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!

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Do Unto Others

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that your New Year is off to a great start. Louie is the perfect dog to lounge around with and enjoy downtime. We visited several people over the holidays, and he was a perfect gentleman at each home. While I believe he is an almost perfect dog I noticed something peculiar. He doesn’t understand the Golden Rule.

IMG_2408We have a new friend in the neighborhood who loves to play with Louie. Claire Lee Himmel is an English Retriever and as rambunctious as they come. Though she is a bit larger than Louie now, she was much smaller when they initially met. She needed no introductions and ran right up to Lou, got right in his face, kissed him, pulled on his ears, bit his face, and jumped all over him. He didn’t share her enthusiasm and backed away after giving her a quick snarl. He continued to demonstrate his disapproval as I stood talking to Claire’s mom for a few minutes. This interchange took place every time we ran into Claire and her mom.

But when we run into his buddy Mick, a Golden Doodle, Louie behaves very differently. He runs up to Mick, grabs his ears, gets in his face, and nips at his legs until Mick calls it quits by sitting as close to his mom as he can get. Louie clearly loves to play the part of the bad little brother, giving little thought to how aggravating he can be.

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Noli looking quite innocent

Recently, we went to my brother’s home to visit Louie’s cousin, Noli Cannoli, a wisp of a dachshund, weighing every bit of five pounds but packed with 100 pounds of feistiness. She made it clear to Louie that he was to stay near me, he was not to walk around the home, nor get into any toys, go near his family or breathe, for that matter. Lou knew his place, sat quietly and behaved perfectly. All night he looked at me as though asking, is she for real? He slept all the way home, worn out from his cousin’s energy.

But when one of his pals comes into our home, he does the very same thing Noli did. He immediately establishes the ground rules by his actions: Don’t go in the kitchen, or go near my mom, don’t look at any food, or in the direction of the pantry, don’t drink from my water bowl or look out the window. I have to change the scenery and corral Louie and his pal into the family room to play and then suddenly, and it’s all fun and games for Lou.

While I think his behavior is comical, I am reminded that we sometimes behave just like this. We want to be treated with love and kindness yet we pick and choose to whom we want to demonstrate those virtues. I am continually challenged when I read these words: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”* The “Golden Rule” gives us a standard by which all of us who are naturally selfish people can assess our actions. Jesus’ Golden Rule is a positive command to proactively demonstrate love.

It requires work and intentionality to treat others with love, patience, and kindness. It is easy to love the loveable or those who are just like us. But that’s not what this directive requires. It is clear that we are to do to others what we would have them do to us.

Many times if there is something that rubs us the wrong way about a person, chances are we have the very same quality that needs to be worked out of us. Think of this the next time you want to complain about someone. What is it about them that irritates you? Could it be you display the very same quality? And if so, how can you treat that person as you would want to be treated? In the long run, it is not just about the other person, but it is working out a difficulty in ourselves. And the best place to start is by practicing the Golden Rule on a regular basis whether we feel like it or not.

Louie will eventually get this—maybe. It is a very tough lesson for all of us to learn. It may take some practice with Claire but now that she is bigger, he may grow to love her as one of his Alpha girls. He loves Alpha girls. [Link to Alpha Girls]. Noli Cannoli will learn to love Louie over time once she trusts that he will not get her toys.

My resolution is to be more intentional about treating others as I would want them to treat me, whether they reciprocate or not. I want 2016 to be the year of intentionality and loving others.

*Matthew 7:12

Mick tolerating Louie

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Pretty Little Liars

I may sound like a broken record, but if you know me or you’ve read this blog long enough, you know how strongly I believe in authentic relationships. Humans desire deep connection with others, and dogs are no different. Trust is the foundation of a strong relationship, and without it, the relationship is weakened.

When Louie and I first met, he was so full of fear that it took months to build trust. During that timLou's cribe, I quickly realized that Louie had a knack for knowing truth—he’s an amazing pup!

For example, he can tell where I’m going and what I’m doing simply by seeing what outfit I’m wearing. If I am dressed in a business suit and heels, he knows he is not going for a walk. If I put on my gym shoes, however, he knows his chances for a walk are greatly improved. If I combine my workout clothes and gym shoes, he waits to see if I grab the leash or head toward his cushy canine crib, which determines whether he goes with me, or must wait for me to return home.

