Chapter 1: Keep on learning
Sherri McArdle was the “last holdout” in her family when it came time to get a dog. She was a busy working mom who knew that owning a pet meant training, expense, hard work and a huge time commitment. Eventually her husband and two children convinced her they’d all chip in and help, and before she knew it, Scout, an adorable Bichon Frise, became a full-fledged member of their household. Unfortunately, Scout began to take charge. The proof was in the pee, which Sherri found evidence of around the house. She called in an expert to help out, a dog-trainer named Bob. Bob’s diagnosis came as a shock to Sherri, who had spent most of her adult life as a business leadership consultant: Sherri was having leadership problems with her dog. To fix this, she would have to learn some “new tricks.”
Enter Frank, a highly-respected businessman at the top of a 30-year career who suddenly found himself in a new position where he needed to prove his worth all over again. Frank’s reputation wasn’t going to be enough to hold off the growing list of critics who thought he couldn’t perform in his new position. Frank realized he was going to have to make some changes in the way he worked and learn some new skills if he was going to survive. He rose to the challenge and learned that even in the late stages of a career a person can grow, contribute, and make a difference.
Chapter 2: Earning credibility
Sherri’s friend BJ works with abandoned dogs. To succeed at a job like this she needed to set some specific rules with her dogs and make sure they obeyed them. BJ required her dogs to master only four simple tasks: “Sit,” “stay,” “down,” and “don’t go into the street.” It may sound easy, but BJ had to constantly reinforce these rules and earn credibility among her dogs every day to ensure they didn’t waver. If only Brad had learned a similar lesson in his job.
Tim, the CEO of a successful company, recruited Brad to lead his manufacturing division. Unfortunately, Brad began by setting some bad examples. He had a habit of telling people what to do without listening to them. He made snap decisions. He didn’t think long-term. Perhaps worst of all, he pretended to know things he didn’t really know. All these shortcomings added up to serious credibility problems among the people he was supposed to lead. When word got back to Tim, Tim tried to help Brad overcome these issues, but Brad never really admitted he had a problem. In the end, Tim had no choice but to let Brad go. Brad couldn’t see that earning credibility was not only important but essential to success at every level.
Chapter 3: Have a plan to achieve your goals
When one of Joe’s Boxers suddenly died, that left Chester, the other Boxer, without his best friend. Joe immediately noticed a change in Chester’s behavior. A normally robust and loving dog, Chester seemed exhausted all the time. A dog trainer suggested Joe put a video camera in the house to find out what Chester was doing during the day. Joe was surprised to learn that Chester was walking around the house non-stop, until he would literally collapse from exhaustion. Chester was looking for his lost friend and suffering from a form of separation anxiety. Joe needed to give Chester a “new job,” which in this case involved a plastic ball that contained a hidden treat, so that Chester would not dwell on the loss of his friend all day long. Eventually the experiment began to show positive results.
Stuart was also in a job that needed some new guidelines. Bruce, a vice president, was Stu’s boss and good friend. But Bruce was disappointed in Stu’s inability to adjust to his job, and things grew to the point where both men were frustrated. Bruce had a long list of responsibilities he wanted Stu to take on, including developing accurate reports, delegating more work, learning presentation skills and being more accountable for what was happening in his department. It was a daunting list, but Stu really wanted to take on these new tasks. He knew that he was exhausting himself trying to do other people’s work, or do his work without the proper and necessary skills. Together, Bruce and Stu set up some new goals and guidelines, and before long, they too began to see some positive changes.
Chapter 4: Align your role with your top talents
It shocked Sherri when she first heard Scout sing. It was during her son’s bar mitzvah, with 25 people crowded around the dining-room table. As they began to chant their traditional prayers, Scout decided he would join in “with full, passionate howls.” He made quite an impression. Sherri was amazed that Scout displayed this new talent and couldn’t help but wonder how many other hidden talents her dog might possess.
Talent, however, can be a fickle friend. Just ask Beth. Beth had been a talented and dedicated Information Technology (IT) manager for fifteen years; however, a recent leadership assessment had revealed a number of unexpected weaknesses in her performance. Beth felt as if her boss, Colleen, was judging her unfairly because Colleen had raised the expectations for Beth in her position. So Beth found herself in a tough spot. She first needed to find out if she had the necessary skills to meet these new expectations, and then she needed to decide if she wanted to meet them. After carefully charting out her strengths and weaknesses, Beth learned that although she had plenty of talents, maybe they weren’t the ones Colleen needed in an IT manager. Beth decided that she might be happier applying her talents to a brand new job.
