While a majority of dogs spend their days doing very little physical activity, many dogs were originally bred for working. Knowing what your dog was meant to do can really help you understand its behavior.
If you are looking for a new dog, knowing about the breed(s) can help you pick one that fits your family. If you currently have a dog (or multiple dogs), understanding breed-specific traits can help you to provide an even more fulfilling life for your canine(s).
Herding dogs include German Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Border Collies (just to name a few). These dogs are full of energy, very smart, and highly trainable. These dogs were bred over hundreds of years for their ability to control and move herds of livestock — which is why many people also refer to them as shepherd dogs.
Although they are still a favorite for farms, the majority of herding dogs today never get a chance to see a farm animal. Still, many owners notice their pet’s instinct to “herd” their families, which often results in owners becoming worried about their dog’s tendency to urgently nudge or even nip at people.
It’s important to recognize that these behaviors are not aggressive. Instead, they are traces of the genetic lineage of herding dogs. These dogs not only require serious physical activity on a daily basis, but they need mental activity as well. Thinking is one of the things herding dogs are great at, and they’re not truly happy without daily mental exercise.
This group is comprised of several types of dogs — pointers (German shorthair), retrievers (Golden or Labrador), setters (English, Irish), flushers (Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel), and water dogs (Poodle, Portuguese Water dog). These dogs were developed over time to help hunters of fowl find and retrieve their game. Bird dogs are known for being smart & loyal, energetic, and loving the water.
Guardian breeds such as Giant Schnauzers, German Shepherds, Tibetan Mastiffs, and Doberman Pinschers, and Rottweilers are oftentimes seen as aggressive and untrustworthy because they can be quite ferocious when it comes to protecting their home. However, it’s important to not forget that we bred them to be that way.
The most important thing for these dogs is socialization when they’re still puppies. Young dogs that are exposed to as many strangers as possible tend to be less aggressive with age. If they aren’t exposed to these things when they’re puppies, it can lead to issues with aggression—which may be devastating for you and your dog. These dogs are incredibly intelligent and easy to train, so providing them with appropriate outlets to get out their extra energy will go a long way.
These dogs were bred for helping hunters track prey by sight. The Greyhound, Saluki, and the Irish Wolfhound are sight dogs, which makes them very visual and extremely fast. They will chase anything with quick movement (including kids) and tend to be highly energetic.
Although this group includes some of the fastest dog breeds, they are known for being “couch potatoes” at home. If there is nothing for them to chase, they are usually quite content to lay by their human pack leader. Therefore, don’t misinterpret their laziness as them not wanting to be physically active—it’s the owner’s responsibility to engage them in activities they will enjoy.
Like sight dogs, tracking dogs were bred to help hunt prey, but instead of using their eyes, they use their noses. Breeds such as the Beagle, Bloodhound, and Coonhound belong to this group. Their amazing sense of smell is so instinctive that even dogs with no formal training will “track” a scent they pick up. As some of you may have experienced firsthand, if your dog picks up a scent, he/she will probably tune out everything else as his scent drive takes over. Due to this, it’s not a good idea to let a Hound off of their leash without proper training. If a scent dog finds a scent, will be long gone, having tuned your voice out completely. With training, however, these amazing dogs are great for search & rescue and scent work.
Terriers were bred to be expert hunters of game. This group, which includes the American Staffordshire terrier, Jack Russell and, West Highland Terrier, is well known for being stubborn, overbearing, and energetic.
These dogs need a firm hand when it comes to training or your house will end up being destroyed. Since they were bred to kill, these dogs LOVE to rip, shred, chew, and shake anything they get their teeth into. Therefore, nip training and socialization are extremely important.
