Career Lessons From ... A Dog?

Career lessons from pets: Marty Nemko and Einstein
You can learn career lessons from books, professors, and mentors. But from ... a dog? Yes, here's what I discovered when I adopted my dog Einstein. After rejecting a pound-full of scary and/or ugly curs, I came upon an white bundle of cuteness and sweetness. He kept pawing on the cage, "Take me! Take me out!"

Normally, I virtually deify intelligence, but at that moment I ignored the experts' urging that, before adopting, I assess a dog's trainability. That sweet cutie was mine. Career lesson: Look your best and be as nice as possible. Those may matter more than your competence, alas.

I was soon to understand why his previous owner threw such a cute doggie over the fence into the pound in the middle of the night. Experts say dogs are more secure if left in a crate when being left alone. I didn't like the idea of caging my baby, so I left Einstein in a room with the door closed but with access to the backyard. I returned to find him having destroyed the carpet next to the door: He had spent the hours trying to dig his way under the door so that he could escape from his "crate." Career lesson: Take even consensus expert advice with at least one grain of salt.

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Within a week, Einstein had eaten my glasses, a bottle of my medication (I had to get his stomach pumped), and one morning when I opened the door to get the newspaper, he snuck out and took off down the street. In my T-shirt, shorts and slippers, I raced after him. Two blocks later, he's sauntering up the freeway ramp with me in hot pursuit. Fortunately, traffic was stopped on the freeway and I yelled "open the door." because I knew Einstein (his name is obviously false advertising) loves being in a car and perhaps he'd jump in. Fortunately someone did and Einstein did. Career lesson: New employees may need close supervision.

Two weeks after I adopted him, I had to go out of town for a day. I figured Einstein would be more secure if left at home than in a kennel, and with the doggie door to the backyard, and plenty of food and water, he'd be OK. Wrong. When I returned, the house looked like it had suffered a 7.0 earthquake. The poor baby was terrified that I wouldn't come back. Career lesson: Be gradual in giving your employees autonomy.

I read training advice from Cesar's Way to Barbara Woodhouse's No Bad Dogs. Alas, she hadn't met Einstein. Despite using clickers, treat-rewards, gentle tones, firm tones, everything short of a stun gun, Einstein remained a, ahem, free spirit. He just can't restrain himself from pulling on the leash when he sees a bird he'd love to devour or a tree on which he'd like to pee. But after a month of trying to be the Dog Whisperer, I decided that good enough is good enough. Einstein walks reasonably well on a leash and he comes when called, well, usually. Taking dog training classes and/or hiring a professional trainer felt like more work and expense than the benefit would yield. And now, five years later, while some might say that Einstein has trained me as much as I've trained him, I don't regret deciding that good is good enough. Career lesson: The perfect is the enemy of the good. There may be more important uses of your time and money.

More: What Your First Job Can Teach You About Succeeding Today

Einstein is my receptionist. When a client arrives, he's greeted with an enthusiasm that no human receptionist could match. (Of course, I'm not sure that most human receptionists would want to kiss everyone who walked in the door.) Einstein often then races around my home/office, giving a whole new meaning to the term "lap dog." One time, a rather stuffy client was waiting in the living room as Einstein did his lap. Along the way, Einstein pulled a piece of my underwear from the hamper and proudly brought it in to show the client. While I was embarrassed, I managed to make a joke: "Every new client gets a free piece of my underwear." Instead of my having lost all credibility with the client, he laughed and we got off to a good start. Career lesson: Often, the antidote to a screw-up is humor.

Oh, one more career lesson. See if you can get your boss to allow pets in the workplace. It can improve office culture and even productivity. Owners are allowed to bring dogs to work in the U.S. Congress. If it's good enough for Congress, it should be good enough for your workplace.


Benefits of Bringing Your Pet to Work


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