I know Louie is not only greatly influenced by what I wear but also by what I say and how I say it to him. If I am dressed for business and say “I’ll be right back” while sending him to his crib before I leave, he knows that in actuality I won’t be right back, and he reacts to that. Saying “bye bye” to him has a different meaning as well. That means we BOTH go bye bye, to the park or somewhere else for fun. When he goes into his crate and I say bye bye, this does not make sense to him. If I have my flip-flops on and start to walk out the front door and he is not in his crate, when I say, “I’ll be right back,” he knows I will be right back. That action usually means I am going to the mailbox. My actions and my words align. He picks up on my cues and watches my behavior just as we do when someone is sharing information with us. If their words and their behaviors do not match, we don’t trust them.

I learned early in life not to lie. But this lesson particularly impacted me at age 18. I was studying to be a Radiology Technologist under the supervision of a wonderful radiologist, Dr. Howard Feigelson. He would carefully examine every set of X-Ray films I took to him, diagnose what was going on with the patient, and then critique my technique. If my films were not perfect, I had an excuse for everything–the patient moved, the patient breathed, that particular machine overexposes, etc. Dr. Feigelson would sit back and look at me over the rim of his glasses and just say the nickname he coined for me, “Dani.” I knew I had been busted. He was a wise man and could easily tell my words and my behavior did not line up. He then proceeded to teach me proper radiology technique as well as the dangers of habitually justifying poor performance.x-ray-skeleton-dog

As I reflected on these life lessons years later, I realized how Dr. Feigelson combined truth with love. The point wasn’t only proper technique. It was the importance of being truthful and authentic. Although my parents had certainly taught me this, it was “real world” experience that made it stick. I realized I made excuses because I never wanted to disappoint him. But when I made excuses, I disappointed him even more.

This brings us back to my original point that trust is the foundation of strong relationships, which begins with being honest and truthful. We may not outright lie, but we don’t exactly share the truth. Eventually, people can tell that our words don’t match our actions. Consequently, trust erodes and authenticity shrinks.

Learning to BE Authentic takes practice and, hopefully, this may help:

  • B: What is the belief at the core of your excuse? Is it fear of exposing a mistake? Is it fear of not being liked? Is it the fear of rejection? Is it fear of inadequacy? Take time to process these questions and understand the belief.
  • E: What emotion are you feeling because of the belief? Be very clear in naming that emotion and challenging it. Why is this causing such angst? Is it worth the price you will pay in sacrificing the relationship? How will you feel if you “get by” with this excuse versus being honest?
  • A: Authenticity is strengthened when you align your actions. To build trust, we must first align our hearts and our minds internally and then our words with our actions externally.

Louie knows that sometimes when I say, “I’ll be right back” that I will not be right back and he reacts to that. And people sense when you make excuses, and are not being honest. It is not worth the time or energy to be anything but truthful. While we do not want to hurt others feelings, being honest is the most loving gift we can give to others!

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Louie’s favorite gal pal, Kacki passed suddenly last week. During our walks, we would head up the hill toward Kacki’s home where she would be sunning herself, relaxing. Even before she was in sight, Lou would hold his head up high, trying to get a glimpse of this beauty. And there she was, just waiting and watching for her little buddy Louie! She wouldn’t blink an eye or move her head, yet her tail drummed the beat of her happy heart. She loved seeing Louie and he so loved his Kacki girl. Kacki, we hope you’re enjoying the beautiful view from the hill you adorn today! We miss you and will always look for you at the door!

Don’t Adjust To Your Dog!

Louie and I really enjoyed our training sessions at the Queen City Dog Training Club. Between the sessions we attended and the benefits of Zig’s wisdom, we’ve learned a lot. But one lesson in particular stands out.

During this lesson, the instructor would have us give several commands while walking around the ring, and would observe how quickly our dogs responded. We would walk quickly and then stop; our dog would stop and sit next to us. Louie would stop and sit but always at a 45-degree angle and while looking up at me. It looked as though he wanted to be able to see my face. Because I knew he was supposed to be right at my side, I slowly stepped closer to him until we were side by side.

“Don’t adjust to your dog,” came the command from our instructor and it was directed toward me. I looked at Louie and said, “Pay attention, Lou. You’re going to get us in trouble.”

Once again we were told to walk around the ring and were given the command to stop and have our dogs sit next to us. Lou sat at an angle again but this time I looked at him and then the instructor. She looked at me and said, “Don’t adjust to him. Scoot his bottom toward you.”

