Learning about leadership from unexpected sources
By Neil Gonsalves | Dog behaviour and learning patterns can offer essential lessons for life, and leadership development.
On the subject of dogs, I am biased. To say otherwise would be a bold-faced lie. In all honesty, I often prefer the company of dogs to other humans. I find dogs provide an authentic experience that is extremely hard to get with their biped counterparts. Nonetheless, depending on your motivation, there is a lot that may be gleaned from observing them and their system of learning and behaving.
In my opinion, a relationship with a dog is about the purest thing you will find in this world. They start each day fresh and love you unconditionally, very few other sentient beings will offer you something with so few strings attached. If you are fair and kind to them, they will return it to you a hundred-fold; more than you deserve sometimes.
They don’t care how smart you are, how rich you are, how much you have achieved. They do not care about your titles, your net worth, what kind of home you have, or what type of car is in the driveway. They will love you when you are rich and can buy them the best cuts of meat, they will love you when you have nothing and still share your sandwich with them. – Status signalling is completely irrelevant to a dog.
They are the greatest listeners, the best secret keepers, the most patient and the most loving companion. They will nuzzle you when you are sad, happy, lonely, or joyous; they are pure in a way that humans have forgotten how to be. Treat them with respect and they will defend you with their life. Abuse them and they will still love you, so NEVER take advantage of the greater humanity they often demonstrate.
You are never alone with a dog by your side, by your feet or in your lap. They enable quiet self-reflection. allowing you to speak while they attend to the emotions you emit. Dogs are natural problem solvers; they observe their environment and pick up on the subtlest of cues to comprehend the best way for them to survive and thrive. I grant you that they are opportunity sensitive little creatures.
Dogs look for patterns, read physical cues, perhaps exploit emotional states from time to time, and are always observant and situationally aware. Their capacity to learn, transfer and apply fascinates me. - They provide us with an excellent opportunity to analyze how learning occurs, what motivates it, how it can be structured, and equally importantly, how it can be corrupted.
I combine my passion for teaching with my love for dogs; I make a living being an educator, I offer social commentary in my roles as a newspaper columnist and social commentator, but I find real joy in my weekend hobby work as a dog trainer. – I began training dogs as the COVID 19 pandemic lockdowns were winding down. Two services related to dogs were in high demand after the pandemic, shelters for abandoned dogs and training for untrained dogs.
Some people put the time, effort, and money out to help their animals become better K9 citizens, the rest moved on to the next trendy social pastime. – A reminder that mastery takes practice, and practice takes commitment.
For me, this all comes together in a logical way; as a dog trainer I analyze rudimentary behaviours based on evolutionary predispositions and conditioning; as a social commentator, I observe human interactions, communications, and social norms; and as an educator, I seek to inform perspectives, and enhance the repertoire of transferable knowledge and skills for the people I work with.
I’ve commented before about my three principles for effective management, namely;
Consistency of application
Clarity in communication
And, diligence in managing risk
Funny how they apply as much to dog training as they do to management of human beings!
About the author: Neil Gonsalves is an Indian-born Canadian immigrant who grew up in Dubai, U.A.E. and moved to Canada in 1995. He is an Ontario college educator, a TEDx speaker, a published author and columnist, a recreational dog trainer and an advocate for new immigrant integration and viewpoint diversity.