Updated: Apr 14, 2021
My dog is a better leader than some people I've worked with.
She's given me insights and reminders about what's actually important in business. She's less skilled at presentations, budgets, and annual reviews (although I'm pretty sure I'd receive a top score and bump in pay, if not for that raise-freeze we've had for years). But that's why she delegates those duties to me and she stays high level. Here are five lessons from her I think we all could use.
Lesson 1: Set boundaries, create space, and lead from the heart
Blondie is 14 years young. She's now retired, but she is a former foster mom and head of security for the Day household. Big job. Blondie was my first foster fail. I've had her since she was eight weeks old, so she's been part of my life for the entirety of hers.
She's served as guide to hundreds of foster puppies over the years. Clearly a natural leader, she welcomed the pups excitedly crawling all over her, giving love and kisses. But she also put them in their place when they got too bitey and rambunctious. They respected her for it. When she gave the signal that enough was enough, they backed off... and came back to her a little later, having learned a lesson in boundaries. Without fail, Blondie offered them the attention and care they craved, and it never seemed like a chore (trust me when I tell l you puppies can be quite extra). She gave her attention and energy, space to play and explore, and set the parameters of what was acceptable. I aspire to emulate her capacity for heartfelt leadership, her ease in connecting authentically, and her ability to clearly define respected boundaries.
Lesson 2: Get uncomfortable until it becomes comfortable
Blondie is a weird sleeper. "How is that comfortable?!" I would ask myself whenever I saw her flipped on her back, tucked in a corner, legs against the wall, chillin' like a villain. She has mastered the art of being comfortably uncomfortable. I can't even imagine how she discovered this position, but the first time she did it, she was probably surprised that this perspective shift was strange, but it actually felt good. I have discovered her wedged into a 12-inch gap between the couch and the wall attempting to snag a rogue treat. She regularly sleeps with her feet in her food. She's squished her 80lb body underneath a tiny gap in the fence because she heard me talking in the front yard. Tah dah, mom!
For years, she's astounded me with her ability to accept what seems like uncomfortable situations with grace and a determined attitude. Sure, it gets her into trouble now and then, but she always takes it in stride. She doesn't live with regret or fear. I want to bring more of this confidence into my life... that being uncomfortable is OK and if you do it enough, it's not so uncomfortable anymore.
Lesson 3: Ask for forgiveness, not permission
Blondie can be a bit of a scamp, especially when she was younger. She pushes the boundaries (and as mentioned, sometimes escapes them). She isn't timid about going after what she wants. She has learned the rules and abides by them (most of the time) but every now and then, the risk is worth the reward. Like the photo above... She knows this is not her food dish and this is not her food. It belongs to the cat. Yet, like a corporate raider, she enacted a hostile takeover of the cat's food. And emerged victorious. This face is asking for forgiveness, because permission was certainly not requested. Nor granted. Nor implied.
Sometimes I find my desire to do things right holds me back. I can waste time and mental energy drumming up the courage to ask for permission to try something that hasn't been done before. I can second guess myself because I worry about someone else's opinion. And you know what? By doing this, sometimes I miss the opportunity. So in more recent years, I decided to start taking calculated risks and remind myself of the "ask for forgiveness" mantra. What's the worst that will happen if I just go ahead and try it? If I'm OK with the worst-case scenario (I get fired, taken off the job, called in to HR, whatever), I just do it. And you know what? About 95% of the time it's just fine. This is a lesson Blondie knows so well: The risk is usually worth the reward when you are willing to accept the worst-possible outcome. The other lesson she's taught me is to stop putting cat food on the floor.
Lesson 4: Lead by example
Dogs and cats are natural enemies, right? Not in my family. I'm pretty sure my cat is at least 50% dog by this point and I chalk it up to Blondie's natural leadership skills. My cat, Chelsea, certainly has a mind of her own but she will often do whatever Blondie does. If either of them isn't feeling well, the other goes over to give comforting sniffs. The cat tries to eat the dog food (because payback is a bitch and cats have a lonnnngggg memory). She runs over and "sits" for bedtime treats just like Blondie. They even nap alike. Chelsea first joined our household about eight years ago and she was fearful. I brought this little kitten home, opened the cage... and didn't see her again for three days.