And so I did, muttering under my breath, “Why are you doing this?” He looked at me as though asking, “What did I do?”2014-06-27 21.33.41

After repeating this routine several times, I was ready to give up. Finally, Louie understood and sat perfectly still right next to me. Our training session was over but the lesson was not. The words, “Don’t adjust to your dog,” echoed in my mind for weeks.

What was wrong with adjusting to my dog? After all, it was just one step toward him. It was hardly noticeable and in the end, we achieved what we wanted to achieve—our dogs sitting right next to us. Then it dawned on me—when I moved toward him, I was adjusting to poor performance. And I let him know that the poor performance was OK, even celebrated, if I patted him on the head.

Being flexible is very important as a leader. And we discussed in our last post about the importance of clarity in communicating our expectations. But adjusting to poor performance is a different matter. Sometimes we adjust because we are tired of keeping the standards at the level they need to be. Many times we simply give up and take whatever we can get.

Have you ever walked into your garage and immediately noticed the pungent smell of garbage? If you stayed in the garage long enough, you would adjust to the smell and eventually no longer notice it. That is until someone else walks in and points it out.

While not accommodating poor performance is very important for leaders, it is also true personally. So many times in society, we make adjustments in order to fit in or accept something that is wrong because we don’t want to appear politically incorrect.

Recently, Evi and I listened to a radio drama about a monk named Telemachus. The story was set back in the days of the Roman Empire when the gladiator games were all the rage (long before the movie hit the big screen). Troubled by the sight of thousands assembling to see men fighting and killing one another at the Roman Colosseum, Telemachus tried to convince them that their conduct was wicked and cruel. He stood in front of thousands who were doing what was the socially accepted form of entertainment in that day and challenged them to stop such cruelty. He was immediately struck down and killed. However, his death was not in vain because after the day Telemachus was murdered in the Colosseum, no gladiator fight took place there again.

This may seem like a dramatic example compared to adjusting to a dog’s slight disobedience yet Telemachus recognized that if he didn’t take action, they would continue to adjust their society to a path of moral compromise. His actions contradicted everything his society said was acceptable. People made money from the events and the gladiators were considered mighty heroes. Taking a stand cost Telemachus his life but it changed the Roman society and ultimately the world.

The next time you have to make a tough choice to do the right thing, don’t adjust to your dog—even if that dog is one cute pup looking up at you with big brown eyes saying, “Did I do good, Mom? Uh? Did I? I know I did, right?”

 

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What Is It About Alpha Girls, Lou?

Louie loves his alpha girls, and there are several in this neighborhood. There’s Kaki, who nudges her nose against Lou to let him know she loves him and then completely ignores him. There’s Eve, who has no problem with letting Louie know she has had enough of playtime. Ellie throws her paws around him and loves to run and play. And then there’s Snickers, who wants nothing to do with him.

I am the alpha of the alpha girls in Louie’s world, and although there are times when Lou tries to exercise his independence, he is absolutely in love with me—and I with him.

My question is twofold. What is it about alpha girls that makes them so alpha? And what is it about them that has Louie so Alpha Evienthralled?

First, I’m not sure many women would deem themselves alpha girls. Yet many are, and although this is usually a good thing, it can sometimes be devastating. Over the span of my career, I have been blessed to know many strong women and have noticed an interesting phenomenon: few strong women, myself included, have truly achieved balance. I’m not talking about work–life balance, or “integration”; it goes beyond that. There always seems to be something off-kilter that we as women want to straighten out or bring into balance, yet it eludes us.

But on this journey, if we remain diligent, there is a sweet spot that allows us to walk in harmonious balance: strength without being pushy, boldness without overpowering others, and humility without appearing weak. Every woman’s quest for that sweet spot leads her on a journey of struggle and change, which can be difficult and yet incredibly freeing and rewarding.

So many times we stop just short of finding this sweet spot. A driving force takes over, and we feel that if we don’t propel ourselves to the top, running over others along the way, then we simply will not survive. That’s the lie many women today have bought into. I believe the antidote to being pushy, rude, and weak is simply love, joy, and peace.

