Give Your Dog a Job

Almost all breeds of dogs were developed and bred to have a job.  Even breeds like French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs and Chihuahuas that are often considered lazy or difficult to train can excel if given the right job.  We have seen French Bulldogs employed for detection work, therapy work, and fly ball and Chihuahuas racing their legs off at barn hunts and agility courses.  Your dog doesn’t have to be an amazing obedience dog to try their paw at dog sports.

Oftentimes, dogs that are labeled as problem dogs, like dogs that end up in shelters have not been given enough mental and physical challenges.  Once these dogs are given a chance to use their instincts in an appropriate way they can truly relax when they are at home with you.

Don’t be intimidated it really isn’t that hard to get started.  Normally, you get started by finding a club or drop in session to get started with.   Try just by googling it or looking on Facebook. 

You don’t have to turn your pet into a show dog, there are variations that you can do with your own dog!  You can find DVD’s online, you tube videos, and plenty of how to’s.

Nose work

Fascinating fact: Dogs have a sense of smell that’s between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than ours! The sport of Scent Work celebrates the joy of sniffing, and asks a dog to sniff to their heart’s content; turning your dog’s favorite activity into a rewarding game. It is a terrific sport for all kinds of dogs, and is a wonderful way to build confidence in a shy dog.  It is a terrific way to teach your dog that he can communicate things he wants to tell you, by how he acts.  This can be very empowering to shy dogs, help calm anxious dogs and give high energy dogs a job.

-You can do this in your own house really easily.  All you need is either their favorite toy, 3-4 card board boxes, a q-tip and any sent… that’s right you can even use hair gel, essential oils, or perfume.

Barn hunt

Barn Hunt is a fun sport for all dogs of any breed or mix that like to hunt with their noses. Dogs search for one or more rats (safely housed in aerated tubes) on a course made of straw bales. The dog has to find the correct number of hidden rats within a set time limit.

-This one is a little harder to do in your house, but there are about 6 places in the City of Denver that offer these for $15 a class several nights a week.


Agility is a sport where you direct your dog through a pre-set obstacle course within a certain time limit. Courses typically have between 14-20 obstacles, which can include tunnels, weave poles, tire jumps, seesaws, and pause tables where the dog must stop for a set amount of time.  This can be great for adolescent dogs with low-self control to learn how to focus on a handler during excitement and go from speed to calmness.  It also teaches handlers to give clear cues and teaches dogs to focus on subtle cues while running full speed. 

-Do it at home by using chairs, laundry baskets, broomstick handles and large boulders in your yard.  Give your kids cardboard boxes that they can make tunnels out of.

You could also try the next one as an in-home sport.

Canine Parkour

Dog parkour, sometimes known as urban agility, is an activity based on the same principles. It is a challenging, but fun, physical activity in which the dogs learn to interact with their environment.   Parkour is a physical discipline in which dogs move through their environment and conquer obstacles in their path. It includes climbing, balancing, jumping, running, vaulting, creativity and working past fear.  Teaches dogs to listen to their handler and trains them body awareness.

-It’s made to do around the home and neighborhood.

Dock diving

Dock jumping also known as dock diving is a dog sport in which dogs compete in jumping for distance or height from a dock into a body of water.  This is great for dogs that may have injuries or dogs that love toys and water!

-Do it around the house by finding a lake, river or canine swim center.  This is excellent exercise to  tire them out.

Freestyle dance

Musical canine freestyle, also known as musical freestyle, freestyle dance, and canine freestyle, is a modern dog sport that is a mixture of obedience training, tricks, and dance that allows for creative interaction between dogs and their owners. The sport has developed into competition forms in several countries around the world.

-This is so easy to do in the house, hit youtube for some inspiration and turn on your favorite tunes.


There are three test levels – started, intermediate, advanced. This is not limited to herding breeds as long as the dog has proper instincts I have a good friend who does this with an Akita.  If you are looking to compete there is a little more you need to know, The initial test is called Instinct Test and it is a test for herding breeds, Rottweilers, Samoyeds, Standard and Giant Schnauzers, Pyrenean Shepherds, Swedish Vallhunds, Norwegian Buhunds and Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs. The dog needs no training before entering this class and may be handled by the judge, owner or a designated handler. The judge is looking for the dogs ability to move and control livestock by fetching or driving.

