Our dog, Chico, passed away last summer. It was a very hard time for us, and we thought we’d never have a dog again; the grief was too much.
But time passes, and we began to realize that though we missed Chico very much, we just missed having a dog. We’re dog people! So last month, we rescued again.
Luna is a little older than Chico was when he came to us, (Luna is a year and a half, whereas Chico was 8 weeks) and as such, she has more of a history than Chico. And considering she is a rescue, that history was not very pleasant.
But Luna is a lovely dog. And though she’s a year and a half old, we are starting her training from scratch. She had never lived in a home or as part of a family, so we are having to teach a (relatively) old dog new tricks! However, fear not – it can be done.
All it takes is strong leadership.
Chico was 15 years old when he died so it had been a long time since we had started training a dog. We’ve had to learn all over again how to do it. And it’s not just about training to do tricks (though that is a great way to build a bond!), it’s about bringing Luna into our family in a way that makes everyone happy. This process is really about establishing leadership, expectations, and forming bonds based on trust, commitment and mutual respect.
Training Luna and bringing her into the family fold had us seeing some parallels with professional leadership in terms of approaches, principles and relationships. Below are some of the lessons we learned about leadership from Luna.
1. Everyone has a past that we may not understand
We don’t know exactly what happened in Luna’s past, but we do see where her fears, insecurities and doubts are. We are helping her overcome them with encouragement, reassurance, and protection when needed. We take our lead from her behaviour and pay attention when it’s too much. Leaders need to listen to what’s not being said and offer support where it’s needed in order to bring the best out of our charges.
2. Losing your temper never helps
Training a dog can be frustrating. Especially a hundred-pound beast who has no idea how to live in a home! However, when our frustration shows it doesn’t help Luna learn faster or better. In fact, it can make her feel threatened and insecure, thus fostering poor behaviour. Taking a deep breath and stepping away for a moment can help diffuse the tension and lessen the frustration felt by everyone. Then, when everyone is ready, come back and start over. Sometimes with a fresh perspective and a new approach.
3. Reward often!
When we reward good behaviour, we see it more often. It’s that simple. When Luna obeys a command, she gets a treat for being a good dog. And when she exhibits good behaviour that she has learned – without the prompt of a command – such as sitting and being calm when we pull out her leash for a walk, she gets an extra special treat. These practices snowball, and we see better behaviour on a regular basis. Acknowledging and rewarding people is more complex but the principle is the same. We all feel valued when our successes and achievements are acknowledged and rewarded, and it motivates us to reach higher and go further.
4. Sometimes, it’s just not our day
Every once in a while, we have a day that is just not jiving. It could be a bad mood on our part, or maybe Luna is just tired of training. So instead of fighting through the day and getting frustrated with one another, we just acknowledge that the day we had planned isn’t going to happen and focus our energies elsewhere. But the day doesn’t have to be a waste; we can identify an activity that is still beneficial but may use other skills and abilities or address other needs. For Luna it could be going for a big long hike, for example. It may not have been the day we had planned, but we can still derive some good. The point is that leaders need to acknowledge when something isn’t going well and redirect the energy and activities to something else that could produce a positive outcome.
5. Build trust through consistency
In order for our relationship to be positive and productive, we need to trust each other. Luna needs to be able to understand us, and the best way for us to do that for her is through consistency and transparency. When we are consistent with our commands, expectations and routines, Luna learns to trust our leadership. There is a certain degree of predictability that she can rely on, and as such, learns to understand how we can maintain a harmonious relationship.
6. Personalize our leadership
Luna is a very different dog from Chico. We have developed very different methods for leading and training Luna than we had used for Chico. Luna is a much bigger dog, she is more passive and requires A LOT more exercise than Chico every did. In order to accommodate those needs, our routine and our strategies had to be different. Also, Luna is deaf. This doesn’t mean her behaviour is any better or any worse than Chico’s but the tactics we use to communicate with Luna are different. Instead of voice commands, all our commands are visual. If we had used the same methods and routines for each dog, we would receive very different outcomes. By understanding Luna, her needs, her strengths and her weaknesses, we’re able to identify the best ways to work together.
7. There is time enough in every day for work, rest and play
We try to keep training sessions short, sweet and fun. Make no mistake, training is hard work and requires a lot of thinking, strategizing, improvising and consistency. Luna needs to learn how to perform “good dog” behaviour and so, intensive training is required. However, it can’t all be hard work or else we get resistance, rebellion and stubbornness. Not to mention, that would be boring! We balance each day between training time (work), exercise (play) and down time. When we encourage and establish a framework that allows for a balanced day, we’re all better able to manage our energies and focus.
8. Failure is just another step towards success
We have to allow Luna to fail. And when she does, we don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s just part of the learning process. If she ignores a command or acts up at inopportune times, we don’t scold and punish her. We believe in her and have witnessed her incredible character and personality and know that she’ll do better next time. She allows us, her leaders, to fail, too. When, through our own learning process, we’ve confused her or put her in a situation that made her fearful, she let it go and she continues to look to us for guidance.
The trust goes both ways.
Until next time,
This week’s blog was written by Tina de los Santos. Tina brings a diverse mix of nonprofit and business leadership to her role at PLC. Throughout her career, she has been passionate about creating engaging learning experiences that support and inspire people’s professional and personal growth. Tina is our chief knowledge sharer and enjoys digitally connecting with other leaders in Peel to help them find great resources and learning tools.