After working with dogs for over 10 years, they are much more than a hobby to me. However, many of my favorite hobbies revolve around dogs.
From working dogs to show dogs to beloved pets, I’ve known them all, and I know how to succeed in dog hobbies and how to have the best experience with a dog as a pet.
Dogs are ubiquitous in human culture. They have been by our sides throughout our history. In that time, they have developed into all kinds of shapes and sizes to play a wide range of roles. What you want to do with your dog will make a huge difference in how you experience having a dog as a hobby. Here are a few of the hobbies that people can do with dogs:
Dogs are the most popular pets in America. Just over 38% of American homes own dogs. Many of those pet dogs also have other jobs, but the vast majority of them are pampered house pets. Dogs are great pets for a number of reasons:
They work well with humans
Dogs’ loyalty and willingness to work with humans enables them to adapt to living in human society in a way that other animals may not. You can expect a well-trained dog to rarely have potty accidents within the house, destroy things they shouldn’t, or try to escape. Even large dogs can be very calm, well-behaved, and non-destructive, provided they are trained, exercised, and handled correctly.
They provide safety
Nearly all dogs are a deterrent to crime and a good alert system. Some breeds of dogs will do everything they can to defend you, your home, and your family. If you want a pet that can make you feel safer and provide meaningful protection to your family without necessarily needing extensive training, a dog may be a good choice.
They are sociable
Most dogs enjoy spending time with your friends and family and going new places with you. There are few pets that you can walk about town and take with you in the way you can with a dog. Not only are most dogs willing to do these sorts of activities, but they seem to exude joy at the opportunity to do things with you.
Dog breeds were developed to do all kinds of jobs, and they are still adept at a wide variety of jobs today. Many working dogs are also beloved pets, but many have very important jobs to do. Here are just a few of the ways dogs can work for you:
If you have livestock to control, whether it is chickens, goats, or cattle, a dog can make it much easier for you to handle them. Herding dogs dramatically reduce the workload on a farm and can make it possible for people to control massive flocks in open terrain and difficult conditions.
Hunting dogs have been developed to hunt everything from rats and small animals to foxes and badgers, to deer and antelope, and even wolves. While there aren’t many people using wolfhounds to hunt wolves anymore, many hunting breed dogs are still very much doing the jobs they were bred for:
- Hounds for hunting deer, raccoon, and possum are a fixture throughout the American South.
- Dogs bred to work with people when they hunt, such as retrieving dogs, are extremely popular for gun sports like duck or quail hunting.
- Terriers rid farms, boatyards, and homes of rats and other vermin
If you enjoy a hunting sport or have a vermin problem, there’s probably a dog well-suited to hunting with or for you.
Service or emotional support
If you have a mental or physical disability, a dog may be able to assist you. Service dogs have been guiding the blind, assisting the deaf, alerting to seizures, and doing all kinds of other incredible things to serve their disabled humans for a very long time.
You can train your service or emotional support dog yourself, hire a professional to train a dog, or buy a dog that has been professionally trained.
Sledding or carting
There have been a number of dog breeds developed to pull things. Training your dog to pull a sled, cart, bicycle, or anything else can not only be a lot of fun, it can be a real way to get around.
Strong dogs can make a meaningful difference in pulling loads around your property or on your farm. Your pet dog could very easily double as a means of transportation and a way of getting things done. Most dogs that have been bred for these kinds of purposes excel in it and enjoy it immensely.
There are many breeds of dog that have been developed to protect people, property, or livestock. They are instinctually driven to do this and likely to do it even without training.
However, if you want your dog to perform reliably or protect you in ambiguous situations such as when you are out on a walk, rather than just guarding your home, you may need to employ some training. Protection trained dogs can protect you or your family from an assailant on command.
It’s important to note that protection dogs are not junkyard dogs that can be left to their own devices. Such dogs are more likely to injure a neighborhood child or pet than they are to effectively protect your property.
Dogs experience the world primarily through their noses. People have taken advantage of a dog’s capacity to smell so much better than ourselves by training them to seek out all kinds of things. Dogs can be trained to seek out valuable truffles, find people or items that are lost, and all sorts of other things.
A dog’s incredible sense of smell means that they will likely be able to find nearly anything you want them to find. Dogs even have the potential to smell out cancerous tissue and other diseases in humans.
