Everything I Know about Business I Learned from My Pet

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

So, you taught your dog to catch a Frisbee and your parrot to squawk "Loser!" when your brother walks into the room. Well done.

The rewards of animal training are many -- ranging from the obvious advantages of a puddle-free house to the potential 15 minutes of "stupid pet trick" fame on Letterman.  

But it goes both ways. Our pets also model valuable behaviors worth emulating, such as loyalty, trust and affection. Are you learning, Teacher? 

Consider what pet traits are worth following and which demand avoidance in the workplace. Here are a few....

Old dogs can -- and should -- learn new tricks

Balancing a salad crouton on your nose might not impress your superiors, but updating your accounting skills to better balance the books might. Job security is often tied to adaptability. Jumping hoops is unnecessary, but growing your skill set to stay in step with industry trends is highly advised. 

Social media has opened up new career possibilities for forward thinkers. What will be next? 

No one is going to stand there holding a salary raise above that online class brochure or networking seminar. It's up to you to picture the potential rewards of learning -- and doingsomething new.

Friendly greetings and eye contact are key

Like your sociable pooch, sometimes you need to get up close and personal (but no sniffing). Say “hi” in person when possible. Answer emails. Check in by phone with key colleagues and clients. Bark wildly when unfamiliar people pass your cubicle (Not really. Just seeing if you're paying attention. But feel free to “tweet” when appropriate.)

LinkedIn and Facebook make it possible to do more with less, but don’t minimize the value of face-to-face contact via local networking communities. 

At after hours meet-ups do remember that social and business can be blended, but never blurred. Fetch contacts, not notoriety.

Leave the quick change to the real chameleons

A chameleon's skin cells open and close in response to light, temperature and mood changes. The reflected pigment can change from green to brown or gray in as little as 20 seconds. 

Kind of like the time Sharon loved your email campaign at lunch and then echoed Ed’s negative comments at the staff meeting that afternoon. Respect Sharon much?

It's fun to watch a chameleon change colors. But, in the working world, random changes are unprofessional. Be sincere and be consistent. Own your ideas and opinions.


Give a dog a bone ... not catnip

While monetary rewards are praise enough for most, bosses don't generally hand out Ben Franklins on a daily basis. It's long-term inspiration that best bolsters morale and builds successes. 

Catnip won't galvanize a dog. Similarly a juicy bone won't set your parrot's heart aflutter. And even within species, some will respond more readily to a scratch on the head over a treat or toy reward. 

Think of your co-workers and staff as individuals. Whether you offer verbal praise, lunch, or a well-worded recommendation on LinkedIn, reward the positive in ways that encourage more of the same.

Keep incentives within reach

Placing a bowl of your finest kibble on the counter will only feed the most determined and creative dog. Likewise, stashing gerbil food in the fridge for your mini-rodent to self-serve from isn’t going to keep him fat and furry.

So why doesn’t the coffee shop keep loyalty cards where customers can reach them? And where is the contact number on the sportswear website? Procuring order forms and carryout menus shouldn’t require detective work.

Make it easy to be your customer to create -- and keep -- long-term clients.

To be sure you’re heard, bark less

"Oh boy! It's the garbage truck/neighbor kid/15th time I've barked in the last minute!" Within 15seconds, you're either fuming at the negligent dog owner or have totally tuned out the canine chatter.

It's the same in the office: "Yum, roasted soy nuts!" "Sure is cold/wet/boring out there today!" "Another email!" "Hmm..." 

Psst: Your 15 seconds are up. When you get to, “Let’s consider switching out our newsletter format in favor of…” they won’t hear you. A conversation about Nothing was funnier when Seinfeld did it and will only lessen your impact. Keep your credibility. No yipping.


Sometimes an accident is no accident

Accidents happen. Hopefully, not on the carpet. Or to your pet project (couldn't resist). But shoe chewing? That's a message. So is "forgetting" to inform you about a key meeting or spilling unflattering office gossip. 