  • It takes strength to love others. Love is the ultimate test of strength. This is the deepest desire of every being, human and pets. When you truly love other people, you care more about them than you do about yourself. It is nearly impossible to be pushy with them. Instead, you care more about serving
  • When we think of boldness, we think of someone blasting on the scene, taking a stand, and being brave. Tip that boldness over the edge a bit, and you end up running over others and being rude. Joy is our elated response to experiences of life, even when life is tough. It is our response and deep satisfaction when we are able to serve others, not as an obligation but because our heart prompts us to do so. When we have true joy in our heart, rudeness cannot emerge.
  • Humility is the toughest characteristic to maintain, but once it is, inner peace is achieved. And when you’re at peace, it doesn’t matter if someone thinks you are weak.

I would like to see more women strive to balance strength, boldness, and humility by honing the character strengths of love, joy, and peace. We can do it!

As for why Louie loves alpha girls—they challenge him to be strong, brave (or bold), and fun (which equates to inner peace in Louie’s world). One of his favorite alphas was his gal pal Ali. When she was outside, he could see her all the way down the street and would whine and pull to get a chance to dance around the front yard with her. She loved to play rough with Louie. He learned a little trick; he could stand just far enough away that her leash wouldn’t allow her to reach him. His ears would go back, and he was on alert. She would stretch to get closer to him. Then, he would ease closer, and the dance would begin. He’d back up and then move closer—they truly enjoyed playing together.

Alpha Ali

Alpha Ali

Over the winter Ali slowed down quite a bit. When they were able to get outside, Ali would display spurts of energy but would let Louie move outside her range without any challenge. Then one day, Ali’s mom tearfully shared that Ali was no longer with us. This broke our hearts because she was so full of life and had been a big part of our community for many years.

Now, each time we pass her home, Louie looks to see if she’s outside and then whines. He looks at the front door to see if she is watching with her favorite toy in her mouth—but no Ali. He even checks her yard for any recent smells. It’s tough losing your best-ever alpha girl, but the love Ali gave to Louie and anyone she came in contact with was truly a gift. Being a great alpha girl, she challenged Louie to be a better, stronger, and more playful dog, and we are forever thankful.

Strive to walk in the balance of strength, boldness, and humility. Choose love, joy, and peace. In this sweet spot, you will impact others’ lives for the better, thereby truly making a difference in our world.

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Contact: danise@di-advisors.com

Louie, You’re Fired; The Need To End Well

IMG_0828Louie is a superstar in his training class, and he actually understands his training commands at home. He welcomes guests when they enter my home—thanks to training him with a delicious special treat—and sits patiently while they enter. He waits to be released and then slowly examines my guests, starting at their feet. He’s learned not to jump, although he get excited and must be reminded constantly to settle down.

Despite the amount of time and work we’ve invested, he has one consistently bad behavior. Once someone is settled in at the table or on the couch, if they make a move to go into the kitchen or the bathroom, he will charge after them. Obviously, this is unacceptable behavior! No one believes Louie does this until they see it happen.

Louie and I have discussed this problem: we have asked neighbors to practice with us; I have been extremely firm with him when he goes after guests; and finally I’ve removed him from the activity. Yet this behavior persists.

I know he is being territorial, and I attribute it to the fact that he has it so good here that he doesn’t want to share it. But at this point, if Louie were my employee, I would fire him!

Or would I?

Many times our star performers demonstrate a consistently bad behavior, and we make excuses for them. We ignore the bad behavior as long as they continue to perform. In addition, we will excuse the behavior of others who aren’t performing simply because we love them. Basically, we avoid disengaging with employees because it is never easy and it almost always gets ugly.

I had a friend who was in the process of disengaging with an employee. “We must end this well,” were his words and they resonated with my heart. Not very many leaders care about ending well. They want to eliminate the “poison” as quickly as possible and finally have a good team.

This reminded me of the saying, “All’s well that ends well.” Endings are necessary but a “good” ending is essential. Even if things have not gone well, ending a relationship (whether it’s personal or professional) in a positive and growth-promoting way can repair things.

Often we recognize that an ending is imminent but instead of doing the hard work to end things well, we lapse into fear, insecurity and pride, which leads to a reactionary response. Sometimes quick terminations are best but even then, seeking to end things well is necessary in order to benefit everyone involved, even other employees.

