Job lessons from the dog park

The dog of the hour in my new office

The urban dog park – what an intriguing idea. Give dog-owning apartment and condo dwellers the chance to let their doggies run around and play while they (or their dog sitters, in my case) watch them have fun. I live in downtown Denver, and there are lots and lots of dogs in the area.

I’ve never owned a dog, although I think I’d like to. My roommates and I have been having fun watching Louis for the last couple weeks while a good friend of mine was with his wife in Poland.  The dog park was certainly a new experience for me, and I saw a few things that reminded me of my search for a new career.

Louis will come to me as soon as I rattle my keys, go near the dog food, grab a treat, and is pretty much perfectly behaved all the time in the apartment. Anytime he sees value in coming to me, he comes. The dog park is a different story: his wish is to stay there (forever, if he could) so I don’t provide perceived value to him, when I want to leave, while he’s hanging out with his doggie friends. Getting him home has been a struggle all 4 times I’ve taken him there as he doesn’t come when I call.

Day 1 @ Railyard Dog Park: There with 2 of my friends, and it took about 5 minutes to grab his collar. We circled him, and eventually one of us distracted him while the other grabbed him.

Day 2: Just Louis and I this time. I tried to run around by myself and corner him, which was not effective. Thankfully, another person (you could call him either a stranger or a fellow dog lover, depending on how you look at it) saw what I was doing and decided to grab him for me. I spend 15 minutes chasing him, but once another person was involved in my mission it took just a few moments until I had his leash on.

Day 3: At this point, I had just resigned from my previous career and wanted to take a different mental perspective on whatever I could. However, I still tried to chase him for a while but decided to ask for more help. Instead of asking someone to just grab him for me, I asked for their advice. I heard people say “just grab him when he’s not looking,” (tough when he’s consciously avoiding me) and then the more helpful “bring a dog treat and make sure he knows you have it.” I met a nice woman named Carol, who gave me a dog treat to help me out. However, Louis had no idea what it was and wouldn’t get close enough to me to smell it, so no effect there. (although the dog treat in my pocket did make me popular among the other dogs) I finally talked to a guy named John. He put it quite simply: “you won’t win the chasing game. He’s faster than you. Sit down so you’ll be more approachable and then maybe he’ll come.” John and I sat down together, and Louis came up to him and the collar was in hand within 2 minutes. At that point the dog treat rewarded the positive behavior of coming in instead of just being a bribe for the dog.

Day 4: This time was going to be different. I brought a dog treat and made sure Louis knew I had it. I told myself I wouldn’t chase after him, and that if need be I’d ask for help. Many times when I asked for help in the past, people said, “well, he’s just not ready to come in yet.” Sure, I understand that – don’t go to the dog park on a tight schedule. I then realized that if I wasn’t chasing him, other people didn’t know that I needed help. After 2 hours at the park, he was tired. He would come close to me but was conflicted: he still had in his mind, “this dog park is way too awesome and I don’t want to leave.” A few attempts to grab his collar were unsuccessful, so I started networking. A big puppy nearby smelled the treat in my pocket and jumped all over me, so instead of getting angry that I now had paw prints on my shorts I used it as an excuse to start a conversation with the owner. I explained my situation and said I’d be happy to share the treat with her if she’d help me out. Louis didn’t mentally associate anyone else with leaving the dog park (other people = no connection to leaving the dog park, so going over to them is no perceived loss of value in his doggie brain) so he happily trotted over when she called. She handed over the tuckered out dog and gave me the treat back.

  • Let the offers come to you. Work at it, have a plan, but don’t “chase” after them. Desperation is frustrating, noticeable to everyone, and will hurt your career search.
  • Provide value, and let the world know you have it. I could own the fountain of youth under my kitchen sink and I wouldn’t make a dime if nobody knew about it.
  • Don’t go it alone. To this day, I have not been able to get the dog to leave the park on my own. It has been “strangers” (people with similar interests and activities) that were willing to help just because I was there, because I needed it, and because I wasn’t a jerk.
  • Ask for advice, because you need to hear it and because people like to give it. (great excuse for a networking meeting) Chances are 100% that every other person on earth knows something and someone who you don’t. If they like you as a person you don’t need to give something back right away. Basically, offering her the treat would be like me paying someone to help me out in the job search, and I don’t believe that’s the most effective way. The time will come for you to reciprocate, and for now they will feel good about helping you – don’t be shy asking for help!

By the end of the time today, I think Louis wanted to go in but wouldn’t come to me on his own. Why? He wasn’t in the habit of doing so. He isn’t used to the idea of, “you come to me when I call you, and we come back to the park at some point” so his fear of not going back overpowered his good intentions. As humans we become slaves to our habits, but the great thing is we have the ability to choose and build our habits. Choose good habits (they’re not always comfortable, especially for the first 21 days) and stick with them.

“It is way easier to act your way into healthy thinking than it is to think your way into healthy acting.”  – Roger Seip

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2 Responses to Job lessons from the dog park

  1. This is a great Blog and an even better analogy. I plan on sending this to a ton of people who are a little “lost” right now. I finally caught my break last week and I couldn’t be happier. I will be helping open a new bar near DU (Where Smugs was). Will let you know when the grand is. Hope to see you there.

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