5 Things I Learned about Starting a Business from Training My Dogs

As someone who’s spent my entire working life in the corporate world, making the leap to freelance was just a little — oh, what’s the word? — crap-my-pants-terrifying. Having never run my own business before, I didn’t even know where to start.

So what did I do? Well, as is the norm for me, I came up with an amazingly brilliant plan. I just…started. (I told you it was amazingly brilliant.) And as I got further along, it all began to feel familiar to me–like I’d done it before, just not in this context. Where had I learned all this? Of course! From training my dogs.

So what do these two seemingly different things have in common?

1. Find an expert (or several). When we adopted our first dog Ranger, I wanted him to learn basic obedience. Since I knew nothing about dog training, I asked around and got a referral for a trainer in town. Working with a professional made things SO much easier than if I’d tried to do it on my own. During the start-up phase of my business, I did the same thing. I read everything I can get my hands on, and I gleaned advice from experts in the field. By seeking out experts who already know what they’re doing, the path to running my own successful freelance business was undoubtedly easier.

2. Choose the right tools. It wasn’t until we adopted our second dog Mayzie that I discovered clicker training. As far as I’m concerned, the clicker is nothing short of magical. By marking the behavior you want at the exact moment it happens, learning occurs much more quickly and the dogs really seem to get a kick out of it. In the same way, I made sure that the tools I chose for my business (website platform, billing software, etc.) helped me achieve my goals more quickly and maybe even made things more fun.

3. Utilize positive reinforcement. This is big. HUGE! I am all about positive reinforcement when it comes to training my dogs. When praise and treats are involved, my dogs have more fun which, in turn, makes them want to work even harder. I mean, think about it. How long would you work for a boss who slaps you on the back of your head and calls you an idiot when you do something wrong? On the other hand, if your boss praises you, recognizes your accomplishments, takes you out to lunch occasionally and encourages you to greater success — well, I’m betting you’d probably move mountains for that kind of boss. Since I’m my own boss now, I push myself harder than anyone else ever could. But I also have to remember to focus on what I’ve accomplished, keep the positive self-talk going and reward myself occasionally. (I’ve also thought about giving myself Employee of the Month certificates with gold stars but that might be taking it a bit too far.)

4. Set goals. When you take a training class with your dogs, the instructor gives you a list of goals that he or she would like you to achieve. For instance, a basic obedience class might include the goals of learning “sit,” “down,” “stay” and “shake.” During class, the instructor breaks down each goal into a series of smaller steps to help you succeed. I don’t think it comes as any big surprise that goals are off-the-charts important when it comes to running a successful business. But just as important are all the little steps you have to take to achieve those big goals.

5. If something’s not working, try a different approach. In Ranger’s basic obedience class, he would not sit. Such a simple thing — sit. But neither my husband nor I could get him to do it. After carefully watching our attempts, the instructor explained that the problem was that we were leaning forward, which made Ranger take a step away from us. As soon as we leaned back just a little, Ranger sat! It was the tiniest adjustment, but it made all the difference. As I continue to build my business, I constantly remind myself that if something isn’t working, adjust! Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck what we think should work, rather than trying a different way around the problem.

What is one thing you’ve learned from your dogs?

Amber Carlton is a freelance blogger and business writer specializing in the pet industry. Owned by two dogs and two cats, she is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet-lady amongst her friends and family. Connect with her at Comma Hound Copywriting, on Twitter, on Facebook or at Mayzie’s Dog Blog.

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