Eventually she trusted she was in a safe space and began following the dogs' lead in terms of where the best sleeping spots were, when dinner time was, and the coolest places to spy on the outside world. Blondie has always been the leader of our pack and when Chelsea discovers the dog gets to do something exciting, she wants to do it too. She trusts her big sister and wants to do everything she gets to do. Blondie didn't offer to guide the cat. Chelsea follows because Blondie exudes confidence and uses action – not words – to demonstrate her expertise. Leading by example is an attribute I believe in wholeheartedly and it's a strength I often hear as being one of mine, too. Must run in the family.
Lesson 5: Practice self-care
Let me tell ya, my dog has the life. I often say that I hope when I'm reincarnated, I come back as one of my pets. Blondie is queen of self-care, especially now that she's older. She sleeps a lot more than she used to, but she still gets excited for her daily (five-minute) walks. I can tell she would love to walk and explore longer, but it hurts, so she lets us know when it's time to go home. She is in tune with her body and if something doesn't feel right, she tells us. Here's an example... a couple of years ago, I kept finding chewed-up pieces of laundry strewn around the bedroom. This had never happened before. My other dog, Nook, had about three teeth in his head, so I knew he wasn't the culprit. Blondie is usually pretty chill, so I couldn't fathom it was her. And yet, it was. I called up my friend Amanda, who is my go-to dog expert (more on her below) and the first thing she said was, "Blondie is trying to tell you something." This blew my mind. My dog was trying to communicate that something was wrong and I was not picking up the damn hint. I took her right away to the vet and it turned out she had a UTI and some other sort of infection. I got her medication and the destructive behavior stopped. Blondie's method of self-care in this instance was to tell me something was wrong... and to keep telling me until I understood and helped her fix it.
Nowadays, we know Blondie's self-care routine pretty well and do our best to accommodate her. I try to practice self-care myself as much as possible, although it slips when I get really busy. And boy do I pay for it when that happens. Blondie shows me every day that it's ok to do what feels right in the moment, to pivot to something else if what's happening isn't working anymore, and most importantly... it's ok to nap. I used to feel such guilt about sleeping eight hours or doing things like yoga when I had a ton of work to finish. I carried an ego-driven self-importance by telling myself I needed to work, work, work in order to continue performing at a high level. I eventually figured out that it didn't help me get any further along. Watching's Blondie's version of self-care has taught me a valuable lesson. You need to listen to your body and take care of yourself, so you can serve others to the best of your ability. Now, this is the ONLY leadership task I absolutely have to do every day.
Since we're on the subject of self-care, my old lady dog has experienced a lot of challenges in recent years. She lost her best friend, Nook, when we had to put him down two years ago due to sinus cancer. Dogs grieve, did you know that? Blondie's also developed Cushing's disease, which is an adrenal illness which affects a lot of her systems, leading to daily medication she skillfully attempts to circumvent. And she has spinal arthritis, which means her back legs don't work very well. We eye her steps like we would our 90-year-old grandmother on her third glass of pinot. Constant vigilance is the name of the game with our girl.
I'm always looking for ways to supplement Blondie's vet-prescribed treatments with holistic, natural options. If there are non-invasive ways to make her more comfortable and improve her golden years, I'm going to try it. My friend Amanda Ree is an amazing holistic health/lifestyle consultant for dogs and she just put out her first online course called Ayurveda for Dogs 101. Ayurveda is "the science of life" and it focuses on a mind-body-spirit approach to dog health and wellness.
Amanda is always the first person I reach out to when I feel over my head with my dogs. Her depth of knowledge is insightful, practical, and never ceases to impress me. Blondie suddenly won't eat her food? I ask Amanda. My sweet pup seems anxious and depressed? I go to Amanda. Want recommendations on healthy, chemical-free treat options? Hit up Amanda. Ayurveda is not woo-woo or bullshit or snake oil. It's ancient wisdom passed down over thousands of years I use in conjunction with modern-day vet-recommended treatments. If you're curious about trying some holistic healthcare practices that can make your dog feel good, then give Amanda's course a try. It starts May 18, 2020 but if you sign up on or before May 7th, you get yourself a nice discount. I don't earn a penny for sharing this, I just really love what she has to offer and thought you might too.
BONUS: Here's a photo of Nook. I miss him so so much; he was my heart.