Show and breeding dogs
Dogs having developed in very specific ways for a long time, and breeders are still working to maintain specific breed traits and continue to better the breed today. Breeding dogs should excel in some area that makes them fit to be among the dogs that contribute to the breed.
Dogs can be shown fit for breeding by doing well in dog shows or in trials and competitions that demonstrate their skills in a given area for which they were developed, such as herding, retrieving, or hunting. If you want to breed or show your dog, you will need to get a special certificate from the breeder and register with the AKC or UKC or whatever organization you want to show through.
This registration allows you to show your dog or compete in trials. It also gives you the right to breed and register offspring with the organization as well. These registrations cost more, typically twice as much, as buying the same dog as a pet.
How To Get Started With Dogs As A Hobby
If you’re thinking about getting started with dogs as a hobby for the first time, it’s a good idea to get to know some dogs. You may have had a childhood dog or known a few friends’ dogs, but dogs come in a vast array of shapes, sizes, and personality traits.
You may find that you prefer one type of dog or even a specific breed overwhelmingly to others. Most dog lovers end up favoring some types of dogs or breeds over other. It’s not a bad idea to get to know a number of dogs before you make a commitment to having a dog for 10 to 20 years.
Whatever you want to do with your dog, there are typically a number of breeds to choose from. People had many of the same needs in herding, hunting, retrieving, etc. in various places across the world and developed their own breeds to accomplish these goals. Today’s dog owner benefits from the world’s breed-variety when choosing a dog for a specific job or as a pet.
It’s worth getting to know a number of different breeds that are likely to meet your goals, whether you want a pet or a dog for another reason. Here are a few ways to get to know dogs:
Step 1: Get to Know Some Dogs
Go to a dog park
Dog parks are ubiquitous throughout most of America. Depending on where you are, there may even be a number of dog parks around.
There is debate about whether dog parks are a safe place to bring your dog, but regardless of whether you want to bring your dog to one yourself, they are a valuable place to gain insights about how dogs of different breeds behave. You can also occasionally find owners who are happy to talk to you about their dog, its breed, and answer any questions that you have.
Volunteer or foster
Homeless dogs are a serious problem in America. The problem tends to be worse in the American South, but homeless dogs and shelters to house them exist everywhere in the states. The vast majority of these shelters are more than happy to allow the public to foster shelter dogs or volunteer at shelters.
You can even find rescues that cater to particular types of dogs or breeds. These rescues are often more than willing to transport dogs many miles so that you can foster them. Fostering and volunteering with dogs is a wonderful way to get to know the types of dogs you may want to have in your life without making a commitment.
You may think that you have an active enough lifestyle for a herding breed like a border collie or a kelpie, but upon fostering dogs like this, you may realize that you are actually better suited to a lower-energy breed. Fostering and volunteering like this can teach you a lot about a variety of dogs in a crash course introduction.
Quality breeders are typically more than happy to let you meet some of their breeding dogs and see parts of their facility. They may not allow you anywhere puppies are being born or nursing or where mothers may be stressed by your presence, but they should introduce you to some of their breeding dogs and give you a sense of what the breed is like.
If you have a breed in mind but aren’t sure, this can be a great way to get a sense of what well-bred individuals of that breed are like. You can also get to know the breeders that you may end up considering for a puppy later on.
Step Two: Choose a Dog
Buy or adopt?
Once you’ve done your research and have a sense of what kind of dog you want and what you want to do with it, it will be time for you to choose your dog. You have two choices in how you get a dog: rescue/rehome or buy from a breeder.
Buy a puppy or dog
By doing your research through the breed organization of your choice, whether you want to choose a dog through the AKC or the UKC, you can find quality breeders who are committed to the breed and to their dogs. You can find just about any breed and talk to a number of breeders to help you choose just the right fit for you.
There are a lot of varieties within lines of dogs no matter what breed you choose. Good breeders screen for potential health problems and keep their dogs in very quality, engaging, and sanitary conditions. They also have questions to ask you, as they want to make sure that their dog is going to a good home.
Sometimes breeders have older dogs available. These may be dogs that could not stay in the home that bought them for any number of reasons or they may be retiring breeding dogs that the breeder is trying to find a good home for.
If you’d rather not deal with a puppy, you can look into opportunities to adopt an adult dog of your breed choice.