Chapter 5: Choose Your Boss
Is it possible, or even realistic, to actually choose your boss in today’s business world? Not only is it possible, but it may be one of the most important choices people make when it comes to career happiness. Patrick had been working for Jill and things hadn’t been going well. They’d never really developed a good rapport. Their personalities clashed. Patrick realized that if he was ever going to find joy in his work again, he might have to take a step backward in title and salary to work for someone he really admired and respected. For Patrick, the trade-off was worth the risk.
Terry, a young man in advertising, also needed to take some risks. She picked her dream job working for a man she’d always admired. Collin, too, changed his career path when he decided the ultimate experience in high-powered, public service would be to work for a legislator he respected in Washington. It was a giant step in the right direction.
Making life-changing choices may also extend to the animal kingdom. Milo was an irresistible, brown-eyed mutt who decided to choose his own family. Milo had escaped from his temporary dog shelter one night and found Steve and Alice, an unsuspecting couple in his neighborhood, who had no intention of adopting a dog. But once Milo worked his way onto their porch, he was only a few short steps away from working his way into their hearts and lives.
Chapter 6: Managing your emotions
Bailey was a Black Labrador and Maggie was a gentle Collie. Their owner, Sharon, would occasionally gate them in the laundry room. Bailey suddenly began acting lethargic. She stopped eating and drinking. When Sharon took Bailey to the vet, she discovered that Bailey had eaten the cotton rug in the laundry room. Bailey was the alpha dog of the house. She was selfish and would sometimes steal Maggie’s food and toys. She was more excitable. But eating the rug was a new one. Bailey had definitely lost a little emotional control.
Pete discovered that he also had some emotional control issues. One day he “blew up” at his boss, Ray, after Ray committed to yet another impossible deadline for one of their clients. The explosion had been coming on for a long time, Pete realized, because he’d let a lot of issues at work build up and hadn’t really confronted Ray about any of them. Pete understood that the anger he displayed was just the tip of the iceberg, and he and Ray needed to sit down and work some things through.
Laurie, a finance manager, had a similar problem and breakthrough. A leadership assessment revealed that her hard management style and negative feedback to her team were really hurting her best people. She had lost their respect. This was an epiphany for her. She needed to get her emotions in check. Laurie learned that she was going to have to confront some serious issues she didn’t want to deal with if she was going to move forward and succeed.
Chapter 7: Get and give more feedback
Sherri learned from Bob (her dog-trainer) that she had only three seconds to correct Scout’s bad behavior. Any longer than that and Scout would not be able to associate the action with the correction. This led Sherri to a whole new level of understanding and training with Scout. She learned that verbal, physical and emotional energy could all be used to effectively teach Scout what she wanted him to learn, and Scout would respond positively and enthusiastically to all these methods.
Sherri and Scout worked hard at their feedback training with Bob as their guide. Scout, ever enthusiastic, really seemed to want to learn and please Sherri, and Sherri really wanted to be a good leader. Sherri discovered that she needed to work at improving the quality of her feedback to make sure that she delivered the correct messages to Scout at the proper times. When she got it right, the experience was incredibly rewarding.
Chapter 8: Pssssssssst… connect!
Sherri’s friend BJ, who works with abandoned dogs, is passionate and spiritual about her connection to animals. She spoke to Sherri of her love and respect for dogs. She spoke of how much she appreciated their physical presence, and how much she had learned from them. BJ’s dogs taught her that “the brain uses language and the heart uses feelings to communicate.” They taught her how to respect and pay attention to her own soul. They taught her how to connect honestly with the world.
Alfonzo was an engineering project manager trying to connect with his boss, Suzanne. To work through their communications problems, they needed to come together in a “coaching session” and talk things out. But Alfonzo, who was generally a warm and friendly person, bristled and became standoffish in Suzanne’s presence. Communicating at any level under these circumstances was going to be a problem.
When Alfonzo and Suzanne were finally able to talk, they both learned some important and enlightening things about themselves and each other. Some of their problems were personal. Suzanne learned that sometimes she made Alfonzo feel unimportant, and Alfonzo learned that he often made Suzanne feel like an outsider on her own team. There were many obstacles they would need to overcome, but they’d finally made a connection, and it was a solid foundation upon which they were both determined to build.
