What I Learned About Leadership From Walking Dogs (OR an extremely contrived device for blogging)

**another treat from the drafts folder while I work on some new stuff! PLUS DOGS**

Golden doodle gives the author big smooches

Because I am extremely bad at utter funemployment, I spent the last many months picking up some dog walking gigs. It’s fun. I get to be outside and meet dogs and befriend concierges across this great city of mine. Unlikely though it may seem, walking dogs has proven to be a crash course in leadership as I learn to negotiate personalities, preferences, and habits. I bequeath to you the secrets I have learned that I will carry forth into other professional endeavors.

Walk Tall

When you walk a series of strange dogs, you have to command authority immediately and maintain it for the duration of your time together. Head up, shoulders back. Look like the boss. And walk next to or slightly in front of the dog because you *are* the boss. Dogs are easily fooled. Now I spend all my time practicing the way every mediocre white man enters every room and I am going to use it to take over the world.

You Can’t Reason With Everyone

There are no great philosopher dogs, which is sort of a tragedy because I’d love to read a treatise on really really wanting to eat chocolate even though it will poison you. Sadly I won’t ever have that opportunity because dogs don’t respond to logic. These are animals that smell each other’s pee and eat their own vomit on a good day. Neither your stint as a high school debate champion nor your Harvard Law degree is going to convince your dog that your shoes are not delicious. People are not dogs, but people are not always reasonable either. Some things are not worth arguing over, and there’s no substitute for good training.

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Slack the Leash

When I started walking dogs and felt more nervous, this maneuver felt counter-intuitive and scary. After having all sorts of dogs pull in all directions, I realized that sometimes the best thing I can do when a dog gets bossy is let some slack into the leash. Yes indeed, this is a thinly veiled metaphor for managing an employee. If I try to control them too much, they act out looking for control. With a relaxed hold, the dog gets some freedom to explore as he or she wishes. I’m comfortable. But I can still catch a misbehaving pup before they get into trouble.

You’re In Charge Of Your Time

Dogs don’t wear watches, and even if they did, they would run seven times faster than our human watches and who even knows how they would change the battery? It’s preposterous. Anyway, most of the walks I book are 30 minutes, from the moment I pick up the key to the moment I drop it off. I have a schedule for how I maximize those 30 minutes without running long. No freebies.** I’m a businessman now.

Say No

I say no to dogs that misbehave. I decline walks with dogs that don’t like me. I could book walks from 6am to midnight every day, but instead I make myself unavailable sometimes. I’m basically a danged executive and that freedom to say no isn’t always an option when you work for someone else. BUT!

You Always Report To Someone

In the grand circle of business, I report to the people paying me via the care I give to their dogs. I send reports after every walk, with photos of dogs giving me baleful looks because they aren’t impressed by the resolution on the iPhone 6’s camera. “Are you gonna preorder that 8 or what?” they all want to know. When the weather changes, I ask their owners, “Hey, how’s your dog in the cold/heat/rain? Any special precautions we should take?” and the dog owners love it. And then they book more walks and you get more cuddle-times with puppies. This is a more true relationship than most workplaces, and one of very few professions that legally permits petting, cuddling, and watching your client go to the bathroom.

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You could learn these skills in a training, or through years of hard work, or because you have superior interpersonal skills. But if you have a choice, or some free time, or an apartment that bans dogs (ahem) then I recommend this delightful and adorable opportunity to build your skills in a way that doesn’t involve a conference table and stale coffee.

**OK some freebies, mostly in the form of niceties***. “Your dog ate a box of tissues but I cleaned it up so she wouldn’t keep eating it all day and then be sick all weekend!” Goes a long way.

***I can hook you up with a free dog walk too if you want. I might not be your walker but the walk would be free as hell.

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