Canine Occupational Therapy
Want a healthy dog? Just put Fido to work!
Boredom kills. That’s putting it dramatically, but consider all the dogs who are abandoned or brought to animal shelters because of incessant barking or because they tear up sofas when bored.
Dogs, like people, do better when they have something to do. It might be play or it might be work – I’m not sure dogs differentiate between those things. An Australian Shepherd catches a flying Frisbee, and a German Shepherd police dog catches a crook. Both exude a sense of satisfaction for doing their “jobs” well, and both are pleased with the loving pat and hearty, “Good dog!” they receive.
This brings me to trainer/author Pat Miller’s report, “Beyond Basic Obedience," which describes a wealth of activities, all of which require advanced training, that you can do with your dog. Some of them are intended to give your dog an occupation, such as herding sheep or tracking lost children. Some of them are strictly for fun, like musical freestyle, a sport also known as “dancing with dogs.” If you are looking for activities to improve your communication, strengthen your bond, and provide you with unlimited recreation with your dog, check out Miller’s list.
As you peruse the possibilities, consider the specific strengths and interests of your dog. Not all dogs are cut out for certain occupations; a buoyant, friendly Golden Retriever may not be the best candidate for the solitary trials of tracking, and a stately and independent Husky may be mortified at the prospect of performing tricks of agility in an arena.
This is not to say that the dog’s breed should determine its ideal career path. In the course of rounding up photos to accompany Miller’s story, I heard about a Chihuahua who tracks and a Poodle who herds. The subject of this month’s Case History, in fact, is a Great Dane therapy dog. The delight this gentle giant brings to the elderly clients she regularly visits is wonderful to see.
It’s also wonderful when you hear about a good dog landing just the right job. A recent wire story about Jackie, a three-year-old Border Collie is a perfect example.
Jackie was “hired” a year ago by the United States Navy to keep Canada geese and other birds off the runways of the Willow Grove Naval Air Station/Joint Reserve Base in Pennsylvania. Airplanes that hit a Canada goose can be seriously damaged, and even crash. In 1995, geese were sucked into two engines of a four-engine plane taking off from an Air Force Base near Anchorage, Alaska. The resulting plane crash killed 24 crew members.
Airports attract all kinds of birds with their broad expanses of grass and their generally common waterfront locations, which provide food and nesting materials. In recent years, Canada geese have refused to migrate in ever-increasing numbers, making the danger of collisions a year-round problem. At Willow Grove, authorities tried scaring the geese away with sirens, fireworks, and water cannons. The birds returned as soon as the diversions stopped. But now Jackie’s on the job.
Whenever birds are spotted by control tower personnel, the eager little dog is dispatched to find and chase the geese away. Sometimes she has to threaten them a dozen times before they leave, but Border Collies are relentless.
So far, there have been no bird strikes since Jackie came aboard. Richard Kimmel, the base’s natural resources manager, bought Jackie and had her specially trained for her job, for a total cost of $5,000 – a small investment compared to the price of aircraft repairs and the potential loss of human life.
Best of all, Jackie is happy. She lives on the base, with four airbase personnel trained to handle and look after her. Can you say your dog likes his “job” as much as Jackie likes hers? The athletic dog even “volunteers” for extra duties whenever she gets the chance.
“She’ll herd anything. I’ve seen her herd bugs,” laughs Kimmel.
-By Nancy Kerns