People are happier when they have a job. Dogs are happier when they have a job.
And a person and a dog working together? Pure bliss.
Cat Urbigkit is a writer and photographer. She also keeps a flock of sheep in the Green River basin area south of Yellowstone National Park.
In the spring, she grazes the flock in the nearby hills, moving them where they will be safe from predators, sheltered from the elements, and have access to water.
But Urbigkit couldn’t do this without the help of her herding dog, Abe, and guardian dogs Rant, Rena, and Luv’s girl. Oh, and let’s not forget the protection burros, Bill and Hillary.
Urbigkit writes about working with her dogs (and many more things) in her book, Shepherds of Coyote Rocks: Public Lands, Private Herds and the Natural World.
The dogs aren’t coddled. They don’t spend their nights hogging the bed or their days getting tasty treats. They don’t watch doggy television while Urbigkit is writing.
The guard dogs spend their evenings chasing coyotes away from the flock. They seek out newborn lambs rejected by their mothers and watch over them until help arrives. They put up a fuss if anyone disturbs “their” lambs.
It’s a hard life. And so is the shepherd’s.
But reading Urbigkit’s prose, I get the sense it’s very satisfying.
The dogs are doing the work bred into generations of their ancestors. The shepherd is living a life in balance with nature. I don’t think any of them could be happier doing anything else.
Guiding Foster Dogs in New York
I chose to adopt my Golden Retriever Honey from a responsible hobby breeder because I had a job for her to do.
I wanted to volunteer with dogs in my home (raising guide dog puppies or fostering, I wasn’t sure at first) and wanted my own dog to help in that work. When we brought home our first foster puppy, Scooter, Honey fulfilled her destiny.
My first thought was that having Honey would make it easier for me to let foster dogs go to their new homes. Yep, she was supposed to be an emotional assistance dog for me.
But over the past fourteen months, she’s grown into the role of foster den mother in ways I couldn’t have expected. She:
- lets me know when a puppy needs to go out even if he’s too little to tell me himself
- comforts fearful dogs and provides proof that thunder or loud trucks aren’t really dangerous
- provides an example of behavior I hope to teach the foster dog
- serves as a playmate for high energy dogs
- and tells me, through her behavior, about the anxiety level of a foster dog when I’m not smart enough to read his body language myself.
Yes, Honey’s breed was developed to provide gentle gun dogs. But for Honey, retrieving is only a hobby.
Her real job is nurturing others. And she’s the best work colleague I’ve ever had.
Working With Your Dog
Many of you reading this know the satisfaction of working with your dog.
Even if your work doesn’t provide part of your livelihood, like Cat Urbigkit’s sheep herding does hers, you know the satisfaction of giving your dog a job and working side by side.
And if you don’t, I encourage you to find a task to work on with your dog. Look into his breed or mix of breeds to figure out what his blood lines tell him to do.
Watch her behavior. Is she nurturing? Protective? Scent-driven? Even a non-social dog can work by picking up things around the house or chasing critters out of your garden.
If you need inspiration, read more about Cat Urbigkit and her dogs in my review of Coyote Rocks at A Traveler’s Library (you have to check out the adorable photo of one of her lambs).
And take a step toward happiness by finding work you can do with your dog.
Your Turn: Does your dog have a job? What is it? Is there something you think he would be good at that you haven’t yet tried?
Disclaimer & Credits: The link to Coyote Rocks takes you to Amazon. If you buy it or another book after following the link, I will earn a few cents toward the cost of publishing this blog. While you’re there, check out some of Urbigkit’s beautiful books for children. And thanks. The book cover is provided with thanks by the book’s publisher.