Raising a dog brings unimaginable joy to your life. It can also enhance your business.
One of the greatest business lessons came when I was agility training a Border Collie. They have this tremendous urgency to please, and so to get them to perform with accuracy, you have to calm down their desire to learn and impress. What struck me was when I saw that same urgency in young people who came to me looking for more responsibility in a hurry. Now, when they do, I tell them about my Border Collie to help them understand.
A recent survey found that almost one in four people said they learned more valuable lessons from having a childhood pet than in their first job internship. Among C-suite executives who responded, 93% said they grew up with a pet and over three-quarters attributed some portion of their success to it. Dogs provide their owners with a holistic level of care that penetrates everything they do and brings out the best in people. Anyone, especially busy CEOs, can benefit from having a dog.
Here’s what my dogs have taught me to do.
Never judge by breed or appearance
Being a dog owner taught me not to judge a book by its cover or a dog by its breed. I came into dog ownership with preconceived ideas about certain breeds and their intelligence, like my old Basset Hound, which I assumed wasn’t trainable. But when I got a Border Collie, the Basset blew me away by imitating the Collie’s skills from her intense training. At the Collie’s second agility show, I met a woman competing with a Basset that completed the course as accurately as any Collie, and I wanted to cry.
Dogs are so smart, and they really do like to be trained, yet I had never even given my Basset a chance. Not until very late in his life did I realize how smart he was. Imagine what he could have achieved if I had given him a chance. As a leader, this makes me see everyone’s value and their potential to contribute at every level. Like my Basset Hound, people with a unique set of smarts may just be waiting for the opportunity to train.
Learn a unique form of care
Dogs quietly know and accept you in a way that makes it wonderful to be around them all the time. My dogs are on the sofa with me, in the bed — if they could crawl into my skin, they would. You spend sustained periods of time with your dog in a way that doesn’t happen with any human being, and no other person can really play that role either. Dogs respond to your moods and encourage your emotional well-being with an effort that most people could never afford to give.
Dogs are so compassionate; their love and excitement to see you are unconditional and boundless and you are duty-bound and proud to reciprocate. The head of a big company developing a European office once told me that his biggest problem was not being able to take his dog. “My kids will be fine,” he said, “but my dog misses me.” Even as a parent, caring for a dog is a totally different experience of fully giving yourself. It’s a form of freedom really, and as dogs become more common in the workplace, I look forward to seeing how that freedom manifests for business.
Everyone has a dog voice: find yours
Even when people take themselves too seriously, dogs see everyone as equally worthy of showering with slobbery kisses, which is a great equalizer. Watching office colleagues get down on their knees to commune with a dog lets you witness them in a way that you would otherwise never know. It speaks highly to their character. You can tell a lot about a person by how they are with a dog, and I definitely feel more of a kinship with people when they have a dog that they spoil.When I took my Border Collie to agility training, I often talked with the other dog owners, but none of us ever mentioned work. Later, I found out that many were successful business people, but none of that mattered or came up. When you have a dog, you learn to be present with them and unplug from everything else. As a leader, you need that same ability to focus beyond yourself and see broader perspectives while remaining present to listen and observe. Looking back, it makes sense that all those dog owners would be successful.
Dogs make everyone feel better. A 2019 study found dog owners are more likely to engage in heart-healthy behavior, and others have linked dog ownership with improvements in several health markers, as well as a reduced risk for cardiovascular diseases and even death. Having a dog makes you live longer because you take better care of yourself when you have a duty to take care of others. A survey of adults over 50 found that pets helped aging adults better enjoy life, feel loved and have a greater sense of purpose.
Having a dog comes with a deep sense of relaxation. No matter what’s going on in the world, I see my dogs and I feel good. In fact, women who sleep with dogs reportedly sleep better, are less disturbed and experience stronger feelings of comfort and security than with feline or even human partners. Even in business, research has shown that dogs in the workplace can reduce perceived stress levels and result in increased productivity and team cooperation. Having a dog reminds me to keep things in perspective. Once for an event, I brought my dog, a puppy, into the office. Of course, everyone got excited and started playing with it, and suddenly a corporate event became super fun. People were more receptive. With all the chaos in managing a business, moments of joy can be hard to find, but the simple presence of a dog brings a constant flow of infinite small ways that make life better.