Working dogs are working dogs because they have behaviors that make them useful. Some of these useful behaviors have been further honed through advent of trials and working tests, although it is often debated about whether trials reflect the “real world” of a working breed. Either way, working dogs are bred behaviors, drives, motor patterns, and emotional reactivity that makes sense for the dog to complete the task at hand.
But are are these traits compatible with the needs of the pet home? Generally, pet owners want a dog that is of moderate or low activity level and very low prey drive. Herding, retrieving, pointing, flushing, and the hunting behavior of scenthounds, sighthounds, and earthdogs are all either modified predatory behavior or full predatory behavior. The dogs that perform best at these tasks have relativley high levels fo prey drive. In some of these working breeds, an extremely high energy level and endurance is also necessary.
These traits simply do not fit well in most pet homes. Most Americans work long hours, and while that does not mean that one cannot care for high-energy obsessive working dog, it does mean that most people are unable to make the time to do so. Further, leash laws and fenced yards mean that most of these dogs wind up living like tigers in the old zoo cages. It also means that an intelligent, highly active dog will come up with ways to amuse itself. Hole digging, landscaping, and home renovation could become wonderful diversions from an otherwise boring day.
So the traits that make working dogs excellent at what they do can make them lousy pets. It is possible to channel those traits into other work, which explains why border collies do so well at agility and flyball. However, the average person is better off with a low energy, low drive animal.
And what are these low-drive dogs?
Well, although they may have health problems, most of the small brachycephalic breeds are low drive dogs. Great Pyrenees are quite low drive, and unlike other livestock guardians, some lines have really low protective instincts (of course, you don’t want that if you want a real livestock guardian.)
However, it is a bit of a mistake to choose working breeds that have been intentionally bred to be calm. You simply do not know how the addition of that one trait will effect the general temperament of the animal.
So when choosing a dog that has been bred for a purpose, one must consider how one intends to focus that dog’s abilities. Otherwise, the dog might prove to be a disaster.