The Working Dog Group are renowned for their intelligence and drive to work and include such breeds as Kelpies, Border Collies, German Shepherd, Corgi’s and Cattle Dogs. They make up a huge proportion of dogs in Australia mainly due to our farming heritage, however more and more people in the cities are adopting these dogs.
I once heard it said that these dogs are like race cars, they spend a lot of time in the ‘shop’ being tweaked and repaired but when they run they run like a dream. There is a huge amount of responsibility with owning the smartest dogs in the world. So what does it take to live with the Ferrari of the dog world?
Many working dogs were bred to round-up livestock, otherwise known as herding. Herding can take many forms and some breeds specialise in certain herding behaviours. For example Border Collies will herd from a distance while Heelers and Kelpies usually get much closer to their livestock. Herding encourages such behaviours as chasing, rushing and stalking which work so well on farms with sheep but may not be so welcome with other dogs, their owners, children, cats, the vacuum cleaner or the wheelie bin.
These behaviours have been bred in working dogs for thousands of years so it is highly likely you will see them in your working dog. You cannot undo what breeding has done but there are several skills every working dog and their human will find very helpful, especially those who live in the city.
Recall is a non-negotiable skill for a working dog. A good recall will stop your dog from herding, chasing and rushing at people and other dogs. Heel and sit and focus are two more vital skills. If your working dog can walk attentively at your heel, or watch you carefully you will be able to manage passing distractions without the need to physically restrain your dog from chasing, jumping or nipping at heels. Stay is a great skill for a working dog. If your dog has an effective stay you can use it as an alternative to recall and use it to settle them down if they are becoming over excited.
These are just the bare bones of what your working dog should know. Working dogs excel at Obedience and Agility (among other sports), and if you are considering adopting a working dog you should become a member of your local club as soon as possible. If you want a working dog you must be willing to put the years in steering high intelligence in the right direction.
In order to train your working dog effectively you must keep sessions interesting, avoid working on the same skill in the same way every day. Your working dog will become easily bored, stale in their response to you and may even begin to outsmart you by demonstrating behaviours before you have even asked for them. If your working dog is anticipating behaviours in this way it is a sure sign your training is too predictable and is in danger of becoming boring. Be creative with your training by including play, toys, food and tricks in shaping behaviours.
Often working dogs develop obsessions over chasing balls or birds. Use ball games carefully as rewards in training. Mindlessly tossing the ball for your dog can cause all sorts of physical and psychological problems. Intense ball chasers will often damage their knees and require reconstructive surgery, this kind of ball chasing also discourages socialisation with other dogs and stops your dog from interacting with their environment. Constant ball chasing can greatly increase the intensity of not only your dog but the dogs in the vicinity, often resulting in anti-social behaviour. Use the ball as a reward for good behaviour and it will become a constructive training tool.
Your working dog will need some seriously intense socialisation for the first three years of their life. At a minimum your aim is to meet one new person each day and/or have one new experience each day for the first three years. It sounds quite ridiculous when written in black and white but believe me, working dogs are among some of the most sensitive breeds of dog I come across. Mistakes in socialisation and training can have serious life long consequences with these dogs, the mix of high intelligence with high excitability can backfire.
If you have your heart set on living with a working dog you must ask your self if you can commit to walking for an hour each day, rain, hail and shine, daily training and daily socialisation. If the answer is yes, then congratulations you will become the proud owner of one of the most driven, loyal and insightful breeds of dog known to man.