We all want to belong and feel useful. Most of us are happiest when we have meaningful work. Our dogs are descended from long lines of herders, retrievers, hunters, guard dogs, and other dogs who became companions to people because they did useful work. Nowadays, sleeping at home all day while the family is at school and work can leave a dog restless and bored. A dog needs plenty of exercise and a purpose in life. Of course our dogs are great companions, but when they don’t have the opportunity to do the jobs they were bred for, they can get into trouble, or even invent their own jobs.
Take Bandit, for instance. He comes from a long line of Australian Cattle Dogs, hard headed, smart, intense dogs who are used to taking charge and are not intimidated by a herd of cows. Bandit has had opportunities to herd cows, but we don’t have our own herd, so those opportunities don’t come often enough for him. Thus, Bandit carries one jolly ball while herding another one around the yard. He tries to herd me to the door when he wants me to go outside. He sometimes herds the other dogs, especially if he thinks they’re in my way and wants to clear the way for me. He barks at the deer that come to the bird feeder, wanting to control those hoofed animals. When I’ve been sitting at the computer for too long, he whacks me on the leg with the rubber chicken or drops a tennis ball in my lap. It’s time to take a break and play ball! I call Bandit my recreation director.
Chase has created some interesting jobs for himself. I think Chase is a mix of collie and cattle dog, two herding breeds. He has had the opportunity to work sheep and ducks, but not often enough. Herding dogs are especially alert to anything that is out of order because they’re used to watching over their flock. Chase likes to notify me when anything is different. He hears the garbage truck and snowplow coming long before I do and lets me know. He barks in a unique way when the feral cat is around. When we go outside, Chase patrols the perimeter as a collie will. He follows his nose, which tells him what other creatures have passed through. He spots birds way up in the sky and has alerted me to a bald eagle soaring high above. Chase is currently in training to become a therapy dog. I’ve felt for a long time that this is a calling for him and I’m finally giving him the chance to do it. We plan to volunteer at the library where kids can read to Chase, and we may also visit an eldercare home.
One job that Chase takes very seriously is one that I cannot figure out. He goes bonkers when I crack a hardboiled egg. I can crack a dozen raw eggs with no response, but when I get ready to crack a hardboiled egg, Chase springs up and barks like it’s the end of the world. He has even learned what it sounds like when I take a hardboiled egg out of the refrigerator. When I flip the lid of the fridge compartment he comes running, anticipating that I’ll soon crack a hardboiled egg, and prepares to go bonkers. The only reason for this that I can think of is that this cracking sound reminds Chase of something from his early life in an abusive home. But I just don’t know. He is very sensitive to different sounds.
Cay is more into play than work, but she has created a couple of jobs for herself. She loves to steal Chase’s favorite ball and scamper around the yard holding it just out of his reach. Since we only have one of these balls and Chase is quite serious about it, Cay enjoys the role of “bratty little sister”. The more Chase gets upset, the more she prances around with his ball, just out of reach. Having played the role of bratty little sister myself once, I tell Chase to pretend like he doesn’t care and the fun of the game will go away for Cay. But he goes into fits knowing that she has ‘his’ ball.
When we go up to play in the pen on the hill, the dogs often take balls with them. The result is that our backyard would be empty of balls to play with if we didn’t bring some back down the hill every day. Cay has figured this out. Each day when we turn to head back to the house, she runs around searching for a ball to bring back. She never comes back empty handed (or should I say empty mouthed?). I can’t remember when or how Cay chose this job for herself, but she takes it very seriously every day.
In the winter, at least one of the dogs jumps up on my bed before bedtime, warming it up for me. Sure, this is a perk for them, but it’s also a perk for me. I never have to feel cold sheets on a cold winter night. And I’m ready for a three dog night too.
Sometimes my dogs work as a team. When I offer a large yogurt carton to be licked out, Chase licks the inside rim around the top, Bandit licks around the middle, and Cay, with the longest, narrowest muzzle, licks out the bottom. When I think about it, I notice more and more jobs that my dogs have created for themselves. What jobs do your dogs help you with?
Of course, my dogs are great companions. Besides being my friends, one of the best jobs they have is leading me to new friends—through dog activities like obedience, agility, tracking and herding, and through their stories. Now that’s what I call meaningful work!
We recently reconnected with Cay’s brother Zander’s family when they read an Omega Fields article about her. I’m happy to hear that Cays’ brother is also getting the great nutrition provided by Omega Canine Shine® ground flaxseed supplement and Omega Nuggets™ flaxseed treats.
Wishing you and yours the benefits of great nutrition and a Happy Spring!
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