I'm often called out to homes where dogs are barking at neighbors, digging, chewing the sofa, chewing the shoes, chewing the cat...the possibilities are endless. These dogs tend to be incredibly frustrated. I've often said, as other trainers do, that these dogs need a job. There seems to be more of this happening as people bring in higher energy, pure bred sport dogs to live in the city, yet don't give them the appropriate outlet for what they were bred to do. High energy Vizsla's can be very happy in the city IF they are physically and mentally stimulated, and the dog has a personality compatible with life in an urban environment. Life with a marathon runner will help, significantly.
What if you don't have the time, or ambition, to volunteer for Search and Rescue? What if there isn't a flock of sheep at your disposal for your Border Collie? How can you give your dog a "job"?
Lucky for you, when people suggest that your dog needs a job,what they really just mean is your dog needs a hobby.
|This is "Momo", Japans first Search and Rescue Chihuahua. I'm absolutely serious. Momo can get into small places that the Shepherds can't get into. He was inducted in November 2010, before the Tsunami hit.|
Jobs for City Dogs:
When your dog is bored, often they will find a job if they aren't given one. Often, the "work" they take upon themselves to do is frustrating at best for the owner, dangerous at worst. There are Border Collies that, without an appropriate outlet for their herding, will herd children by nipping at their heels. It's funny for 2 seconds, until it becomes a compulsive behavior, or the kid gets bit.
There is good news. Many cities have training centers that are incorporating dog sports into their curriculum. At City Dog, we offer K9 Frisbee, Agility, and Nosework. There are clubs for Flyball, Dock Diving and Freestyle all in our immediate area, and tons of other hobbies! You just have to know where to look. Each sport has a photo and a link to a video of the sport so you can check it out.
K9 Frisbee/Disk Dog
|Photo by: Jay Stebbins of Fido Loves|
This is my baby. I love Frisbee. When you have a highly motivated, high energy dog that loves to chase or fetch, you can't get much more fun than Frisbee. There are some videos of me teaching a puppy Frisbee on the right sidebar under "Melissa in the News" if you're interested. It's cheap, you can do it in a small space if you work lots of flips and short throws. If you're fortunate enough to have access to a big field in the city, you can let your dog run. Either way, it's great exercise. The added bonus is the handler can be relatively lazy! Think about it - human throws disc, dog gets it, brings it back. Yes, it's more fun if you play too, and engage, but after a long day at the office, this is a good way to burn some of your dogs energy.
Did you know that dogs like to sniff things? Yeah, I know, caught me by surprise, too! If you have a hound or a hound mix, or a dog that you have a hard time getting his nose off the ground, this is a GREAT sport for you. He's telling you "please, let me sniff SOMETHING!" So if you find yourself saying "no, let's go, stop sniffing that, come on, no!" for the entire walk, why not teach him how to search for things that you want him to find? In a good nosework class, you learn how scent travels, what your dog "sees" with his nose that we can't possibly begin to comprehend, and teach your dog that it's ok to sniff in this particular setting when searching for this particular thing. It's a ton of fun for your dog, and believe it or not, it tires some dogs out because they are using a lot of brain power to do the exercise.
Think of mindlessly flipping through a magazine, or reading an incredibly engaging book. Which will make you more tired? If you're flipping through the magazine, you're probably bored and looking for something to bide the time. If your really taking in the information in a book, you're processing it and are more satisfied overall about the reading. The same for dogs who just sniff everything (biding the time) or have a directive (reading a really engaging book). Plus, this is something you can do in your home once you have the basic skills, and is really cheap. It's a ton of fun for your dog, and I can't recommend this class enough.
When we say "Dog Sports", 90% of you probably thought of Agility. Agility is an obstacle course, for dogs. They jump fences, go through tunnels, weave through poles, run up and down an A frame - it's athletic, it's timed, and it's beautiful to see the communication between handler and dog. It takes a lot of work to get the fastest time, AND have your dog listen to you while you instruct him through each obstacle. It's such a fantastic way to bond with your dog, teach impulse control, teach confidence, and you learn a ton about off leash handling skills with your dog in this setting. Oh, and it's just so much fun!
