Most of us with pure-bred dogs do not live the kind of life where our dogs can do what they were  bred to do.  In fact, most of us with mixed breed dogs don’t keep sheep, hunt, search for lost children in the woods, have a used car lot in need of protection, have a secret place where we hunt for truffles or have a rodent problem on our property.  Some dogs are content with a daily trip to the dog run, a long walk along the river, a chance to retrieve a Frisbee and then a good, long nap.  But some are not.  Some need to be able to use the instincts passed down to them by generations of breeding for a specific task and sometimes, without the chance to use what they’ve got, they will find a way to do so on their own, developing obsessive compulsive habits that reflect the work they were meant to do.  So what’s a person to do?

You needn’t move to a sheep farm, go out and buy a rifle, train your dog for cadaver recovery or become a truffle farmer, though I hear there’s good money in the latter.  Instead, find an activity or even a game that uses some of your dog’s special abilities.  And play the game seriously enough that your dog feels he’s working, that he feels what he’s doing is important.

Your retriever might like to carry something on his walks, or even carry home a small bag when you go shopping.  Dogs of any breed or mix love to find things using their fabulous sense of smell.  It’s easy to start this game with a small biscuit and gradually work it so that your dog is finding objects by name hidden out of sight.  The dog who loves that game may graduate to finding objects that are out of place.  Try dropping a glove, say, behind your back as you walk through a field or on a trail.  Then send your dog back to find what you dropped without telling him what he should be looking for.

Once, when my first Border Collie, Flash, and I were out for a long walk, I could see that he was desperate to retrieve.  This time, I had nothing with me I could toss and anyway, we were on a city street.  Still, wanting to satisfy my darling boy, I pulled out my money, hoping I’d find a single I could tent and drop behind me, then send Flash back to find.  Alas, the smallest bill was a five.  I looked into my dog’s eyes, then tented the five, continued to walk and as we went, dropped the bill behind me.  At the end of the block, hoping no one had come along and scooped up my dough, I sent Flash back, telling him, “Find it.”  This he did, dropping the folded, wet five happily in front of my feet.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

If you have kids, you can have your dog retrieve out of place items from all over your house.  That should keep him busy!  By reading the history of your dog’s breed or by noting what talents your mixed breed dog has, you can come up with activities to satisfy his instinct to work, concocting brain-teasing, fun and deeply satisfying activities for the pup you love.  And here you were wondering what to do next weekend!