Remember what your dream job was when you were 5 years old? 10? 16? How about in college? Did you ever change your major? Did your major end up being what you actually ended up doing? If you felt pressured into a career by a parent or other person, how did you feel?
For some people, there are clues about what they would enjoy pursuing early on, but often a person does not really find out what the right career is for them until they become an adult. Many people have the experience of being in a job that was not the right fit for them. It’s an awful and stressful experience. Some people find that the job they did in their early 20’s is not the same job that is a good fit for them when they are in their 40’s.
Consider just how challenging it is for many people to end up deciding and following a particular career. It is easy to see how much harder it is to determine a career for a dog. Dogs cannot speak, we have to guess on their behalf. If we guess correctly they will be happy and fulfilled. If we guess incorrectly and force a dog into a job he or she is not suited for, then the dog will be stressed and miserable.
Dog jobs like service work and therapy work have very specific behavior, health, temperament and training requirements. These requirements go beyond just training. Activities like agility, competition obedience also have specific requirements for success. Inherited behavioral traits have a big role in determining whether a dog is suited for specific “dog jobs,” not just training. Some dog jobs have stricter requirements than others. The requirements for service work are especially rigorous. Just like very few people have what it takes to become physicists, very few dogs are suited for service work.
The hard reality is you cannot know for sure that the puppy you have chosen will be a therapy dog, service dog, detection dog, agility dog or obedience competition dog. I know there are temperament assessments and behavioral evaluations. They may increase the odds a bit, but even experienced professionals cannot totally be sure the puppy they have chosen will be suited for the job they have planned. Just like children, teenagers and young adults often seem to be going in one direction and then go in another, dogs can appear to be suited for a job and then change.
How can you stack the odds in your favor of ending up with a dog that is right for your goals? Well you can carefully choose a responsible breeder who has a multiple generation history of breeding dogs for the same goal you have. You can hope that the pup you chose will join the family business. It helps to choose a dog this way but there is no guarantee that an individual pup will follow the same path that his relatives did.
If you absolutely must have a dog that will do the job you want him to do, you have to be willing to return him to the breeder or re-home him if he does not end up being suited for the job. Many working dogs come from breeding programs where professionals who are not emotionally attached to the individual dogs make these difficult decisions. As heart wrenching as it sounds, it is much kinder to find another home for a dog than try to force a dog into a job that he is not suited for. The stress of being in an inappropriate role can trigger behavior problems that otherwise may never have existed. I realize most pet owners are not willing to return a dog to the breeder because he is not suited for the job they had in mind. Many owners resign themselves into just feeling disappointed instead.
I’d like to throw out another option if you find your dog is not suited for the job you had in mind: change your dream. Imagine being your dog. Get outside of your person-head and inside your dog’s head. What does your dog look like he enjoys doing? Running in the woods? Chasing birds? Digging holes? Following a scent? Learning that your dog is not suited for the job you dreamed for your dog is actually a terrific opportunity. Discover what your dog’s dream job is. May be it’s scent work, trick training, going on long hikes or just cuddling with you. There are many online competitive activities for dogs who enjoy training but do not do well in show environments. Take your disappointment and channel your energy into giving your dog the life of his dreams. Giving your dog his dream job may turn out to be more fulfilling than you ever imagined.