Chapter 9: If you want fewer conflicts, have more of them
Not very many people enjoy conflict at work. In fact, most people will go a long way to avoid it. But sometimes conflict can be good. One of Ben’s best-performing managers, Michelle, had suddenly stopped producing for him because of a leadership issue at work. This led to a simmering conflict between the two that went on for a long time without resolution. Neither of them really wanted to confront it. Because of their reluctance, the wounds never healed, and they couldn’t move forward together.
Priscilla and Emily, on the other hand, experienced a similar problem, but because they were willing to hash it out, they were able to confront the issue and work toward a resolution. They found that confronting conflict, when handled appropriately, could be a good experience and produce positive results.
There was once an Otter Hound that was always looking for a fight. He didn’t like any humans other than his owner and was quick to threaten strangers. Bob (Sherri’s dog-trainer) used some interesting techniques called “behavioral interrupts” in training the dog to reframe his mind when humans approached him. The Otter Hound eventually learned how to turn that natural aggression into friendliness and appreciate the human beings who crossed his path. Yes, dogs can learn from conflict too!
Chapter 10: Enhance your clarity
Jim dedicated much of his life’s work to prison ministry. He was clear, honest, and straight-talking. The prisoners respected him. A prisoner could spot a phony from miles away, and Jim was no phony. Over the course of his very challenging ministry, Jim had learned that honesty was the one quality that could conquer anything, even the most hardened criminals.
Carol needed to be honest too. She was early in her business development when Sherri met her. Carol was clear in that she wanted more than anything to succeed in her own new consulting business, but she wasn’t so clear in how to handle the emotional eruptions that went along with the ups and downs of a very personal, high-risk venture. Carol needed to learn how to handle these challenges so that she wouldn’t scare away her clients. With some expert guidance, persistence and recognition, Carol learned, among other things, that she could be high-octane without being lethal.
Chapter 11: Focus and finish
Dogs can be high-focus, high-intensity animals. Witness the Boxer in Hawaii that had learned how to open coconuts. The dog would pull the rugged exterior off a coconut, piece by piece, until he exposed its shell, and then he’d work for hours at cracking it open. It would take him all day until he finally released the delicious milk that waited to reward him for his efforts.
But in the realm of determination, it doesn’t get any better than Kenny. Kenny was a young man whose brain simply wasn’t mapped out like everyone else’s. Kenny’s school system labeled him “learning disabled.” He was the slowest kid in the slowest class. His mental math skills were so bad he couldn’t even play cards. And yet he was reading at a college level in elementary school and had the science skills to match. No one gave up on Kenny (least of all Kenny). The doctors worked with him in diagnosing his problem and offering solutions. Although there would be no such thing as a cure for Kenny, he never gave up fighting his way through school, until he finally earned his degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology and landed a job at DEKA Corporation, one of the premier engineering firms in the country.
Chapter 12: Ruby spins
And why not? She loves life more than any dog Sherri has ever met. This amazing little Toy Poodle survived a vicious attack from an Akita. The Akita had such a tight grip on her head that one of Jewel’s eyes popped out of its socket. Fortunately, the eye was saved, and so was Ruby. The attack did nothing to diminish Ruby’s spirit. To this day, whenever she sees a dog on the street, she gets so excited she spins around in circles and lies down flat on her back as if to say, “Love me!” Of course, everyone does. Ruby knew instinctively how to celebrate life.
Paul knew how to celebrate too. He was the leader of an extremely successful advertising agency, and he freely admitted that one of his main secrets to success was in knowing how to party. Paul had learned that, in advertising, people were often pushed to the brink, sometimes working around the clock to deliver superior work under impossible deadlines. He came to understand that rewarding people wasn’t about throwing money at them, it was about making people feel special, and no one knew how to do that better than Paul. He used things like “carrot bonuses” and “Muffin Meetings” and “President Awards” to keep people motivated. He didn’t hold any celebration back when it came to rewarding his people for a job well-done. As a result, his special brand of celebration fostered even higher achievement.
Chapter 13: Become an encouraging presence
Scout’s energy is boundless. Bichons have earned a reputation as being social animals, always ready to give and take affection. Scout’s encouraging presence got Sherri thinking about what effect she might be having on her family as well as the people she worked with. She took a hard look at how she interacted with everyone within her sphere of influence, and she decided that she was going to concentrate on making meaningful connections and giving people more positive experiences. Over a two-year period, as Sherri worked on this, she noticed that she was smiling and relaxing more, and so were the people around her. Problems were becoming less threatening and more solvable. She was in control of her emotions. Sherri was making a positive difference in people’s lives.
