Give a dog something to do!
December 12, 2006 7:25 AM   Subscribe

This doggy-dog needs a jobby-job!

8-month-old German Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog/X mix. She's a good dog, very trainable, but my wife and I have been thinking she'd benefit from having a job around the house (being a working dog, after all). But we can't think of a good household job for a dog, other than herding the cats, which we'd actually rather avoid.

I'm assuming we're just not approaching this from the right angle. And AskMe is full of angles, especially when it comes to pets. So does anyone have any suggestions for dog jobs?
posted by COBRA! to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Police dog training!
posted by Milkman Dan at 7:32 AM on December 12, 2006

Fetching? Slipppers, newspapers, blankets, children?

Seriously though, if your dog is good with people, calm, good tempered and trainable, how about looking into training her as a therapy dog that goes around to nursing homes or children's hospitals to love up people who are sick/scared/lonely/sad and get loved up in return?
posted by Dreama at 7:37 AM on December 12, 2006

Schutzhund training - especially for the German Shepard part of her. You could also look into agility competitions or herding competitions.
posted by objdoc at 7:39 AM on December 12, 2006

You may know about this already, and it may not actually save anyone any time (actually it looks like a significant time investment, but way fun): Dog agility. I saw some agility trials a while ago, and my gosh, that was so much fun. The dogs love it so much, and their enthusiasm is so contagious.

In case you don't know, basically you train your dog to follow verbal/hand signals to go through a timed obstacle course. Then a bunch of dogs & owners get together and run a preset course, one at a time. There are tunnels, ramps, little jumps -- it's quite fun.
posted by amtho at 8:09 AM on December 12, 2006

In college, my black lab used to LIVE for grocery day. She loved nothing more than to help bring grocery bags (the plastic kind of handles) in from the trunk to the house. Once she got the hang of it, it was actually harder to get her to get INTO the car (because she loved to stand at the tail end and wait for the trunk open, hoping there would be some bags of groceries there to bring into the house.)
posted by bclark at 8:20 AM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another dog sport, perhaps a bit simpler (and requiring less human time) is Flyball.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:36 AM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hmm. Less human time THAN AGILITY TRAINING, I meant.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:37 AM on December 12, 2006

Love the groceries idea. (I really wish I could train my dog to do this, but I live in a fourth-floor walkup so I guess it's a bit much to expect.) What about gathering up laundry? Or sticks in the yard? Putting her toys away? Stacking newspapers or magazines? Putting cans, bottles, etc., in the recycling bin? Something kinda herding-ish. And there's always licking plates.

Remember that she won't necessarily know when to quit, so you might find, say, magazines going straight from the mailbox to the stack, which would require some retraining for both of you -- e.g., putting stackables in one specific place for her to pick them up.

The training classes objdoc and antho mentioned might be the best fit for your pooch's temperament. There's also the old-skool Frisbee dog game, if your dog got the fetch gene.

Those aren't the kind of household-chore things you seem to be looking for, but you might want to give 'em a try anyway. Agility classes are very entertaining, and once your dog is trained, you can adapt some of the trials for play/work at home.

Whatever you end up doing, everybody in your house will be better off for it.

On preview: All I want for Christmas is one of them flyball thingies.
posted by vetiver at 8:55 AM on December 12, 2006

Schutzhund and police dog training aren't really suitable for a casual dog owner, plus they can seriously increase your liability in case your dog ever bites someone and can sometimes cause major problems with insurance companies.

Agility would be my vote too. It's loads of fun for you and your dog. However make absolutely certain that the place you go to does not allow puppies to jump. Your dog should not be jumping until she is physically mature, and that's not until she's 18-24 months of age. An agility trainer who allows puppies (ESPECIALLY larger-breed puppies like yours) to jump anything more than an inch or two is a trainer to stay away from. Basic obedience should also be part of whatever you decide to do, it's something every single dog and owner can benefit from.
posted by biscotti at 9:10 AM on December 12, 2006

Thanks for all the suggestions so far... we've thought seriously about agility training, and ming end up going that route. I've got one counter-question: bclark, how'd you keep your dog from eating the groceries instead of bringing them in? I love that idea, but I think it'd be kind of tough to get started.
posted by COBRA! at 9:10 AM on December 12, 2006

Vetiver, fourth-floor walkups are just the kind of thing a dog would excel at. Make them do the hard work :) Start with a small bit of carrying and work your way up.

