Obedience Class: To get the family involved in Raven's care I encouraged my sons to join me. My oldest son did, and sat on the sidelines while I went to our first class. Raven had been very well taken care of by her previous owner. He had worked with her and she knew a lot of commands. Our dog trainer let us move up to the intermediate class where people are there to work on agility training, competitive dog showing as well as a lot of us who just want a great companion by our side--heeling--by our side. Our instructor has been training for 30 years and had a great group of dogs and owners. He gave us the basics--that training should be fun for both of us, that training was based on positive reinforcement, and that all actions have consequences. Getting used to a young dog in a group training setting had me backing into trees, tripping over the leash and feeling silly part of the time. My son just sat and watched.
Practice Makes Perfect Many things about dog training are things you have to do regularly. Going to class one day a week and not working with the dog the rest of the week won't make things happen. While I did work with Raven a bit, I saw my son taking Raven out in the evenings to work on her commands and have a lot of fun. Well, that was a good sign.
Who's Your Master? The next week I wasn't able to attend the class, so my son and his younger brother went to class for me.
My oldest son took the lead and had Raven jumping over obstacles, sitting and staying and behaving herself. He came back and continued to work with her, as did I, and we went to two more classes, picking up some new tricks and learning how best to communicate with the dog. My son continued to work on things with Raven, giving the training healthy doses of play and praise. Now Raven can sit and stay for an extended time, avoid distractions when told to, and follows commands very well. She and I continue our runs and walks, while she plays a lot of fetch with my son.
And now I am all alone. Raven is by my son's side whenever he is home. If he gets up and moves about the house, she is up and next to him. If I have taken Raven for a walk and come home, she immediately checks to see if he's home. If he is in his room, she rattles her bell to be let into his room--not to go outside like in the past. Just this moment she was sleeping under my desk. My son drove up and she sprinted downstairs to greet him.
Loyalty: Having that furry creature by your side all the time can get overwhelming my son commented. He asked, "How can I get her to not be loyal?" I told him to be inconsistent and beat her (knowing of course he would never do that dear readers.). And that led me to think about leadership and loyalty. Many of the things Raven looks for in her master are things we all want in our work life.
- Involvement: A dog owner who doesn't walk the dog or work on commands will not have a well mannered pet. In the workplace you want someone who shows up and is involved in things. The absentee boss who pressures her staff to give it their all while she can't waste time being around does not breed loyalty.
- Knowledge: Having the knowledge of how to teach a dog new tricks led to Raven being a quick study and succeeding in training. Knowing the subject matter and the industry goes a long way in the work place. Having experience and success in roles that your employees are working in lends a lot of credibility to your leadership.
- Consistency: For every command, the trainer should have the same outcome. If the dog is to heel and be given a reward when she heels, through consistently doing that she learns to perform the command correctly. This is the same with people. When an employer consistently gives promotions to top performers and coaches those who need help, people understand what it takes to be successful in the company. A boss that reprimands top performers one day and showers praise on them the next creates a very dysfunctional work environment.
- Communication: Sit, Stay. Saying the right words at the right time allows Raven to know what she is being asked to do. Screaming "No, no, no" every time the dog does anything wrong starts to turn the dog's ear off to that word--it is not important and is said all the time. This applies in the work world too--a leader who has clear communication with employees is understood and respected. Commands get carried out. Hot tempered, poor communicators tend to create teams that avoid interacting with them and who often do not perform well.
- Rewards: In dog training rewards come in many different flavors. There are the food rewards. There are also rewards of favorite toys. And showering them with praise, petting them and playing with them motivates them to do what you want. Paychecks are important in the work world, and paying people what they deserve is equally as important. But rewards can be recognition by the company and their peers, bonuses, commissions and other opportunities to feel appreciated for their work.
- Acknowledgement: "Good Girl Raven". Giving her praise whenever she does the right thing at the right time makes her want to always do the right thing at the right time. So too is it true in the work world. Let your employees know they are doing a good job--when they are, and give them regular feedback on their performance. Acknowledge their achievements both privately and publicly to create a performance driven work environment.
- Consequences: In life and dog training there are always consequences. Knowing that performance is based on rewards and consequences creates a tension that favors positive performance. When Raven won't let go of her tennis ball she can't play fetch. When an employee is caught misbehaving they must know there will be reasonable consequences. While many furry friends and coworkers will be highly motivated to perform because of rewards, bad behavior does have to have consequences. The consequences should match the infraction. Coming in late to work could mean getting your pay docked for time absent. Being late to turn in your expenses means you won't get the check cut for another month. Failing to perform tasks may mean you no longer have a job where tasks need to be performed.