Written by Anna Hollisey
To you, it’s a job – to them, it’s a challenge! Giving your dog a job may sound cruel, but there’s no need to call the ASPCA… we’re talking about bringing your stuff, tidying up and closing doors. Small jobs can make your canine pal feel needed. Keep reading for 9 jobs to give your dog at home!
All dogs respond differently to learning. If you have a keen learner, you’ll see their enthusiasm and excitement every time you start giving commands. It doesn’t mean your dog is necessarily super-well-behaved. But this kind of attitude can make your training work easier and more fun.
Certain breeds are more predisposed to learning, training and accepting jobs. An Australian Shepherd, Retriever, Poodle to name but a few are considered pretty smart in the dog world. These dogs get bored easily and when they get bored they can get destructive. So that badly behaved dog you might be pulling your hair out over, might just need a little more responsibility.
Your dog doesn’t need to earn a living. Giving them ‘jobs’ is more about increasing mental stimulation and their bond with you. If the jobs are useful, that’s an extra bonus!
For dogs who are highly intelligent, the hours between walks can be long and tedious. They might resort to chewing or digging in order to entertain themselves, and that’s a sign that they would appreciate additional attention from you. So why not focus that energy onto a task that will help you to get on with your day to day activities?
You may find that a training session helps your dog to relax afterwards.
Your dog can learn to find anything that’s important, and bring it to you in their mouth (or just show you). Step one involves simply rewarding your dog for touching the item. Hold it in one hand and a treat in the other. As soon as they touch the item (keys or phone), say ‘yes’ and give them a treat. Once they’ve mastered this, place the item further away, then behind a piece of furniture, and keep practising. Introduce the name of the item as a command, so your dog knows what to seek.
It’s not technically a job. But teaching your dog to sniff you out reduces the chance that they’ll stray too far on a walk. It teaches your dog that good things come when they pay attention to you, and improves recall. Ask someone to keep your dog in one room while you hide. Then ask them to release your dog and call. When your dog finds you, reward them with a treat. You can play this on a walk by hiding behind a shrub when your dog walks ahead – it’s fun, but secretly useful!
This is a useful skill to teach your dog, even if they’re not a born retriever. Why? We use it to divert our dog’s attention when visitors arrive or the dog is getting overexcited. Say ‘toy’ or the toy’s name, and when your dog picks up the right thing, reward them – possibly but not necessarily with a treat. You can reward them by playing tug of war or throwing the toy again. If your dog has different toys, teach them the names of each by saying them quietly while you play with them.
In our household, we love this one. We started with two toys: one which we dangled excitedly, and the other was ‘dead’. After a few seconds of play with toy no.1, we said ‘swap’ and brought the other one to life. Our dog quickly learned that ‘swap’ meant he would be rewarded for dropping the first thing. You can reward with a treat or more play. It is now useful when he picks up a sock!
Teach your dog to bring you a tissue when you sneeze. Start by placing a tissue on the ground and ask your dog to bring it (you need basic retrieval skills before you try this). Take the tissue and reward them with a treat. Then place the tissue on a tissue box, and keep practising. Tuck the tissue into the box so that your dog learns to pull out a tissue. Swap your cue to a sneeze.
This is a multi-step task combining retrieval with dropping, and it requires your dog to learn extra words. Once they have mastered retrieval – including identifying the correct item – they can help by bringing your slippers or newspaper (just like the sit-coms). You’ll need to teach them retrieval and ‘drop’, and possibly carry a few treats in your pocket.
When your dog is ready to progress, how about tidying their own toys? By teaching them to retrieve and drop, you already have the basis. Introduce a basket or box to the room. Then practice asking your dog to find their toy and drop it – in the box. This is a very impressive trick when you want to show off your dog’s brilliant skills! Also note that it could be developed into picking up stray socks or laundry – and even helping you to load the washing machine.
Has your dog ever carried a dead rodent into the house? If you ever get a pest problem, you could be glad of some help from your canine guard. Reward this behaviour with a treat (which helps to ensure he drops the pest), and let your dog do what nature intended.
If your dog always seems to know when you need a snuggle, could they become a therapy dog? These are invited into schools, care homes and hospitals with the sole purpose of providing affection to people. You’ll know if your dog has a natural instinct for this. If they are calm and consistent with new people, you could reach out to your local charity groups and enquire about making therapy visits.
If your dog has mastered the hand-touch (which is a starting-point taught in many Obedience classes), teach them to touch a piece of paper by holding it flat in your palm. The next stage is taping that paper to a cupboard or ordinary door and rewarding your dog when they push it shut. Handy for kitchen cupboards, bathroom doors and even washing machines!