Everything I Know About Developing People I Learned From My Puppy

Everything I Know About Developing People I Learned From My Puppy

Michael B. Grossman, DM, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, CNML

                                                                  Dogs are known as man’s best friend. This year, nurses were once again voted the most honest, ethical, and respected Lucy Monkey V2 (Riffkin, 2014). A misbehaved dog can impact people’s impression of dogs, just as nursing’s respect can quickly be erroded if people lose trust in nurses to be completely focused on the patient’s safety and well-being. Lucy is my daughter’s puppy, an adorable Rhodesian Ridgeback. They are also known as the Lion Dog as they were bred for hunting lions in Africa. They are a combination of a loving cuddly family coach potato dog, with an incredibly defiant attitude toward certain things they feel strongly about. Basically they won’t back down on certain issues, including a lion! In many ways Lucy reminds me of some of the more strident employees I have worked with: strong in their beliefs on certain topics, but incredible loyal, engaged, and great team players if they are treated with respect.

Studies have shown that 100,000-400,000 preventable medical errors occur every year in the U.S. (Institute of Medicine, 2000; James, September 2013). Unfortunately, people often do not know what they don’t know. Nurses and physicians have resisted make the changes needed to improve patient safety (Ehrlinger, Johnson, Banner, Dunning, & Kruger, 2008). A puppy doesn’t know what it doesn’t know and can’t learn on its own. Puppies need guidance from their owners to learn the acceptable behaviors to live in society. The following article is about the 10 most important rules I have learned from training a puppy; that can be incorporated in employee development.

  1. Consistency-Everyone needs consistency. Nobody likes a boss who changes the rules. People and puppies perform their best when there are clear goals, rules, and rewards for the expected behaviors.
  2. Praise is Good-Ken Blanchard (1999) suggested your goal as a leader should be to catch people doing things right. Rath (2007) found that people perform best when their work is based on what they are strongest at doing. Lucy is a hunting dog, a hound. It’s what she loves to do. She loves to find things. Why not encourage that?
  3. Sometimes You Need Discipline- You can’t totally focus on rewards. Sometimes Lucy has to be told not to climb up on the kitchen counters. Likewise employees need rewards, but also need to know the clear boundaries of what is acceptable behavior. Sometimes the boss needs to point out which behaviors are unacceptable. Mission Statements, Visions, Goals, and Rules of Conduct excellent for making expectations clear, and reinforcing the acceptable behaviors.
  4. It Needs to Be Clear Who the Leader is-Dogs are pack animals and there is a clear pecking order as to who the pack leader is. Pure democracies are not effective because someone needs to make the final decision, especially at critical times in any organization. There are times for urgent decisions and in an emergency someone needs to be in charge and make quick decisions, not put it to a vote for everyone’s input. A puppy needs the pack leader to tell it not to run out into the street and when it’s time to go potty!
  5. Freedom With a Short Leash Till You Know the Rules-Situational Leadership is based on the concept that people need high direction when they are in a new situation they have never experienced before (Blanchard & Zigarmi (1999). A nurse orienting to a new field needs clear direction on how things are done, not asked to figure it out by trial and error. Puppies need clear direction and boundaries of acceptable behavior until they understand the rules to being a socially acceptable dog. They can’t figure this out on their own.
  6. Defiance is Unacceptable at all Times-Respect for authority is essential to living in society and having effective work teams. But, leaders also have responsibility to provide clear expectations, an opportunity for employees to do their best, provide recognition, listen to their opinion, and encourage their development (Buckingham, & Coffman, 1999).
  7. Getting Along With Others Means More Play Time-Puppies need to learn that good behaviors are rewarded with more play time. Teamwork (or the lack of it) has been show to have a direct relationship to patient mortality. Basically if a team does not get along well, patients are more likely to die (Aiken, Clarke, Sloane, Sochalski, & Silber, 2002). Effective teams work and play together well. Puppies need to know how to socialize with other dogs. It can be the key to survival in certain situations.
  8. Intermittent Reinforcement is More Effective Than Constant Rewards-Your puppy doesn’t need a treat every time they perform. In fact according to behavioral psychologists, intermittent reinforcement is more effective than constant rewards as the subject never knows when the reward is coming. Leaders need a proper balance between rewarding every behavior and providing feedback and rewards at key moments in time.
  9. You Can’t Be Constantly Working: Breaks Are Important to Effectiveness-Puppies never want to take a nap; they’re afraid they’ll miss something. But when puppies get tired, they become irritable, tend to nip, bite, and become uncooperative. Puppies also need to learn to take breaks to potty or they have accidents in the house. Fatigued nurses are more likely to make mistakes (The Joint Commission, 2011). Nurses are especially prone to trying to do everything themselves and studies have shown that as much as 60% of nurses do not take breaks and are under the impression that it is best to be with the patient at all times (Ellis, 2008). There is increasing concern about compassion fatigue of nurses who work in stressful situations for long periods of time (Hooper, Craig, Janvrin, Wetsel, & Reimels, September 2010).
  10. There is No Prouder Moment Than Being Complimented-Everyone loves positive feedback be they a human being or a puppy. People are more engaged when they work for a winning organization, with co-workers who are committed to quality, and receive praise frequently for good behavior (Buckingham, & Coffman, 1999). Nobody wants to go to a dinner party and hear horrible stories about their place of employment, just as nobody wants to be worried about people visiting their home for fear of an unmanageable dog.


