Is there an equation that measures the increase in decibel levels when two dogs see the garbage truck? Even the smallest dogs, fenced in and highly indignant that a vehicle should appear and stop in front of their house, are likely to wake up the neighborhood at the bracing time of 6 am. Consider it a community-service alarm clock.
Another dog might alert the media every time a squirrel or chipmunk, or the hint of any small critter, dares to poke its nose into the yard. This audacity prompts the dog to race back and forth along the fence line, barking in ever-rising high-pitched shrieks. The soft ground bears the brunt of the constant back and forth. The dog is indifferent to the rut he has created in the mud. His owners swear he is obsessed, maybe even possessed.
We know that barking in the yard should be discouraged in case it should escalate to threats and aggression.
And by the way, it’s also really annoying.
So here’s the thing. Dogs are working animals. They need a job to do. The only job we have given them is to be the family pet. There isn't a job description for the position, but if there were, it might look like this, at least, according to what we humans observe:
1. Wake up early. Wake up everyone else in the house.
2. Go outside. Potty at leisure. Bark at will.
3. Come in. Eat breakfast. Wipe face off on nearest human.
5. Wake up. Look around. Stand at the window and bark.
7. Greet homecoming humans. Prance at the door.
8. Go outside. Potty at leisure. Bark at will.
9. Come in. Eat dinner. Wipe, etc.
10. Play until exhausted.
11. Find a used tissue and eat it.
12. Go outside. Potty, bark.
No responsibilities, right? Well, let’s review the above, but from the dog’s viewpoint:
1. Wake up first to get a head start on keeping the household safe from all predators, including chipmunks, garbage trucks and leaves. Wake everyone else up to let them know we stand ready to protect.
2. Go outside. Thoroughly inspect the yard to ensure nothing has compromised its integrity during the night. Find the precise place to potty so as to keep an eye on the yard at all times. Sense the presence of something suspicious. Bark until it goes away.
3. Come in. Fuel up quickly, just in case someone should present a challenge to the food source. Provide humans with face contact to reassure them that all is well.
4. Sleep to restore energy for the challenges ahead.
5. Wake to threatening noises from outside. Stand guard at the window and bark until the jogger runs away. Without barking, the jogger would surely have stayed and committed some misdeed. Close call.
6. More rejuvenating rest.
7. Let returning humans know that all is well. Demand to be let out so the yard can be surveyed again for security purposes.
And so on.
Our industrious dogs are as eager for satisfying work as we are. True, as they near retirement age, thoughts of warm grass and extra long naps will intrude more frequently. But a dog in his prime needs a purpose.
Give him productive work to do. Tell your dog to sit for his meals and before he goes outside. He sits for his collar and leash, too. Before he is greeted by his humans, he sits and is rewarded with the attention he craves. In the yard, make a little digging pit for him with some treats and toys in it, so he has something to do out there besides prowl and bark. On walks, keep him next to you, not in front, and stop frequently to do sit/stays. Retrievers might like to carry a stick or ball on a walk. Some dogs enjoy wearing a dog pack. (It’s a great way to have your dog carry his own poop bags.)
You’ve heard it before. A tired dog is a happy dog (with happy owners). Dogs need physical exercise (walks and playtime), mental exercise (puzzle toys like Kongs) and a job to do. So, hire your dog! And write a job description for him that you can both live with.