Jobs for a herding breed?

Dog Agility Trials
An Australian shepherd at an agility trial. Source: Flickr user oxherder

As you probably know by now, I’m very fond of the herding breeds. My top three choices for a dog right now would be a German shepherd, an Australian shepherd, or a rough collie. These are all very intelligent breeds with a well-deserved reputation for being high-maintenance dogs. Not high maintenance like a pampered Maltese, though. These dogs are high maintenance because they were bred for their considerable intelligence and their overpowering drive to work.

If left to their own devices, GSDs, Aussies, and collies become difficult, destructive, and occasionally dangerous dogs. In all of my reading and my interaction with these breeds, I’ve come to learn this full well. I know that most herding dogs come with a caveat emptor.

The standard advice for someone planning to get a high energy dog is to be sure to have “a job” for the dog to perform. I’ve heard this a lot and I often repeat it to other people, but if I’m honest, I don’t always know what that means. Since I don’t have a flock of sheep handy, what qualifies as a “job” for my future herding dog?

Here are some of the little “jobs” that I’ve been contemplating teaching our future dog, in the absence of actual herding:

  • Agility, if the dog is so inclined. There are a number of agility classes around here. I know that Aussies often excel at agility, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a GSD or a collie in an agility trial.
  • Rally obedience.
  • Retrieving games. So long as the dog enjoys retrieving, we will have him retrieve everything: Tennis balls, toys by name, his leash, our slippers, etc.
  • Obedience trials. This might not qualify as a job, but regular and ritualized obedience training would at least give his mind something to do.
  • Trick training.
  • Therapy work. I would love to be able to train a dog to visit schools or nursing homes.

Does your household (non-working) dog perform any jobs? If so, what are they? Any you would recommend? I’m all ears!