Working Dogs – On the Wyoming Range or in the Suburban Yard

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.

Shepherds of Coyote Rocks by Cat Urbigkit book cover.Guarding Sheep in Wyoming

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

Bandit the Foster Puppy and Honey the Golden Retriever wait patiently at the back door.

Don’t worry Bandit. I’ll take care of you until we get back inside.

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.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Those herd dogs are truly amazing to watch, and yes, they are very happy in their lives. Torrey’s job is keeping us all on task. She is the official time keeper.

    • I have a feeling that pocket of Wyoming would be a very different place without the sheep herders.

      You’re lucky to have a professional scheduler in your household. Does Torrey also kick you off of Facebook when there are other tasks waiting your attention? :)

  2. Interesting. I may have to read that book. One of my dogs has been digging lately. Not trying to get out of the yard, but digging holes in odd places several feet away from the fence. A couple of years ago he dug up a mole in the yard, and reading your post made me think that maybe he has given himself the job of ridding our yard of rodents / pests / invaders of all sorts. Maybe we have another mole he’s after. He is happiest when he is on patrol. :)

    • My childhood dog was a serious rodent killer. He often went after moles and other critters that plagued our garden.

      Maybe your dog IS trying to take on a job. He doesn’t happen to be a breed or mix known for going after varmints (dachshund, terrier) is he?

  3. You are such a good dog, Honey! My Lab Maya doesn’t really have a job, nor does she seem inclined to want one. She can retrieve, but it is not her favorite thing to do. If she had a job, it would be as a cuddle puppy (in the large size). My Aussie mix Pierson, on the other hand, needs stuff to do. As I am typing this, he is in the back yard on rabbit patrol. We don’t want those pesky wild rabbits in our garden! I spend more time training Pierson to do tricks than I do with Maya because Maya gets bored. Pierson is all ears and ready to do anything.

  4. It is so wonderful that Honey was able to fill the shoes you had chosen for her, and done so much more. Good job Honey! (and mom, and breeder!)

  5. Well, my Max has a definite job…bringing joy and laughter to all that meet him :). That sounds so “Pollyanna” but when I was sitting here reading your post I thought…humm…Max doesn’t rally “do” anything in particular but he sure can bring a smile to people’s faces…that really is quite the gift when you think about it! Thanks for the post and making me think about that one :)

  6. Sue at The Golden Life says:

    Honey sounds a lot like my Callie. From the time we brought Shadow home, Callie appointed herself Shadow’s surrogate mother. She wants to do the same for Ducky, but Ducky just wants to play. And, at least until Callie’s leg is completely healed and rehabilitated, Callie has to sit it out like a benched baseball player. So, while Ducky’s at daycare during the week, Callie’s and Shadow’s job is to keep each other company when I have to leave the house. I’m sure, if I had a real job for them to do, they’d want me to do it with them.

  7. Silas loves to find things. Eyes, ears, nose–he likes to use them all. (He’s smart enough to look through the railings of our upstairs landing before he goes downstairs to find a toy.) I need to be training him to do it more, either through more formal nose work or just incorporating it into his play more. His favorite game of all time is hide and seek.

  8. What presence of mind when deciding to get a dog – to help you help others. My mom “made” me get my first dog here in MO after a huge 18 hr surgery. She never understood the bond between horses and people but, in the following years, having a surgery each year, walking Oliver and then also Emma kept me healthy and strong. I didn’t have a fence so I had to walk them often. Smart mom, smart Pamela.
    My sister gave me an Amazon gift card (which I recently found while decluttering) – Cat’s book and helping you sound like good reasons to spend it!
    Oh, and recently, like Honey, someone told me how their late dog taught their newer dog so much before he passed. It was wonderful to hear.

  9. Hearing stories about these herding dogs always amazes me. The fact that they seem to be born with so much of that instinct and a true sense of what their job is blows my mind. Especially since I have a pekingese who is great, but was designed from the start to be only a lap dog….lol.

  10. Beautiful post Pamela. I will need to get that book. I’m not sure any of my dogs have a job, but I suspect that sheep herding would be Jasper’s. He loves it. In some ways, Daisy is the nurturer, always checking to make sure everyone is okay. Cupcake is our comedian. She is silly and funny and makes me smile.

    Honey definitely sounds like she has fulfilled her role. :)

  11. That sounds like a fabulous book! I love reading about dogs doing the work for which they’re intended.

    Elka’s jobs are to alert me to oncoming migraines, and to take empty plastic bottles to the kitchen. She takes both very seriously!

    • I’m amazed that Elka taught herself to recognize oncoming migraines. It goes to show that gene aren’t everything and that a strong bond between a dog and her person can create a job you never expected your dog to take on.

  12. Wow, I think it’s so amazing that Honey lets you know if the fosters want to go to the bathroom. Honey just might be the coolest dog ever.

    • I think she just hates hearing me say in a high, puppy sweet voice, “Oh damn, you cute little puppy. I just had you out five minutes ago. Why do you hate me so much” while I’m cleaning up the latest accident. :)

  13. Pamela, I have been reading your site just for the last month and really have enjoyed your insights. Lily, my Welsh Springer Spaniel, is a carriage dog (in training) who rides in the carriage with me while I drive my horses. She is also a writing dog and a “go-along” dog for everything dog-friendly. She knows very well that her job is to be with me and she is quite the enthusiastic worker.

  14. Cali’s main job at this point is making sure that the cat’s evening food bowls are thoroughly cleaned . . a job she takes very seriously :) Great post!! Honey is such a great dog!

  15. I could write a book on the jobs my dogs do. They are all so multi-talented and have been doing it for so long that it’s just woven into who they are, I don’t know if I could break it down. Although the one that stands out the most is they are all watchdogs. They are always sending off warnings when anyone approaches, which thank goodness is few and far between! 😉

  16. We’d probably want to be a sniffer dog or a hunter. Alas we settle for head of Homeland Security. Have a wonderful Wednesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  17. As far as I know, dogs are the only creatures that can actually herd cats. I saw it with my own eyes! Honey is remarkable and I am glad you sent the message about your post on WP!

  18. Thanks Pamela! I had not seen this one. It’s really something – the dog has to be pretty special, too.

  19. I’ve made a note of that book – it’s one I want to read.
    It sounds as though Honey is doing a fantastic job in helping you to foster.
    I run the household and look after everyone!

  20. Tonight is a good night for me to read this post! :) All of our dogs have jobs of some sort. Bunny and I got home from visiting at the nursing home a couple of hours ago, and she excels at that job. She walks through the nursing home so politely, and going to say hello to people is second nature to her now. She hammed it up this evening by laying down in the middle of the floor like a Sphinx so all the elderly ladies could admire her at once. She’d still be there hamming it up and working the crowd if I’d stayed and everyone hadn’t gone to bed!

    Seeing a dog do a job that they love is really a beautiful thing to watch!