By Bella the Boxer (with Ellen Galvin)
As a dog, I make a point of showing my appreciation all the time, and I’m often surprised that humans, well, don’t. In fact, I’ll bet that some humans say “good dog” more than they say “thank you” to their family, friends, bosses, clients, co-workers or employees. If gratitude is good for our own health and happiness, then passing it along to others in the form of appreciation is a win-win for everyone. So what is the problem?
My guess is that some humans feel awkward about showing their appreciation for others. They think it’s too “mushy,” or they don’t think it’s their job or place to say thank you. Maybe they think the other person already knows that he or she is appreciated—a mistake a dog never makes! Or maybe people just haven’t been taught good manners. That, at least, is something that can be cured by going to puppy kindergarten.
This may sound silly, but it isn’t. The idea behind puppy kindergarten is to build up a dog’s energy and confidence, motivate him or her to work harder, and create a strong and rewarding human-animal bond. It’s all about positive reinforcement, and that applies to both humans and dogs.
Acknowledging someone else’s efforts and actions builds their confidence and gains their trust. If you’re too busy or too important to thank people for their efforts, you’re also making an impression—an impression that’s like lifting your leg on your neighbor’s new rosebush (and yes, this is a not-so-subtle hint to the cheeky cocker spaniel who lives down the street).
So what does puppy kindergarten teach us about showing appreciation to others, whether savvy dogs or almost-savvy people? Here are some of the lessons I learned.
Make It Personal
In puppy class, humans reward their four-legged fur babies with the things that mean the most to them. Some pups like hot dogs, others like liver snaps and the really smart ones will do anything for cheese (yes, please!). Some dogs (weirdly) aren’t motivated by food at all and respond best to squeaky toys or praise. Whether dealing with dogs or humans, appreciation isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. Find ways to say thank you that are meaningful for the person (or pup) being rewarded.
Well-trained pups are rewarded for specific, desired behaviors. Merely showing up at obedience class doesn’t warrant a treat, but performing a “down stay” on command does. Show people that you are paying attention to what they do and tell them exactly what you are thanking them for. This lets them know they are making a difference and gives them the confidence and encouragement to continue doing so.
Time It Right
When it comes to training a puppy, timing is everything. There’s no point in rewarding or scolding a dog after the fact, because he or she won’t associate the behavior with the reward or reprimand. What’s the hardest part about training a dog? Keeping cool when you come home to a pile of shredded sofa pillows (you’re a gem, Mom). Fortunately, humans have better memories than their dogs. If you’ve neglected to recognize someone for a job well done, go back and acknowledge them as soon as possible. In the future, show your appreciation right away and don’t wait for “designated” days like birthdays, holidays or annual performance reviews.
Don’t be stingy with praise, but don’t overdo it, either. It’s hard to hold back praise with adorable puppies, but if every other phrase is “Good puppy!” your dog won’t know the difference between genuine appreciation and regular conversation. People also have an annoying habit of throwing dozens of “thank-yous” and “thanks” into their daily conversations; these are general pleasantries instead of genuine expressions of appreciation (start listening for it and right away you’ll hear what I mean). Save your thank-yous for when you really mean them and they are deserved.
Excerpted from Secrets of a Working Dog: Unleash Your Potential and Create Success. For more essential truths about success in life and business, connect with Bella at http://www.bellatheboxer.com or via Facebook or Twitter.