One of the most encouraging people Sherri had ever met was the incredible Father Ray. Father Ray had an amazing memory. He remembered names, anniversaries and important dates of the people in his church. He made positive connections with every person he met. He always had time to talk to people. When Father Ray started out, his church was on the verge of bankruptcy. Instead of saving every penny, he decided to tithe money to the poor. With that kind of optimism, his church grew from 150 members to more than 3,000. Father Ray didn’t need any encouragement himself—he had plenty of his own to go around for everyone.
Chapter 14: Find your knack for leadership
Sherri’s dog Scout challenged her leadership every chance he got. Take, for example, bath-time. It seemed to take Sherri forever to get him into the sink, where he’d fuss and fight the whole time he was getting bathed. Sherri knew she must reassert her authority every time Scout needed a bath. She had to mentally prepare herself for battle. She couldn’t afford to doubt her self-confidence.
Karen needed a good dose of self-confidence too. She was in a new position that required her to supervise 30 people. This was a lot more responsibility than she had ever taken on. Within a few months, Karen began to doubt whether she was right for the job. Her main problem seemed to be her soft management style. She was trying too hard to be nice to everyone all the time. Although this often made her popular, it didn’t always make her as effective as she could be. Her performance flagged, and she began to fear she might be fired. Karen needed to learn that sometimes being a leader meant getting tough and making hard decisions. She realized that she wanted to be a leader more than anything else, so she committed to making small changes one day at a time, and fighting to find her knack for leadership.
Chapter 15: Become change-able
Ethan, a newly-appointed vice president at a large corporation, was challenged to convince his managers to change their mindsets. Ethan wanted to convert their customer service branches from individual stand-alone offices (servicing clients solely in their regions) to thinking like a team and sharing work across the country. He had no idea what a challenge this was going to be. He met with resistance from almost every corner. Ethan had to work hard to convince his people that change wasn’t easy, but it was often necessary to stay alive and compete in an ever-changing marketplace.
Chapter 16: Find meaning in your work
Passion may be found in many strange places—yes, even in dogs. Logan was a long-haired Collie who earned the title of Champion from The Collie Club of America in 1999. He also had a knack for making meaningful connections with everyone he met. His owners, Myron and Vicki, learned early on that Logan loved everything he did with an astounding passion. He loved training and competing. He loved going for walks in the neighborhood. He loved people and made everyone in his life feel special. This is an important part of happiness that people often forget in the hustle and bustle of tending to their daily lives: a lesson that Logan seemed uniquely qualified to teach people.
When the man who swept the floors at NASA was asked what he did for a living, he replied, “I sent a man to the moon.” Here was a man who knew how to find meaning in his work! But what happens to people who can no longer make meaningful connections at work, when they don’t feel empowered to change or improve their situations? This was the problem facing Sherri’s friend Ted, who spent years building a successful law practice, only to discover that he no longer had time to practice law, which was once his passion. And Keisha, who had lost her enthusiasm for managing her department, a job she once loved. Ted and Keisha needed to break through the “organizational static” in their jobs and remember why they loved to work.
Chapter 17: Develop a great relationship with your boss
Adam and Carrie adopted Jack, their German Shepherd, from a shelter in Washington, DC. Adam was determined to teach Jack some “house rules” and train him right from the start to follow those rules. Adam was astounded at how quickly Jack learned and how eager his dog was to follow commands. Over time, they developed a bond based on mutual respect and trust.
Jim added a dog to his family twelve years ago. He was a reluctant dog-owner at first. His daughter Kristin begged for one, and his wife Mary supported her efforts. Jim felt a little blind-sided when he came home from work one day to find a Golden Retriever puppy sitting in his kitchen. But the puppy immediately fell in love with Jim, and Jim found it impossible not to return the dog’s affection. Jim gave her the name Terra, and once he opened his heart to her they bonded for life.
Ross and Victor needed to work on their trust and respect on the job. Ross had worked for Victor for two years when they got involved in a high-level project. As the pressure mounted and some of the people Ross depended on weren’t delivering as promised, Victor took it out on Ross. These two men needed to learn how to handle each other’s personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and how to find the common ground of mutual trust and respect so they could accomplish their goals. Because they both recognized the problem and were determined to work on it, success was just around the corner.
