At the end of a long workday, a girl pours herself a glass of wine and collapses onto the couch next to her roommate. The two have plans to marathon-watch one of their favorite shows. They do their typical gossip exchange about the day, laugh a bit, and settle in as their show begins.
Quickly, they become mesmerized, engulfed in the drama on the TV in front of them. They are oblivious to the rest of the world.
…Until he coughs…
It’s Amy that hears him first. She startles and asks, “Meagan…did you hear that?”. Meagan hasn’t heard anything, but she is instantly present to her roommate’s concern, so she begins to listen…hard.
He coughs again. It’s coming from right outside the window.
No doubt, someone is in the backyard.
Slowly, the girls rise. Amy is visibly shaken. Meagan steps in front of her and peers out the window. As she sees the shadow disappear behind the guest house, she immediately jumps into action.
She first calls her bloodhound, cracks the door to the backyard, then sends the dog to start tracking the dark figure she had glimpsed through the window.
Meagan quickly follows the bloodhound into the yard with Amy close behind her, and as the dog tracks the scent of the man off to the right, the girls swerve left and pop the latch to the nearby dog run.
Meagan calls out, “Cherche!”, the french word for “search”. In an instant, the sleepy Malinois that has been resting behind the latched door launches out of her kennel like a bullet. It’s time to go to work!
The Malinois and the hound find each other and the two begin quartering the yard with speed, weaving back and forth, noses to the ground, tracking what has now become their target.
Suddenly, the Malinois stops. For a split second she stands frozen….and then she’s off!
The target is acquired….and within seconds, she’s on him.
The girls watch as a shadow of the man moves towards the fence. They see the dog gain on him and they hear him hit the chain link, the dog only a few feet behind. The Malinois leaps through the air as the man scurries over the fence. She lunges for him and, although he is able to make it over, he hasn’t evaded the K9 fully intact.
The dog trots back to the girls with a bloodied piece of torn jeans in her mouth. Mission accomplished.
The above story is an actual scenario that occurred at a ranch in Texas.
Unfortunately for the would-be intruder, it just so turned out that Meagan was an executive security dog trainer and that the Malinois was an executive security K9 who had been protecting her for the past 8 years.
Needless to say, when the man targeted this particular house, he chose wrong.
As we worked together, shaping behaviors in my newly acquired Belgian Malinois puppy, and as I witnessed the work she did with her own security dogs, I quickly realized that training and leading high-performing K9s was no different than training and leading high-performing humans.
What makes training dogs so valuable in the work I do for human performance is that dogs can’t Bullshit me with words. The work I’ve done with my own K9 has shown me the importance of clear and consistent communication, cause-and-effect, discipline, consistency, and reward. It’s all based on action.
You’ll continue to hear more from me about the learning I’ve experienced from my security dog but for now, here are five of the most notable things I’ve learned this year while transforming her from a crap-eating puppy into a sentry weapon and, most importantly, a partner that has my back.
1. Actions Speak Louder
Since dogs don’t speak our language, we need to teach them what our words mean through cause-and-effect training sequences. Only when a dog can predict our action will they assign meaning to our words. If our actions are inconsistent, our words will lack meaning.
In dog training, the situation is clean and beautiful. I ask them to sit, they sit, and I reward them. Imagine how confused they’d get if I said “Sit”, and they laid down and I rewarded them anyway. Now, “Sit” means “Lay Down” and if I attempt to withhold reinforcement in the future for the misunderstanding I created, I will simply cause further confusion and frustration.
Believe it or not, as humans, our language does not have universal interpretation. We interpret language based on our culture, our experiences, and our current state of being, as well as the cause-and-effect actions of others throughout our life and development.
Because language isn’t universal, it becomes critical for us to create actions that will assign deliberate and consistent meaning to our words. “Have this done by Friday” or “Clean your room” must always mean the same thing, else you confuse the human, cause anxiety, and break confidence.
Be cognizant of your actions – they are the only language we all understand.
2. Mistakes are Evolution
Meagan often told me that if my training session looked perfect, I wasn’t growing – I was just showing off. As I worked with my dog, I learned that mistakes were the biggest learning opportunities. If my training sessions were flawless, I was simply practicing those things that I already had down pat, and I was wasting valuable time that could be spent working through the areas where I was experiencing breakdowns.
Mistakes and breakdowns are necessary aspects of learning and growth. When my dog made mistakes, not only did it highlight areas we needed to focus on, but it forced me to create practices to fix the communication breakdowns.
In life, the breakdowns we experience are what propel us into growth. Only through stepping out of our comfort zones and allowing ourselves to fail will we truly learn and grow.
3. Be Present
My training sessions require me to give my complete attention to my dog. When I take her out for training, it is my responsibility to stay focused and engaged during the entire session.
I can’t let her get distracted and lose focus, and for that to happen, I can’t get distracted or lose focus. I need her to want to be there, with me, paying attention to me.
These days, with so many things competing for our attention, being completely present poses a challenge. If I’m busy checking my emails, responding to texts, or making calls during my training sessions, my dog will never want to be there with me and will lose interest in our training. She’ll quickly set her sights to something more interesting than me checking my voicemail.
I’ll leave it for you to apply this lesson in any and all of your relationships in life.
4. Be Prepared for Adversity
Meagan often comments that she “wants to get robbed”. Yes… she’s a bit crazy and that’s why I hired her, but after spending time with her and her dogs, I understand her statement.
She wasn’t afraid when the man showed up in her backyard – in fact, she welcomed the confrontation. She has no fear about walking down a dark alley at night. She does not fear someone breaking into her home. She has no qualms about going out alone and she isn’t worried about getting mugged. She is prepared and she trusts in her training. Because of this, she is able to experience life without fear getting in the way.
Fear can be an utterly crippling adversary in your life. It can stop forward momentum, prevent you from taking risks, and keep you from truly living and experiencing life. By preparing and training for any adversity that may come your way, and by TRUSTING in your training, you can combat fear before it ever occurs and change the way you view potential threats. Being prepared is the only way to be truly secure.
5. Working Dogs Are Bad-Ass
Working K9s can take out criminals, sniff out drugs, and even detect diseases like cancer and diabetes. While these dogs aren’t for everyone, as they have a monstrous exercise and training requirement, they are high performers and we can learn a lot from them.
As evidenced by the above lessons (which are just a few of the many things these high-performing K9s have taught me over the past year), dogs are mirrors that can teach us an incredible amount about ourselves and our ability to lead, whether it be within an organization, or at home with our family or friends.
Because they don’t share a common, verbal language with us, K9s must learn to understand us based on cause-and-effect, and their mistakes or misbehaviors will only highlight the inconsistencies in our communication and our actions.
What makes these dogs so amazing is that you know they want to perform. They want to do good and earn your praise, so if they’re falling short, the only place you can point the finger is right back at yourself.
It is the true trainer that changes themselves when their dog misbehaves, and has the humility to recognize the flaws in their training or reinforcement.
The moment I started training my dog with Meagan, I knew there were similarities between training and leading highly driven K9s, and training and leading humans. I immediately recognized that the performance principles used to train these K9s were fundamentally the same ones we used to train SEAL Snipers.
We recently began doing live demonstrations of this for organizations and it has been extremely well received. The analogy of the “Dog” is helping leaders see new possibilities in the way they train and lead others.
I’m not prepared to say that any and every leadership and performance issue can be demonstrated within dog training, but I can tell you that the list continues to grow.