Is There A Dog In The House?

My adopted pup Louie and I had a phenomenal summer and hope you did as well. We were very busy and enjoyed many wonderful adventures with the alpha pups, Evi and Mea. We’re glad to be back, and while Louie may have been on summer break, we were never short on lessons. We are looking forward to sharing more of Louie’s wisdom (and shenanigans) with you over the next several months.

It has been four years almost to the day since I adopted Louie. The memory of our first few weeks together brings a smile to my face even now! We almost didn’t have a “first few weeks together” because of his challenging behaviors, but we pressed through.

When he first came to live with me, he would roam around my house, sniffing and whining. I wondered if he needed to go outside, so I would take him out, let him do his thing, and then bring him back in. A few minutes later, he would run upstairs and then downstairs, whining. “Again?” I thought to myself. “Does he have to go out again? What’s with this dog?” He whined constantly and seemed to be searching for something, anything, familiar to him.

Louie’s visit to the vet, Dr. Paul, for his first health checkup was interesting. Lou whined and shook with fear, but Dr. Paul compassionately continued. “He’s a pretty healthy pup. Any issues that you notice?”

“Yes! He whines! Incessantly! I’ll be working in my office and Louie will be checking out my home. He’ll pop into my office, look around, whine, and go back through the house, whining, whining, constantly whining.”

“Well,” said Dr. Paul, “don’t let him run loose through your home. When you’re not there, crate him, and when you are there, keep him close to you. But don’t let him run through your home.”

“Okay,” I thought, “that’s simple enough.” Because I work from home, I made a bed for him right under my desk and blocked the stairway to the upstairs level. I kept a close watch on him and interacted with him when I was able to do so. Amazingly, his whining and desire to roam around the house stopped, and the sighs and active dreams of a happy pup filled my office.

All Louie needed was a little watchful supervision. He needed to know I was close by. He needed to understand his boundaries and just how far he could safely explore without wandering too far away or getting lost.

Isn’t this just like those we lead? When they first engage with our organizations, we think we are doing them a favor by letting them “roam.” They spend their time “onboarding,” which is good. Yet, much of their time may be spent looking for anything that seems familiar to them, which could cause frustration. Like Louie, they just need a little watchful supervision. They need to know their leader is close by and available when needed. They need to understand their boundaries and that if they make a mistake, it’s OK because, hopefully, the problem is easy to rectify.

The fourth section of the LOUIE leadership model is “I” for investment. The time that I poured into helping Louie build trust and confidence and making him feel safe was an investment. It took some time, but the investment was worth every minute. Leader, you will never regret investing the necessary time and tools in your team to build trust and help them feel safe and to know they are valued.

As I type our first blog of this season, I have no idea where Louie is. He’s in my house but not under my feet. In fact, he is never under my feet these days. Many times, I stand by my front door, hands on my hips, loudly asking, “Is there a dog in the house?” No answer. “Any dog? Is there any dog in the house?” No answer. “Is there any dog in the house who would like to go for a walk?” With that, I hear the rumblings of four squatty little legs running to the front door from any one of his favorite places. He is either upstairs, looking out at his kingdom through the second story window, downstairs in his crate (voluntarily), or out on the deck, sunning himself.

I don’t recommend developing someone to “disappear” as Louie does. Based on The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Situational Leadership II program, you do want to invest the time to develop them to be a self-reliant achiever or peak performer. Louie has developed and progressed enough that he no longer needs my watchful supervision while we’re at home. He trusts that if anything changes, I’ll inform him. For now, he’s just fine—wherever he is!

DID SOMEONE SAY WALK?

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Courage Often Masks Fear And Pride

Dreamin'If you’ve read this blog since the beginning you know the issues I’ve had with Louie, my adopted pup, and how fearful he can be. I’ve learned many valuable lessons from our trainer, Zig, but one in particular continues to make an impact on us. Zig shared that Louie puts on an act of bravado by growling and barking because he’s masking how fearful he actually is. “You don’t want him to act out in fear because that can be very dangerous,” said Zig. “You can never be sure what a fearful dog might do.”

I recently reflected on this wisdom Zig offered more than two years ago. After an intense amount of work on building Louie’s trust in me and in others, his fear has all but subsided (except for a chance confrontation with a cat or someone new at my door). Occasionally, I see a fearful reaction arise and in a second, if he can’t run (which is his first choice), he turns into a fierce dog. But just as quickly, with one command from me, he leaves it and moves on.

What is it about fear that causes such strong reactions? Sometimes, we are afraid of something and in a second, we make a rash decision to lash out or run. Sometimes sheer determination can look like courage when in reality, we are aggressively masking our fear.

Police officers, firefighters, and other emergency personnel know what it’s like to make split second decisions that override their fears. Their training has prepared them to act in the best interests of others despite how they feel inside because lives are at stake.