Passive aggressive behaviors won't diminish with in-kind responses. With clear incidents of sabotage, first try clearing the air with the Career Chewer to unearth the root of the problem.

Sometimes the simple act of exposure will be enough to end the actions. If not, that's what HR is for. Keep records and share them if necessary.

Cats and dogs don't always see eye to eye

Each worker has a role in the office. (We're not entirely sure what Doug's doing over there in supplies, but he's on the flow chart and the copier has paper, so let it go.) You won't click with everyone. And here's shocking news: Your natural canine tendencies may rankle co-workers with feline or avian preferences. 

Respect functions within the office microcosm in spite of nasal voices, off-key elevator humming and misguided team affiliations. It's work, so make it work. And if they don't like you? Recognize it as a get-out-of-jail free the next time there is mention of a home jewelry party.

Some animals don't play well with others

Someone will undoubtedly make a case for the alligator on a leash, the raccoon with a litter box and the backyard bear, but most will agree that there are animals and certain slithery reptiles that simply aren't suitable pets.

Sometimes an employee simply isn't a "fit" for the job he has landed in. Whatever the reason for the mismatch, it will strain patience and adversely affect productivity. If the square peg can't be trained into cylindrical shape, let it go.

Unless the cubicles display signs listing the diet and Latin name for each department, keeping the untrainable is bad business.

Sometimes the alpha dogs are 'fraidy cats inside

Intimidating personalities are akin to growling dogs or puffed up lizards. The great green iguana can self-inflate to present a more imposing profile, but when faced head on, appears compressed and thin like a successful and cranky dieter. 

Lesson? Respect your co-workers, but respect yourself too. Blustering, self-important people are self-inflaters. Don't allow appearances to deceive or dishearten you. 

Larry from legal might know everyone in the courthouse, but he still puts his pants on one leg at a time (and doesn't match them very well to his shirts, we might add... if we were catty).

Good dogs don't do drama

A healthy parakeet won't mope if its owner opts to play classical Vivaldi when it was really more in the mood for some smooth Pat Metheny tunes. 
A beagle wouldn't hold a grudge if its bed were moved closer to accounting to facilitate collaboration.

Emotionally healthy people keep the drama on their DVR. They don't saturate tissues in a corner of the break room insisting they're "fine." 

No snarling or sulking at the office, please. Spare the staff and save it for Dr. Phil.

Persistence pays off

Ever tried to not play with a Labrador? Or walked away from a hungry cat? The dog will follow, nudge and gift you with soggy chew toys. Cats will implore with heart wrenching meows until the house smells like tuna fish again. 

So why not try just a little harder with that creative brainchild of yours? Can you rework it to fit the current business environment? Who could help you define the technical parameters?

If it's good, don't quit too soon. We don't recommend dropping grimy tennis balls into your boss's office, but your idea might be worth another chat over a cup of coffee.

Confine your mess

When a cat goes rogue on litter box use, it's unpleasant for everyone. And most pet owners don't feed their lizards in the living room (mealworms and crickets are much better suited to a private dining experience).

Same for the workplace. An employee who leaves a stack of folders on the floor outside his cubicle so he won't clutter his own desktop falls in the same etiquette-free zone as the dog owner who fiddles with her cell phone while ignoring Fifi's ministrations next to the neighbor's mailbox. 

Tigger's takeaway: Don't let your clutter or messy habits infringe on others.

Kernels from the kennel

A few basic lessons from the animal kingdom could greatly improve human relations in the workplace. Pet principles often work because they're stripped of human bias and rely solely on cause and consequence. A pet rabbit won't cling to last month's snub and read hidden messages into a late alfalfa delivery. And, for the most part, neither should you.

Sometimes, it may feel like a zoo, but your office is more like a team of sled dogs pulling toward a common goal. Think of this image during your next staff presentation. It beats imagining Bill in his boxers and may help you focus on how to better lead the pack.