Rescue or rehome a puppy or dog
Rescue dogs are available in every shape and size and from every corner of the US and across the globe. You can find purebred rescue dogs, shed-free rescue dogs, and dogs of every size and age in the rescue system.
Sometimes it can be very challenging to find certain types of dogs, and you may not have as much selection as you like among puppies, small breed dogs, and dogs that don’t shed. However, if you are looking for a large mixed breed dogs, especially a bully breed dog like a Staffordshire Terrier or an American Pitbull, there are plenty of dogs to choose from at your local shelter.
You can often even find puppies of these types of dogs readily at a rescue organization. Rescue dogs are more affordable than dogs from a quality breeder. Many have been previously owned, so they already have some basic skills like house training and basic obedience.
Choosing the best dog for you to rescue requires doing some research. It is often best to foster dogs first so that you have a better idea of what you’re getting into before you commit.
If you have a specific type of dog in mind or you want to know a dog’s history before adopting, you can also adopt a dog directly from an owner who is trying to rehome it. People often need to rehome dogs for all sorts of reasons that aren’t the dog’s fault.
Impulsive or uneducated breed choices, life changes like illness or homelessness, and all kinds of other situations can result in a dog being rehomed. You can find a dog with a well-known history that has been well-loved and likely will transition easily into your home. Be extremely careful when adopting a dog in this way, as “dog flippers” sometimes take advantage of posting sites to make a profit by adopting and then selling dogs.
Equipment Necessary to Have a Dog
For the most part, dogs are incredibly willing to settle into our lives. They don’t need extensive equipment like lighting, large cages, or difficult-to-prepare diets like many other types of pets. However, dogs do you need a certain number of supplies to keep them contained and make sure that they are living happy healthy lives. Here are some essentials for every dog owner.
A collar is a way to control your dog as well as being a means of identifying them. There are two types of collars that you should consider:
Buckle or snap collar
Buckle or snap colors are securely attached at a fixed length around your dog’s neck. They are ideal for carrying your dog’s tag. Well-behaved dogs can also be walked by their buckle collar with no problem.
One of the easiest buckle collars to use is the Taglory Reflective Dog Collar with Safety Locking Buckle, as it is easy to put on with the buckle but won’t come loose, thanks to the locking buckle. The reflective lining is a convenient safety feature in case your dog gets out at night.
Martingale collars aren’t available from most big-box pet stores the way buckle collars are, but they are an absolutely essential safety tool if your dog has a certain body type or is prone to escape. They aren’t to be worn with your dog’s tags all the time like a buckle collar. Rather, they should only be worn when you are walking your dog on a leash.
Martingale collars, or limited-slip collars, tighten to a certain degree when your dog pulls and loosens when they relax. This keeps the collar from going over the dog’s head. Dogs with heads and necks of similar size, such as bully breeds or sighthounds, especially benefit from these collars.
The Max and Neo Martingale Collar is a sturdy collar with some great features like a locking buckle and a tag holder. As an added bonus, they donate a collar to an animal shelter for every collar sold.
For sighthounds or other breeds with delicate necks, a martingale that is two inches wide is ideal, to avoid straining any one point of the neck.
Many people eventually get to a place where their dog doesn’t need a crate, but at the beginning, whether you adopt an adult dog or you have a puppy, you will likely find a crate to be an invaluable training tool.
Puppies and untrained rescue dogs have a tendency to get into all kinds of things, including things that can be very harmful to them. A crate gives your dog somewhere safe to be when you cannot keep an eye on them.
By crate training positively using delicious food distributing toys whenever your dog is in the crate, you can quickly train your dog to love being in the crate. When your dog is self-controlled and well-behaved in the crate, you can begin to trust them alone in a contained area and then potentially wherever they want to go in your house.
The self-control that they learn in the crate to direct any frustration they may feel onto something appropriate like a toy will continue to serve your dog well as you give them more freedom. It’s best to choose a crate with a divider panel if you are adopting a puppy that will grow large so that you do not have to keep going up in crate sizes as your dog grows.
If you don’t want your dog to destroy your home, they need toys. Dogs have natural instincts to chew, bite, rip, and otherwise destroy. They need positive outlets for those instincts.
Some dogs have stronger instincts to chew and destroy than others. Stronger dogs will be able to do more damage, but all dogs need opportunity to chew, chase, and act out other instincts. Here are the most important toys that every dog needs.