Chapter 18: A secret about leaders.they’re not very good at developing people
David received feedback from his Human Resources department and his team that he wasn’t spending enough time teaching, coaching, and developing his people. The feedback surprised David and worked as a wake-up call for him. Over the next year he worked hard on getting and giving a lot more feedback, and he created a developmental atmosphere among his people. Their response was amazingly positive. He was able to turn around the attitude in his department, increase productivity and create a more optimistic work environment.
Karen had dogs growing up, but Ken was a cat person. She needed to convince Ken that he’d love having a dog around the house. When Ken finally agreed to get a dog, they chose Blaze, an Australian Shepherd, because he seemed so calm. But Blaze soon presented a challenge to them. He cried whenever they put him in his crate, he misbehaved during obedience class, and he challenged their authority at every turn. Karen had grown up with dogs that misbehaved, and she was determined not to let it happen to her again. She didn’t consider herself much of a leader, but she realized that she had talked Ken into allowing a dog into their home, and if she was going to be a responsible dog-owner, she was going to have to take Blaze on as a development project and turn things around. She was hopeful and determined to do it right.
Chapter 19: Re-pacing yourself at work
Sherri loved walking Scout, or at least she thought she did, until she learned that Scout was actually walking her. Scout was outpacing her and constantly tugging at his leash. Not only were they both coming home frustrated and exhausted, but Scout’s lead-pulling was putting pressure on his neck, compressing his nerves, and potentially contributing to glaucoma. It was an unhealthy way to walk, and Sherri knew that things would have to change. She asked Bob, her dog-trainer, to give her some lessons on how to “re-pace” Scout. As Sherri and Scout learned new ways to walk together (instead of separately), their walks slowly became a lot more pleasurable for both of them.
Chapter 20: Is it time to move on?
Roxie was a ten-year-old German Shepherd-hound mix who had developed cancer. Over six months, Roxie survived two difficult surgeries and recoveries, but the tumor in her stomach refused to go away. Roxie was a loving dog that never showed the pain and suffering she must have certainly been feeling. Finally, Gary, Roxie’s owner and a respected physician, knew he would have to heed the vet’s advice and put Roxie down. It was time for both Gary and Roxie to move on. Although as a doctor Gary had helped many of his patients make some difficult life and death decisions, he had never been faced with a tough decision that touched him as closely as this one. Accepting that responsibility for Roxie helped Gary become a more sensitive, caring physician.
When is it time to move on at work? Leaving a company is not exactly a life and death decision, but it can feel like one. Sam had been managing the same department for more than fifteen years. While the department was growing, Sam seemed to be stuck. Morale was down, and he wasn’t managing the work as well as he once had. Sam realized he needed to ask himself some hard questions about whether he wanted to stay in his job or try something else. When he sat down with his boss Rick to have it out, together they came to the decision that it was time for Sam to move on to a different position within the company. Sam really wanted to try something new that would re-energize him. Sam and Rick were both happy they were able to work it out.
Chapter 21: Why dogs wag their tails
Finally, the authors answer the question posed in the book’s title.
Watching a happy dog wag its tail does wonders for the human soul. A happy dog radiates joy. You can see it in the way it shivers with excitement. You can see it in the way its entire body pitches from side to side from the sheer force of its thrashing tail. You can see the sparkle in its eyes.
A dog’s tail—a length of seven tightly corded muscles gripping a string of tiny bones—is a remarkable thing. A dog can control it like a precision instrument. Nowadays, most dog experts agree that dogs use tail-wagging to send social signals, to communicate a wide range of emotions to humans and other dogs.
When a dog is by itself, it will not wag its tail at any lifeless thing. This is one indication that tail-wagging is meant as communication or language. In the same way that we don’t talk to walls, dogs don’t wag their tails to things that can’t respond in some way.
Dogs may also be trying to tell us very important things when they wag their tails, like their rank within a social order. Dominant dogs can be aggressive wagers; low-ranking dogs often begin a new exchange with their tails between their legs, wagging just a little.
The wag of a tail carries plenty of subtleties in meaning. A brief, swift tail wag may indicate a moment of recognition, as if the dog was saying, “Hey, I remember you.” A slow wag of the tail may reflect a dog’s uncertainty or confusion. When a dog holds its tail up and curved, it’s an expression of dominance. The tail held down, near the hind legs, is a gesture of insecurity. Short, fast strokes may mean aggression or fear.
Whatever the message, dogs connect with a world that connects back, and they rarely do it with complete integrity and with every expectation that fun is just around the corner. That not a bad model for us all.