From German Shepherds and Alaskan Malamutes to Boxers and Rottweilers, working dogs are a large and diverse group.
Their one unifying characteristic is that, well, they want to have a job to do.
Most of us don’t have any sheep or sleds for our dogs to work with, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get creative and make them feel useful. You really don’t want a bored working dog roaming your house with nothing to do.
Here are 6 tips for keeping your working dog engaged so he doesn’t turn destructive:
Get Him a Backpack
A doggie pack is a great way to add a sense of purpose to your dog’s walk, plus it keeps you from having to carry everything. You can have him carry his poop bags, treats, water, and even your keys. The added weight will also help slow down those overly enthusiastic walkers.
Find It with Toys, Treats and More
"Find it" can be used with many different items, even things you’re actually trying to find, and engages your dog’s powerful sense of smell. My dog is particularly fond of searching for dehydrated duck feet that I strategically place all over the house.
If your dog doesn’t know "find it", you’ll want to start with a very familiar toy or a favorite treat and place it somewhere close by while he’s in a sit/stay. Release him and ask him to find it and click or praise him and give him a treat when he touches the item. Build on this to more complicated hiding places and by varying the items.
Hold Your Purse or Light Bag
You can teach your dog to hold items for you like your purse or light bag by positively reinforcing behaviors. Once you have the item in front of him, start by clicking or praising and treating when he interacts with it. You’ll want to progress the reinforcements through him touching the item, touching the handle, licking the handle, putting the handle in his mouth, gripping the handle, holding for longer periods, and walking while holding the item. This will take time and patience. Make sure to click or praise and treat as soon as your dog does what you want.
To teach your dog to get your slippers, he’ll need to know how to fetch. Once he knows that, it’s really a matter of getting him acquainted with your slippers. You’ll want to start by asking him to fetch your slipper while holding it right in front of him. When he can fetch and hold the slipper, you can progress to throwing the slipper and asking him to fetch it.
Retrieve a Toy By Name
Not only will it totally impress your friends if your dog brings you a toy by name, but it will really engage his mind. First you’ll need to work with your dog by simple repetition for learning the various names of his toys: green dragon, blue tug, red ball, etc.
Once he’s mastered those, set up one of these toys alongside two boring items like a paper weight and a bookend. Ask your dog to find the blue tug or green dragon and when he does, make sure to click or praise. Then ask him to fetch and when he brings the toy to you, click or praise and treat. When he’s doing well with this, you can add another toy he knows and have him retrieve one by name. You can keep adding toys the better he gets with the exercise.
Clean Up Toys
When playtime’s over, you’re the one left picking up the toys. Well instead, turn cleanup into a fun, engaging activity for your dog by teaching him to pick up after himself. He’ll need to know the take it and drop it commands. Once he does, you can have him take a toy and then use a treat to lure him to his toy box, where he can drop it. Make sure to click or praise and treat. When starting the lesson, keep the toys close by, but as he gets the hang of things, you can add distance. Then you can praise/treat after he puts away a few toys at a time and start adding a “clean up” command.
Your working dog wants to work. So give him some engaging activities to keep his mind sharp and his need for a job satisfied.
Jessica Peralta has been a journalist for more than 15 years and an animal lover all her life. She has had dogs, cats, birds, turtles, fish, frogs, and rabbits. Her current children are a German shepherd named Guinness and a black kitten named Riot (and he lives up to that name). It’s because of her love for animals that she focused her journalistic career to the world of holistic animal care and pet nutrition. In between keeping Riot and Guinness out of mischief, she’s constantly learning about all the ways she can make them healthier and happier.