In The Trenches

How to teach good behavior

Published on October 25, 2021 Back to blog
Good boy, James!

As you may remember, we welcomed our new Corgi puppy, James (aka Sir James Oliver III), into our home this past December. And, while he may be the cutest dog I’ve ever known, he may also win the award for most destructive. So, in an effort to tame the beast, we recently sent him away for a 2-week training boot camp with master trainer, Martin Wright (Argos Training). Years ago, Martin had worked wonders with Jasmine, our Golden Retriever. So, we trusted him to do similar magic with James.

During the two weeks of training, Martin shared numerous videos demonstrating James’ progress, and we all watched them with awe and excitement as we anxiously awaited his return. However, when we arrived to pick up James, Martin reminded us that James was very well behaved with him, but that it was now our turn to be trained so James would behave similarly for us.

While we’ve learned many specific training commands and techniques from Martin, I realized that his core rules of training (and, more generally, teaching good behavior) apply not only to dogs, but also to humans. So, I share them here with you:

1. Be very clear with each command/ask. For dogs, this means giving them a very specific voice command (ie., “sit”) along with a very clear hand signal (i.e., long arm, closed hand with palm down). For humans this often translates into providing clear (often, written) instructions on expectations, deliverables and timeframes. Neither dogs, nor humans, are mind readers.

2. Only give a command/ask once. If the dog doesn’t listen the first time, don’t just repeat the command. If you do, they may not understand that they are actually expected to do what you ask the first time. Instead, acknowledge that the command was not acted upon (say “no”) and then try again. Same logic applies with humans. Otherwise, you’re training them to think, “if they really need it, they’ll ask me again.”

3. Don’t give a command you can’t follow through on.  If the dog doesn’t sit, don’t just let it go. Doing so sends a message that it is ok to not follow instructions. Follow through (say “no” and repeat clear instructions) until the command/ask is properly executed. Otherwise you are setting an expectation that there is no expectation.

4. The only way out of a command is with a formal release or another command. If you say “sit,” the dog should not only sit, but also not stop sitting until you say it’s OK to do so, or give it another command (ie “down”). Same goes with humans. Otherwise, you are teaching them that incomplete work is acceptable.

5. Reward good behavior. Your team may not appreciate Scooby Snacks – and belly rubs are likely inappropriate. But acknowledgement (private or public) of a job well done goes a long way toward repeated good behavior.

I’m happy to report that James is doing great and we’re excited about his continued improvement as we build upon the foundation that Martin built. Clearly, the way in which we train employees and interact with our colleagues – and the “commands/requests” we ask of them – are much more complex than “sit,” “come” “stay” and “heel.” However, I’m confident that Martin’s general rules can greatly help instill good behavior.

As always, please share your thoughts and comments here and feel free to share with anyone you believe may enjoy the post.

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners