Nov 27, 2006

Off the leash

You haven't lived unless you've been to the Chicago dachshund races - don't worry, these are ordinary pets not subjected to any race-related cruelty. My son Chris and daughter-in-law Natalie took us, their Maltese Fritz and their doxie Mona to the Barking Lot last week to see if Mona could compete. She's about as tiny a dog as you can get, so we hoped they'd have a tiny-dog class of racers.

We got to the Barking Lot's spacious Big Playroom and found about 50 dachshunds milling around, with a few of their non-dachshund friends. There didn't seem to be any breed discrimination. The owners stood or sat among their pets, who came back for cuddling every so often. Then some people with both dogs and kids started coming in. One little girl stood in wonder and said, "Look at all the DOGS!" The kids milled around with the dogs.

One little boy fell in love with Mona and followed her on all fours, but Mona trotted along as though she didn't have anyone shadowing her. Some dogs allowed kids to pick them up, and eventually Mona gave in and let her friend hold her too.

What was surprising was that the dogs were all comfortable in their pack, smelling each other and moving along to meet other dogs. Only one dog was aggressive, and Fritz seemed to want to approach him time after time. The aggressive dog's owner had his dog on a leash, and was getting pretty irritated with Fritz. Chris and Natalie had to go get Fritz and carry him away several times.

Chris said that they'd made the same mistake of keeping Fritz on a leash when they first started taking him to the dog park. (Chicago has everything.) He said that if the dog knows you've got his back, he feels safe in going after the other dogs. When you let him off the leash, the other dogs behave in such a way that he learns his place and happily joins the pack. If you've watched the "Dog Whisperer" on the National Geographic channel, you've seen the same thing.

After the dogs and people hung out for about an hour, the races began. There was a four-lane track and the dogs ran several heats, and then had the playoffs. One of the dog's owners held the dog at the starting line, and another knelt at the finish line with treats and encouraging words. At the start, four people rolled tennis balls down the lanes to help the dogs get the picture. Mona ran about three feet and veered off the track to socialize again. Fritz got to run a heat, although his win didn't count since he wasn't a doxie. Eventually five-year-old Hannah won the trophy.

Believe me, I struggled for a lean lesson so I could report this event in this blog. Finally I realized that if you let people off the leash in the workplace, they'll find solutions to problems and develop effective social groups (we call them teams). Traditional management is about chaining you to a machine or a desk and cutting off informal social leadership and problem-solving. And the doxie races show it's not worth it to ask people or dogs to compete and come up with a single winner. It's about the pack itself succeeding -- in this case, to just get along with each other and have fun.

Sorry, I don't have any pictures, but for more dog behavior fun, go the the Barking Lot website and click on the webcams link. Loading will take a while, so do it when you can wait, and also expect to install some ActiveX things. The username and password are posted on the site.

In the webcam video, you'll also notice the Barking Lot's continuous maintenance processes - the people with mops erasing the territorial marks some of the dogs want to establish. Click "refresh" if the dogs and people appear to stop moving. It's actually a pretty crappy site, but dog care, not website operations, is the company's core competency and business objective.

So maybe businesses and other organizations should just let things go to the dogs.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Hey, I am going to watch "Dog Whisperer" on the National Geographic I too 've an interest in it...and hey, you too can check out this post on working dogs. I hope u'll like it..


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