Dogs and Coaching

Magda Walczak  •  Jul 11, 2018  •  10 min read

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Dogs and Coaching

It’s my birthday today so I get to talk about what I love, and what I love is dogs! That’s right – pups, puppos, doggos, woofers – dogs. The best creatures on the planet, in my opinion. But I’m not completely crazy (yet). This is a website dedicated to leadership development and coaching, so let’s talk about dogs in that context.

Below you’ll find three anecdotes about dogs and coaching:

  1. How my pup Saylor coached me through a tough time in my life
  2. Ram’s (Coacharya Founder) experience coaching a dog who adopted him and his wife
  3. Yogesh’s (Mastery Learner) Eureka coaching moment when taking care of (ridiculously adorable!) puppies

Dogs are amazing in so many ways. This blog is just one way that we can learn from them.

And because it’s my birthday, here’s my birthday wish – take care of our furry friends. I know we differ in how we interact with animals across the globe, but treating pets with kindness should transcend cultures. They give us so much love in return! And pretty please spay and neuter your pets so less animals end up homeless, in shelters or put down. Thank you world!

Saylor, My Hero

By Magda Walczak

Saylor entered my life during a time of physical and emotional turmoil. He was two years old and judging by his limp, scars and inability to “speak,” he had it really tough before. Yet from the moment we met, he was nothing by happy and trusting towards me.

In the first few weeks we had together, he was my strength as I recovered from surgery and my inspiration to not give up on life. See, I was in a really bad relationship with a person who made me feel worthless. To say that I felt alone and lost is a gross understatement. In retrospect, there were many things I could have done differently to make life better, but I didn’t do those things. What I did do is start talking to this sweet new creature who shared my home.

I would talk to Saylor when went on walks or when we sat in the backyard and watched squirrels play in the trees. I’d talk to him on the drive to work (I was lucky to work at a dog friendly office then) or when watching TV. Since he’s a dog, he didn’t talk back, at least not in words. But he did communicate.

He knew when to keep eye contact and when to nudge me with his nose for a snuggle. He walked away when he knew I needed to be alone and he gave me kisses when I cried. He’d lean against me when I needed comfort. Most of all, he reacted to my rants with sighs, glances or by closing his eyes at just the right moment to make me say, “You’re right. This is what I should do.” Basically, he listened and he did it well. And isn’t listening half of coaching?

Like I said above, I’m not completely crazy. I know that Saylor didn’t comprehend everything I was saying and he didn’t have measured reactions that seemed so appropriate at the time. As a dog, what he does do is sense emotions and react instinctively. Which is so much better than having a “measured reaction,” isn’t it?

It was Saylor’s support and unconditional love for me that got me through those tough times. If a creature as wonderful as Saylor chose to love me, surely I’m worth something, right? Slowly, but surely, my self confidence grew back, with Saylor as my rock.

And his confidence grew, too. Everyone who met him fell in love just like I did. Eventually he gained back his voice, but he now saves his woofs for when we’re in real peril – like when he chases chipmunks.

Saylor has inspired me in countless ways and he does his bit to inspire others and help other dogs too. He’s the hero of a children’s book, Saylor’s Tale, the aim of which is to teach kids about responsibilities of having a dog. If we all know a bit more, maybe we can lower the number of dogs that need rescuing in the first place?

Seven years later, Saylor and I are still two peas in a pod. We’re just a girl and a dog, happy together, forever and ever.

Coaching a Dog

By Ram Ramanathan

Shangu is a mongrel who adopted us a few years ago. We had lost our pets one after another and my wife did not want to keep any more pets and suffer their loss. Then Shangu turned up at our gate as a little pup. A year later, his step sister joined him. One day, a car ran over her hind leg. My wife took her to the local vet, who put her on a splint. Neighbors found this pup with a splint endearing. Soon, Shangu and his step sister, who my wife named Mangu, owned the street we live in.

Shangu and Mangu love their freedom. However many times we put a collar on them, they manage to remove them and bury them where we cannot find hem again. They come into our house and go out as they please. If we close the gates, they find a way to jump over the wall. On occasion, when we return late at night, we find them inside at the doorstep patiently waiting for us, and a late night snack.

They know their meal times. Beyond that they decide what they do.

