes, barking incessantly, or somewhere, sometime, a late-night order on QVC by a Standard Poodle.
I cannot agree that many companion dogs must be bored out of their minds. animals with a recent history of complex social relationships, along with many life-or-death decisions to be made on a daily basis, probably cannot be content with being leashed in the same place several times a day and waiting around the house. so that leftovers fall from the sky. On the other hand, we also can’t spend our days feeling guilty because our dogs only get to work with the sheep once a day, get active play on long off-leash walks twice a day, get a fresh chew toy after lunch, and get their fill. rubbed on the couch every evening. (I have absolutely no idea where that example came from. Just made it up on the fly.) However, here are some random thoughts about what dogs need, related to the “dogs need work” advice.
Food for the brain through the nose: I have confirmed, as have many others, that dogs‘ primary need is to use their sense of smell, often more than we allow them to. I wrote a post titled “dog-on-a-sniff” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>smell your dog and adhere to it religiously. Jim and I are lucky to live on twelve acres, which allows us to walk the dogs off-leash and sniff them all they want. Once a week we take them for a long walk from the farm, and on the way out we let them set the pace. It amuses me how much energy it takes to stop walking like a primate—shoulder to shoulder, looking ahead, moving at a steady pace—and go like a dog, running ten feet ahead, stopping to sniff for thirty seconds, maybe sixty. . .
A dog needs a lot of physical and mental energy use their noses, just ask people who train bomb K9s or cadaver dogs like Kat Warren who describes it beautifully in her NYT bestselling book, What a dog knows. And it’s easy to incorporate nose work into your dog‘s life. When I think about it, I make the dogs check everything I brought home from the store. (Note to self: think about this more often, please.) And every day we put them down for the night, put their toy out of sight, and then tell them to “find it.” simple You can use your dog‘s nose in a variety of ways, from simple (sniff the dog) to complex recognition games. There are many sources of scent games to play with your dog dog-like for many ideas, including dogs-natural-instincts/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Canine kingdom of smell, fun activities using your dog‘s natural instincts.
The whole world is a stage: Does the robot dog perform tricks to entertain us or gain access to the dinner bowl? I suppose we could think of it as a live performance, with no union actors or understudies. What’s great about tricks is that dogs have to use their brains to learn new things, requiring mental exercise that is just as good for them as physical exercise. (And can also lead to quieter, calmer dogs.)
Some tricks do triple duty, like the toy bow above. They can provide mental exercise, a good body stretching exercise, and a great way to relax a dog in a slightly stressful situation. If I were queen, I would include a trained play bow in every dog training class. I’m just saying.
Games as a mental exercise, it is also a kind of work: Is participating in a sheepdog trial considered “work”? Oh yes, but also moving sheep on a farm, or maybe a dog-journal.com/lifestyle/dog-gear/herding-balls-for-dogs/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>”shepherd’s ball” can provide some of the same exercise. (Until the shepherds get smart, of course, it won’t, but we can’t have a flock of sheep in our closet.) But there are so many available now, if you have the time. Agility! Nose job! Fly the ball! All of these things can be done for competition or just for fun at home. And they all have goals and require dogs to use their bodies and brains. Given how many opportunities there are to participate in these wonderful games, I won’t give them away briefly here, but how lucky we (and our dogs) are to have them. Yes, they take time, BUT, hey, you can turn anything into an agility course in your backyard (safety first), play nose robots at home, and come up with all kinds of ball games from the comfort of your own home. Just be creative and make sure your dog really loves the “sport” as much as you do. (We’ve all seen too many examples of the opposite, right?)
Need for autonomy, agency: It’s a long way from work, but I think the lack of it leads to the “boredom” people talk about in pet dogs. I’ve had several dogs with injuries that required little to no autonomy from my dog, and every single one of them turned into passive lumps that lay there and sighed like a teenage girl who can’t get tickets to a Taylor Swift concert. We can’t say with absolute certainty that dogs get depressed the same way people do, but I suspect they do. I think Willie, Skip and Maggie got depressed at one point in rehab when almost every move they made was under our control. After about six weeks, they became quieter and more “calm”, which some people would like, but I knew that was a sign that they were not themselves. I wonder if some family dogs are “quiet and calm” because they get little stimulation?
Here is a photo of Maggie recovering from the strained achilles I posted a few weeks ago, I just wish I’d made a video so you could hear the loud, teenage dramatic sighs.
Good news it’s that Maggie is better now, phew!
Meanwhile, back at the farm: I’m so happy to say goodbye to last week. After that fantastic trip to Cape Breton last week, I had 3 doctor appointments for facial surgery (only carcinoma, but on the eyelid, not a good place to remove the skin) when I was turned around and went to the wrong clinic for one appointment, and then . . . THEN I missed a book talk that I thought was at the library and was somewhere else on Friday night. Another author, Bill Stokes, and I were standing in the library parking lot, ready to join three other authors and talk about books and writing. But the parking lot was empty. I checked the library website and found a book talk scheduled for the 28th and concluded that we had the date wrong. Went home. Changed. Watched TV. Later it turned out that I went to the wrong place; the conversation WAS last Friday, just not in the library. I was sick all night, I didn’t sleep much. If you appeared, I am very sorry! Sorry to me too, I really expected that. Argh.
On a happy note, the weather over the weekend was great. I spent a lot of time feeling grateful for this beautiful view from our kitchen window. Who minds doing the dishes when you can watch it?
I broke down on Sunday five Brussels sprout trees (I literally had to use an axe). Here’s one with a garden glove for perspective. Many of the sprouts were small, but I figured I’d better get them out before the really hard frosts hit this weekend.
It’s a small clipper in the basket below, so while the results are minimal, they are a little better than it looks in this photo. I’d say we have a good 5-6 servings of sprouts and we’ve already eaten two. Not too bad for my mini garden of 4 x 4 beds.
we ate last week including our sprouts, roasted green tomatoes also from the garden and roasted organic free-range pork from the road, on DreamFarm.
I will post a photo Maggie gets monthly chiropractic adjustments Dr. Sarah Greenslit at AnShen Vet. Dr. Sara doesn’t strangle Maggie, honestly she’s fixing her neck and Maggie is happy to put up with it. (Note the beef liver on the chair.) Skip likes it too, and has already made his changes. I take them monthly and believe it has helped me avoid serious injuries.
Maggie would like to know where the treats are now. . .
It’s time for me to sign and trying to rob my house. (McConnell’s proverb: If you can tell the house from the barn, it’s pretty clean.) Tell us what you think about “dogs and jobs” and whether your dogs plan to form a union.