Dock Diving is the Long Jump for dogs. Labs and Spaniels LOVE this sport!. If your dog is acclimated to water, and loves to swim, you might have a contender for this sport. You start with your dog on a dock. When you say go, your dog runs full speed down to the end of the dock, and leaps off after a favorite toy. If you time it right, your dog jumps long, going after the toy while it's in the air, stretching his nose after the toy. When your dog hits the water, they mark how far your dog went. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Flyball (go to the 1:00 mark for the start of the sport) is a relay team sport of 4 dogs. You have two runways, each with 4 hurdles. One dog from each team is released on their runway when the judge says "go". The dog will run straight down the runway, over the hurdles, and hit a box at the end of the runway. A tennis ball comes out of the box, the dog picks it up, turns around, and goes back over the 4 hurdles (ball still in the mouth). Once they cross the start line, the next dog on the team does the same thing....until all 4 dogs have run. Since two teams run at the same time, the faster relay team advances to the next round.
Here's the best part: If you have a small, fast dog, you are highly desired! They want you and they want your dog. Here's why: The hurdles for the entire team are set to the height appropriate for the shortest dog on the team. Which means, if you have 4 Shepherds, the jumps are going to be pretty high, and the dogs will have to exert more effort to get over the jumps. If you have 3 shepherds and a 5 pound Chihuahua, the jumps for all the dogs are set to the height appropriate for the Chihuahua. The hepherds won't even have to jump - they can just run over the jumps! So, even the small guys can do Flyball, and it's absolutely encouraged! It's a team sport, unlike the other sports on this list, so there is a higher level of human socialization at these events, which is an added bonus.
I was so happy to hear that there are Earth Dog Classes in the Boston Area. There are a lot of terriers and burrowing dogs that love to dig, have high prey drive, and really want to do what they were bred for. West Highland Terriers, Dachshunds, Jack Russel Terriers, and other small terrier types do really well in this sport.
Basically, there is a system of "underground" tunnels for your dog to run through, and they have to find a caged rat. The rat is totally safe as it's caged and barricaded off. Some groups just use rat scent on a stuffed rat, which works fine. When you are given the "go", your dog has to find the rat, as if he's in an underground maze. If your dog gets stuck, you can lift the roof off of the tunnel easily to get your dog. It's totally safe (as long as your dog fits in the tunnel) and it really allows for these terrier types to use their instinctual skills.
What if my dog isn't active?
|Some dogs think "Sleeping" is an appropriate vocation.|
There are options for you if your dog isn't active, but you still want to participate in an activity with your dog.
CGC: Canine Good Citizen Test: This is the AKC's test to help owners work on basic manners for their dogs. The dog is tested on tasks, such as accepting a friendly stranger, grooming, body handling, staying calm when the owner is absent, and passing by a dog without excitement/lunging. It's the basis for Pet Therapy, AKC obedience, and a great goal for most handlers that just want to get the basics down pat. There are several AKC evaluators that can test you on the Canine Good Citizen exam.
Pet Therapy: The Delta Society and Therapy Dogs International are two big agencies that certify dogs in the field of Pet Therapy.
Food out of food dispensing toys : This is the easiest thing to do for every dog! Freeze dog food and Fat Free Yogurt in Kong's. Use Linkables (my favorite toy of last year). The Kong Wobbler spins and release one kibble at a time. There are thousands of options - you just have to find the best one for your dog. Sadie eats every meal out of a food dispensing toy. It also prevents gulping, and gives her something to do for 20 minutes.
The Most Important Thing You Can Do: is just simply spend time with your dog. They are social creatures, and they depend so much on us. Take your dog for a hike, or a walk on the beach. Let them forage for food, or sniff something on your walk. Work on obedience commands - any time you spend exercising their brain will help you with your dog, and if you add physical activity to it, and give them something they like to do as an outlet, you'll have a much more satisfied dog....and you'll probably save your sofa.