Why Smart Bosses Treat Their Employees Like Dogs

Reward good behavior and 8 other valuable lessons you can learn from dog trainers.
June 19, 2013

One of my friends recently got a new dog and has been taking him to obedience school for the past few months. As she was filling me in on his recent accomplishments, I couldn’t help thinking that there are lots of employee training lessons entrepreneurs could learn from dog obedience school.

Be consistent. Whether teaching Fido to sit, walk or stay, it’s important for dog trainers to perform the desired move the same way every time. Inconsistency confuses dogs (and humans). Don’t ask your employees to do something one way on Monday, and another way on Friday.

Always reward good behavior. Dogs are motivated by food, so each successful repetition of the desired behavior earns them a little treat. Figure out what motivates your employees—it may be different for each person—and reward them for good performance, learning new skills and going above and beyond the call of duty.

Love matters. Petting and “good boy/girl” makes dogs almost as happy as food does. Similarly, rewards to employees don’t always have to be tangible: Public praise, a sincere thank you or a nice note are all good ways to “mix it up” and leave them with a lasting memory they can be proud of.

RELATED: The One Skill Most Leaders Lack

Practice makes perfect. Successful dog training requires daily practice to get the behaviors cemented in the dog’s brain. If you’re training new employees—or teaching old employees something new—don’t expect them to conquer the new task immediately. It will likely take several practice runs to get it right.

We learn by doing. You can’t show a dog when to sit by telling him about it or waving your arms. You’ve got to make him do it until he understands. People learn by doing too, so don’t try to talk someone through a task or hand them a guidebook. Walk them through it so they’ll learn, then let them try themselves while you observe.

Keep a positive attitude. Dog training is supposed to be fun, so owners are told to keep it light and, if they’re in a bad mood, not to practice that day. Dogs pick up on your attitude—and so do people. As the leader of your business, you need to inspire and motivate, not discourage and scare your employees.

RELATED: Have You Mastered These 5 Levels of Leadership?

Sometimes you have to get tough. No dog owner likes squirting his or her dog with water or withholding a treat from a pair of big brown eyes, but sometimes “tough love” is necessary for the dog to learn. If employees are doing something wrong, you’re not doing them (or your business) any favors by failing to confront the situation—you’re just taking the easy (and possibly costly) way out.

Correct mistakes immediately. When dogs are rewarded for the wrong behavior, they learn to repeat it, so it’s crucial to correct errors right away. In the same vein, rewarding sloppy obedience work leads to a poorly trained dog. Quickly correct problems you see before employees develop bad habits that will be hard to break.

Get professional help. Yes, you can try to train your dog yourself, but it’s a lot easier with a professional guiding the way. If you’ve got tough tasks to teach employees or a sizable staff to train, consider getting professional help by enlisting training and education options from a consultant or your local community college, adult education program or professional or trade association. 

Read more articles on how to be a productive leader.

Photos: Thinkstock