The Lessons My Dog Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

I’m a bit of a business lit junkie: I love reading stories and advice from fellow authors and entrepreneurs. I dig tales of overcoming adversity, and I enjoy getting fresh insights on the challenges we all face as small business owners.

The other afternoon, I thought I was taking a little break from the biz world, though, as I took advantage of a sunny day (one of the rare ones this winter) to throw the tennis ball for my dog, Daisy. She never tires of the game, chasing every ball down and faithfully dropping it at my feet. It occurred to me that a surprising amount of the good business advice I’ve read is actually played out in the way my dog interacts with the world. You don’t necessarily need an MBA to figure out what’s important in the business world. Maybe you just need a little lesson in canine values.

Here’s what I observed:

1. Basics matter.

My dog doesn’t care if she wears a diamond studded collar from the latest doggy designer. She doesn’t prefer bottled water from some exclusive spring in the Swiss Alps, and she couldn’t care less if the dog next door doesn’t care for her. My dog wants food, shelter, and companionship, and everything else … well, doesn’t really matter to her much. If her basic needs are satisfied, she’s satisfied. The next time I’m fretting over what kind of paper I want my business cards printed on, I’m going to remind myself that much of what we worry about isn’t important at the end of the day. We need to take care of the basics.

2. Training matters.

When we first got Daisy as an adult rescue, she was a bit of a terror (there was a reason she was returned to the shelter 5 times, and we were her “last chance.”). She chewed on things she shouldn’t, jumped on people, howled constantly, and she didn’t always “go” where we wanted her to (ahem… outside). She wasn’t inherently bad, though. She was an angel inside, she just needed training. She needed consistent structure. Just like our pooch, employees need to be trained, and they need to have crystal clear, consistent expectations. You can’t constantly change the rules and expect your staff to pull it off. Instead, you need to lay down rules, establish the consequences if the rules aren’t followed, and you reward good behavior. Taking the time to properly train your dog (and your staff) always pays dividends.

3. Play matters.

At the end of the day, my dog passes out, exhausted from a full day of activity. If there’s a day when she doesn’t get as much exercise as she needs, she’s out of sorts. She’s grouchy, doesn’t sleep well, and she’s – quite frankly – a pain in the ass. When we spend the time to take her for a walk or a run, though, she’s a dream. If she gets enough tennis ball time, she’s not only happier, but everyone else around her is happier, too. She and I have a lot in common. When I’m slammed at work, I used to have trouble finding time to exercise, until I realized that getting in a workout made my outlook much sunnier. Physical exertion is essential for my mental health, and makes me better at everything I do. Take the time for physical activity. And if you are ever passing through Boonton, New Jersey, join me for a hike, run or a session in the weight room. Daisy has the most fun playing with others, and us humans do too.

4. Trust matters.

My dog is super friendly, but she’s wary of people she doesn’t know. She’ll nose around, checking out that new person smell, and she’ll observe for a while before she’ll let her guard down. She’s rarely picky, but there are some people she never really warms to. She’s smart. Waiting for folks to demonstrate that they’re trustworthy is just good business. Whether it’s hiring an employee for a trial period or using split testing for a new ad concept, it’s wise to start slow – take baby steps until you’re certain that a person or a plan is sound.

So I’m not going to abandon my entrepreneurial endeavors in favor of throwing tennis balls with my dog. But I am going to remind myself of the simple values that should guide the way I approach my business. What matters? What values should I keep front and center? The basics, training, play, and trust: that’s what really matters, and I learned about it from my dog, Daisy.

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