I have always been a dog lover for as long as I remember. When I was a teenager, I spent all the time with dogs and dog shows and no time chasing girls. My mom and some relatives worried seriously that I would not finish my engineering education due to this extreme interest in dogs. That did not happen – and I thank an uncle of mine, N.Radhakrishnan – for that. He gave a life lesson – finish your education, get a good job that pays well – and you can buy any dog you want. And that is exactly what I did. With the first salary I got after moving to US, I bought a German Shepherd bitch from Germany and sent her to India, to my dear friend Dr.Satish Kumaran to raise and show. What uncle Radhakrishnan did for me – and I am not sure if even he realized it when he advised me – was life changing for me, and I never waste an opportunity to explain this to younger friends who are crazy about the world of dogs and dog shows. Sadly, my success rate is rather low in getting them to listen.
Dog training taught me a few things that have helped me a lot as a leader. I learned to work as a team – the hard way. I have lost more shows in obedience because I did not play as a team with my dog. But once I figured it out – we had a lot of wins, and even more fun. I carry this on to my work – I go out of my way to play nice as a team with my colleagues, and hardly have regretted it. I know plenty of people in my line of work who act as lone cowboys – and invariably they lack the endurance to keep at top of their game for long.
Dog show world is an ecosystem in itself. I was never a top competitor due to my college and later my work. But my mentors – breeders, judges and handlers – paid it forward by taking me under their wings. None of them hesitated to give me honest feedback, and even though there was very little I could do to help them, they always helped and continue to help me. This again is something that I have found to be a useful trait at work – pay it forward. I have Marilyn Pratt of SAP to thank for reinforcing this message from the time I have known her.
The dogs themselves taught me a lot about communication – and the ratio of punishment and reward. You get a lot more for your efforts by reward, and you get a lot less by punishment. It also taught me that rewards need to change according to situation – some times a treat, other times a game of fetch or tug-o-war. Punishment has its place too – and I learned that if you praise when needed, a change of tone in your voice is enough punishment for even the most difficult dog. Strangely – this seems applicable in work front too. While money is a terrific reward – and I do not believe that money can be a dis-incentive like some studies suggest – there are plenty of other rewards too. Training, new opportunities etc all are terrific ways of getting more from your team. I would not have put it to practice by just reading a book – I learned it first hand by training dogs, and the books just convinced me that others have reached similar conclusions too.
I always buy dogs from breeders – never from a pet shop. I would probably start adopting from shelters when I retire. And it has only helped me. Responsible breeders stay on to help for the life of your dog, and more. And while there are no absolute guarantees – the chances of getting a healthy dog of good temperament is much higher if you buy from responsible breeders. This has definitely helped me – the initial puchase price from a breeder is more than from a petshop, but that is the smallest part of what I pay over the life time of a dog. And this has influenced my buying behavior at work as well as on personal front. Buy from someone who is in the business for the long haul.
Now I have two dogs – 8 year old Golden Retriever we call Boss, and 3 year old black Labrador Hobo. They could not be more different. Let me give two examples. If I take them both to a dog park, this is what will happen every single time. I will throw a ball for them, and Hobo will start chasing it. Boss will run straight to the first human he can find, and will act all cute and get petted. He will then do this with every single person in that park. He will finish this socializing, and then will totally ignore other dogs at that time. Then he will go play with other dogs as if it is a part he just needs to do for sake of society. Then he is ready to play ball. Back to Hobo – who has been chasing that ball from the first moment he set foot in the park. He will reach within 10 feet of the ball, and will see someone else throw a frisbee. He will ignore my tennis ball – and chase that frisbee, along with the dog for whom it was thrown. He won’t get the frisbee either, because invariably he will chase another toy halfway through. Finally he will go back, fetch the ball I threw. By this time – he has no energy and is barely holding on to the tennis ball. Enter Boss – who will trot in an energy conserving smooth manner. He will run half way to meet Hobo, take the ball from his mouth, and bring it back to me. Hobo will reach me 2 minutes later and then will lay down with not an ounce of energy left. Boss will fetch without competition for a few more times and then he will call it a day before he gets tired.
Same thing happens when I toss a tennis ball to the pool for them to fetch. Hobo will dive spectacularly into the pool and get the ball. Boss will wait at pool steps, wait for Hobo to reach there – and will take the ball off Hobo and happily run back to me to repeat the fun exercise. Hobo almost never gets to deliver to me directly. This has gone on for three years, and I doubt it will change ever. So I try to not let them come play with me together all the time, so that they both get a chance.
I know people who are similar to Boss and Hobo in the human world, especially when it comes to work. And living with my dogs at home – I have gotten better at identifying how they work, and what I need to do to “manage”. I am sure you all can think of others who have something in common with what I explained above. Neither behavior is particularly good at work – but if you spot it as a leader, you have a chance to influence the modification of this behavior.
When people say “Dogs are the best friend of men” – I wonder if they thought of all these 🙂