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Do Working Dogs Make Good Pets?

Written by Ella White


German shepherd sat on top of a picnic bench

Have you ever noticed that some of the AKC’s most consistently popular dog breeds are those typically associated with working. From Retrievers to German Shepherds to Australian Shepherds, some of our most beloved pets are also known for their keen senses, whip-smart intelligence, and loyalty. But why are these breeds so popular at home, and do all working dogs make good pets? 

In this article we’ll explore the pros and cons of having a highly driven or protective dog at home, and the factors to consider when deciding if a working dog could be a good fit for your family.

What Are Working Dogs?

Working dogs refer to specific dogs and categories of dogs that are bred and trained to fulfill set tasks and roles. They are generally selected for their breeds’ known traits that help them to excel in a variety of fields, from police work to therapy/learn/dog-lifestyle/what-are-therapy-dogs-and-emotional-support-dogs#:~:text=What%20Are%20Therapy%20Dogs%3F. Known for their intelligence, trainability, and instincts, working dogs often exhibit an unwavering dedication to their work, an amazing capacity to learn and adapt, and show signs from an early age that they’re well-suited to working, which makes them invaluable assets in their professions.

Can I Own A Working Dog As A Pet?

Working dogs can certainly make good pets, but whether they will be well suited to your family depends on several factors. Owning a working dog goes beyond just owning a breed that is often bred for work – like a retriever – but generally refers to owning a dog that does work, or has worked

Working dogs are typically bred and trained for specific tasks such as herding livestock, guarding property, assisting with search and rescue operations, or performing tasks for individuals with disabilities/learn/dog-lifestyle/everything-you-need-to-know-about-seeing-eye-dogs. They are good at these roles because they are highly intelligent, trainable, and have strong instincts and drives. So while it’s possible to own a dog that works, or adopt a dog once they’ve ‘retired,’ it’s important to understand how these characteristics can set them apart from non-working dogs at home.

Things To Consider Before Choosing A Working Dog As A Pet

Choosing a working dog breed as a pet requires careful consideration of several factors like:

  • Energy levels
  • Exercise requirements 
  • Training needs
  • Their compatibility with your lifestyle. 

Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Working dogs are known for their high energy levels, which come from their innate drive and instincts that make them so good at working. These dogs have been bred to be active and perform demanding tasks, so to keep them happy and healthy they need ample physical exercise and mental challenges. 

Regular, vigorous exercise helps to release their energy and can prevent behavioral issues. But they may also need constant engagement to keep their intelligent minds active through training, interactive play, and puzzle toys.

Training and Socialization

Consistent training from an early age is crucial for working dogs, as their high levels of intelligence and strong instincts require guidance and structure to help them channel their energy effectively. 

Early training helps dogs to establish boundaries, reinforces obedience, and helps them learn good manners. Socialization is also essential for all dogs to ensure they become a well-rounded pet that is used to different kinds of people, animals, and environments. 

Effective training/learn/dog-training/top-dog-training-techniques and socialization/learn/dog-training/how-to-socialize-a-dog improves a working dogs’ ability to interact positively with others, reduces anxiety, and helps them to develop a balanced temperament.

Space and Environment

Working dogs typically need much more space at home and in the garden than non-working dogs – even those of the same breed. This is due to their energy levels and need for physical activity. So while they can adapt to various living environments, larger living spaces and houses with yards or access to open spaces are generally more suitable.

Time and Commitment

Owning a working dog as a pet requires a significant level of commitment. Owners must be prepared to dedicate ample time for training, exercise, and engagement to meet their physical and mental needs. Working dogs thrive with active and involved owners who can provide the necessary time and attention to ensure their well-being, happiness, and fulfillment as a pet. So if you want a pet that’s happy to chill in front of the TV with you all weekend, or if you’re part of a busy family that’s rarely home during the week, they might not be the best choice for you.

Working Dog Breeds That Make Good Pets

While some working dogs, like Anatolian Shepherds or Siberian Huskies, are generally not recommended for families that are not very experienced with dog ownership, there are some breeds that can fit more easily into family homes.

  • The Labrador Retriever's friendly nature and adaptability makes them some of the most popular family pets, as well as working service dogs.
  • Golden Retrievers have a gentle temperament and versatile intelligence that makes them great with people – both as therapy dogs, and as pets.
  • Border Collies are famous for their intelligence which makes them easier to train for working on farms, and more suited as obedient pets compared to their Australian Shepherd cousins. 
  • German Shepherds are often used by police forces and the military, but their loyalty and protective instincts can make them brilliant family companions.