Yard Dog Etiquette – Taking a dog to work
It is fair to assume the majority of those who choose to dedicate their career to caring for horses, will also have succumbed to the special charm of four legged canine companions . It is a rare thing to walk into any type of equestrian facility and not find at least one yard dog on patrol, often than not there is a whole pack of them roaming around having a wail of a time.
To what level this pack has returned to its feral wolf nature varies from yard to yard. When it comes down to taking a dog to work with you, many employers are very open to this idea providing the dog is well trained and fits in with the resident yard dog/s. Like any proud mother or father, we can all be more than a little blind to our own doggy’s faults. This week we ask the questions – Is your faithful friend a joyful addition or an accident waiting to happen? Have you considered your particular job choice and considered your dogs needs as well as your own?
What makes an ideal yard dog?
The everyday Super Yard Dog will possess these qualities…
- Friendly to humans of all age gender, shape and size, whether their presence is scheduled or not and regardless of whether they have met before
- Socialises well with other dogs
- A healthy respect for Equines!
- A disinterest in bringing about the untimely death of unsuspecting chickens/cats/goats/nearby livestock or the family’s pet rabbit
- Happy to remain within the, likely not inconsiderable, boundaries of the property ideally within eye shot and/or easy calling range of his/her owner
- The ability to settle quietly in staff accommodation/a stable or tied in a safe place when necessary
Before taking a dog to work, there are several commands it is essential for any yard dog to have mastered for their own safety:
“COME/HERE” – An immediate recall to your feet
“OUT” – Meaning to get out of this space, be that a stable/wash box/arena/field when they are in the way and about to be trampled
“STAY” – Used to keep the dog out of a space that could be dangerous for them
“LEAVE” – Many of the medications we use for horses, such as wormers, can be poisonous to dogs in high quantities. A good ‘leave it’ can save not just some terrible cases of bad breath and guts from the horrendous unidentifiable things they love to scavenge but a lot of upset and hefty vet bills too, or worse!
“DOWN/STOP/WAIT” – Often our dogs will wander ahead of us when heading to bring horses in or out riding. There is nothing wrong with this provided you have a command to stop in their tracks and wait for you. This prevents them wandering unawares into a situation that might not be safe ie a road, stallion paddock, across a gallops, in front of the reversing lorry/tractor.
What are common undesirable behaviours in a yard dog?
There are common canine behaviours that put the dog in danger and can be the cause of an accident to the horses, yourself or co-workers. Before taking a dog to work it’s also necessary to consider bad habits that, whilst they might not bother you, might not be quite so OK for everyone else on the property. In a commercial yard this could include paying liveries, owners, visiting trainers, farriers, sales clients, employer’s family and friends etc. When your dog becomes a problem for them it will soon become a problem for you too so better to recognise the undesirable behaviour early on before it becomes a ‘deal breaking’ issue. Through a little time and effort with training most of these issues can be resolved or at least managed.
FIGHTING/AGGRESSION – Towards any variety of person or the employers resident dogs is an obvious No-No but you must also be aware if your dog is likely to cause a problem with any visiting dogs too. If your dog is running loose and you are away from the yard can you always be sure you will be the first to notice when someone arrives. I worked at a yard where one of the resident big dogs considered all small dogs prey. An unknowing owner let their little Pomeranian out the car and he literally picked it up in his mouth and ran off ragging it. Cue total panic as we all chased round trying to grab him. Thankfully we caught him in time and the little dog was just shocked and bruised but that was one very lucky escape!
CHASING/HERDING HORSES – This may seem an obvious one but for dogs new to this type of life the excitement of a herd of horses galloping away from the gateway can just prove too tempting. For the herding breeds they may try to ‘help’ as soon as they hear a raised voice. In both scenarios the dog is simply following what his/her natural instinct tells them to do. Sadly it only takes one little kick out or nip at the heels when you or the dog are standing in the wrong place for this to end badly for dog and owner.
WANDERING OFF – The amount of freedom given to Yard dogs you would think this should never be a problem but for the select few they just have to push the boundaries – literally. Usually a particular problem for the hunting breeds this can be a distracting and time consuming problem, especially when you have a job to do. The fact your hound has in his mind just nipped off to fetch you some dinner is unlikely to help you worry less about where the little rascal has gone now!
