Puppies are exhausting. They need so much love and training and constant attention, and yet I love them. I can’t foster any more puppies because I just fall in love with them and I have a hard time giving them over to someone else…and there’s only so many dogs I’m allowed to have. So no more puppy fostering. It’s not just their sweet faces or awkward movements as they figure life out. I just love watching their minds develop as they figure out the world. I love teaching them tricks and watching them become confident, sweet-hearted citizens of the canine world.

I realized the other day as I was shouting furiously and with much panic at my Shiba Inu puppy to get away from the road that training dogs really comes down to giving them feedback. They need feedback about what behavior is acceptable and what behavior is not acceptable for our pack. Fighting over bones, peeing in the house, and running into the road are absolutely not acceptable in this pack! Sitting, laying down, high fives, naps…these are such good behaviors and are very likely to result in treats. Dogs need this feedback, especially puppies.

And so it is with our teams. It’s up to us to decide as a pack what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and then provide feedback to establish those boundaries. When my puppy chews something that doesn’t belong to him, that does not make him a bad dog. It makes him a teething, curious, and perhaps hungry puppy who hasn’t learned that this particular item is off limits for chewing. So he needs to be told firmly and clearly that this is not acceptable behavior, and he needs to know that he is still loved. Same with our teams. We set boundaries and enforce them with feedback.

Now I will admit that my dogs still sometimes do things that just make my head explode. Like my sweet Collie/Terrier chewed up more than one bed when we were crate training her. (Cover image for this post!) So giving her feedback about not chewing it was simply not working. She is such a good girl. I almost never have behavior problems with her. But her anxiety, boredom and loneliness clearly came out in chewing the bed and that was that. I wasn’t there and that’s how she dealt with it. There are times when “giving feedback” is simply not going to work. So there’s that to be considered. Like dogs, sometimes humans need more than feedback. They need close supervision, coaching, a corrective action plan, and sometimes stronger measures.

But for the most part, training dogs and training humans comes down to providing immediate, understandable feedback. And for the most part it works.

If you don’t train your puppy, or if you don’t do it with love and consistency, you get what you deserve: an out of control dog. Likewise, if we don’t provide helpful feedback to our teams, we get what we deserve: hurt feelings, less-than-effective operations, and probably some drama.

So how to train our teams? Three things come to mind:

  1. Observing and communicating
  2. Positive reinforcement
  3. Trust

Observing and communicating

A fun team building exercise I like to do with new teams is something I learned from Jack Canfield’s Breakthrough to Success program. Set a desired destination in a large-ish room and make a clear path toward it. Tell the team this is the goal and you know exactly how to get there. (because it’s obvious, right?) Then tie a blindfold to yourself, have someone spin you around, and head off towards the destination. Walk drunkenly and whether on purpose or not, veer off course. Ask the team to tell you if you’re on course or off course…on course? off course? keep going and have them keep you on track to the destination. The first time someone says I’m off course, I pretend to cry and say I’m so hurt that they could say such a thing. (But in such a way that they see this is an exaggeration) I keep going until I step on someone or something and then I say “ok I guess I was wrong. Which way should I go.” and then I go the wrong way and pretend to be mad “I thought you said to go left!” (and then for the sake of the exercise I ask them ok so which way should I really go) and then I keep iterating through the feedback process.

I explain this is how we process feedback. When I cried and when I got angry it didn’t help. The feedback wasn’t given to make me upset, and it wasn’t personal. It’s just something to help us stay on course and within boundaries to the goal. It’s a pretty fun exercise reinforcing some important concepts:

  • We need to look out for each other
  • We need to communicate with each other when we see something
  • We need to be open to hearing feedback and understand that it’s not personal
  • We must always assume positive intent.

My dogs never seem to take feedback personally. They know I love them, and I’m expressing to them what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for our pack. I’m pretty sure they assume that I have a positive intent. If I yell at them to stay out of the road, hopefully they know I’m trying to keep them safe. And if they don’t know why I’m yelling at them, they seem to know it’s situational, and if they stop doing this thing they’ll be back in good dog territory. Nothing personal; we just did something not allowed by the pack and we need to hurry back to a good space. Humans tend to internalize things that were probably not meant to be personal; it was just feedback from another human’s perspective.

Positive reinforcement

Dogs love treats. And so do humans. Reinforcing positive behavior is much easier and more pleasant for everyone than criticizing and trying to correct poor behavior. The best way to train a dog is to give them constant positive feedback so they know what’s good behavior. Then, when they do something out of bounds, they know the difference and they’re super motivated to get back to the good behavior. Same with people.


And most importantly, my dogs trust me. They know this is their pack and we have a relationship of mutual love and appreciation. When your team has a foundation of trust, it’s much easier to give and take feedback. Trust is built with time, honoring our commitments to each other, being predictable, and operating from a paradigm wherein we all assume positive intent.

In the same way puppies need boundaries and feedback, so do our teams. When we create an atmosphere of trust and provide positive reinforcement it’s much easier for us to give and accept feedback to help us all stay on course.


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