Heap on the praise and let the dog feel like "a part of the team" (which is what I understand most working dogs are REALLY looking for, in terms of reward -- it's the misplaced pack mentality, which must be frustrating for an "only child" dog.)
posted by bclark at 9:11 AM on December 12, 2006

addenda: we've been through one round of obedience training already, and are planning a second after the holidays. And thanks, I didn't know that she shouldn't be jumping until she's 18 months. And I have no idea what kind of typing malfunction made me type "ming" instead of "might."
posted by COBRA! at 9:13 AM on December 12, 2006

Clicker training is the way to train your dog to do all kinds of things around the house - helping with the laundry is a great one (just keep in mind that she is still a baby and that you need to be careful about how much physical stress you subject her to) - you can train her to pull the laundry basket, train her to put clothes in the dryer, train her to pick up toys and put them away, train her to open and close doors, turn on and turn off lights. Doing a bit of research into service dog training might give you some ideas.
posted by biscotti at 9:14 AM on December 12, 2006

I've got one counter-question: bclark, how'd you keep your dog from eating the groceries instead of bringing them in? I love that idea, but I think it'd be kind of tough to get started.

Start with things the dog wouldn't like to eat! Hard to remember exactly how I started, but I seem to remember it was produce in plastic bags inside of plastic grocery bags. In retrospect, paper goods (like paper towel rolls) would have worked equally well.

Initially, my dog thought we were going to play tug-of-war -- once you get them to understand that the game is carry, it started to become very easy (black labs are pretty smart and human-focused for that kind of stuff.)

Once you get them inside to about where you'd like the groceries dropped, get them to sit and offer up a doggie treat but wait until their mouth is empty (ie, the bag is now on the ground) and then reward and praise.

One thing you'll want to be careful about is entanglement: I can remember occassionall stretching out the handles on the bags a little bigger than their natural size so that they don't get their lower mouth stuck in the bag plastic.

I'm not sure I ever got to the point where I'd have trusted Kasha with a bag full of steaks, mind you ... but in most cases, if the dog has one bag to carry with you on each of your trips out to the car, they will feel immensely useful and a part of the pack.
posted by bclark at 9:23 AM on December 12, 2006

Well- the best way to entertain my dog when I am busy is hide and go seek.
I ask my lab to bring me a toy and then iMake him go in the other room and wait (good self control practice). When I say "OKAAAYYYYY" in a sing sngy voice he knows I have hidden his toy and he tears around the house looking for it.
When he is close I give him clues like up, down, floor, under, and behind.
When he gets discouraged I just say "keep looking!" and he goes back to it for another 5 minutes.
Keeps him busy and out of my hair.

I cheer like crazy person when he finds it and we start all over again.

He's learned alot of words and concepts from it and good for rainy days when you can't get them out for a run.

He also loves being delivery person for things like mail, messages, and items for people in other parts of the house. Helps him learn names of the people in the house (and any new people that may come into our home).
posted by beccaj at 9:37 AM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

bclark -- Unfortunately, my dog can't lift the bag high enough to avoid major clonkage on each and every step. I'd have to strap her into backpacking panniers, or rig up some kind of urban travois, and that's just too dorktastic, even for me.

She's totally fetch-obsessed and can sniff out a tennis ball under a foot of snow or leaves, so over the years I've trained her (or she's trained me -- hard to say) to play a game a lot like beccaj's when we're at the park or in the garden.
posted by vetiver at 10:34 AM on December 12, 2006

Flyball looks fun! I hadn't heard of it, so I checked google for some flyball video.
posted by roboto at 1:13 PM on December 12, 2006

I love Beccaj's ideas.

You can also get little doggy backpacks for hiking and use that to help him deliver things around the house so he won't get his mouth on them.

Australian cattle dogs have insane stamina and bond to a particular person strongly. Have you thought of having him/her go along with you for bike rides, hiking, or even assigning your dog to run laps outside to "guard" the house?
posted by lorrer at 1:40 PM on December 12, 2006

Have you thought of having him/her go along with you for bike rides, hiking, or even assigning your dog to run laps outside to "guard" the house?

Eventually, yeah, but I've heard pretty consistently that she needs to be older before she can run or bike, so as not to stress her joints and skeleton. She hikes with us, but, well, it's December in Minnesota and there's not a lot of hiking to be done.
posted by COBRA! at 7:37 AM on December 13, 2006

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