The concept of  “Work Ethic” came up today on a FB group I belong too.

As one wise sage pointed out, if everyone is working from different definitions the answers will look varied. So, let me clarify. When I speak of work ethic I mean that notion that work is worthy of doing well and investing time in. Now of course if you read this blog regularly at all you know my immediate challenge with this as it applies to the dogs,  I play with my dogs (and horses). We don’t do much work at all. So, in real terms Work Ethic to me is being willing and able to bring an intensity to the table, a desire to do whatever and do it well. For reward? Why not. Sometimes the act is reward enough sometimes payment is needed. I am ok with either and don’t believe that Brody (who very much likes to be paid) is lazier or less motivated than Sally (who finds the action of work itself motivating usually). The current canine and equine crew vary. A lot. Their single biggest commonality? They bring their A game to the playing field more often than I would expect. (Sometimes *cough* Sally *cough* more often than I would want – if you’d asked me if I’d ever build a house with tweaks to foil a too smart dog I would have laughed at you – 9 years ago anyhow!)  That intensity, drive, willingness to work is pretty neat to see in such a diverse crew.

The alarming part? The only truly concrete thing the dogs here  have in common is that they are all dogs nobody else wanted (well Thea was wanted but only by Paris Hilton wannabes so … same difference really).

To delve into this more I did some reading on work ethic in humans and found a neat little article that identified 5 key factors involving a work place work ethic. Being me,  I’ve adapted them for our animal partners and will illustrate with examples from the canine crew here.

Integrity  trusting your relationship (obviously a two way street) is worth the work so you have to be willing to invest the work. Brody is likely my best example of this. He is the least obviously committed to work here (although honestly he is always ready to give it a go – he just isn’t as pushy as some) yet he could come out day after day and be absolutely rock solid. A little Q monster in many ways. 

Sense of Responsibility accepting their own role in the work being done and contributing to moving things forward. Yen gets this big picture concept. She loves to work but absolutely understands that I can’t and won’t make her work. The choice to work is hers. And she chooses work and assignations with me with a whole-hearted joy that makes every one around her laugh. Six fluffy pounds of shivering with anticipation is pretty darn cute. She carries far far more than her weight in play training. 

Emphasis on Quality Always willing to do that little extra to ensure the work is the best possible in human terms. In canine and equine terms I equate it to not giving up when the going gets tough. Not opting out but figuring out. Sampson took awhile to develop this aspect of work ethic. A long while. His first summer with me every single one of my training videos had shots of him running past the work happening. Sigh. He’s a different dog now and I am grateful for the lesson that work ethic is not always apparent in early days. This video illustrates the development on work ethic over Sam’s first summer with us, Not the intention of the video but even so there you have it.

Discipline Focus, commitment, and drive might be terms that you are more familiar with in a canine context. I would add bravery and desire here too. Thea is a total Type A. At 7 pounds of chihuahua soaking wet she continually shocks people with her intensity. She is assertive and opinionated and has never said no when working. Scenting, agility, basic manners – no matter. She may or may not be interested but she is going to give it her all. 

Sense of Teamwork working together with an eye on the complete picture – It took Sally awhile to get this – those early 40 fault runs had nothing to do with a lack of work ethic and everything to do with the fact she didn’t understand we were team and I had the course maps!

So this is all fine and well but how the heck to develop Work Ethic? Wave my magic wand and take dogs nobody else wants, use a little tincture of time and see where you are? Pick a sporting, herding, toy, terrier or other group dog? Umm no – we cover all those types here and all have a solid work ethic. 

All I can say with any degree of certainty is that dogs who love to play train and are allowed to opt in rather than being forced seem to develop a stronger more disciplined work ethic than those who have ALL THE PRESSURE. It has been a very long time since a dog here has had to work with at any given moment. Even in class with Sally I usually had Brody with us and if I felt a diminished desire to play in Sally was happy to swap out dogs,  Usually I have a group of dogs sitting waiting (sometimes not so patiently) for their turn to play. Not being sure if they will get time to play or work seems to increase motivation to want to work. Even the terrier loves to DO STUFF.