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Care of Dogs A Family Affair

Division of labor benefits the dogs
By Karen B. London PhD, December 2018, Updated June 2021

The rest of my family attend to Marley

As a family of four, we have plenty of labor to offer dogs when they are in our care. We each gravitate towards certain tasks or ways of interacting with dogs. We combine our efforts so that the dogs in our home get the things that they need and plenty of the attention that they desire. We often dog sit for a few days or even a few weeks, and that means that we have a variety of canines who experience life in our house. Here’s how the division of labor helps us make life complete for our canine guests.

My main job is training. I love to teach dogs tricks and I also enjoy basic manners work. I still remember the joy that filled my heart and the possibilities that filled my mind the first time we watched Super Bee, a very fit and athletic Border Collie. Not wanting to risk negatively affecting her lean body, I asked her guardian if I could give her treats and do some training with her. The answer made me feel as though I had died and gone to heaven because I was told she was clicker savvy, loved to work, and that she could probably stand to gain a few pounds. To spend a week with a smart, work-loving Border Collie who could have as many treats as I could give her is my idea of paradise. In addition to training dogs (usually with a cautious approach about not overfeeding!) I am the central organizer who makes sure that we have all the supplies we need—treats, bowls, leashes, toys, chew toys, food and all the rest of it. I arrange any veterinary care that is needed, and I sometimes trim nails when that is required. I walk or run the dogs in the middle of the day.

My husband runs or walks with the dogs in the morning and sometimes in the evening, takes leashes and collars on and off before walks and bedtime, and is the massager-in-chief to the dogs. They can always approach him for a quick petting session or for a longer full body massage. We joke that the dogs consider him a mobile petting station and pop in whenever they feel the need.

My younger son is the play buddy to all dogs. He will play fetch, tug, hide-and-seek or chase with a dog, depending on that dog’s favorite game. He also loves to take the more athletic of them out for runs, doing a series of sprints with dogs who enjoy that and can safely do it. He is happy to feed dogs, train them and pet them, but his primary interactions with them are playful. Because of his play buddy status, many dogs are very excited to see him and will jump up on him. As a result, he has become an expert at training dogs to sit for greetings rather than jump up.


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My older son excels at helping nervous or fearful dogs to feel comfortable. Sometimes that involves behavioral modification. He is always willing to work on counterconditioning dogs who are a bit shy or scared, and understands what each dog can handle in general as well as in a specific situation or a particular emotional state. At other times, it just means that his naturally peaceful manner is attractive to dogs in need of a little extra reassurance. They often come to lie down with him when they need tranquility. He gives them the gentle respite they seek, whether that means petting and attention, or just being there. In addition, he regularly plays with dogs and takes them out for runs and walks.

The split responsibilities require us to communicate with each other about what we’ve done. (We once fed a dog twice by mistake and we have inadvertently doubled up on walks and runs several times!) Even with the occasional error, the advantages of our shared participation are that the dogs experience a variety of social interactions, and all the tasks required for their care happen—sometimes multiple times.

If you live with other people, does your care of and interaction with the dogs involve a division of labor?

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life