Maria just had a new baby and there is laundry everywhere, no time to play with her little dog Sadie! Maria’s quick-witted, active little Sheltie is starting to misbehave because she is bored. Maria doesn't have time to go for long walks and play with her the way she used to, and Sadie is a little jealous of the baby, who has seriously cramped her style. Because Sadie is from working breed stock, she is always looking for a job to do and is highly motivated to perform tasks, but if she doesn't have an outlet, this energy and direction may manifest in inappropriate behavior, like dismantling the contents of the garbage!
A solution occurs to Maria: get Sadie to help with some household chores, like sorting laundry! Not only can Sadie learn to help sort laundry into piles before washing, but it will be fun for Sadie to learn, give Maria and Sadie some quality time together, and make Sadie feel like she is doing a job. Although people may not love having chores to do, working dogs actually thrive off of it!
Before washing, some people sort laundry into whites, colors, and darks. The problem with this is that your dog does not perceive color the same way as you do, and it will be hard for him to distinguish between a red shirt and a blue shirt! You will have to either adjust your expectations or come up with a workaround to have your dog help you sort laundry. You can either just separate out light laundry or you can teach your dog to sort laundry by type. Perhaps socks and jeans in one load, sheets and linens in another, towels separate, and shirts all together. Teaching your dog to separate and sort laundry by item can be fairly complex so you will have to spend lots of time working with your dog and helping shape the behavior. If your dog has the ability to sort laundry, it can be very useful for people who have impaired mobility, or, it can be a fun way to engage kids in chores, working with the dog to create a fun game.
You will need to first teach your dog to pick up and handle clothing items. Since your dog doesn't have opposable thumbs, he will be using his mouth! Then you will want to teach your dog to drop the items in separate piles or in baskets. Next, you will need to teach your dog to distinguish between different laundry items, either by color or by type. You may need to provide your dog direction on this, as he can't distinguish items based on color the way you can, but with practice, your dog can learn to separate types of laundry; for example, socks from towels, lights from darks. These skills can then be strung together to get your dog to sort laundry prior to washing, and maybe even afterwards, putting laundry for different members of the household in different baskets. Too bad your dog can’t fold the laundry too!
While training your dog, use laundry that you are not concerned about your dog handling in his mouth. Towels, socks and work clothes are usually tough enough to endure a dog picking them up and dragging them around in his mouth, your white, lacy silk negligee may not be! Start by using laundry that is significantly different in type or color. Remember, dogs do not have the same color vision as us, although they see some color, they do not perceive all the colors we do. Use whites and darks, or socks versus t-shirts, versus towels, for training purposes. Use different types of laundry baskets too, so your dog can distinguish between them. Remember, colors may not provide a good visual cue, different types of baskets may work better. Have lots of treats present, and patience. If you make this fun for your dog, he will be super cooperative and a motivated dog will learn much faster.