Activities for Working Dogs
- Taking Turns (Learning Patience/Mental Stimulation)
- Staying Focused (Learning Impulse Control/Mental Stimulation)
- Being Attentive (Learning to be Responsive to You/Mental Stimulation)
- Retrieve (Learning to Bring You Items/Physical Exercise)
- Hide n’ Seek (Learning to Be Attentive/Teaches Responsibility/Mental Stimulation)
- “Find It” (Teaches Names of Objects/Mental Stimulation)
- Puzzles (Learning to Stay on Task/Concentration/Mental Stimulation)
- Treiball (Satisfies Herding Instinct/Physical Exercise/Mental Stimulation)
- Playing Fetch (Learning to Be Attentive/Physical Exercise)
- Dock Diving (Physical Exercise)
- Disc-Catching (Learning to Be Attentive/Physical Exercise)
- Nose Work (Learning to Stay on Task/Mental Stimulation)
- Digging Activities (Physical Exercise/Mental Stimulation)
- Going for a walk/jog/hike (Physical Exercise)
- Search and Rescue (Learning to Stay on Task/Physical Exercise/Mental Stimulation)
This is a diverse group of dogs in size and appearance. In contrast to other groups, these dogs lost their ability to perform the tasks they were bred for. Nowadays, most non-sporting breeds are great companions and choice of many families. These dogs learn quickly and love any exercise as long as it suits their body type. Non-sporting dogs include the Bulldog, Poodle, Dalmatian, Chow Chow, Boston Terrier, and Bichon Frise (again, just to name a few).
The personalities and temperament of these dogs are unique. In fact, experts can’t make any generalizations about the behavioral traits for the breeds in this group. The tendencies of each breed are unique and can only be traced to their individual backgrounds. Some make excellent watch dogs, while others are lap dogs. Some are good for living in apartments, while others should only live in homes with large outdoor areas to be physically active.
Since it’s so difficult to make generalizations about the breeds in this group, owners should be sure to research breeds to help understand their unique characteristics, discover appropriate activities to do with them, and to determine whether or not that breed is appropriate for what they’re looking for.
The toy group is the smallest group of dogs and was bred to fit on laps. These dogs have diverse traits but they share the same characteristics of being small dogs. In the past, they were used to provide physical comfort and entertainment for their owners. Nowadays, they perform very similar tasks. These dogs are also known for their therapeutic value as therapy dogs. They are widely known for not leaving their sick owner’s bed side.
Some examples of dogs included in this group are Pomeranians, Pugs, Chihuahuas, and Poodles.
Activities for Puppies
Playing with a puppy might seem fairly obvious, but if you’re not careful, you can play too rough or too long with your puppy, which can lead to aggression or grumpiness. Without preparing to play, you may create behavioral problems such as nipping or biting. The good news is that with simple preparation, there are a variety of games that will help your puppy to socialize and strengthen your bond.
- Choose a good time to play.
Pick a time when the puppy is full of energy and they haven’t just eaten. If kids are going to play, make sure they are supervised. An important thing to keep in mind is that puppies don’t understand the difference between playing and teasing. So don’t be surprised if they “nip” out of confusion if kids (or adults) are teasing them.
- Learn what your puppy likes.
Pay attention to what the puppy runs to or chews on. Test out some toys and see if the puppy responds or not. Try out different textures and shapes/sizes. A puppy won’t want to play with something they don’t like, so it’s the owner’s responsibility to provide them with preferred toys and activities.
- Train during playtime.
Use this time to work on smaller tasks such as “sit” or responding to their name. You’d be surprised at how fast a puppy can learn if you find the right motivator!
- Know when to be done with playtime.
Since puppies are often energetic, it’s hard to remember that they can become overtired. A puppy has growing bones and slack ligaments supporting their bones. If the puppy becomes overtired, he/she might move awkwardly and damage those growing joints. Make sure not to overtire the puppy, so stop while he/she still has some energy left!
When you do stop, end on a good note that leaves your puppy wanting more, instead of playing until they’re completely exhausted. If the puppy is worn out, he/she will become grumpy from tiredness—which could lead to the puppy associating play with negative experiences rather than positive experiences.
Activities for Older Dogs
Exercise is still extremely important with older dogs, so be sure keep them active for physical (and mental) well-being. Depending on your dog, consider slowing your daily jog together down to a brisk walk, or take a couple of short walks instead of one long one — use common sense to determine whether or not what you’re doing is at an appropriate level of intensity. Just as people get sore as they age, dogs do, too! So be mindful of the limitations your canine(s) may have.
Tailoring activities as a dog ages is something that many people have a hard time with. Just remember that this is a natural part of life, and honoring that aspect of life is honoring your dog.
Well, that’s it for today! We hope you’ve learned something about behavioral enrichment for your dog(s), and maybe you’ll even decide to try out some of the activities this weekend!
Until next time,
Ayriel and the Ohana Animal Hospital Staff