-Live in the middle of the city?  No sheep in sight, but your border collie is going bananas?  Check out this next sport called Treibball!


Sometimes called urban herding.If your dog has a nose or a shoulder, he can play Treibball! The game is simple to play and train, and only requires a few fitness balls, some treats and a love of working with your dog. Your dog learns to target the balls, and then goes out into a playing field and pushes balls to you, with direction and control.

Other working dog jobs

Service dogs:

These dogs are owned by someone with a disability and trained to mitigate that disability.  These dogs may be trained to retrieve a cell phone, medication, or pull a wheel chair.  They may guide the blind or detect an owner’s drop in blood sugar as well as respond to that situation appropriately.  They should be 100 percent focused on their handler as they are a medical device and if they are unfocused, they may miss a cue from an owner or may miss a medical issue like on-coming seizure.   That is why owners of these dogs strongly discourage other people from petting their working dogs. These dogs should have good manners and should not harass strangers or other dogs.  These dogs have public access rights.  No certification or registration is required.  Those sold online are a scam.  You do not need to have any markings on your dog, but your dog must behave in public.

Emotional Support dogs:

These dogs do not have public access rights, however they have fair housing act rights.  Your dog doesn’t need any special training, but can have this title revoked if your dog behaves in a dangerous manner around the neighborhood.

Therapy dogs:

These dogs go to schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other places to provide comfort to humans.  These dogs are specially trained to be safe, polite and comfortable in the settings they provide comfort and are insured as therapy animals.

Helpful dogs:

These dogs are pets that you provide training for around your house to give them a “job”.  You can teach them to pick up dropped keys, bring you a hand towel, put the laundry in the bin and bring you your slippers.  While it may sound silly giving these dogs these simple and important tasks are sooo important! ff

How to Pick a Shelter or Rescue Dog

No matter whether you are looking for an adult dog or a puppy it’s so important to consider your lifestyle before you do anything else.

Ask your self the following four questions:

  1. How active do you want to be during the work week?  Do you already go to the gym afterwork and would you be willing to switch that out for an evening jog around the neighborhood with your new dog.  Do most nights after work you come home, prepare dinner get the kids to finish their homework and then finally sit down for 30 minutes of TV before you head to bed?  It is best to consider your busy nights instead of just weekends.  When considering your new dog’s energy always round down, so if you think you’re a super active five than get a four energy level dog.  This will make sure that your dog always has his needs met and will save your pillows from being chewed up if you take on a few extra hours at work. DON’T RELY ON YOUR YARD AND DON’T INCLUDE THAT IN YOUR ACTIVITY SCORE UNLESS YOU HAVE MORE THAN 2 ACRES.
  2. How often do you travel?  Would you want to take your dog with you?  Some breeds and individual dogs do better with new people who might come over to dog sit and some dogs would be easier to fly with simply because of their size.
  3. Will you be moving in the next five years?   Why is this important?  Well, if your in your early twenties and still doing some apartment hoping it’s important to know that most apartments have breed and weight restrictions which could end up restricting where you live if you want to keep your dog.  In addition to this some HOAs and even some cities and countries have breed restrictions which doesn’t allow you to own a specific breed or mix of that breed.
  4. Why do you want a dog? Dreaming of cuddling on the couch with doggy pal watching your favorite chick flick, going hiking and to the park or hoping for a pal to keep your other canine company?  These would all require a different dog.  Not all dogs like to cuddle, not all dogs like to run and some might not like other dogs.  Keep this in mind while you search.
  5. Life changes?  Hoping to start a family in the next six months? Making sure the adult dog likes kids and more importantly babies is a MUST.   Making sure you introduce your puppy in a positive way to both babies and toddlers will be a must be prepared to jump in full training mode to make sure your dog is ready for baby. Already pregnant?  Choose an adult dog waking up to take puppy out, giving adequate attention to socialization and manners will have to be a priority and being a new mom will make this nearly impossible.  If you must choose a puppy remember you have no time to slack get that puppy into as many training classes as possible before the baby comes.

