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Family Dogs ARE Working Dogs

Kai went widely out, neatly pushing the large Kiko goats to me with only the most perfunctory tap of the staff to push him a little wider out from the stock, and downed promptly at the command as the goats gathered close around my knees.

I was almost in tears. Years of work with Mika, an Aussie/cattledog/husky/rottweiler cross of much ability and skill, with over 50 different commands, hadn't been as natural and correct in herding than this green Australian Cattle Dog upon his first effort.

"He's a natural!" my herding instructor - one of the best dog handlers I've ever seen said shortly on putting away the goats after two calm, controlled tries with the dog. Kai heeled away obediently without a fuss, then lay panting, calm, focused on me.

I had put equal amounts of time training into my two dogs Kai and Mika, both with Koehler obedience foundations as well as plenty of public access, offleash hiking, agility, and the myriad tasks required of family dogs. The difference came in herding - a job that Kai was suited to, and I admitted, Mika with her variable heritage was not suited for (at that time. At the ripe age of 12 she has finally settled enough to nimbly maneuver our small Nubian/Pygmy milk goats in and out of their pen. At her own rate and direction and she very much ignores me if I tell her to do something wrong.)

So, the variable was in the genes of these two dogs.

This situation also occurs for other jobs. Some dogs make great obedience and agility and family dogs, some make great hunting and obedience dogs but would prefer not to live inside. Most dogs cannot do the job of being a livestock guardian - good ones are worth their weight in gold.

What this means is that - since being a family dog is a very real job with very specific tasks (allowing the baby to smack you with something briefly, watching over the children, finding lost bunnies, lots of long down stays, not knocking over the toddler, steadying her as she wobbles, finding six day old sausage crumbs in the couches without eating the couches, tolerating a whole bevvy of ignorant, annoying strangers, not darting out of doors, being good enough at walking to accompany a stroller, not eating ALL the things that are so very interesting and forbidden, being ignored completely for days on end and still honoring the house rules day in and day out without fail) there are dogs that are capable of doing this job and can be trained readily to it, and there are dogs that just . . . aren't.

Some of these are the highly valuable hunting, guarding, and livestock guardian breeds that in different contexts would shine and thrive, working towards their greatest strengths.

Some of those individuals are in fact dangerous when expected to fill the role of family dog, like a high content wolfdog asked to herd goats would be. But put that lad in a sled harness and watch him eat the miles.

Breed does matter, genetics matter, and training matters most of all, but training cannot make up for a lack of ability.

When you're selecting a family dog, please work downhill. Get a dog who already is suited to the job. Your future self will thank you!

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