Tails of a Working Dog Owner

Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds training and working.
Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds training and working.

With all the concerns going around social media regarding the movie Max, and how it will affect the Belgian Malinois breed, I thought I would share my story of owning a working dog.

I once believed that any dog could flourish in a home as long as there was clear direction, consistency and a balanced relationship between owner and dog. I believed that no matter the breed, it could be done by anyone. Over the past few months I have quickly realized that this can be quite a fantasy. I have shared my life and home with different breeds of shelter dogs, most mutts of unknown origins and they all lived well-balanced lives. Once I started my career in dog training and behavior, learning the facets that contribute to how dogs learn and develop, it became clear to me that dogs, much like humans, are pretty similar from one breed to the next. Several years later when I dipped into the world of dog rescue and became a dog foster mom I started feeling empathy for all these “unwanted” dogs. I would say, “If they just had an owner that taught them right from wrong from the very beginning.” “If they just had an owner who understood dogs they wouldn’t be here.” I truly believed that no matter the dog’s breed they could survive in any pet home as long as the simple rules of consistency were followed.

Today, my views have changed.

Caleb dressed up as a dinosaur for his first Halloween...I should have known he'd be a handful lol
Caleb dressed up as a dinosaur for his first Halloween…I should have known he’d be a handful lol

I am now the proud owner of a true “working dog” who drains me of my mental and physical energy on a daily basis. I am not stating this as a complaint but as a fact. I knew when I decided to purchase Caleb that I was purchasing a type of dogthat required daily mental stimulation, exercise and challenging activities to keep him out of trouble. I thought I could handle it with no problem being my background as a dog trainer, knowing the ins and outs of keeping dogs mentally and emotionally healthy. Well I am here to say that owning a working dog is not as easy as it looks and I now understand why so many dogs end up at the shelter, left in back yards, or worse, euthanized. Owning a working dog is a serious commitment that must be looked at with a completely open mind, and heart.

These dogs excel at so many activities because they are truly incredibly intelligent creatures. Their lineage comes from years and years of cross-breeding individual Border Collies workingdogs who each have the desire and drive to work to their maximum capability and then even further when asked. Take the border collies who have been bred to herd sheep. If you purchased a puppy from a breeder who has been breeding Border Collies to work a ranch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and you take that puppy home to your apartment in the city, work 8 hours a day and just take him for walks, you will soon have a monster on your hands because you are not allowing the dog to do what he is bred to do. You are essentially keeping a tiger caged.

And the movies and television shows we watch with the perfectly scripted characters of Lassie, Benji and Rin Tin Tin (to name a few) don’t help the general public understand the intensity some of these dogs require with daily training. And I’m sure my love and respect for the German Shepherd Dog stemmed from watching them star in movies like K-9, Rin Tin Tin and others. But we have to remember these dogs are trained to perform these acts and more than likely have a trainer behind the scenes that spends countless hours and minutes every day training them.

I am now the proud owner of an extremely intelligent German Shepherd from Belgium working lines. This means Caleb is the offspring of specific breedings to produce dogs  that will excel at Schutzhund, French Ring, PSA or any other Bite Work Trainingprotection work, obedience, search and rescue, agility, etc. With that said, the flip side is that these dogs typically do not flourish in a home with little stimulation. They must have regular opportunities to challenge themselves, learn new behaviors, fail at attempts and recover from those fails ready to try again. Your average “pet dog” does not have this same drive. They are quite content to sit at home until the family returns, have a play session, possibly a nightly walk, then sit down and relax as an entire family. A working dog reaches this point only after working.

A great example of this is something I have learned with Caleb and his desire to

This is Caleb's first time, since he was 9 weeks old, learning all about balance on a boogie board. He wants to learn to do this, I am not making him.
This is Caleb’s first time, since he was 9 weeks old, learning all about balance on a boogie board. He wants to learn to do this, I am not making him.

learn new things. If Caleb attempts something new, let’s say climbing a wall, and he falls off ultimately failing in his attempt, Caleb will actually pull me back to the very beginning and try it all over again on his own. He does not accept failure in his life. And when he does accomplish something that he considers to be a task we should all be proud of, like jumping up on to a high surface for the first time, he will bark a couple of times as if he is congratulating himself. I also find Caleb actively seeking out new obstacles, such as ladders or big boulders to climb, just to do it.

It may seem like I am bragging about my amazing dog but I am sharing because these are things one rarely encounter with a “pet” dog. These are occurrences that are typical for a working dog and I feel strongly in sharing that every person must thoroughly consider if they can provide a mentally rewarding home for such a dog.  If you’ve read my past blogs, or watched any YouTube videos, you have heard me say over and over how important mental stimulation is to any dog, it is absolutely critical for a working dog.

Please understand this blog is not to scare you away from owning a beautifully smart working dog, it is simply here to warn you to do your due diligence before deciding on what breed and breeder. I love Caleb with all my heart and he amazes me each and every day with his intelligence and bravery. He has learned more in these past 10 months than any of my previous dogs ever learned. I know I will have more fun with him than I ever expected simply because he will challenge me to think of new things to do with him, challenge me to learn new training techniques and games and challenge me to stay active and mentally healthy.

4 thoughts on “Tails of a Working Dog Owner

  1. A highly informative post which I hope many people will read, I will reblog it on my site. I have a border collie crossed husky and she was ultra active since our first meeting. I was lucky in that I got her when she was still a pup of a few months. But within a few weeks of arriving at our house, she learnt to open an outside gate and taught Bob (an Elkhound with a hatred of exercise) how to open the gate and gain entry to the house. This proved that I needed to find her a job. We started with agility and though she loves it I could see she was capable of so much more this eventually led to Search and Rescue. We travelled to training a lot (a couple of hundred miles round trip) and now we work with a local river search group. She is amazing, a friend to all and happiest when she works. She opened many doors in my life and I have met and made some great friends. SO I recommend every dog should have a job, whether it is sitting in a nursing home being a companion for an hour to the elderly or agility, or sledding – jobs for dogs is a great way to go.

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