Saturday, November 27, 2010

"He needs a job"

This is a companion to "He would be a great agility dog."

I hear this a lot from students, potential students, and various online sources.

Sure, we know that people who work are happier. But are dogs the same as people?

My dogs love to do training and various activities. I'll talk about how well they work. But it's not about a job and it's often easy to identify the pieces that are maintaining the behavior. The treats. The toys. The smells. It's not about an obligation or earning an income.

And then when you go and see the lists of "work" that people make:
- Carrying a backpack (some people say it's not just the effort, but the dog 'knowing' he is working).
- Picking up items around the house
- Therapy dog work
- Carrying things.
- Pulling a sled

And I go "What?" These are all GREAT things for people to do with their dogs, and especially the activities that take time to train! Time with the dog, reinforcement throughout the day! More activity in the dog's life! GREAT stuff.

But if we say it' a 'job', does that change how we view the interaction? How wrong is it to let people think that's how the dog perceives it too? Usually I just smile and don't say much other than "it's good to spend time with your dog."

How do we KNOW the dog is not only getting tired from the physical activity but from 'knowing it is a job'? Do we run an experiment and have four groups, two with packs or sleds and two without? And tell one group of each that they have a job, and don't tell the others? Where do people come up with this stuff?

Really though, how does your dog "know he is working"? And how does that understanding change the effort involved? Are dogs even capable of that much thought? Sure, my dog knows he is doing xyz at the time. But that extra subcategory of "working" or "having a job" is a bit of a stretch to me...

Why can't we just say "he needs more to do" or "He needs more physical and mental exercise" (which all of the above listed items provide...)? Why does this bother me so much?


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I think I come at this with a different perspective since I train service dogs. The dogs DO have an immense change in behavior when the cape is on and when it is off. Yes it is trained; the dog originally got rewarded much more often in cape than when not in cape. But quickly the rewards phase (and punishment seeps in I suppose, mainly verbal corrections). But bottom line I think the dog does know that it is game time and they behave quite differently.

Once placed with a client I see a transformation in the dogs and I really do think they know they have a job now. Working with me is fun and games. Working with client I will anthropomorphize and say the dog feels the responsibility they now have and many eagerly step up to the plate.

Of course their behavior deteriorates overtime and if the client doesn't keep the skills through life rewards and other reinforcements many dogs will go on strike every now and then, or at least get lazier about it. But overall, especially when looking at the diabetic alert or seizure alert dogs, they know they have an important job to do.

I don't think my personal dogs will ever think they have a job in any of the many activities they enjoy. That is just about having fun and getting rewards, or perhaps with more traditional dogs it's about avoiding punishment.

Kristen said...

Great comments.

How do you think service dog clients perceive the concept of work/job compared to pet dog clients? ANd do you think it's something we should talk to pet clients about?

Do you think it's something that occurs anytime a dog is wearing a backpack, etc? Or do you think it's mroe of the physical effort or the owners liking the concept of 'job'?

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I don't know that wearing a backpack would automatically create that type of work feeling. I mean how is it different than putting a sweater on a dog? I see the only difference being the expectation of what is occurring next (walk!) and possibly a behavior required whereas a sweater doesn't predict anything. So overall a dog in a backpack doesn't create a work type of feeling but just a happy tired dog.

I also don't really know how the service dog clients view this concept differently than average owners; I work mainly with the dogs and little with the people. We do emphasize that they need to really trust their dogs and in the beginning to be very observant of any little changes in behavior for the alert dogs. But we also say that they are still dogs and they can't stop their other safety precautions just because they now have a good partner. And I think that these teams do understand that while the dog does start to become very serious about his role, he is still a dog.

I honestly don't have the pet peeve you have though about talking jobs with pet clients :) Perhaps if one was teaching with traditional methods it could effect the way they treat the dog, but with teaching them reward based methods it shouldn't matter what terms you use. And perhaps the owners will be more willing to comply with the increase in exercise and mental stimulation if you tell them the dog needs a "job."