SCROUNGING/THIEVERY/CHEWING – Because of course you never feed them! It’s one thing when the apple of your eye is stealing your belongings quite another when your colleagues lunch starts miraculously vanishing or your boss comes back from a ride to find the tack room looks like a hurricane has been through it. The amusement of a puppy running off with random grooming brushes or a bucket soon wears off when they are a big 1 year old and chewing up an expensive Ariat boot, that again, is not yours! Not to mention the obvious danger to their health from the god knows what they swallow doing this!
EXCESSIVE BARKING – Perhaps it is a matter of opinion as to how much of a problem this is? On some properties dogs barking at approaching cars is seen as part of the security system. However, if you live on site and your dog is barking or howling late at night/early in the morning/whenever left/at the boss when she arrives, this is going to make you somewhat less popular.
JUMPING UP – Again, for the already filthy animal mad groom this is unlikely to be seen as a problem. For the visiting owner in their expensive swanky clothes, with their immaculate BMW car… you can imagine the hysterics and disaster that could follow! Equally, a visiting busy vet or farrier trying to get on with the job at hand may not enjoy being hampered by your over eager pup bodily announcing his presence. Whilst this shouldn’t be a life threatening deal breaker, it is something to be aware of and manage as the responsible owners we know you all are! 🙂
IS YOUR DOG NEUTERED? Of course whether or not you choose to have this done will always be your own personal choice but in an environment where there is very likely to be a mix of sexes running loose it is one less headache for you to worry about, and is certainly a big consideration before taking a dog to work with you.
The Dogs Trust have some useful and interesting articles on dog behaviour here.
Does this lifestyle suit your dog?
Just as working outdoors is not for all humans, yard dog life is not for all canines. For the very young, old or certain less hardy breeds being exposed to the elements all day could simply make them miserable. We all know the feeling! For some their temperaments simply might not be suited to such a busy environment. Dogs that are particularly timid, needy or highly strung can find the whole situation over stimulating. No matter your good intentions you cannot realistically be looking out for them all the time to keep them reassured, out of trouble and safe.
Managing your dog at work
The earlier in your dog’s life that you train your dog to the equine way of life the more likely he/she is to take to it. If you are introducing “yard life” to a mature dog you need to be mindful that he/she already has certain expectations of daily life, and may not necessarily be as receptive to training and a new way of life. Fear not, our suggestion would NEVER be that you give up your four legged ‘besties’, merely that you look at alternative ways or even choice of job to keep them comfortable, happy and out of trouble.
Option A – If your dog is crate trained perhaps you can set one up in the tack room. They can be loose on the yard during morning and evening yards when you can keep an eye on them then safely put to bed while exercising is happening.
Option B – Some may disagree but I see little wrong with tethering your dog somewhere safe on the yard where they can still see what’s going but are kept out of the way and harms way at busy times. They should always be within site and quick reach of course, as much as they can be safer in some respects, they can also be more vulnerable in others (loose horses/loose dog attacks/getting caught up in the tether etc etc.) Another idea would be to make use of a spare stable for short periods of time if your dog is happy to settle like this.
Option C – Some are willing and able to keep their dogs in their accommodation whilst they work, with walks or just spending break times with the dog. This option should be very carefully considered. If the dog is not happy being left for 4/5 hours, (sometimes longer) on their own, is it fair? Even if they are seemingly ok with this, are they REALLY? As we all know dogs are pack animals and you are their pack….with that comes considerable responsibility and all dogs want to be with their pack leader for as much time as you can muster. Some staff accommodation may have a secure garden they can be left with access too but again, you should seriously consider if your dog would be truly happy with such intense solitude and whether you should reconsider your job options with you and your dog in mind. I am pleased to say the majority of job seekers we talk to will put their dogs needs up there with their own BUT …we mention this because get many, many reports from irate employers where dogs left home alone have ‘trashed’ their environment and also from some Grooms occasionally angry at their dogs behaviours in such a scenario. We also hear stories of Grooms leaving dogs in cars winter and summer for long periods of time…really!
Essentially deciding if your dog is really a suitable yard dog or what is the best job for you and your dog, comes down to considering what is truly in the dog’s best interests as well as your own and taking into account the safety and sanity of those you share your working/living environment with. If my dog isn’t happy, I am not happy and I am pleased to say most people feel the same way, but not every one.
Further considerations on taking a dog to work with you
If you don’t yet have a dog an are thinking of getting one, or you are finding that you are struggling to secure work for yourself and your dog have a read of our articles:
If you would like to have a chat about your career options with your four-footed-fur-family contact us for friendly, free, impartial advice on finding the right job.