Although I am currently only on my second personal working dog, my professional training experience over the last 7 years along with my association with multiple dog clubs in Colorado and Arizona have brought to light one of the biggest mistakes repeated over and over again by green working dog enthusiasts. Unfortunately, there is a lot of crazy information out there. Because I wish I had been educated on this topic when I was first looking for a puppy, I felt it would be appropriate to share my thoughts in order to help newbies to high energy, working line dogs.
You don’t need to supercharge your adrenaline junkie. If you have done your research and currently have or will have a puppy from a reputable working dog source, know that your puppy probably either has *it* or she doesn’t. If you set a solid foundation as a puppy and find your dog needs extra attention in certain areas as an adult dog, good trainers can help you tackle them. If your puppy grows up to be a dog that is nervy and not fit for a certain dog sport, I can almost promise you that it wasn’t because you didn’t focus on drive as a puppy.
I cannot tell you how many times I was told to crate my puppy any time she wasn’t working (and while I would love to elaborate more on this, the short of the long is that if your puppy/dog will only work if they have been isolated for hours on end beforehand, perhaps it is not a very good working dog), to back-tie her on a harness to encourage drive for the toy/dumbbell/whatever for months on end, to ignore obedience and focus on DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE. This was the single biggest mistake I made with my first working dog. She naturally had *it*, the glorious drive and energy and desire to work that everybody wants, and my lack of experience ultimately created an over-the-top, disengaged yet frantically-ready-to-work drive machine. While drive building exercises are absolutely beneficial in certain circumstances, engagement and teaching your working line puppy an off-switch (how to settle when they are not actively working) should be at the top of your priority list.
Additionally, your high-energy breed does not need copious amounts of exercise per day. SAY WHAT? Seriously. Those people that tell you your malinois is going to suffer and maybe eat a baby if you don’t run her at 30mph for 12 miles per day, every day? They are full of crap. This plays right into a previous comment — these dogs were bred for versatility, and they either have a good work ethic or they don’t. However, we can absolutely create a monster by over-exercising and over-stimulating our working dogs. While working dogs are supposed to be athletes, they do not necessarily need to be Olympians. Even dogs competing at the highest level of dog sports need to be able to travel well (often internationally), be out in public with Joe Average, and turn themselves off to recharge.
A dog that is over-the-top and always on wastes energy, has difficulty thinking, and can be frantic in the work. Not only are those dogs extremely difficult to live with, they are not commonly going to be achieving top scores in performance, either. So, despite what some of the working dog crowd will tell you, your dog does not need a 45 minute training session, a trip to the dog park, plus a half-marathon run every day. In fact, they don’t even need a quarter of that. Make them think daily, take them on a walk, and give them some sort of job that you do at least a few times a week (agility, IPO, mondioring, nosework, competition obedience, etc) and teach them to settle.
Teaching your puppy or dog that there will be days she will not get exercised — we are human after all — is a skill that should not be underestimated. The expectation that a dog should, or will be, “worked” or given a “job” 24 hours a day is completely unrealistic in the average home. There is a time for work, and there is a time to relax. Don’t get caught up in the hype that you cannot peacefully co-exist with your dog in the house. You can, so long as you put in the work. Just because some training veterans say your dog is not supposed to live as a pet does not mean that the dogs cannot live in the house, be friendly to your family and neighbors, and be a good dog to be around. Just because we want energetic, flashy obedience in the future doesn’t mean we should let our puppies walk all over us while we ignore obedience until they’re “mature”. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing — no matter what somebody else tells us.