Anyone who has tuned in on Thanksgiving to watch the National Dog Show has been witness to the tremendous variability in dog breeds. There are working breeds, herding breeds, hounds, sporting dogs, terriers, toy breeds, and even a category for non-sporting dogs. A large majority of these breeds were developed to perform a particular job. Some “point and retrieve” birds, others “trail and tree” their prey, while some may “go to ground”, or tunnel, after small vermin. These breeds were developed to assist their owners in providing food or eliminating vermin and trespassers on the homestead.
Today, most of our companion animals don’t pursue the career path of their ancestors. Today’s pet may do some obedience or tricks, some will guard, but most just provide companionship; a noble career path in and of itself.
There is, however, a sub-segment of dogs that still work. They may be working-sporting dogs, rabbit dogs, or search-and-rescue police dogs. The traits that make them successful are inherent from generations of selective breeding. These dogs enjoy their work, and their owners enjoy the teamwork that ensues.
That said, for a dog to work in partnership with his owner, he must know what is expected of him. That knowledge comes from training. Training starts from puppyhood and continues throughout the dog’s life. One cannot force a dog to work, he needs to be trained how to use his instincts in order to produce the desired end result. A search-and-rescue dog has great scenting abilities, but she must learn what scent she is looking for and how to indicate a find. This comes from careful and thorough training.
A working dog’s physical condition is paramount in her ability to perform. She must be physically fit, in prime weight, and mentally bright. She cannot be distracted by parasites, allergies, metal dullness from poor nutrition, or lack of muscle tone. She must be in optimal health.
Developing a close relationship with a working dog only intensifies the communication between the dog and the trainer. This is best accomplished by spending more time with the dog. Dogs kept penned up do not develop the same degree of understanding and trust as dogs who spend time with their owners/trainers). Many of the top field trial champions are workaholics, but at the end of the day they are curled up content and the feet of their owners.
Like any athlete, a working dog’s life centers around (on) his job. And, like an athlete, he must be conditioned properly prior to a competition. A coach would never let an athlete eat junk food, stay up all night, and skip out on their workout prior to a competition. But, unfortunately, we often let our dogs do just that. They are kept in a small, confined space without proper daily exercise and conditioning. They are fed poor quality, inexpensive feed, while allowed to develop bad habits in the off-season. (this is close to a run-on. Perhaps break it up?)
For a working dog to be at peak performance, he needs to parasite free. This includes not only being free of ectoparasites like fleas and ticks, but also internal parasites, such as intestinal worms and heartworms.
Owning a working dog can be rewarding, but it does take a commitment in time and resources. You need to develop a trusting relationship with your dog and educate yourself and her about the job at hand. As the owner, you need to have your dog on a good diet, heartworm prevention, flea and tick prevention, all necessary vaccinations. Health checks must be kept current.
As mentioned earlier, working dogs thrive with close contact with their owners. If they are housed separately, care must be taken to provide the comforts needed to keep them safe and healthy. Warmth in the winter is essential. With the severe cold we have had this winter, a box with straw is not adequate for most dogs. Hypothermia can kill. Summer conditions can be just as deadly. It does not take long, even in moderate temperatures, for a dog to overheat and succumb to heat stroke.
Honor you working dog by providing her with a lifestyle she deserves. That means comfort and companionship and proper training. Enjoy the bond that is so rewarding between a working dog and her owner.