How to satisfy your working dog’s instincts

Keep your working dog’s mind and body engaged with regular training, exercise and interactive play!

Working dogs make fantastic pets! But these highly intelligent, active dogs need to keep their bodies and minds engaged or risk developing unwanted behaviors. Whether your four-legged friend is a shepherd, a hound, or part of another working class, it’s up to you to help him meet these requirements. Luckily, there’s plenty of fun involved – for you both!

Understand your dog’s lineage

Do you know about your dog’s breed? Satisfying your working dog’s instincts begins with understanding how his breed was developed and knowing about its original purpose. Were your dog’s ancestors trackers? Did they hunt and catch prey? Were they flock guardians with speed, intelligence, and agility all wrapped into one energetic body?

If your dog is a mixed breed, he’ll still exhibit traits from his working ancestors. With this in mind, it’s a very good idea to learn all you can about the breeds that contributed to your one-of-a-kind pet! If you’re not certain of lineage but you’re desperate to find out, a dog DNA test can help.

Set your working dog up for success

Once you have a sense of how your working dog’s instincts drive his behavior, it’s time to teach some skills. For instance, you can teach your hound or German shepherd how to play games of hide and seek, or let your high-energy sight breed go after balls or frisbees.

If you’re interested in taking things a step further by competing with your dog or enrolling him to play games in a group environment, consider any of the following working dog sports:

  • Lure coursing for sighthounds; this game takes place on a track, where a mechanical rabbit runs in circles.
  • Tracking for scent hounds; you and your dog might even decide to join your local search and rescue team.
  • Earth dog trials for terriers, consisting of searching for, finding, and barking excitedly at a caged rodent.
  • Skijoring, sledding, or cart pulling for big working dogs that were bred to pull.
  • Dock jumping for bird dogs such as Golden Retrievers, and other breeds that live for the opportunity to swim and fetch.
  • Agility for nearly any dog that loves to run, learn and earn rewards.

In case none of these are available in your area, obedience training is a great option for all dogs.  You might even consider getting your dog’s canine good citizenship certification so that the two of you can participate in community events or volunteer to visit with people who are hospitalized or living in retirement communities.

Reap the rewards

When you take steps to satisfy your working dog’s instincts, both of you win. Your dog receives the mental stimulation and physical activity required for overall wellbeing. At the same time, you have a pet that’s more relaxed at home – and a lot of fun to spend time with!


Emma Williams is a professional writer and pet parent who has written for big publishers including Canadian Dogs Annual, The Telegraph, Home Beautiful and She enjoys sharing her knowledge on pet health, lifestyle topics and pet behavior.