Business Communication Lessons from the Dog Whisperer


Dog psychologist Cesar Milan is nothing short of amazing when it comes to taming grumpy dogs. Before you shudder at the New Age implications of dog psychology, know this: I moonlight as a dogsitter. And believe me, this stuff works.

While browsing Milan’s website, I chanced upon 8 dog handling tips that humans in business could use, too. The tips were broad, so I applied them to business communication in general: Talking to clients, hiring and firing people, networking, pitching your service, asking for a raise, or anything else you can think of. Here they are:

1. Stay Calm and Assertive

Dogs: Dogs sense fear and uncertainty. Since both emotions indicate submissiveness, dogs often misbehave when you’re feeling insecure. Imagining yourself as calm and assertive helps the dog understand who’s in charge.

Humans: Calm and assertive behavior marks you as a steadfast character. Staying calm builds trust; being assertive stops employees from misbehaving.

2. Be the Pack Leader

A few simple tricks, such as entering and exiting building before a dog, let it know that you’re the pack leader. Seeing a leader doesn’t threaten the dog, according to Milan. It simply knows where it belongs in the pack.

Humans: People need to use more discretion when deciding to position themselves as the pack leader. The human-friendly statement would be “find the right pack to lead.” Leaders get ahead in business, whether they’re CEOs or admins. Find out what and who needs your leadership, then start leading.

3. Reward Good Behavior

Dogs: According to Milan, some people give their dogs indiscriminate affection when they should be reserving it as a reward. Dogs need affection—after they’ve been given rules and boundaries.

People love to be acknowledged, especially if they’re working hard. Saying thank you, sending thank you cards, complimenting someone’s work, and even offering tangible rewards for good work are all tricks that endear you to other human beings. If you’re not careful, they’ll make you feel good, too.

4. See the World Through Your Dog’s Eyes

Milan not only trains dogs, but helps their owners see the world through their pets’ eyes. This helps dogs and owners build a more functional, enjoyable relationship.

Humans: Seeing the world through your client’s eyes is fundamental for any business owner. What does your client want? How can you know that without stepping into their flip-flops (or cowboy boots, or high heels, or loafers)? It’s not a bad idea for people in the corporate world, either.

5. Take Your Pet Seriously

Paris Hilton might not agree with this, but a dog isn’t a fashion accessory. It’s a sentient creature, and should be treated with great care and attention. Take your dog—and your decision to get one—seriously.

Humans: Seeing your colleagues, boss, clients, suppliers, contractors, and others as humans, rather than “the HR lady” or “the IT guy,” will make you treat them with more respect. Everyone appreciates respect, so a good reputation isn’t far behind. That, in turn, could be your oyster.

6. Select the Right Dog

Milan says that it’s vital to find a dog with energy that harmonizes your own. From his website:

The most important step is to take some time for self-reflection and to identify what your own energy levels are. Do you wake up early every morning, pound a power bar and a health shake, and go for a run in the mountains? Or do you take life at a more leisurely pace? When energy levels conflict, resulting frustrations on the part of both human and dog can create tensions and issues with dramatic repercussions, so take into account how your energy will affect your decision.

Synchronicity is essential in partner, supplier, and consultant relationships. Unlike with dogs, humans with opposite energy levels sometimes work well together. Finding out what you need is a crucial first step.

7. Play

Dogs: Milan says dogs get pent-up energy after being at home alone for a while. Play and exercise drain this tension and keep dogs sane.

Humans: In this case, we are exactly the same as dogs.

8. Gain Trust Through Consistency

Dogs: Taking your dog on a walk at the same time every day lets her know you’re in charge. She builds trust with you through your consistency.

Humans: Consistency is the basis of human trust. Doing what you say you’ll do, showing up at an agreed-upon time, performing your tasks as requested—or better—makes you a trustworthy person. And when people trust you, they do business with you.

I didn’t include Milan’s tip on short leashes, which make dogs obey but often drive people to madness…