Every interaction that you have with your dog trains it in some way, whether you mean to or not. Training your dog properly requires that you serve intentionally and skillfully as its leader.
Just as with the team that you lead in your day job, how well you do depends in large part on the strength of your leadership skills and the only way to strengthen leadership skills is practice, practice, practice, and in the more environments, the better.
Three fundamental leadership skills that are needed in both dog training and in human management are the ability to visualize what to do, the ability to observe and respond to observations, and the ability to motivate intended followers to help carry out the mission. In your role as your dog’s trainer, you have opportunities to exercise each of these three skills in special ways not so often encountered in more traditional leadership positions.
In your human management job, you must identify the goals and convey to your team a path to accomplishment. Properly training your dog will require that you first visualize the life that you want with your pet. Your dog depends upon you to visualize and control many more aspects of its life than should ever be the case with people in the workplace. This presents a stretch for most managers beyond issues that they typically consider in their workplace roles.
What kind of social behaviors do you want? Do you want competitive athletic prowess or a gentle cooperative demeanor? What kind of environment is best for your dog’s safety, comfort, and happiness? How will you ensure that you are providing the many things that your dog needs from you along the way? While these important questions are not the usual ones in many workplaces, thinking broadly about the many aspects of your leadership roles is always a healthy exercise.
The role of a typical manager entails observing and responding appropriately. To do this, a leader needs the ability to understand and consider followers’ views of shared observations when formulating responses.
While it can be difficult enough to understand how your human followers think about some things, the different natural wiring of your dog’s mind requires stretching even more to see things from its viewpoint. By becoming more aware of the need to consider your follower’s point of view and by actually doing so in your daily leadership endeavors, you will become a more effective manager.
An ability to motivate your followers is of paramount importance to achieving leadership objectives in either venue. It requires understanding rewards and reprimands from your follower’s unique perspective and tailoring your use of these consequences accordingly. Dog training will require that you develop new systems of rewards and reprimands quite unlike those that you might use with the humans who report to you.
Beyond just motivating a certain behavior, your ultimate goal is to get your followers to want to do whatever it is that you ask them to do. This level of “self-motivation” comes from instilling an expectation in your follower that doing what you want always produces the most rewarding results.
Providing frequent and consistent feedback such as is necessary in dog training is the best way to build that expectation. Practice doing so with your dog often and then take your improved motivational skills to the office.
Douglas C. Morgan is recently retired after working as president and CEO of XBC Inc. for 14 years. Most of his experience is in the information technology field working for large-scale companies with multi-million/billion dollar annual revenues. He has also spent many years raising and training dogs of many varieties. He currently works as an author and loves spending time with his canine companions in San Francisco.