Monday, November 16, 2015

All Dogs Need a Purpose #BetterWithPets

The Purina Better With Pets Summit on November 3rd, 2015, in New York City, was a very informative and fun day for me and Jesse!
 At the end of the Summit, the thought that stuck with me was that dogs need jobs and activities to do; to be emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy.
~Can you spot Jesse? :) ~
If you have followed Jesse’s adventures over the years, you would see this is what I strive for, in all that we do, to keep him his happiest and healthiest. All dogs need a purpose; a job they love doing and one they can call their own.
There were a lot of interesting examples of the types of jobs dogs could have shown during the Summit. Many exhibits showcasing fun ways to play with and teach activities to our dogs.
At the Summit, we learnt about one of the coolest (no pun intended ;) ) jobs a dog can do in Huslia, Alaska; pull a sled. The dogs are part of a sled dog team and help their people travel over long stretches of wilderness in the snow and to other villages when needed; carrying heavy loads on the sled. There are also Nationally Sanctioned Sled Dog Races where teams come from all over Alaska, to race against each other over miles of snowy tundra; honoring the time old tradition of how Eskimos traveled in the past.
~Sled Dogs in Huslia, Alaska pulling a sled~
In the Purina Play Lab, at the heart of the Pets exhibit area, there were dogs performing with their people. They were part of a dog performance team, and were doing agility as well as some tricks. The dogs and people were having a fun time, and getting exercise at the same time. These dogs loved their jobs and did them with happy, wagging tails! :)
~The performance team having fun at The Play Lab exhibit~
There are many types of jobs dogs can do, even in today’s society. Some jobs are a necessity to their handler, where others are simply pure fun for both dog and their person.

~A service dog using an ATM for his person~
Jack Russell Terrier running an Agility course~
 Some jobs where dogs are a definite help to their people include: herding sheep and livestock on farms, service dogs, ratters in the barn, cancer and illness detecting dogs, search and rescue dogs who find missing people, military dogs, and therapy dogs.
~Dogs and people are better, together~
Herding dogs are beneficial to a farmer. These dogs can help keep sheep or cattle from harm by herding them into a pen, across mountain sides, and over long stretches of land. A farmer can have a larger number of sheep with the help of two sheep dogs. These dogs love to run and work with their people! Most have been selected to work (sometimes all day), and these tendencies are still hardwired in the dogs to this day; even if they are living in a house, and have never seen livestock.
~A German Shepherd herding sheep~
Service dogs are very important to their people. They are trained to do a specific task to help mitigate their person’s disability. There are many different tasks a service dog can be trained to do to help their person; including mobility, leading the blind, helping the deaf, retrieving or carrying items for those in a wheelchair, medical alert, psychiatric help, and reminding their person to take medicine.
~Service Dogs can do a wide range of tasks for their people~
          Ratters are small dogs who work on a farm to get rid of rodents in the barn; stopping the illness that can spread from their droppings. They work all day getting rid of vermin, and when the day’s work is done, come in with the family. They are excellent, loyal companions.
~A Fox Terrier doing what comes naturally; ratting~
Dogs are used in the hospitals as therapy dogs, as well as detecting early signs of illness in people including cancer. They are being trained to alert to the smell of cancer. When a person goes missing, dogs are usually the first ones on the front line; searching for the missing person. Dogs use their excellent sense of smell to track down a missing child, or adult, by following the scent of them after smelling a piece of their clothing or other item. Throughout history, and to this day, dogs have played a fundamental role in the military. They have been trained to carry out a wide array of jobs including bomb detection, search and rescue, bite work, drug enforcement, message delivery during war, and therapy during stressful times during war. When a person is sick in the hospital or has just undergone surgery, one of the simplest ways to raise their spirits is a visit from a therapy dog! These dogs have excellent temperaments, and go around the hospital visiting patients; sometimes giving kisses, getting hugs, doing fun trick, or calmly laying by a person to give some companionship.
While most dogs are trained to do a specific task for a job, to some dogs these talents come naturally.
~Medical Detection Dogs trained to sniff out illness~
~Search and Rescue dogs are trained to find the missing~ 
~Rags the working dog during WW1. Military dogs have been used throughout history. ~
~Therapy Dogs are used to comfort and help heal the sick in hospitals~
Some fun jobs that dogs and their people can enjoy together include: agility, disc dog, lure coursing, go-to-ground, canine freestyle, dock diving, flyball, herding trials, nose work, rally obedience, and tricks (among others).
~Jesse doing agility~
~On the trail of the lure!~
~Jesse searching in barn hunt~
~Jesse and I dancing some canine freestyle back in 2008~
~Jesse jumping off the dock like a super dog after his toy~

~Jesse keeping his eye on the prize; the Frisbee!~

~One of Jesse's all-time favorite activities; learning tricks!~
During the Summit, Ragen T.S. McGowan, talked about stress in dogs and spoke about everyday mealtime stresses for dogs. She said dogs would rather work for their food, than get their daily food in a bowl on the floor; day after day.