Are you looking for an adult or a puppy?  Well, the answer should depend on primarily time.  In a study that looked at dog owners contacting trainers for reports of aggressive behavior where a bite breaking skin occurred they found that 78 percent of dogs that had bitten another dog or person where purchased between the ages of 8 weeks and 12 weeks.    What does that study tell us?  Well, no one adopts a new puppy in hopes it’s going to turn into a problem dog, but it happens way more often than we think.  The problem is WAY too many people get puppies hoping to raise them how they want them but don’t actually have the time or experience to do it correctly.  If you have lots of time to take your puppy out in the world to do training sessions than your good either way.  That being said if you are already balancing the kids soccer games, work, helping with school work and volunteering for carpool maybe an adult dog with already good manners is the way to go.  Remember we are talking after a busy day of work… not just weekends.

Choosing where to look for your new dog

If you live in a small town you may only have the choice of one shelter or one rescue, but if you live in a busy area like Denver you may have an overwhelming amount of options. You might not know, but not all shelters are created equal and not all rescues are either. Rescues range greatly from little old ladies who have 12 dogs and a 501c3 and major ones with 1000’s of volunteers and dozens of staff. How do you pick? Don’t start looking for a dog before you know where to look. While most shelters and rescues push for full disclosure some feel full disclosure may scare people away.

Start by asking these questions:

  1. How do you get your dogs? Some transfer in from other shelters and rescues, some (not many) sit at auction houses and purchase dogs and others take them only as owner surrenders or stays. It doesn’t matter which you choose, but this question can give you insight as to if this is an organization that you want to support.
  2. How do you get to know your dogs? Some shelters provide playgroups, training classes and three times a day walks to their dogs so that is a great way to get to know them. Many rescues are foster based and actually living in the home with the foster parent. Other places may only get to know a dog by throwing a bowl of food and cleaning the kennel. It doesn’t matter which you choose, but this question can give you insight as to if this is an organization that you want to support.
  3. For very young puppies you want to ask if they were born in the shelter or in foster. You also want to know what type of socialization they get while in foster.

The process of shopping for your new dog.

You walk into the shelter pass an old lab, a barking border collie then you spot him.  It’s love at first sight!  Your head over heels for him, just the dog you have always dreamed of…… wait a minute, slow down this isn’t speed dating.  I’m always shocked at how people seem to be able to pick their new dog quicker than they do a couch.  This dog will be with you for the next 12 years,  maybe you should get to know who he is first.

Start by reading the card on the outside of the kennel.  Then ask the shelter staff if they can tell you about his history and how he got there.  Was he a stray?  Maybe he can’t be left alone in the backyard.  Did his owner surrender him, if so why?  This can give you very important information.  Also, ask if they know how he is with kids, dogs, cats and people.  Next ask them what type of energy he has (REMEMBER DON’T BUDGE ON YOUR EXERSIES NEEDS ACTIVE DOGS IN LAZY HOMES DEVELOP LOTS OF BEHAVIOR ISSUES)  Finally, ask the staff to meet the dog.

Meeting the dog

  1. Sometimes when you meet a dog at the shelter they put you in a room and sometime they let you take them for a walk.  Ask if you can do both, many dogs act differently outside then they do inside.  You want to get the full picture of who this dog is by letting them show you.  Here are somethings you’ll want to do with your dog before saying “yes”
  2. Have everyone who lives in the home meet the dog, if you have a cat ask them to re-cat test even if they have already said he is good with cats.  If you have kids, a roommate or a dog they should have a say too.
  3. See what the dog does when you run, drop something, rub his belly, touch his toes or act silly.  If Your kids came have your kids run around.  Hug and pickup your kids to see if there are any issues there.  If your dog came with you pet just your dog, then just your new dog.  Toss the ball for the two of them. 
  4. Try giving the dog some treats and seeing if you can teach him something like down or stay to see how he focuses and how quickly he learns.  See if he will play fetch.  Try to have someone else come in the room to see how he responds.
  5. Spend at least 30 minutes with the dog and even if your in love meet at least three dogs to be sure.

Adopting a new dog is a lifetime commitment.  Staff that works at animal shelters and rescues do their very best to give you accurate information about the dog.  Sometime you may see things they didn’t if they give you information about the dog’s history it is important to take that into consideration even if YOU don’t see it right then and there.  Shelters are scary places for dogs and dogs show their fear in different ways like shutting down or over excitement.  They may show behaviors at home that they didn’t show in the shelter.  Staff can give you this sort of important insight.

Photos of some HSSPV Shelter Dogs