While many dogs today enjoy a pretty cushy life full of belly rubs, daytime naps, and treats galore, that wasn’t necessarily the case for previous generations of their family, who may have been put to work hunting, on a farm, or in a household.
But even if you don’t need your dog in those capacities, they may benefit from being given some simple tasks. Here’s what to know.
Why give your dog a job?
Some dogs are perfectly content lounging all day long. Others need a certain amount of mental stimulation to happily make it through the day.
According to the American Kennel Club, purpose-bred dogs—like sheep dogs, retrievers, hunting dogs, search and rescue dogs, etc—once had jobs that required concentration, problem-solving, and decision-making.
So when dogs who are hard-wired to perform mentally taxing work don’t have something to keep their mind occupied, they may get bored, and if left to their own devices, can take matters into their own paws.
While they’ll probably have no problem finding projects to keep themselves occupied, you may not be as pleased with the end result as they are (e.g. “tidying” up your kitchen by counter-surfing, removing the blankets and sheets from a freshly made bed, or unrolling and then shredding a roll of toilet paper).
‘Jobs’ to keep your dog mentally stimulated
To clarify: We’re not talking about officially putting your dog to work as some type of service dog (that’s something else completely, involving a lot of training). These are more along the lines of strategies to keep your dog occupied so they don’t destroy your home and/or relentlessly pursue your attention.
Some examples include:
- Finding misplaced items: Start by placing an object, like your keys, out in the open, teaching your dog that they’re called “keys,” and asking them to find your keys (rewarding them with a treat when they do). Then begin actually hiding your keys in less-obvious places until they’re able to find and retrieve them on their own.
- Cleaning up: Depending on how quickly your dog learns new commands, it may be possible to teach them how to clean up their own toys.
- Fly hunting: If your dog naturally goes after flying or crawling insects that have gotten inside your house, you can encourage them to spend more time on pest control duty by rewarding them with a treat after they catch something.
- Scent games: Dogs who love sniffing may appreciate doing some nose work. While there are official kits you can get to train your dog to recognize and detect the smell of birch, anise, and clove, you can start out by hiding treats with a scent your dog will recognize in various parts of your home (within their reach). This will keep them busy as they sniff out and hunt their treats.
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