What does ending well look like? Without getting into human resource debates, each individual situation should be handled differently. I’d like to challenge leaders if it is clear that an employee is not the best fit for the position, then have an honest conversation about it. This is, of course, risky. But it is better than turning into the Queen (or King) of Hearts, wielding an axe, and yelling, “Off with their head,” because someone shared their feelings about things not working out. It is important to always end well. It is not easy, but for the sake of your culture, it is very important. When it’s possible, preserve the personal relationship even if the professional one has to end. This goes for friendships, too. Don’t burn bridges and try to avoid bitterness and regret when relationships evolve.

Since this is a dog blog, I’ve also reflected on the end of life for all of my pups. How do you end well? It is heart wrenching to take that last drive to the vet and carry them in your arms, knowing it will be the last time you hold them. As tough as that decision was for each dog I’ve loved, I knew when it was time. I made sure I was nose to nose with my pup so they could look into my eyes as their life slowly slipped away. I wanted them to know they were deeply loved, and I was intentional about ending well.

As for Louie, of course, I will not be firing him any time soon so I’m not accepting requests for his resume at this time. He does make office visits and is a stellar dog in the workplace. And you are welcome to come to my home anytime…at your own risk!

 Louie acts a bit like this fellow…

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Louie is Afraid of Big, Black Dogs!

Louie and I just finished our first night of training and much to my surprise he was a superstar. In fact, the trainer took him to the middle of the arena and practiced with him as the model dog. I was shocked and wished I could have grabbed my phone to take a picture. At first, he was a little apprehensive when she took hold of his leash but as soon as she circled him around to face me, he performed like a champ. He trotted in grand style, sat when he was told to sit, and did everything he and I practiced over the last week. I was amazed.

Something strange happened at the end of our training time. There was a very high level of energy in the facility while other groups of dogs were coming in as the previous class disbanded. Louie immediately picked up on this. He became very anxious and started a very low soft growl at the large black lab he had stood next to all night long. I immediately responded by correcting him and removed him from the ring. Crisis averted! We trotted off and headed for home.

This reminded me of something I’ve noticed about Louie. He seems very fearful of large black or dark brown dogs. I recognize this may be due to an aggressive stand the other dog may take toward him. But there are a few large black or chocolate labs who frighten Louie even if they are just walking with their owners. Sometimes, if the dog locks eyes with Lou he will take on a macho attitude and act like he’s tougher than he looks.

I’m not sure where this comes from except that Louie has a very good memory. He remembers the cat from whom he took a beating; he remembers a man and cigar smoke because a neighbor walks his dogs while smoking cigars and Louie has a very strong reaction to the smell even when the man is nowhere in sight. So some time in his past, Louie must have had a negative experience with a large black dog.

There are a couple exceptions to this fear. There is a large dark brown Doberman down the street named Rowan who is really good friends with Louie. They love to romp around with each other. Louie is so short, he fits right underneath Rowan, but apparently neither one of them have noticed. While the power of relationships is not a new phenomenon to me, I realize how important relationships are in helping dogs overcome their fears of other dogs. Much like humans, dogs remember things that frighten them or make them uncomfortable. And they will react with fear or anxiety the next time they encounter a similar situation.

When Louie first met Rowan, I sensed this might happen. However, to change that reaction, I asked Rowan’s dad if Louie could check him out. He was more than happy to have Rowan sit so we could approach him very slowly and cautiously. Louie clearly sensed that Rowan was not an aggressive dog, and consequently they became friends.

This tendency to react strongly and often unconsciously to others is also typical of humans. Sometimes experiences have made us apprehensive of certain kinds of people—right or wrong. Unlike dogs, though, humans are easily taught not to trust or like another, and that message stays with us for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, those prejudices prevent us from building authentic relationships with people purely based on a bad experience with one person or what we have been wrongly taught over the years. Our world continues to witness the damage prejudging others has caused. And while it may seem almost too simple, being intentional about building relationships will dispel wrongful thoughts. It takes strength to not allow prejudices to control us or direct our actions and it takes courage to get out of our comfort zone.

Once Louie has an opportunity to get to know a dog of whom he might normally be frightened, he relaxes and starts to build a relationship. Now if I can just get him to drop the tough macho act, we’ll be making real progress.

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Watch Louie and his pal Rowan!

Read Steppin’ Out Of My Skin: Dispel Prejudices, Embrace the Power of Relationships

“Racial relations in America continue to be one of the country’s most challenging issues. Applause goes to Danise DiStasi for highlighting what an enormous block prejudice is and for suggesting ways it can be transmuted. Read and learn!”

Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager and The On Time, On Target Manager

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I’m Not Jumping Through Hoops Anymore!

Agiligty PicI’ve noticed Louie has an odd habit when we walk. He walks on the street curb like he is walking on a balance beam. And he’s quite good! In fact, many times he will run on the curb and not miss a beat. I joked with our trainer, Zig, that we should get Louie into agility training. Zig kindly reminded me that Louie would need more obedience training before he could handle an agility class.

It was wise advice, but curiosity got the better of me. I looked into a place that has an easy-to-use obstacle course where dogs chase a lead through tunnels and over bars, and they don’t need prior training. So my six-year-old granddaughter, Evi, joined Louie and I as we checked out this fun adventure.

It was obvious from the start that Louie would have nothing to do with chasing a silly lead on a wire aimed at getting him to jump or run. I’m sure if the lead had a treat on it, he might have been persuaded, but that was not part of the plan. So Evi jumped into the ring and started running with him, and the two of them had a blast. That lasted one cycle until his attention went elsewhere. Evi tried to get him to chase her, but Louie was done. He clearly was not going to jump through any more hoops and in fact, desperately tried to find a way to escape.

And escape he did. He found a small opening in the fence and took off running through the outside area that didn’t appear to be enclosed. Zig told me never to chase Louie if he gets loose because he’ll think it’s a game. But I was afraid of what could happen if he ran into the busy street. As Louie’s ears flapped in the wind and his tongue hung out to the side, the chase was on. I jumped over a small fence and ran at high speed to tackle him and bring him safely back into the ring. I did all this while yelling at Evi to stay put because I didn’t want to worry about her as well. But she was too enthralled by the sight of my running and jumping that she wasn’t going anywhere.

As we were driving home, I asked Louie, “Why do you run away from me? Do you realize if you run away I will not be behind you? You’ll be lost! Don’t you remember what it was like being on the streets all alone?” Evi chimed in with a sad face, “Yeah, Louie, that was scary. Don’t ever do that again!” I smiled as I looked at my pup through the rear view mirror, his tongue still hanging out and a big smile on his face as though he had achieved a major accomplishment. But I said, “I can’t blame you, Lou! I don’t like to jump through hoops either.” Louie sat regally staring out the window as we drove in silence toward home.

As I reflected on that incident, I realized that Louie was not going to jump through hoops or run around a path and, like most humans, he looked for the quickest escape route. I was reminded of an organization I once worked with that was one of the most toxic cultures I had ever experienced because the leader expected the employees to jump through hoops on a continual basis. What made it so toxic was that the image portrayed to the public was completely different than that of the actual culture. Every employee walked on eggshells out of fear of the employer and they knew that if they spoke the truth they could be out of a job.

Over the years, I have seen and heard about many toxic workplaces. How do you know when a culture is toxic and a leader is self-serving? It is not so easy to determine just by observing. It takes experiencing the culture and often, by the time the determination is made, the damage is done. But here are some signs:

  • People are afraid to be themselves and honest conversations are a rarity.
  • The leader works hard at displaying a perfect image outside the organization and “talks” about how great the culture is.
  • There is a revolving door of employees (Turnover numbers can be masked).
  • There is a pattern of disgruntled employees and broken relationships.
  • The team picture changes every year because the team is totally different every year.
  • When employees leave, relationships end (heaven forbid should the outside world truly know what’s going on inside)
  • Employees are nervous and stop trying to please the leader because they know nothing ever will.
  • Words of affirmation are rarely given.
  • The leader only shares stories that cast him or her in a positive light.
  • There are small blips of successes here and there but over all, growth is stagnant.
  • They cultivate an image to hide their insecurities and fears.
  • A self-serving leader reads this list and says, “Thank goodness I’m nothing like that.”
  • The servant leader reads this list and says, “But for the grace of God, there go I!”

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. There are many wonderful leaders who have a servant’s heart, and care more for others than themselves. And because they are servant leaders, their businesses continue to enjoy sustainable growth, and employees are recognized for their part in the success. Their employees enjoy going to work in the morning instead of getting that knotted feeling every Sunday evening because of what they have to face on Monday. The best servant leaders are those who have removed their egos, are authentic and focused on others . Be intentional about being a servant leader.

As for Louie…well, we’ll work on his agility. I believe Zig was right that he needs a bit more obedience training. Ok, he needs MUCH more obedience training!

