We recently adopted Loki. A precious, energetic, and stubborn Siberian Husky. And in the few long weeks we’ve had him, I’ve begun to see how fitting it is that people adopt dogs to “practice” parenting or that they call themselves dog parents. Anyone can acquire a pooch, but it takes a lot of dedication to train and instill a level of discipline in them. I’d like to say he’s learned more from me than I have from him, but that would be a bald faced lie. In such a short, all-consuming time he has taught (or re-taught) me several lessons:
1) Do not repeat
A lot of the time in our personal or professional lives we repeat ourselves. We make up excuses for the people around us that they are busy or that maybe our concerns don’t matter. Loki has taught me that if I repeat myself over and over, eventually he will not hear me when I say things just once. He will need me to say it over and over in a very specific configuration or he will just assume the noises I’m making are meaningless sounds. Say it with confidence and conviction. Say it with intention and purpose.
2) Follow the (treat) bag
Loki (as many dogs) is incredibly food motivated. The moment you show him a treat, he has decided that he DOES know how to do the thing you have been asking for. In fact, half the time he is training us to give him treats. Many of us don’t follow this rule. We do this or that at our expense without being compensated for work. Eventually we burn out. This is where Loki’s lesson is so valuable. Do work where you feel valued.
3) Lost in translation
Even when two people are native speakers of a given language… they will find ways to misunderstand each other. Now take two different animal species trying to communicate where one uses words and written language and the other needs to smell your butt to learn fundamental truths about you. Never assume you have been fully understood, meet others where they are at, and speak simply. So many of us use language as a way to grow our brands, to stroke our egos. Language is a tool to connect and to make life easier through collaboration.
4) Body language matters
90% of what you’re trying to say comes from how true it feels. Human beings are walking lying detectors (some much more successful and accurate than others) and much of what we absorb as data is how others stand, smell, sound, fidget (or don’t), sit, or walk. This is even more true for Loki when he looks at me. Am I being assertive or fearful, am I in charge or looking towards the true Alpha? I don’t know if you’ve heard of Amy Cuddy and her book, Presence. But if you haven’t, here’s her famous TED Talk:
5) React quickly, forgive quickly
Dogs are known for their unfaltering love, their never-ending loyalty and their unlimited enthusiasm. Dogs are also universally loved (for the most part). Loki clawed, whined, chewed, and licked his way into our hearts in record time. I don’t mean to say “be a pushover, people will love you,” because I used to be one and the wrong people will love you. Choose your people with a little more care than a pup, but those special few love with wild abandon.
6) Do not project expectations
This lesson I learned years ago when my dad developed early onset dementia. At first I was so frustrated, angry, and disappointed because it was hard to switch my perspective from “he knows how to do these things, why is he acting this way?” to “his experience and grasp on the world has drastically changed and I need to be there with grace and understanding” to “maybe none of us understand how anyone else experiences anything and how that could fundamentally change from one moment to the next so let’s be open to the possibilities.” Between me and Loki there is a huge gap and it’s a miracle he knows how to do things like sit on command or come running when I call. I must remain open to the miracle that is understanding and communicating with any being, not just my dog.
7) Learn, don’t assume
And finally…be informed. I am reading books, watching videos, reading articles, asking strangers for tips, and overall trying to be more observant of this new experience we share. This is fundamentally important for any social interaction. I value the push for diversity and inclusion, especially in the corporate tech spaces I inhabit, but I also want us to always strive for depth. Getting to know people is more than assumptions and stereotypes, in fact, those are barriers to truly seeing a person’s unique inner and external worlds. Just because I am reading and studying dogs, that doesn’t mean Loki will respond like every other dog, not even every Siberian Husky. His unique upbringing, exposures, and continuing development make him (and all of us) one of a kind.
I look forward to continuing to learn from Loki and sharing what I learn with the world 🙂
Illustration: As always, I always include a piece of art as the main image. This time it is a photo of Loki in the style of famous Japanese artist, Hokusai. This image was achieved by using Photoshop’s Neural Filter feature called Style Transfer. Here is the before and after for comparison: