Six months ago, my husband and I welcomed a cute little chocolate Lab puppy named Buddy into our home.

During this time, I have gotten outside more, walked more, and rescued multiple pairs of shoes from his ever-more-powerful jaws.

But Buddy has also taught me a lot about dealing with people in a business setting.

Now, some people might find it insulting to think that the behavior management techniques used on our canine friends work well on our colleagues, bosses, or associates. But they do.

When you think about it, it’s not so much about control, but about finding common ground to live and work together in harmony.  Here are three lessons I’ve learned from Buddy.

Understand the dog—er, associate. 

To understand is to observe, question and research. Try to find out why they behave the way they do: what motivates, what scares, what brings them joy. In Buddy’s case, food is a big motivator. So is attention. When he grabs a shoe or something else he isn’t supposed to have, he may want to play or he needs to go out or he’s tired.  When coworkers, bosses, or other associates ignore or resist our ideas, it’s easy to respond with anger and wallow in discontent. Taking the time to understand their “why” can make a big difference. Even if you don’t like the answer, it gives you information to help decide your next step.

Be clear about what you want—and aim for accountability.  

Many bad outcomes happen because we aren’t clear about what we want to happen. With Buddy, we have to give consistent, clear commands so he understands what we want him to do.  As my husband reminds me, when we want the Buddy to come to us, we have to clearly say his name, say the command and then correct when he chooses not to do it.  The same holds true at work.  As a boss—or even as a teammate—you get better results when you address someone individually. Then be very clear about what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and what the expectations are for the result.

Acknowledging the good job gets you farther.

It is so tempting to yell at Buddy when he grabs my glasses and runs around the dining room with them.  But hollering just agitates him more. Sometimes we have to distract him with a higher value object, like a chew toy. Or we’ll take a firmer hand and add a leash. But when he does what we want, we lavish him with praise. Screaming at a co-worker, your boss, or your staff only demotivates, or worse, instills fear or anger. If an outcome isn’t what you expected, take the time to explain what didn’t work and what needs to happen. Make sure your team has the resources to make it happen and establish guardrails if needed. Then, provide specific directions for reworking or fixing the assignment.

And when folks do a good job, tell them and thank them for it. Out of respect for your associates and their work, it’s just the right thing to do. It has a nice side benefit of making people feel proud and valued. It instills loyalty. And, besides, you just can’t ever say thank you enough.

It’s About The Relationship

The bottom line is that living with a dog is about building a relationship. Forging that relationship requires a desire to understand and be understood; a commitment to clarity and accountability, guidance to correct less than stellar performance, and appropriate acknowledgment and praise of a job well done.

It’s not at all unlike the essential elements to building the strong, respectful, and trusting relationships that generate success in the workplace.

What do you think?