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#sowhoknew: 9 things you can learn from a dog that will help your career

This is Baxter. He is my dog. And like most canines I reckon that he can teach us a few things which can help us boost our careers. You don’t believe me? Then read on…

Now let me make one thing clear before I start. I’m not claiming that Baxter is the smartest pooch on the planet. Far from it. He has quite a few flaws. For example, he does more than his fair share of butt sniffing – and in business, as we all know, that is not an admirable trait. That said, I have noticed recently that he does indeed have many admirable qualities which can be related to business which, if we adopted them, would make us much happier and more successful.

Ok I can almost see that cynical look on your face but bear with me… I have detected nine things (- or should that be (ca)nine? sorry couldn’t resist – which Bax does instinctively that I believe all of us (myself included) could benefit from learning:

1. Baxter doesn’t care what you say about him behind his back – Dogs don’t give two barks about what people say when they aren’t listening. They are impervious to gossip because frankly they just don’t care. Bax may well have eaten another one of my socks and I will curse about it when I find the remains of it the day after (lets not go into detail here) but he isn’t interested. He lives in the here and now. If I catch him about to eat one of my socks and admonish him for it, he totally gets that though. He looks sheepishly down at the ground, knows he has done wrong and is immediately contrite. And there are two valuable lessons to be learned here. Don’t worry what people are saying about you when you are not there to defend yourself – you can’t control it anyway. And secondly, if you are caught out then accept it for what it is, show some genuine contrition and move on.

2. Baxter is an old(ish) dog but he can learn new tricks – The old adage is nonsense, it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. Baxter is five and although he isn’t exactly old he is reaching middle age in dog years. His capacity to learn new things is always endearing. With the right incentive (in his case it’s bananas – I know he is a dog not a Monkey or a Minion but he adores bananas) you can teach him pretty much anything. Well ok maybe not how to drive a car or use a Macbook but you know what I mean. My youngest daughter Lexi, in the past few weeks alone, has taught him how to spin around through a combination of patience and persistence (and bananas). There is a clear lesson that we can all learn here. It may be a cliche but it happens to be true – you are never too old to learn something new. You just have to want to do it and have the right impetus to make you succeed. The question you have to ask yourself then is very simple: what is my banana?

3. Baxter knows that you have to put your trust in someone – Recently Bax had an operation to have a rather alarming looking mole removed from his leg (which, if you are concerned, turned out to be benign). Anyway, the operation wound was pretty large and had to be dressed each day to ensure that it didn’t become infected. Between myself and my wife we had to clean the site where the stitches were. At first he was apprehensive, not quite sure why we were making him roll over and then messing around with his leg. He was clearly in a little distress and elicited the odd whimper to let us know he was in pain. Yet he never once tried to pull away completely or (god forbid) snap at us whilst we were fixing him up. He trusted us. A trust that has built up over the years so now he knows that we would never do anything to harm him. That’s the kind of trust that work colleagues often don’t have. There are often petty politics or a personality clash at play which prevents people from truly trusting one another and that is to their collective detriment.

4. Baxter knows there is always another way around a problem – Dogs are incredibly resourceful when it comes to getting what they want. With Bax it’s usually a plan to procure himself some more food (did I mention he is partial to bananas?) but the example I have chosen to exemplify my point is actually related to his recent operation which I mentioned in the previous point. To prevent him from messing with the wound he had to wear one of those silly plastic cones on his head. He was not a big fan of it and looked thoroughly fed up every time we put it on. The vet had said that there was no way he would be able to get to the wound with the cone on. Our vet clearly doesn’t know Baxter that well. After the first week we noticed he had popped a stitch and we couldn’t work out how. Until I caught him the next evening (when he thought he was alone) and it was clear that he had developed a cunning technique to bend the edge of the cone against his back leg so he could nibble on the itchy stitches. It’s clear that Baxter has developed some highly effective problem-solving skills over the years and is displaying another of his admirable traits. Unwavering determination.

5. Can you pass Baxter’s sniff test? – generally speaking, Bax is very friendly to other dogs and people. That said, he doesn’t offer up his friendship unless you have passed his smell test (and by this, I don’t exclusively mean his aforementioned butt sniffing habit). Baxter has a keen sense of whether other dogs or people are going to be good or bad. He weighs up any new quarry with a sense of excitement and caution (I think it relates back to a time when he was bullied by an over energetic Pug at a park a few years ago but that’s another story). I’m not exactly sure what thought process he goes through when he is examining people / dogs but it seems to be a mixture of what they look like, what their body language is and I guess literally what they smell like. The decision process takes just a couple of seconds before he chooses to greet them or give them a wide berth. And do you know what? He is very rarely wrong. He almost instinctively knows if something is ‘off’ with the people and dogs or comes into contact with and acts accordingly. Imagine if you could have that innate skill in business to know almost from the outset whether you are dealing with a wrong ‘un?

6. Baxter doesn’t hold a grudge – When we first moved into our new house a few years ago Bax was introduced to our next door neighbours dog. A Rhodesian Ridgeback called Ralph. Now Baxter is a fairly big dog but Ralph is huge. We have since learned that Ralph is really quite docile but it seems that Baxter’s initial smell test hadn’t properly kicked in and before we knew it Ralph was trying to play the wheelbarrow game with poor old Baxter. He didn’t really know what was going on, bless him, but he did look a little perturbed by the whole incident. Since that day, I always expected that Baxter would be somewhat wary of Ralph in case he tried it again but the two of them get on famously now and we’ve never had a repeat performance. So it’s clear to me that Baxter can forgive a one-off indiscretion. After all we all make mistakes and sometimes we just have to let it go.

7. Baxter is ready for anything, whenever you ask him – trying to get our kids out of bed at 4am if we are going on holiday is like pulling teeth. Bax though? Not so much. He will yawn and stretch a little but will always be ready and willing to do whatever you want to do no matter the time of day or night especially if there is a banana on offer. Now ask yourself if your work colleagues would do the same? Especially if the only thing you offered them was a banana?

8. Baxter gets very excited when he is happy – like most dogs, Bax is incredibly social and loves being with the family (including our menagerie of rodents and rabbits). Whenever I come home from a business trip, he is always the one to make the biggest fuss of me when I walk in through the door. He barges everyone else out of the way, tail wagging furiously, running around in tight circles like a Tasmanian Devil. And I believe that, in itself, is a skill – to demonstrate pure unadulterated joy when they are happy. We all the have the same capacity when we are young but we lose it over the years, not wishing to ’embarrass’ ourselves by such honest displays of emotion. It’s even worse in business. Even when we win a chunk of new business or a colleague gets promoted it’s rare to witness anyone getting too excited about it. More’s the pity.

9. Baxter is a great listener – Ok I admit it. I occasionally talk to my dog (but I bet I’m not the only one out there). He isn’t much of a conversationalist to be fair. He’s also not brilliant at handing out advice. He pretty much just sits there, drooling, his head cocked to one side and with a slightly quizzical expression on his face. But what he lacks in dialogue he more than makes up for in his listening skills. He will sit there for ages soaking it all up, listening intently to every word, never answering back or interrupting and absolutely never being judgmental. And sometimes, just sometimes, that’s all you need after a tough week at work. A sympathetic ear just to listen to your troubles without fear of retribution. The chances are that he is only thinking about eating a banana but that’s just fine with me… he deserves it.

So there you have it, my (ca)nine reasons why we can learn some real life skills from dogs which can help us in our careers. What do you think? Am I barking mad or do you think I may have a point? Whilst you ponder that, I’m off for a chat with Baxter. And we might even share a banana…

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.
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