Dog Teaches Master Tricks

by Don Coggan

My dog is teaching me a thing or two about business. A recent lesson that stands out has to do with objectives.

Twice a month, I meet for breakfast with other self-employed entrepreneurs. To focus our efforts, we choose a specific topic to discuss during each get-together. At the last one in December, we talked about our business objectives for the coming year.

After all eight of us had bared our souls, I was inspired to ask, “Can I talk about my dog now?” There were a lot of puzzled looks. Their faces were saying, “What’s Don up to now?”

“We’re talking about objectives,” I said, “and I just realized that my eight-month old Husky, Bandit, has been giving me an almost-daily reminder of something really important. And it has nothing to do with his name!” The puzzled looks continued.

We’re now training our puppy to “stay” but I’m actually the one doing the learning. First we get him to sit. Then we say “stay” while walking away from him with a dog treat visibly in hand. He sits still until we say “come” and then he bounds toward us to claim his reward.

Here’s the thing. While he’s sitting waiting, he never takes his eyes off the treat and that’s my reminder about business objectives. In previous career lifetimes as engineering, sales, and general manager, I often used to tell my staff, “Always keep your eye on the prize.”

It’s such a simple thing, but we so easily forget the principle and, consequently, the objectives we set for ourselves. Daily routines and general busyness distract us. Next thing you know, time has passed and we haven’t made the measurable progress we intended.

Sometimes our objectives are too complicated or too numerous. The simpler the better. To paraphrase Henry Thoreau, “Our lives need to be simple enough to account for them on a thumbnail.” Bandit’s objective is the dog treat. He stays focused on it. Then he enjoys it after completing a simple task.

I expounded on my theory for about 60 seconds (our elected leader doesn’t allow rambling.) Then the fellow entrepreneur sitting next to me said, “There’s another lesson to be learned here. One of the reasons Bandit stays focused is that he likes dog treats. It helps a lot if our objectives are enjoyable.”

So true! How often have we set objectives that were things we had to do rather than things we wanted to do? In the real world, it’s impossible to avoid doing some stuff we dislike. I know from personal experience though, that it’s always easier to reach an objective we like. Sometimes it’s better to sit back and re-evaluate our life goals. We can often discover something that allows us to enjoy ourselves and at the same time make a positive contribution to society.

When I related this story to one of my clients, she said, “Well, there’s even more to be learned here. Bandit knows he’ll get the reward when he’s done his job. In other words, the objective is attainable. We can lose interest quickly if an objective is out of reach.”

How often have we made our daily list of a million things to do and then felt depressed at the end of the day when so many things remained undone? It’s good to stretch ourselves, but progress most often comes in small steps. When we started training Bandit to stay, we were only inches away from him. Now we can walk out of sight and he sits until called.

I’m watching my dog even more closely than ever. He’s becoming one of the best business coaches I’ve ever had. I never know when he’s going to surprise me with one of his lessons. Although he’s just pointing me to concepts I’ve embraced before, he’s there to remind me of them in the same way that even the best professional athletes have their coaches.

Throughout nearly 30 years of business starting in 1967, Don Coggan has held positions ranging from sales engineer to general manager to business owner. Since early 1996, he has been providing bilingual Internet business consulting services throughout the US and Canada to clients in the private and public sectors. He can be reached by e-mail at or at Nafta Technology Trading Inc.

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