I firmly believe that every dog needs a “job”. For some that may just be as a companion for its human but all dogs are companions but not all have the jobs they need.
Being in the house or a kennel all day, getting a walk maybe in the morning and evening is not enough for a dog. Most dogs have instincts for certain activities and I feel it is the owner’s responsibility to honor those instinctive needs in their dogs.
Since all of my dogs are hunting dogs, that is what their job is and they love it, were born to do it. Unfortunately, the hunting season in Montana is only four and half months long. So the rest of the time we engage in activities that more or less mimic hunting. Long walks where they get to sniff and explore and play with each other.
I get out the training bag that is packed with retrieving dummies. I throw them in sight of her, have her sit at my left side and wait until I give the command to fetch. She excitedly runs to the dummy and retrieves it to me, sitting at my left side.
I gradually increase the complexity of these exercises by putting out 3 piles of dummies a distance from me to my left, center and right. I line Freezy up on one of the piles and ask her to fetch. She can pick which dummy she wants and brings to me. I then send her again, to the same pile or a different one.
We also do blind retrieves in which I, out of the sight of the dog, take a dummy far out and hide it. I bring her in and line her up with where the dummy is and tell her “Dead bird, fetch”. She may start out in the right direction but then veer off in the wrong way. I blow my whistle one loud blast and she is to sit, look at me and watch my hand signals to tell her which direction to go.
We also do water retrieves in the summer which is great fun for the dog. The Chesapeake Bay retriever, Griz, we had a few years ago totally loved to retrieve in water, no matter how cold it was. And to increase his strength we would throw big sticks, even logs for him to grab and retrieve.
Freezy loves to swim and retrieve bird dummies. Joy would swim with her which would make Freeze swim even faster so that she could get to the dummy before Joy even though Joy had no intention of grabbing the dummy.
Freezy is also a flusher and loves to hunt pheasants and grouse with Ruger, the pointer
For pointers, I like to buy some pigeons, set them out in tall grass (they have their wings folded in a particular way to keep them from flying) and walk Ruger out until he gets a scent and locks up on point. He is required to hold his point as I walk in and flush the bird and shoot it (or shoot at it depending how good my aim is). If I hit the bird, he retrieves it and later I clean it and it goes into the dog stew pot.
For puppies, no matter the breed, it is important for them to have bird experience at a young age to reinforce those natural instincts. They also need lots of time practicing fetch and retrieve on tennis balls, toys, sticks, anything I throw.
There are also several bird farms around that are open until the end of March. You can buy a certain number of pheasants or quail and actually hunt them. Since these are pen raised birds, they are less likely to run rather than fly and will hold better than wild birds making it a great training time that is super fun for the dog. These birds we get to eat, assuming again that we are shooting well enough to bring them down.
For some dogs like the Shih Tzu Buddy, his main job was as a registered therapy dog; he was a natural and loved it. The rest of the time he was a sweet companion and kept all the big dogs in line.
Joy was my most versatile dog. She was a registered therapy dog, a supreme assistant puppy raiser, and we did agility and freestyle together. For freestyle, I brought Carolyn Scott to Helena to do a workshop to benefit Loving Paws Assistance Dogs program (no longer in existence) which is where Joy came from. Carolyn helped each person with dogs pick just the right music and then away we went. Long after the workshop Joy and I would often put the music on and dance around the house.
Dogs need jobs and not just for a few days each year. I also believe they need other dogs in the pack; not just dogs they might see on occasion. I think of the few dogs we have had that have not had a dog pal and feel badly for them. Wonder how I would feel if I could rarely interact with another person. They need other dogs to play with, nap with, just hang out with and “talk” to. Not only do these activities enhance the cohesiveness of the pact, the younger dogs learn a lot from the older dogs.