VIDEO: The Great Escape!

Dynamics Of Change: It’s The Little Things!

me and Evi“Nonna, do you ever get sad because you live alone?” asked my sweet six-year-old granddaughter. My life flashed before my eyes as I thought of going from being raised in a family of eight full-blooded Italians (we have since grown exponentially) to becoming a very busy single mom of an active child with lots of friends. I smiled and responded, “No, Evi, I’m never sad to be living alone!”

“Well, you’re never really alone,” she responded. “You have Louie to keep you company.”

Ahhh, yes, and there’s always Louie! I am very grateful for Louie, and our time together is increasingly rewarding for me. But I have noticed over the last couple of weeks that he has reverted back to some of his earlier unacceptable behaviors.

It all started with my noticing his unusually boundless amount of energy. We did our normal long walks and he had play dates with his friends. But he was still anxious for more activity. While tossing the ball to play fetch one evening, I started wrestling with him—all in fun, of course (I can just see his trainer, Zig, shaking his head). While this may seem small and insignificant, this activity had ramifications that became clear.

The next morning I was working when I noticed my pup had slinked off to another part of the house. I went upstairs (and not quietly so he heard me approaching) only to find him nicely nestled on my bed! He didn’t budge when I noticed him although he clearly saw my body language and heard my expressive tone. He just looked at me with those big brown eyes as if to say, “Hey mom!”

“Get off that bed, now!” I said and with that he jumped off, and laid on the floor, belly up. Okay, sweet dog, let’s just get back on track, I mumbled to myself. A few hours later, I was in the kitchen and when I went back downstairs, there was Louie sitting on my couch. Now, my dog is not allowed on the furniture, the one exception being a love seat on which he is allowed to sit and look out the window. That’s it. This was only the beginning. Other odd behaviors started happening. He wouldn’t walk alongside me, and he was constantly pulling to get ahead of me. I caught him a few more times on my bed, and he would rebelliously linger when I would say, “Here.” Has he entered adolescence so soon, I asked myself? What on earth is going on with him?

And then it hit me. Ken Blanchard and his team have long taught on the dynamics of change. One dynamic is that when the pressure is off, we revert back to our original behaviors. Couple this with the fact that research shows it takes 21 consecutive days to form a habit and for a new course of action to be ingrained into a natural pattern of behavior. At first I reasoned that I was LONG past the 21-day mark with this dog, and he should be getting it by now. But then I asked myself if I had been consistent with my modification training for 21 consecutive days, or did I see improvement by week two and decide to ease off? I had to admit that I had taken the pressure off long before the 21 days.

And while this may seem unremarkable, I should have remembered that wrestling with Louie is a no-no. We were playing like he plays with his dog friends, and I am not his dog friend. I am his alpha. That behavior led him to believe we were on equal ground, and that he had full permission to sit wherever he wanted. Because the pressure was off, he didn’t think I was serious about the behavior modifications, and he reverted back to his original behavior.

Isn’t that just like us? We see a little improvement, and we slack off on holding ourselves and others accountable. We do this in exercise programs, healthy eating, sleeping enough, managing people and projects at work, and in nurturing our relationships. To make it worse, we often not only ease off, but also we latch onto the latest and greatest leadership idea. And we never really stay with the course of improvement we’ve started and for which we have asked others to hold us accountable. The best gifts mentors and leaders can give to others are both encouragement AND accountability. Even more important is to press through, especially during the times when things have improved enough and you think you can slack off. That is the time others need you most.

Louie and I had to go back to the basics and stick with the program. He needs a leader mom who will stay the course and lovingly keep enough pressure on to see him experience the behavior change needed to live a happy life! As I’m writing, he’s lovingly staring at me with his big brown eyes as if to assure me he is never too far and always has me in his sight! And for that, I am truly grateful.

Lou and the stain

NOTE: Louie’s stumped! There is a rust stain of some sort next to Louie’s left paw. That stain has been on my driveway for 3 weeks.  And it just happens to look like Louie! Oh the little things in life that make a huge difference in our world!

Not Everybody’s Going To Like You, Lou!

I Love LouieLouie and I hope you’ve enjoyed your summer as much as we did. Louie had a great time playing at Camp Bow Wow, relaxing, socializing with his gal pals and taking a few notes on how humans behave. He is stunned by what he has discovered!