This is known as contrafreeloading. This behavior has been observed in most animals, that when given a choice between food given freely, and food that requires an effort to get, the dogs prefer the one that requires them to work for it.
Kind of like, you will enjoy something you work for more, over having something just given to you. The term contrafreeloading was coined by animal psychologist Glen Jensen in 1963, and has been studied and tested by many animal psychologists since. Some interesting food for thought was that during the experiment, the only animal that didn’t display similar behavior was domesticated cats.
They preferred to be served. :p
I do have experience with this phenomenon (contrafreeloading). My friend usually feeds her dogs by playing games with them as well as using food puzzles. Sometimes her work schedule doesn’t allow for this, and on the days when she can’t play with her dogs, she usually feeds them out of a bowl. On these days, her dogs aren’t interested in eating, and will sniff the food and walk away. Thinking they were bored with the food, she asked my opinion on the matter. I told her to try something out: give the food in a bowl as you normally would and if her dogs don’t eat it, try putting the same food in a treat pouch, and ask them to do a trick. Sure enough, her dogs ignored the food in the bowl; looking as if they weren’t hungry. But when she took the same food, and asked her pups to do a trick, their eyes lit up, and they gladly did as she asked; gobbling up the food as if it was the best treat in the world!
Giving our dogs a job to do, and allowing them to do problem-solving tasks, can lower their stress, reduce fear, and help enhance their overall well-being. By giving dogs food puzzles, you will be exercising their mind and giving them a fun activity to enjoy, while providing ways for them to earn their food.
Daily lives of a lot of dogs are less than stimulating. Most dogs wake up, go outside, get fed out of a bowl on the floor, their owner leaves for work, the dogs wait for their person to come home hours later (sometimes sleeping, others looking around the house, some even being destructive), and when their owner comes back, they might go for a walk, get dinner when they come back, and cuddle a little on the couch, before everyone in the house goes to sleep for the night; only to repeat this same pattern, day after day, year after year.
While it seems good in theory - dogs have shelter, love, and food – most dogs get bored of the same mundane life; becoming destructive, bouncing off the walls with crazy pent up energy, or sleeping all the time because they are used to a sedentary lifestyle. Dogs need a job, a sense of purpose; something they love doing with their person other than just the things that are a given to keep them healthy. Keeping them happy too, now that is a great goal to strive for. :)
An easy job to give dogs on a regular basis is dog puzzles and stuffing dog food toys with different treats. Switching up what goes in each puzzles, helps keep your dog guessing, and makes mealtime more exciting!

Making food-time into a game by stuffing food toys with treats, using dog puzzles, or hiding the food around the house; you are encouraging your dog to forage, explore, and use their hunting skills. This is a very mentally stimulating activity and can be just as tiring as a walk; combined you will have an extremely happy dog! :D

What activities do you and your dog enjoy doing together that you would consider their job?

Jesse and I are constantly looking for fun ways to play together and love to try out as many dog activities and sports as we can. :) 

Stay Happy and Healthy!

~Heather and Jesse~


  1. Love! Jesse is the best : -D

  2. Oooh, I could not have said this better myself. I agree 100 percent. Dogs need jobs and a purpose.

  3. This is a really great blog and post. Thank you for showing so many how they can love and help take care of their dogs so much better. You and Jesse are the best.

  4. Great dog and message! More dog owners should follow your great regimen to dog care and mental health. Jesse is a good dog.

  5. This is a really informative post. Thanx for writing about this important subject

  6. Cute post and cute dog. More people should have a great relationship with their dogs like you do with Jesse. They could all benefit from following your good information. :--)

  7. I really love this dog!

  8. WoW. That's all I can say. I never thought about this. Of course I knew about the exercise and taking them to the vet, but did not know about mental health. I will be adding these puzzles to my dogs mealtime now!

  9. Agree 100% with this article. I will share

  10. Wonderful article! Really enjoyed reading this. The variety of jobs dogs were bred for and used to do is incredible. Great ideas and tips on keeping your dog active and engaged even in a lifestyle of simply being a household companion. Two paws up :)


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