But what about the times when fear drives us to make a split second decision that is not in the best interests of us or others? Many times fear and pride go hand in hand and it becomes a vicious cycle. Fear of losing jobs, relationships, social status, leadership, or influence can drive us to make ourselves look better on the outside and attempt to make others smaller by comparison.

I thought about this crazy cycle as I watched the Bengals loss of the playoff game. Was it the fumble or the two plays at the end, or the penalty flags thrown? Or was it the vicious cycle of fear and pride?

I’m not a football strategist and talking football is a far stretch from dealing with little Louie and his fears, but everyone in leadership can learn lessons about dealing with fear and pride. Fear itself isn’t necessarily wrong – it’s a sign that we could be in danger and need to take the necessary physical or emotional precautions. And certainly we can take pride in a job well done. But when fear is unfounded and pride is rooted in self-centeredness, the perfect storm develops and the vicious cycle begins. Sadly, the consequences can have an ongoing ripple effect as we witnessed during the playoff game.

We need to choose our mode of operation before we find ourselves in situations where we might become fearful and reactionary. Firefighters and Police Officers are well trained prior to facing the dangers of their jobs. We would all do well to spend a little time assessing our fears, examining the issues that could cause us to operate out of self-centered pride, and identifying steps we can take to eliminate a knee-jerk reaction. Though I still have a long way to go, I’ve learned to stop for a moment before responding because that brief moment might prevent a negative reaction I may later regret. A “Help me Jesus,” is never a bad idea either!

As for Louie, I think he acts tough not only out of fear but also out of his love for and desire to protect me. He has learned to control it because when I give a command, he listens. Somewhere behind those big brown eyes, he knows I love him and will always protect him.

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Let me know what you think of Louie’s assessment of fear and pride: danise@di-advisors.com

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Louie, This Is A Football!

I found this post, generated by Louie DiStasi’s Facebook page, last week. He shared how he signed me up for obedience class. Apparently, I am a control freak and a know it all. He was hoping this class would help me.

FB Post LouieAt first I thought it was funny, but then realized Louie just doesn’t understand that he still needs help with many issues. So based on Zig’s advice, I enrolled Louie in Queen City Dog Training Club. I did so because if all goes well, perhaps he can get into agility training at some point.

I filled out the online form and was hoping for an opportunity to share more detail on Louie’s issues, but that would have to wait. I received a call requesting that I attend the first class alone, without Louie. This was reminiscent of when the principal would come to my grade school classroom requesting my presence in her office ASAP. That happened more than I care to admit. I wondered why I needed to go to obedience training without Louie. I immediately started down the path of, “I am not the one with the issues. He needs to get started as soon as possible and I should not waste any time learning the rules of the game.”

But off I went to the class with about 12 other dog owners. As we filled out our papers, I finally saw my opportunity to share more about Louie. There was a very small space on the paper to express my concerns which I completely filled and added additional comments within the side margins. But my anxiety level increased as I listened to others talk about their dogs.

I let out a long sigh as I pictured Louie in the training ring with other dogs who were much bigger and had even more problems than Lou. I wasn’t sure I was up for my one night a week session with crazy Louie who will no doubt be crazier with several other dogs with similar or worse issues. What was I thinking? It is OBEDIENCE class. Perfect dogs do not attend obedience class. It is mostly dogs who have issues…like Louie! And the trainer made it clear; this is not a time of socialization, this is for obedience. Oh boy—here we go!

As stressful as the first session was, the obedience class provided ample opportunity for me to learn a few leadership lessons:

  • First, when I returned home, I practiced the basics with Louie using his favorite treat—mozzarella cheese. He did really well. I was reminded of one of my favorite lines by Vince Lombardi, “Gentlemen, this is a football!” I realized that I need to constantly reinforce the fundamentals with Louie.
  • The next day, when my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren were visiting, Louie was scrounging around for crumbs. I made him sit on his bed by the window and wait until we were done eating. As I walked into the kitchen, he slowly slipped away from his bed and quietly made his way back to my family. I had to make him go back and sit on his bed several times. Some lessons must be taught repeatedly!
  • And finally, as I was walking Louie with one of his girlfriends, Allie, her mom kindly suggested I be a stronger leader to Louie. She was absolutely correct. And Zig reminded me of that as well in that Louie is a control freak and needs to know I am in charge. This is another one of those leadership lessons I’m still learning – the need to continually establish my authority with Louie.

Honestly, I sometimes grow weary of leading anyone or being in charge of anything, much less a dog who should obey my every command. But what a delight when I return to the basics with Lou, and he immediately gets it. Seeing his response encourages me to continue to drill the fundamentals and prepare for the next level. It is not easy and, at times, it is not fun. However, it is incredibly rewarding. The same holds true for parents and for leaders in the workplace. As a leader, I am committed to press through once again and each level gets easier with time.

Louie’s post was correct; this obedience class is as much for me as it is for Louie. By the time you read this, Lou and I will have been through our first class together and most likely will have survived and be ready for class two. As for the comment about me being a control freak and a know it all? Let’s just say Louie continually provides good fodder for our blog!

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