By Kay Hirai
For The North American Post
During the time I was growing up in Japan, I had a dog named Shiro. She was given to me by an American soldier who was returning to his homeland. I had a difficult time training Shiro because I knew absolutely nothing about the responsibilities of owning a pet. After a lot of trial and error and hours of commitment, however, she eventually became a trusted companion whom I enjoyed spending time with. We had the most loving relationship anyone could have ever asked for.
After Shiro passed away, I longed for another dog who could bring me as much joy. My prayers were soon answered and in stepped Yumi. She was just as special to me as Shiro, but in a different way. Yumi provided me with so much wisdom in dealing with everyday life that I was prompted to author a book about my key learnings. After several years of cherished companionship, I lost Yumi. Again, I felt like there could never be another dog to replace her and what she meant to me.
And then Max came into my life. Like with my previous dogs, there was a steep learning curve when it came to obedience, so I decided to enroll both of us in a dog training class. One day, I sat at the training center with Max and a group of other dogs and their owners. I obediently followed our instructor as she taught us how to make our dogs sit, stay and lie down. After finishing a couple of sessions, I realized that the instructor was not really teaching my dog but was actually training me to develop leadership skills. She belted out commands to us humans, saying, “Stand tall like you have confidence!” “Don’t be wishy washy with your leash handling!” and “Make direct eye contact!” When we did a good job with our dogs, she would say, “What are you waiting for? Give your dog a treat!”
I became frustrated because Max was not always obeying my commands. With an angry expression on my face, I said to him, “What’s wrong with you? I told you to come to me!”
The instructor came over and said, “How do you expect him to understand what you mean?
Look at your body language! You are bent over and not standing straight. Your facial expression doesn’t show that you genuinely want him to succeed. If I was your dog, I wouldn’t want to obey you either.”
I felt discouraged and somewhat ashamed, but I swallowed my pride and continued on with the training. Before long, I became engrossed in the skills that I was learning and signed up for the intermediate and advanced classes. In fact, I got so engaged in what I was learning, I couldn’t keep myself from going back for more.
Meanwhile, I started to practice what I had learned in the dog training classes at work.
I began to feel more confident as a leader and noticed that my team of employees exhibited a noticeably improved work performance. As communication became clearer and more direct, there was less confusion with the directions I delivered. Things got done right the first time and people were suddenly happy!
Here are some tips I learned in my class. I hope you will agree that these handling skills can be readily transferred to the people in your life. In the end, I think that we can all become better leaders if we follow this advice:
“Dog Training 101”
1. Be clear and specific. Your voice should be clear so your dog can understand you. Don’t mumble.
2. Be consistent. It will confuse the dog when you don’t use the same words.
If “okay” is the release word for your dog, don’t interchange it with “Come, it’s okay.”
3. Keep it simple. Use only one command at a time. Say “Sit down” instead of “Sit there, wait and come here.”
4. Gain loyalty by being fair. Dogs notice if you are not fair. Be compassionate and truthful. Do not use physical violence. Instead, show them respect.
5. Be confident. When giving dogs a command, show confidence in your body language, tone of voice, and facial expression.
6. Give feedback. If you don’t get the appropriate response, correct them immediately. Be patient and keep teaching until you get the response you’re looking for.
7. Praise all the time. When you get the correct response, praise them immediately. Yes, do this every time!
8. Positive ending. Finish your training sessions with the correct behavior. Never end on a negative note. Say, “Yay, good job!” Give them ample treats and pet their head.
Fact: When dogs go through obedience training, their self-esteem is higher.
Now, go out and apply these age-old dog training methods to your daily life. I guarantee that you will see an improvement in your relationships with co-workers, friends, and family members! Let me know how you did!
Editor’s Note: Kay Hirai is the author of “Yumi’s Life Lessons, How to Empower Yourself and Turn Every Day into a Happy Day.” Signed copies may be purchased at Kay’s salon, Studio 904 on Mercer Island or online at amazon.com and chinmusicpress.com.