Dogs need jobs!

Seriously, we all need purpose in life and dogs are no exception!  Their job can be as simple as taking you for a walk to get your exercise, or being your comic relief at the end of a long day.  Sometimes just this change in perception in the owner's mind can make a difference in the way a dog views their purpose, and that can lead to a change in behavior.

But it can be more than that, too.

There is no reason the family pet can't perform some of the same tricks a service assistance dog does. Why can't you teach your dog to close a drawer for you? Pick up a dropped sock and bring it to you? Put her toys away, or even pick up after the kids?

We need to stop seeing our canine companions as burdens or pets to be taken care of. They are that, but they can be contributing household members as well. With a little effort and some creativity, you can teach your dog to be your own assistance dog.  Of course, you'll want to match the job to the dog. You can't have a Great Pyrenees fetching items that roll under the coffee table, but if you have a dachshund handy, you've got it covered.  A Corgi, with his short legs can't reach the light switch, but a Jack Russell Terrier could bounce right up there and turn that light off for you.  Okay, you might want to leave the light switch to the long nose of a Doberman to save wear and tear on your walls.  The point is - if you have a tall dog, you don't need The Clapper.

It's true you might need to spend a little time working with your dog to decide which behaviors you want to encourage and what jobs you want to assign him or her.  You might even need to do a little retraining to get from Point A to perfect execution of a trick.  Perhaps you will need to teach Wags to bring the sock to you and not steal it and bury it in the sofa.  Maybe a Max needs to learn to pick up and hold an item softly, so as not to crunch down on the pen you want him to hand you and squirt ink everywhere. Wouldn't it be cool to come home with your arms loaded with groceries and not only have Fifi stay out from underfoot, but close the door behind you (without running out of it first)?

If a service assistance dog can do it, so can yours.  So think up some jobs you would like your dog to master and start making him earn his keep.  Use effective, positive training techniques and you'll build a better relationship. Your dog will be less bored and better behaved, and your whole family will be happier - human and animal alike.

- Marilyn Tokach, Canine Employment Specialist