Coaching a dog is different from training a dog. By coaching a dog, one allows the dog to do what it wants, while gently guiding it through motivation. They do learn, but it requires patience. In contrast, training a dog can be brutal. We have seen trainers abusing dogs and found it abhorrent. Such trainers should be behind bars.

Coaching a dog is not that different from coaching a human  being. The only difference is that a human being talks. I do not see it as a beneficial difference. Coaches who work with clients who have sensory disabilities may empathize with what i say.

In any coaching situation, the coach must observe client responses carefully. In telephonic coaching , one is limited to vocal communication. If it through Skype or another VOIP, one may be able add limited visuals. Even in such limited sensory communication situations, we can learn more about the client response through tonal and pitch variations. We can also learn from silence and what the client does not say.

In the absence of a coach observing very keenly how a client responds and refining the coaching response to lead the client forward to the client’s stated intentions, the interaction stops at knowledge transfer. One says something and the other says something else. Whatever each says may be meaningful, but not additive. The conversation runs on parallel paths.

Observant and responsive coaching adds exponential value to the coach client interaction. The client can leap over blocks of limiting and undermining beliefs if they become aware of how debilitating they are.

People who love animals do not judge them. They accept their seemingly wayward behavior as natural. We know that we do not own Shangu and Mangu. Yes, we do feed them, but that does not give us a right to tell them what to do. Can we help them to be a little more sensitive to human needs? Can we guide them not to chase people on cycles? Perhaps. We try and over time we succeed.

Can we use this understanding with humans? Perhaps.

The six little ones who taught me coaching

By Yogesh Patgaonkar

Originally published on Yogesh’s blog

I was on my journey to pursue mastery in coaching. My mentor coaches insisted that I stop being cognitive and enjoy the whole process as it unfolds and somewhere I was struggling….

Around the same time our Labrador – Angel delivered six breathtakingly beautiful pups. We were overjoyed but also overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility- we knew that we would be giving them for adoption to the right families but for 45 days they were our responsibility- a time when they are most susceptible to all kind of infections !!! So we went on an overdrive mode – we went out and bought 6 trays and created beds for them with soft bedsheets and all!  For the uninitiated about puppy world – the pups when are born have eyes closed and can only crawl for first 10-12 days! The real fun then started!

Yellow Labrador Puppies

My daughter, mother-in-law, wife and I started a round-the-clock vigil – as soon as any puppy wailed, we would quickly check if  it has wetted the bed or else put the puppy for feeding with mother. Angel – their mother – being a pampered girl was pretty relaxed as she saw us efficiently working like well-trained assembly-line line workers with her puppies! End of three days and we were looking like zombies! “There must be a better way” I muttered to which my wife replied  “babies are like this and we have six of them and you can’t even run to your corporate life now as you’ve none!” – we both laughed and then she said, ”you are right – let’s talk to people who have gone through this earlier.”

So we made couple of quick calls to our friends who had experience of puppy-sitting. As soon as they heard what we were doing they were in splits …. ‘Are you folks crazy?’ Being used to this question in general in life, we did not mind the comment! They further said “just put a safety boundary so that the puppies don’t crawl all over the house and possibly get trampled – other than that just leave them with their mother and let her figure it out with her pups!” Not convinced… but out of sheer exhaustion we agreed and AHA! the constant wailing stopped – as soon as they wanted to feed, they would crawl to their mother and feed themselves! As soon as their mother thought they had enough, she would get up and walked away! The whole thing looked sorted out!! We actually for the first time started enjoying the whole stuff!

…..And it’s then that the penny dropped for me! Just by creating a safe zone and treating them like perfectly capable beings, the first-time mother and her little pups who hadn’t even opened their eyes figured it all out! Less pain for them (the amazing and constant wailing stopped!) and much lesser to do for us!! …. the problem is that we were looking at it from our perspective and trying to help which in the first place was not required!! Just create a safe boundary and watch them figure it out – it’s actually fulfilling!!

So the six little ones had a lesson for me – when you coach someone- you are dealing with someone who is perfectly capable of figuring his/her way out, the moment you try to “help” – you as a coach are looking at things from your perspective which is irrelevant from the point of view of coaching!! You actually can create more confusion… just be there holding the mirror as a coach and then observe your client waltzing like a star!!!

Magda Walczak

Magda

Magda Walczak is CEO of Coacharya and looks after strategy, technology, marketing, and customer experience. She's also the author of Saylor's tale, a children's book.

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