Monday, September 16, 2013

Employee Engagement: Going to the Dogs ... for lessons

Dogs are wonderful animals and we can learn so much through our interactions with them.

We have two miniature poodles, Roxy and Sam.  Roxy is now approaching 13 and Sam is a rescue dog we adopted as a puppy about 4 years ago.

Dogs exhibit traits that actually do have a lot to do with good management.

They're social animals.  They like company whether it's humans or other dogs.

They seek out leadership.  Bred with an innate sense of hierarchy, they obey the being that they perceive as their pack leader.  That could be their owner/master - or it could be one of the dogs in the pack.  This was something I really learned about from watching and reading Cesar Millan - The Dog Whisperer.  If you want a dog to obey you, your first task is to establish yourself as the pack leader.

They enjoy learning (especially when they receive treats).  

They are fiercely loyal.

If you come across a dog that's bad-tempered or vicious, take a careful look at the owner.  It could very well be that the owner of such a dog is also bad-tempered, antisocial and may be abusing the animal.  There's a saying that there are no bad dogs - just bad dog owners.

The same can apply to business.  If you are receiving surly service from a business employee, chances are that the employer is treating the employee with disrespect.

Now, this doesn't mean that dog owners who are kind to their animals will necessarily have obedient dogs.  If the owner(s) can't assert their authority over their dogs, the dogs will try do whatever they want.  

One of the things you learn early on in obedience training is that, in order to be perceived as the pack leader, you must earn the respect of the dog.  Note the emphasis on the word "earn".  You don't automatically get respect just because you're the master or owner.  The process of earning respect is based on a process of building trust, not one of coercing submission.

This does not mean that you punish the dog when it makes a mistake by beating it or hitting it - or even yelling at it.  It's amazing how much you can improve the behavior of a misbehaving dog by talking to it calmly in a disapproving voice.  Dogs have a strong sense of emotion that they pick up in our voices, so they distinguish between when they have pleased us and when they have displeased us.  Couple this with rewarding behavior - verbal praise, stroking and, yes, treats - and dogs quickly learn to do the things that please us and not to do the things that we don't like.

Roxy, who's now approaching 13, is getting a little crusty in her old age and doesn't always come when she's first called.  To get her to obey, I revert to something I learned from my Mother.  When I call, "Roxy Jamieson" in a stern (not angry) voice and emphasize the Jamieson, she knows I really want her to come, and that's usually all it requires when she's reluctant to move.

On the leash, we have the option of yanking on the leash every time the dog does something wrong or we can teach them to understand a correction - a quick flick of the leash that diverts their attention away from a behavior we don't want and gets them back onto what we want them to do.  Again, notice the emphasis on correction: we're trying to correct behavior, not punish bad behavior.

In Cesar Millan's terminology, the goal, as a pack leader, is to exude a calm sense of assertiveness to help the dog achieve balance.  He also promotes the concept of providing a framework of discipline that sets boundaries for the dog and his/her behavior.  He advocates timely use of praise to reinforce good behaviors.  

Now doesn't that sound like a philosophy of good management?

In the next post, I'll tell the story of Sam and what I learned from him about respect.

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