The definition of ‘work’ is: ‘activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.’
The very best kinds of work, of course, are activities that you would do as often as you could, and would do without compensation because the activities themselves are compensation. The worst kinds of work are the Sisyphean rolling of a boulder up a hill: tedious, onerous, and exhausting, and something you would avoid at all costs.
So ‘work’ can be any number of things in our lives. Work most certainly is energy: it requires energy, and in the actualization of it, it produces energy in return. Any time I’ve read a biography of a famous artist or inventor, that aspect has been prominent: the energy they derived from their activity in the medium they loved was a central feature of their lives.
Dogs are work.
This thought occurred to me recently as I was talking to a friend who was considering adding a second dog to her household. I realized that when I hear that, I immediately think of the work that will be involved, and the reward that will be a result of that work. Sometimes the work is so enjoyable as to render the effort negligible: in an imaginary world where I did not already have six dogs, if you told me tomorrow that you were giving me a well-bred Sheltie puppy to raise and keep, I would not care one bit about the effort involved in getting that puppy through the less-enjoyable puppy stages like potty-training, safeguarding my house from puppy teeth, and the like, because I would have so much fun and get so much enjoyment from the companionship of the Sheltie puppy and the processes by which it learned all the things that would enrich its life. I know quite a few people who, when they acquired a dog, were over the moon happy about it and couldn’t wait to get to the work that would allow them to enjoy dog sports or the like with that dog. Work? No, fun!
But that’s not to say that everyone would greet such an offer with enthusiasm, and there’s where things go badly wrong in too many dog-human relationships, I think.
My friend who was considering adding a second dog to her household decided against it, and for very good reasons. Her resident dog is a rescued Dachshund mix, and to say that the dog, M., can be a tough customer is putting it politely. M has some baggage: reactivity, anxiety, lack of confidence. But in her current home with my friend and her husband, M is very happy and as relaxed as she can be. Her angst doesn’t collide with the angst of any other dog, in the normal course of her day. Yes, meetings between her and other dogs have to be managed, and they are. But her living space isn’t shared with another dog, and at the age she is (estimated to be 12), she would not welcome that sharing. She particularly wouldn’t welcome a 2-year old Pittie, which is the dog that captured my friend’s fancy in a rescue group that posted her for adoption. The dynamic between those two would almost certainly be – well, let’s just say ‘not good’ and let it go at that. Two female dogs in the same household will generally produce more expressions of animosity than will a female and male dog, or two male dogs. I don’t know the reasons for this, and I’m sure there are as many theories as there are voices on the internet, but I do know that it’s been proven time and again in my experience. And with the unwillingness, in general, of a female to back down from a confrontation – and in particular, the ‘bring it!’ attitude that Dachshunds and Pits almost always have – my friend looked into the future and saw a lot of work she didn’t want to do. So very wisely, she decided to stay a one-dog household for a while.
It’s not that my friend couldn’t have managed the household to the benefit of both dogs – of course she could have. She’s owned dogs for more than 25 years. She knows training, and she knows where to find resources when she needs them. But for this pair of dogs, she didn’t relish the work that would be required. The opposite of me and the imaginary Sheltie puppy.
Another instance of this is ongoing in my neighborhood: a couple in their 50s who live around the corner from me have had dogs for many years. I recall a Weim, and a Westie, and I think there were one or two others. They now have a young, beautiful, female Pit that their daughter gave them when the dog was a puppy. Are there alarm bells going off as you read that? There ought to be. Any time someone GIVES a dog to someone else, it’s virtually guaranteed that the person receiving the dog has expressed no interest in or willingness to undertake the work that is involved. And this couple has done precisely nothing to train this dog. They also can’t contain the dog, which is how this has become my problem.
The husband and wife like to sit on their screened-in front porch, on pleasant afternoons and evenings, with their dog keeping them company. I walk my four dogs, on leash, up and down that block. In years past, we would be greeted by the barks of the Weim or the Westie, and I would call a greeting to the owners. With the energetic young Pit in residence, we are now greeted by – HER. She bursts out of the front porch, tearing the latch from the doorframe, and arrives in the midst of my group of dogs with a bang. Literally. In baseball terms, her exit velocity is about 20 mph, which has a major impact on my dogs. She’s not aggressive, but she’s way, way over threshold and so wound up that the effect is almost the same. In particular, her behavior to my own bitch, Dee, scares the crap out of me. Dee doesn’t do well with other females and if she and this Pit ever got into it, Dee would probably get killed.
So I wasn’t thrilled when this first happened, earlier this year. And having worked on the trading floors at the CBOT for 20+ years, I have pretty good lung power behind my shouts. That always gets one of the Pit’s owners on the scene; but even then, they can’t corral their dog. They have no recall on her. They never walk her, so when she finds herself free from the yard and porch, she’s not anxious to be re-incarcerated. This makes things rather tense for me and my dogs, as you can imagine. The second time it happened, the woman who owns the dog apologized to me, nearly in tears; she said that her husband had nixed the idea of training classes as ‘unnecessary’, but the dog is now too big for the woman to control (she’s probably 65 pounds or so), and she is having all kinds of problems with the dog. I gave her the name of an excellent trainer who makes house calls, since I didn’t think the owners would be able right off to take the dog to group classes. When they called the trainer and signed up for four home-visit lessons, I was encouraged.
I was overly optimistic. They completed two lessons, put the remaining two on hold, and appeared to have changed nothing about the way they keep the dog: she’s allowed out in her yard to chase squirrels, which gets her all amped up, and allowed to remain out there on her own to bark endlessly. Not a good sign. Two weeks ago she again burst out of the front porch and bombed into my group of dogs, and this time I really let loose, not only with volume but with profanity. In my view, the owners are damn lucky I don’t call the police on them. I don’t care to be told by the husband that the Pit ‘isn’t going to hurt’ my dogs, and I mentioned that to him. He finally got the dog by her collar and dragged her back into the house. Two days later he contacted the trainer and canceled the two remaining lessons, saying that her methods “don’t work.” (Her methods, for the record, are a mix of Sophia Yin, Susan Garrett, and Sue Ailsby, with Karen Pryor’s ‘300 peck’ method of increasing duration/distance thrown in. They work.) The owners also told the trainer that they are considering a shock collar for the dog.
Anyone else think that’s not going to end well? I wish they would re-home the dog right now, before she bites a dog or a person – and I can almost guarantee that she will, at some point – but I’m sure they won’t, because their daughter gave the dog to them. And they cannot say to their daughter, ‘Thank you, but we in no way wanted this work at this point in our lives. This dog needs an owner that will and can do the work.’ Because that’s what it is, really!
When someone takes on work that they don’t want and aren’t going to do well, that bad decision has a ripple effect, and makes MORE work for everyone else. I am not sanguine about the situation with the Pit. I have stopped walking my dogs past their house. If I am approaching the house with my dogs and I hear the Pit bark, I will reverse course and add a block to our walk to avoid passing their house. (Being the rather petty person I am, I often add choice comments about the situation as I do so.) A good neighbor relationship has been ruined, and I fear that may be only the first casualty.
Here’s my Alex with his friends Biscuit and Lizzie, who are both rather reactive; all three attend class every week with the trainer I mentioned and all three have just completed the AKC’s Novice Tricks title and are now working on the Intermediate Tricks title. Just because work is necessary doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!