Friday, March 2, 2007

Work! Work! Work!

My friend's border collie is a workaholic. If he doesn't get to train in obedience or agility every day he literally shakes and whimpers like a scared bird. Sprocket is an extreme example of a dog who needs a job. But really, most dogs need some sort of job to give them something to focus on and use up their energy. When we think of dogs with jobs we tend to think of herding dogs on a ranch, police dogs, service dogs, that sort of thing. But so many things can fulfill a dog's need to do something, but sometimes that job needs to be trained or redirected. Giving a dog a backpack to wear or toy to carry on a walk can help him to walk more nicely on a leash.

Cousteau doesn't have much work. He's basically pretty lazy. His jobs are mainly to clean our peanut butter and yogurt containers for the recycling bin, accepting what the baby does to him (always under supervision), and monitoring doors and window for intruders. When he's on the job you can see it in his eyes that he knows he's helping out. And being told he's a good boy for his work seems to mean more to him than a "good boy" when he brings back a ball during fetch or for sitting. He wants to work with me - he just doesn't want to work to hard to do it!

Some dogs need a job, no matter how simple, just to be able to settle, whether with you or on their own. It's as if they can't quite figure out on their own what needs to be done. Being told that their job is to chew on a toy or lay on their bed is enough to help them understand what is expected of them.

BabyBug is a bit like my friend's border collie. She needs a job. It gives her mind something to do, keeps her out of trouble, and lets her know what we expect of her. One of her first jobs was "close the door". She figured out as soon as she could pull up on things around 9 months that it was fun to open doors. We just didn't want most of those doors opened! So we made it fun to close the door and praised her when she did it. Now she runs around banging the kitchen door closed, closing the fridge door, slamming my head into the dryer, and closing the kitchen cabinets before I'm finished putting things in them. But I'd rather she close all doors than open them with abandon. And in order to close doors she has to key into what Mama and Daddy are doing, so she is engaged with whatever we are doing.

Sometimes giving a dog or a child a job takes longer. Bug likes to help me "fold" laundry. The last batch wound up in the dog's bed. But she is so proud of herself for doing what Mama is doing and she loves it when I praise her for giving me all of the socks or pants. Eventually she'll be old enough to learn to fold and it will only be natural that she help me then since she's helped me all along. I hope she'll come to see little chores like that as just something we all do and as a chance to be together as a family.

It is amazing how settled both Bug and the dogs are when they have their jobs. They have a sense of pride, I have a helper in the making, and the jobs more fun, even if they don't get done faster. I don't mind the extra mess if it means my family is having fun.

No comments: