9.01.2011

What is a Working Dog?


"In the beginning, God created man, but seeing him so feeble, he gave him the dog." - Toussenel


Throughout history, dogs have performed all sorts of tasks, great and small, for their humans.  They have turned spits, guarded flocks, protected us and our families and property from harm or theft.  In their capacity as search and rescue partners, they have located escaped convicts, lost children, and survivors trapped in the remains of devastation wrought by earthquakes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters, as well as the twisted, charred remains of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City or the Twin Towers in NYC. Their cadaver dog counterparts have been charged with the far more gruesome task of locating human remains of non-survivors in these same sorts of disasters, whether wrought by nature or man.  They have herded sheep, driven cattle, pulled sleds, flushed and pointed and retrieved game birds.  As our partners in battle and law enforcement/bomb detection, they literally put their lives on the line to secure our freedoms and keep our peace. They have learned to put their powerful noses to work detecting malignancies, or to warn of impending seizures in their human handlers. As therapy dogs they provide comfort and support to the elderly, the sick, and the dying.  They alert the deaf to telephones and doorbells and fire alarms.  They find safe passage through a confusing modern world in their work to guide the blind.   

And then there are the dogs whose work is agility or flyball, or whose job it is to launch themselves off a dock into the water, or catch a plastic disc in midair while vaulting off their handler's back.  (Or in other words, whose work it is to participate in dog sports that effectively channel some of their energy and drive into an activity other than ripping apart sofa cushions to figure out what makes them so fluffy, or tunneling through the kitchen cabinets to devour a random Milk Bone, thus making them easier to live with and making it possible to enjoy them as the companions that the majority of dogs are rather than the purpose bred workers their genetics dictate.)

The point is - there are all sorts of jobs that dogs do.  Some dogs' work is on a grander scope than others, but I think it's almost universal for dogs to want to work.  Some dogs are acquired for an express purpose.  To fill a vacant place in a sled dog team, perhaps.  Others may come to live with a family who was looking for a companion dog, but recognizes the potential in a given dog to chase a lure, catch a plastic disc or navigate an obstacle course, or who have enjoyed the same dog sport with a previous dog and want to continue competing, and so choose their new dog with that goal in mind.  And that sport, that work, becomes a source of bonding and mutual enjoyment for both dog and human.  Others find their own work - sometimes positive, sometimes not.   My own dogs are both Canine Good Citizens, and Tucker is certified for, and has worked as, a therapy dog (in the cardiac unit of a local hospital).  But as much as I often make fun of the "work" that they do when they accompany me to my office every day (as in yesterday's post), the fact remains that though their work is not on as grand a scale as that of many dogs we recognize as "working dogs," they still have a very important job to do.  

On the days that they accompany me to work (which is most days, but certainly not every day), their entire demeanor is different.  They are "amped up" to an extent, but also very purposeful.  They have a routine that they follow every morning when we enter the office - whereby they make the rounds of all the offices and greet all the employees in turn.  They welcome visitors and the occasional client.  They provide a counterbalance to the stressful environment of a busy ad agency - their silly antics and in fact their very presence relieves stress and boosts morale, not just my own, but that of others.  They're sometimes the only bright spot in my day, and the only thing that can make my boss relax.  So even though sometimes their "work" may be taking a nap in my office and being there for me to look over at when I'm feeling tense, they are fulfilling a role.  They are working.  Tucker and Phoebe don't guide the blind or alert epileptics that they're about to have a seizure.  They don't herd sheep.  They retrieve nothing more than the occasional ball or stuffy toy.  But I still consider them very much my working dogs.

Tucker and Phoebe - working 
(note - this is not me - she was a visitor sitting in on an audio session at our studio today, who really enjoyed the dogs)


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7 comments:

Old Kitty said...

Awww sweet Tucker and lovely Phoebe are brilliant working dogs - their presence is enough to make for a happy, calmer, saner work place - all good!! Yay!!! Take care
x

Amber DaWeenie said...

We are all working dogs. Our job is to make our hoomans happy!

Cat Chat With Caren And Cody said...

love your photo! My Dakota is a Sheltie and they are natural "working" dogs because they try to "herd" everything in site and they think they are 24 hr security!

Spitty-the-Kitty said...

The Human says....Spitty as a "work cat" of any type is a complete non-starter, but I used to have a cat that I think would've made an excellent classroom cat! He was the most placid animal ever (he let me VACUUM him) and also the most sociable (he'd cuddle up to anybody that would pet him). I never brought him to school, but I think he would've enjoyed it.

CaroScat said...

Totally agree. All dogs like to be work dogs, unlike cats who like us to work for them!!

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Yeah! I can leave comments now! I like your working dog post. I like to think each dog has a job. :-)

Elizabeth said...

This is a very nice post, and I agree with you 100%. No job is too insignificant or too small.

(And, it is so cool that you can take your dogs to work.)