 We have an epidemic of patient errors in this country and something needs to be done to correct the situation before the respect of nursing and the entire medical profession is further eroded. Some basic principles of training have been presented with suggestions to applying them to improve employee engagement, teamwork, and patient outcomes.


Aiken, L. H., Clarke, S. P., Sloane, D. M., Sochalski, J., & Silber, J. H. (2002).

Hospital nurse staffing and patient mortality, nurse burnout, and job dissatisfaction. JAMA, 288(16), 1987-1994.

Blanchard, K., & Zigarmi, P. (1999). Leadership and the One Minute Manager:

Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership. New York: William Morrow.

Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s

Greatest Managers Do Differently. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Ehrlinger, J., Johnson, K., Banner, M., Dunning, D., & Kruger, J. (2008). Why the

Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-Insight Among the Incompetent. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 105(1), 98-121.

Ellis, J. R. (2008). Quality of Care, Nurses’ Work Schedules, and Fatigue: A White

Paper. Seattle: Washington State Nurses Association.

Hooper, C., Craig, J., Janvrin, D. R., Wetsel, M. A., & Reimels, E. (September 2010).

Compassion Satisfaction, Burnout, and Compassion Fatigue Among Emergency Nurses Compared With Nurses in Other Selected Inpatient Specialties. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 36(5), 420-427.

Institute of Medicine. (2000). To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System.

Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

James, J. T. (September 2013). A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms

Associated with Hospital Care Journal of Patient Safety, 9(3), 122-128. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0b013e3182948a69

The Joint Commission. (2011). Health Care Worker Fatigue and Patient Safety. The Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert(48), 1-4.

Rath, T. (2007). Strengths Finder 2.0. New York: Gallup Press.

Riffkin, R. (2014). Americans Rate Nurses Highest on Honesty, Ethical Standards.

from http://www.gallup.com/poll/180260/americans-rate-nurses-highest-honesty-ethical-standards.aspx

Dr. Michael Grossman, DM, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, CNML has over 35 years of nursing leadership experience and is a nursing leader, consultant, academician, and career coach. As a professor in the graduate schools of nursing at both University of Phoenix and Walden University, he specializes in healthcare ethics, leadership development, career coaching, mentoring, teambuilding, motivation, change, communications, and dealing with “difficult” people. He also teaches nursing leadership certification review courses. For further information go to: http://www.nurseleadershipbuilders.com/ He can also be reached at 610-331-8470 or Mike@NurseLeadershipBuilders.com

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