When my dog found a job, I did too.
When a dog in a human-animal partnership has work, that work provides a sense of purpose to both the human and the companion animal. My dog Junior and I are part of a growing number of human canine teams transitioning to encore careers. We have a work-love partnership in an active life stage after a full-time career. The human animal bond provides work and love for both of us.
Leaving full-time careers by choice or through retirement can create new gaps in social networks for many adults. When I retired from a busy full-time career in health care, I missed the connections and sense of purpose my work provided. I found the most significant challenge in this transition was the ability to find new ways to feel valued, a sense of purpose, and a way to feel connected to a social network.
My rescued Golden Retriever and I soon began training to do therapy dog work and started blogging. Our work together now shapes the next chapter of my life. Junior and I work together as a human-canine community volunteer team. I call it our “PetWork”. We are a therapy dog team, a Reading Education Assistance Dog Team, and Humane Educators.
To Love and to Work
Freud is said to have proposed that to be happy humans need to be able to love and to work. Each of us searches for our path to find both love and work during the phases of our lives. Other philosophers and social scientists have also held that one’s ability to love and work is deeply connected to one’s degree of happiness and satisfaction with life.
What does this concept mean for the human animal partnership? Humans and dogs are social creatures. We both need affection and love. Love means commitment and kindness. We both also need to work.
This work does not necessarily mean a job for pay. It means productive activities, whether for pay or not. Having a companion animal and working with that animal in meaningful activity provides an opportunity for love and work for both the human and the animal. Having a pet is a meaningful and productive experience. When that dog also has a job it gives a dual purpose to both partners.
The work of a human in the human animal partnership is to care for, provide food, shelter, health care, safety, physical activity and mental stimulation for the animal. But what is the work of the dog? In his book The New Work Of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love and Family, author John Katz explores the human animal bond and how dogs and humans satisfy each other’s emotional needs. Katz offers that the new work of dogs is caring for humans. He describes examples of the human-animal bond and presents a case for increased awareness by the human partners that pets should not be discarded when their support is no longer needed.
The most significant and enduring purpose of our pets in our lives is preventing loneliness and providing companionship.
The role of pets in promoting conversation and socialization for humans is becoming increasingly important and beneficial in the lives of increasingly isolated and lonely adults. Many adults, particularly senior adults, stay connected and combat loneliness by volunteering with their pet. Roles of human and canine teams include helping others as service and assistance teams, working in search and rescue, competing together in competitive canine sports, keeping fit by getting each other off the couch, and working together for causes that benefit animals and people.
Developing a career path for a companion dog gives meaningful, interesting, purposeful work to both the dog and the human partner. Just as each human has natural gifts and talent, so does each canine.
Different dogs need and like different types of work. Discovering each partners’ talents and abilities and interests is a first step to finding the right work niche for the team. Work roles inside and outside the home for dogs may be as varied as a therapy dog role, agility work, rally, show performance, task oriented play such as hide and seek and solving dog puzzles.
Being social creatures, humans and animals cannot easily separate the two dimensions of love and work. Attachments are complex and love and work are closely intertwined for humans.
As our pets become more of an attachment for us as companions and family, they become part of our social dynamic of work and love. Caring for them provides a dimension of both work and love for us.
Companion animals are given purposeful work when we ask them with kindness and consistency to comply with requests of their human partners. The dogs work by pleasing the human through the dog’s response to training and their assigned work tasks, even if that task is playful.
The unique healing promise of the human animal-bond is that we can teach each other to find meaning in work and love at whatever stage of life we share.
The Daily Junior is proud to note that this post has been nominated for a 2014 Dog Writers of America Award