Louie noticed that humans often say one thing but then do the opposite. They are very concerned with their images, and nowhere is this more evident than in the world of social media. Interestingly, most humans share only positive information about themselves in an effort to convince everyone else how great they are!

This is all very foreign to Louie because with dogs, what you see and smell is what you get. This obsession with image is only found among humans. Dogs don’t try to be something they aren’t – although Lou does puff up his hair to make himself look bigger, but that’s less about image and more about self-protection!

Rather than try to explain it myself, I’m going to let Louie share his perspective and perhaps the best place for him to start is with his own story.

  *****

My life changed dramatically a year ago. I was roaming the rolling hills of Appalachia, searching for what I didn’t know I was missing. My training and discipline were harsh, instilling fear and lack of trust. Sadly, when I ran away, no one even knew I was missing nor did they search for me.

I thought my life was over when I was put in a cage and taken many miles to an unknown destination. It was very confusing, and the way I coped was just to hold my head up and stare straight ahead. There were so many cages and car rides I lost count. One day, we took a short ride and settled in a place where people paraded in front of us. The dogs around me were doing back flips and trying to get noticed, but I was so weary; I didn’t even care. Finally, when they opened my cage, I thought I would make a beeline for freedom. But I looked up, and there she stood with big brown eyes and an even bigger smile. At that moment, I realized what I had been missing all my life.

While I may not have been as terribly abused as many of my canine friends, I never really experienced genuine love or affection. Lack of love and attention is one of the worst abuses a dog can suffer. But the minute my eyes connected with this special person, I knew I had a chance to be loved and was hopeful I would never be lonely or neglected again.

So, our journey began. Because of my past, my master had to engage a trainer to teach me the balance of disciplining with loving. Apparently, my new human needed training too! Who knew learning to balance discipline with love would be so challenging. But the training paid off, because now we make a great team. And my leader even learned a few things about leadership, which she has written about in her blogs and in a book, aptly titled Louie’s Leadership Lessons. I like that she’s always willing to learn. This is the hallmark of a good leader.

Yet, in this journey I had a few setbacks. I’ve had some tough lessons to learn – perhaps the toughest was realizing that not everyone liked me. Because my leader lavished love on me with just the right amount of discipline, I learned to be very happy-go-lucky. And because she so easily loved me, I thought everybody would just love me—Not so!

With my history, I’m pretty used to getting bullied by bigger dogs. I don’t like it, but I’ve learned to run away instead of fight because I am much faster than they are! But recently, I met a cute little dog with whom I fell for immediately. She was spunky, walked with authority and exuded self-assurance. I like that in a gal pal!

When I tried to get to know her, however, she didn’t respond the way I’d hoped. I saw her walking one day and decided it was my chance to get to know her. Our leaders knew each other, so it was an easy introduction. She is much smaller than me, so I wanted to be careful not to overpower her. But in a second, my world turned upside down. I threw all caution to the wind. My tail wagged; I offered loving licks; and my plaintive voice said, “Hi, I just met you, and I love you.” The love was met with snarls, growls and flashing, white sharp teeth.

Though we kept walking, I just could not enjoy our time together. I hung my head low and wondered the entire time, what just happened? Why would she not like me? What have I done to get that kind of reception? And my leader, in her infinite wisdom, said, “Louie, not everyone’s going to like you!”

That was hard to believe! But I decided to take some time to ponder this news. I observed a few other doggie interactions, and alas, my leader was correct: Not everyone likes me. There is no rhyme or reason for it; there is no way around it; and one might not be able to make sense of it. But one thing is certain: I will not let rejection get the best of me or ruin my day or week or BEST YEAR EVER!!

What helps me to have this focus is to keep my eye on my source of joy! I relish in my master’s love and character, and I let her guide me to the relationships worth pursuing and those I need to avoid. She has never led me astray, and I doubt she ever will. I see her model this with her relationship with her Master, her Creator and loving God. I can’t go wrong following a leader who has this kind of servant heart. While you may know her as Danise, leader, businesswoman, consultant, friend or sister, I now know her as Mom (Thanks, Marisa, for sharing her).

 

Snickers, who would not let Louie in the photo!

 

NOTE: Thanks for your patience as we adjust to our new blog site. If you’d like to see Louie’s previous posts, please visit:  http://louiesleadershiplessons.blogspot.com