The Right Management
I want to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that there are a lot of different schools of thought surrounding the topic that I’m about to discuss. This post reflects my position on the matter; a position that has not been proved OR disproven by any scientific body or otherwise.
That means that this post comes with a disclaimer:
What I’m about to say is anecdotal. It comes from 15+ years of professional experience working with a LOT of dogs (over 7000 of them at this point, give or take a few) in a variety of vastly different settings. It comes from living with a static “pack” that numbers anywhere from 6 to 11, depending on guests; from watching them interact with each other and with incoming dogs (new family members, fosters, or client dogs). And it comes from trial and error that occurs with the application of new or different information.
As with ANYTHING that you read, I suggest that you take it with a grain of salt and remember that NOTHING applies to every dog in every situation. Ever.
Ugh. Well. Except that. You know what I mean.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive right in, shall we?
Most dogs like good leadership.
And, not only do most of them like it, but they genuinely benefit from it. Most dogs wholeheartedly prefer having clear expectations that are enforced consistently and fairly. Further, dogs understand consequence. As a result, they are not resentful or fearful of correction associated with consequence… as long as it is administered appropriately and fairly.
Out of all of the thousands of dogs that I’ve worked with, I have come across maybe three that genuinely thought they should be running the show. Yes. You read that correctly. Three. For anyone who is into math, that results in a fraction of a percent that sends my laptop into a complete meltdown. ALL of the rest of those dogs were happy and comfortable with clear, consistent communication about what they were supposed to do and benefited from having the same about what they were NOT supposed to do.
Think of it this way (you knew this was going to happen)…
Having a dog is basically like becoming a manager that’s on duty preeetty much all the time. In fact, I often say that my dogs are my “business partners” (but that I own 80% of the company). I get to make the important decisions because I'm the one with opposable thumbs and because I don’t eat poop – both of which are extremely high up on my list of absolutely required decision-maker qualities. But I digress.
So, with that metaphor in mind, I want you to take a moment to reflect on your personal career and the people who were in it.
It is the unfortunate truth that many of us have experienced working for someone who is a poor manager. On the flip side, there are also those of us who have had the benefit of having had a really great manager. Either way, the qualities that managers in each of those categories have are pretty much the same, no matter what type of industry you’re talking about. So let’s do a quick review of what they are:
- Lacking good communication skills
- Don’t provide constructive criticism or feedback, or are unduly harsh or negative about it
- Fail to set out clear expectations
- Do not provide adequate training in order for employees to do their jobs properly
- Discipline inconsistently
- Can be emotionally volatile
- Create environments that are highly stressful/anxiety inducing
- Typically end up causing poor morale overall
- Make sure employees know their jobs by providing adequate training and evaluation
- Set out clear expectations and consequences
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
- Provide constructive feedback about aspects of performance that require improvement
- Reward good performance in a variety of ways
- Create calm, stable working environments
- Remain collected and professional in their conduct – even when the turds start tumbling
- Ensure that the people they’re responsible for are adequately supported
- Challenge employees do to better by providing resources necessary for success
- Appropriately follow through on disciplinary actions when required, ensuring employees understand that the manager’s intention is for them to do better, not to “punish” them
I’m sure there are lots of things that we could add to both lists, but let’s stick with these for now.
Now that we’ve outlined both categories, I am going to make an assumption and say that pretty much anyone reading this would prefer working for the second kind of manager. Guess what? You aren’t the only one. Oh no, not even a little bit. As it happens, your DOGS want that kind of manager too.
Before we go any further, I want to make something very, very clear.
I am NOT advocating that you establish a dictatorship wherein you rule with an iron fist when it comes to your dogs. (I am also not advocating for you to attempt to form a democracy. Dogs are horrible voters, they chew up the ballots AND the pencils, and sometimes they even pee on the voting booths.)
What I AM advocating for, however, is for dog owners to consider the GOOD they can do for their dogs in becoming the best dog managers possible. And remember, that could very well look extremely different between one dog and the next; sometimes even within the same household.
I feel like I need to stress this part, guys, so I will. I repeat, you do NOT have to be crazy strict or have eleventy million rules.
You don’t have to banish your dog from the furniture or make them follow you through every doorway. You don’t even have to stop them from begging at the table if you don’t want to.
What I DO suggest, however, is that you make sure that your communication is clear and consistent when you teach your dog desirable behaviours. That you set expectations for your dog by teaching the behaviours that you DO want, and that you do it BEFORE they’ve done something “wrong”. That you ensure that the rules are the same all the time (even when you don’t want to have to enforce them). That you provide appropriate consequences for unwanted behaviour (and that can look like a LOT of different things for different people and dogs), and that you praise the bejeepers out of your dogs for making good choices (the ones that you’ve taught them BEFOREHAND).
Management – despite how you may have experienced it in the past – is a SUPPORT role. You are meant to HELP the lives you’re responsible for, not make them miserable. And yeah, sometimes that does mean handing out negative feedback, but as long as it’s coming from the right place and being delivered appropriately, it's really just one more way to support someone’s success.
Even when that someone has four feet and fur (and eats poop… It always comes back to the poop).
Actually, let me rephrase that… ESPECIALLY when that someone has four legs and fur.
As part of my favourite dog quote ever says: “We owe it to [dogs] to be worthy [of them].”
Anything less just isn’t doing them justice.