We’re watching, arguably, some of the hardest-working dogs in sport go at it this week in the Iditarod, the nearly 1,000 mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. Right now, mushers and their teams are just over a third of the way through the course that covers some of the most unforgiving territory - and weather - on the planet. Close to 1,000 dogs started the race, spread over 69 teams, and more than three quarters of them are still going at it. Freezing temperatures, bitter winds, snow and ice - all over surfaces that require boots just to keep from turning the dogs’ feet into hamburger. And the dogs likely wouldn’t have it any other way. For that reason, mushers say the “Alaskan Husky” is a special breed, if not an officially recognized one. They’re strong, quick, efficient, and have the internal desire to just go, go, go.
While some dogs may have been bred to satisfy the cosmetic desires
of royalty or fashion over the centuries, most breeds can trace their roots, disposition and other particular characteristics to the jobs their ancestors once held. For thousands of years, man has enlisted the the help of his best friend as everything from hunting partner to palace guard, and to chase rats from sewers, or keep the cows - and the kids - in line. Long noses, thick coats, broad chests, or other physical properties we associate with certain breeds once served a specific purpose or duty our forefathers saw as invaluable. Coupled with a dog’s intelligence, loyalty and desire to please, it’s easy to see how they earned the moniker “man’s best friend”.
Experts say those internal drivers are still there, whether or not they’re being exercised. Dogs, like people, need purpose. While some may actually enjoy being paraded around in purses, most dogs still instinctually search for their role in the family or pack. You may not have a herd of cattle for your dog to rustle, but the doesn’t mean you can’t channel their natural talents into a positive and rewarding job for them to do. Retriever types want to naturally “retrieve.” Building regular games of fetch into their routine can help scratch that itch. Running breeds make excellent partners for your outdoor excursions. Or bring your dog along for routine errands like trips to the mailbox, to the bank or the coffee shop. They’ll begin to see themselves as escorts for these all-important trips. Do some homework and find the “jobs” that best matches your breed’s still set. Chances are, you’ll both be rewarded for the effort with a more satisfying relationship. And it sounds a whole lot easier than pulling a sled across Alaska.