The good old-fashioned Kong toy has become an absolute essential for practically every dog owner. They come in a number of sizes and rubber density levels, from rubber that is suitable for puppies up to a very heavy-duty extreme Kong that can handle even the most powerful chewers.
Kong toys can be stuffed with all sorts of different foods, including your dog’s regular kibble, with the addition of healthy treats that you already probably have around the house. They can also be frozen for added challenge.
By chewing on the Kong toy, your dog gets out small amounts of food, which continuously rewards them for chewing. At the same time, the shape of the Kong toy massages your dog’s teeth and gums, making it less likely that they will feel the need to soothe their teeth by chewing on inappropriate things like your furniture.
A good tug toy
The best tug toys are made of a sturdy rubber, not rope which may be caught in your dog’s teeth. Ideally, choose a toy with two handles so that you and your dog will always have their own place to hold on to it. This is important because it keeps dogs from tending to creep up the tug toy towards your hand, which may make an accidental bite more likely while you are playing tug games.
The Goughnuts Tug Toy is an excellent choice because it is extremely durable to hold up to many tug games.
It is generally well accepted that tug games are a good way to play with dogs as long as you practice consistent “drop it” and “take it” commands so that you know that you are in control of the game. Tug can be a reward for desirable behavior, an outlet for energy, and a way to easily occupy your dog while you sit down and watch TV.
Dogs of all breeds love to fetch, whether their breed was developed to fetch or not. Fetch is a superb game for any dog and dog owner, since it gives you the ability to provide a lot of exercise to your dog without having to wear yourself out in the process.
It also continuously teaches self control and rewards your dog for coming back to you, which is something that most dog owners want to encourage in their dogs. The best fetch toys are of a rubber that is appropriate to your dog’s age and size and are the right shape to fit inside the mouth and push the canines outward but not so small that your dog could potentially swallow it on accident.
While tennis balls have become popular pets toys, most veterinarians now recommend toys designed for dogs. These fetch toys have a hole so that if your dog crunches down on them they will not get their tongue or cheek sucked in due to negative pressure. They also avoid the fluffy surface, which dogs tend to like to rip off and occasionally swallow.
The Chew King Fetch Ball is a great choice because it has a hole through it that can also be stuffed with food, it’s very heavy-duty, and it comes in a range of sizes so you can pick the right one for your dog.
Food and Treats
There is all kinds of debate in the dog community about what is the right thing to feed your dog. You will have to do your own research to make the right decision for you and your dog, but it is wise to be cautious of new fads or ideas that haven’t been well-tested or supported by many people in the veterinary community.
Dog food diets that mimic human fads, like the grain-free diets that became popular in the wake of the Atkins craze for humans, can be dangerous. A number of dogs, particularly some breeds that are most popular, like the golden retriever, were found to suffer heart conditions that appear to directly relate to being fed a grain-free diet.
While it still isn’t 100% clear why grain-free diets lead to problems like this, it is an important warning for pet owners to be cautious about anything that is becoming popular and is produced pet food manufacturers but isn’t well-supported by vets. Many dog owners who breed dogs for performance or show choose old brands like Fromm that have been respected for some time and source ingredients locally.
Many of the treats that you may choose for your dog are easily available at your local grocery store. Fruits and vegetables like carrots, broccoli, banana, and many more are excellent treats for your dog.
Some surprising things, like grapes, can be extremely toxic to your dog, so it is very important to research any new food before you offer it to your dog. When you buy commercial treats, it’s a good idea to choose whole products like dehydrated sweet potato, chicken or fish jerky, beef esophagus, or dried fish.
These products are likely free of additives that may be a problem in other commercially-produced treats and they also provide whole ingredient nutrition that will be beneficial to your dog’s health.
The AKC is a superb place to learn about different dog breeds, showing dogs, and dog competitions.
Victoria Stilwell is a respected positive trainer. Her forum is a superb way to get training and behavior questions answered.
Patricia McConnel is another respected positive dog trainer and works with herding dogs. Her blog is a great resource for anyone training a working dog. The Canine Health Foundation is a superb place to get all kinds of information about your dog’s health. This can also be a good resource for finding out about breed-related health problems when you are trying to decide what breed is right for you.