By David Joseph
It seems counter intuitive to think that with the pervasive awareness of psychology and its connotative effects of maximizing efficiency through positive reinforcement to followers that leaders would continue to indulge in authoritatively near abusive tactics to garner respect, ensure employee compliance in executing organizational objectives, or even worse: to attempt to spread the culture of an organization’s vision and mission with threats, ridiculing expressions, and exploitation of another’s disadvantaged situations as tools to procure positions of leverage over subordinates to attain progress. It’s analogous to the age old idea that methods of wiping an animal when training will gain results. Sure, out of fear anyone or any living thing, for that matter, will respond to pain or the threat of abuse of any kind in ways to reduce or eliminate these unwanted disciplinary measures, even if it means being a steward to the object of control while in their presence. It’s a factor that makes possible the ability to direct or redirect any living thing to respond in a desired manner, a term psychologist call social conditioning. But the question is: will these methods of coercing another to work or behave in a particular way deliver their loyalty? To answer this, I turn to renown leadership guru, an expert in the behavioral techniques of mastering motivation, and widely regarded as a pioneer of many contemporary methods of leadership studies Warren G. Bennis. In his many books and writings on the topic he presents an alternative to authoritarian leadership that embraces the idea of engaging followers at the center of operations, stimulate them to feel wanted and that their input is of importance, and ignite a culture of values, ethics, standards, and long-term goals that revolves around altruistic and charismatic initiatives towards individualized achievements and in the process organizational objective accomplishments. He says, “Good leaders make people feel that they are at the very heart of things, not the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning” (Bennis, 1999, p. 89). Being an experience dog trainer I see many similarities in this philosophy to that of manipulating canines to perform desired tricks and to the theory of Transformational leadership that Bennis (1999) hints on above that is discussed by Northouse (2016) in his book, Leadership – Theory and Practice. They both assimilate that the best methods to influence emerges by elevating the subject (in the case of dogs) or subordinates (in organizational settings) to transformed versions of themselves using charismatic behaviors that utilizes inclusiveness, exercises the articulation of goals clearly, shows strong positive modeling, and results in high levels of trust between the leader and follower. According to Northouse (2016), these transformational leadership behaviors and principles have great alignment to bring out in followers obedience, affection and loyalty that goes both ways between follower and leader, not to mention a host of positive psychological growth towards the follower’s confidence, and involvement in objective achievement that is usually of greater quality and beyond what the follower previously believed they could achieve – dogs and humans.
Alike brutal methods of leading subordinates with force in organizations, dog training with punishment tends to return ineffective outcomes that are marginal at best. According to a noted psychologist in an article from Psychology Today that questions the effectiveness of using punishment to train dogs, Is Punishment an Effective Way to Change the Behavior of Dogs? by Stanley Cornen Ph.D., F.R.S.C., training through punishment both in humans and dogs is a direct path to short term results. Based on several carefully structured studies he was able to deduce that training with punishment usually diminishes trust between the leader/trainer and follower/dog, prohibits affection from being returned by the follower/dog, inhibits emotional involvement by the follower/dog, squelches confidence on the part of the follower/dog, curtails enthusiasm towards independent initiatives by followers/dogs, and overall attenuates loyalty by followers/dogs towards leaders. In my own experience of training dogs, I too often see inpatient, so-called (pseudo), trainers eager to get instant results utilize force to communicate and direct a dog when training. While they may see quick returns of goal accomplish, according to Cornen (2012), this kind of training usually has limited and temporary results. The alternative of injecting confidence and bolstering dogs’ sense of accomplishment, according to Cornen (2012), and from my own experience, is best achieved by subscribing to a very different approach. Instead of creating strict do-or-die boundaries it’s best to carefully correlate desired
behavior that has been strongly articulated with well-defined objectives, a practice that Northouse (2016) calls clear goal articulation, that should be followed by an immersion of the dog with overly joyful sessions of praise. These praise sessions are the equal to an aspect Northouse (2016) denotes is an integral part (or factor) of transformational leaders that he calls idealized influence. With it, the leader engages the follower in a series of charismatic relationship building tactics where trust, respect, and a deep sense value is extended to the follower by the leader in a fashion that is highly ethical and is rooted in a strong vision and mission. While this may seem to be far reaching in the training of a dog, according to 4PawsUniveristy (2016), a noted extensive training guide for dog trainers, every aspect of it is not only possible, but necessary in order for the trainer to gain complete loyalty from the animal. The charismatic component is achieved when the trainer provides follow up incentives by way of verbal affirmation, reward stimulation with the use of physical contact like petting, and on the occasions when a new level of achievement by the dog is reached, a treat, usually one that is solely given when these milestones are achieved and is enhance by modulating the amount and quality given based on the difficulty of the task accomplished (4PawsUniversity, 2016). According to 4PawsUniversity, this builds a mental note in the mind of the animal that this is desired behavior; it parallels another transformational factor Northouse (2016) identifies as key to transformational leadership – individualized consideration. The dog trainer should tailor the reward methods’ quantity, frequency, and adjustments of these rewards in ways that is specific to the animal’s personality, willingness to participate, and need for this type of stimulation as it is the strongest communication of appreciation and show of a supportive climate for the dog to achieve maximum performance in performing the desired tasks (4PawsUniversity, 2016). In my experience, when performed carefully and consistently, it mirrors the relational dynamics Northouse (2016) discusses as the vital necessity for individualized consideration when leading using transformational leadership. They both achieve the strict outcomes that he outlines of providing tools for the follower/dog to grow through personal challenges, feel a sense of being cared for, providing a communication medium (yes, this is a sort of dialogue dog trainers engage their subjects with), and allows a responsive forum for the follower/dog to convey their concerns (through receptive learnt observations dog trainers can read the body language of subjects and modulate their behavior to alter responses in them). The return in both cases is that subordinates and dogs elevate to a heightened ability to identify with the leader/trainer where the subordinate/dog gratefully emulates them. Northouse (2016) gives credence to this return of loyalty as the key aspect that differentiates transformational leaders from leaders that engage followers only with the intention to carry a negotiated exchange of compensation for tasks completion, a leadership style he identifies as transactional leadership.
Another commonality that links punishment-free dog training with transformational leadership is the aspect of dog training where the trainer provides subjects with self-empowering motivation in the process of training. By demanding increasingly higher levels of performance from subjects, dog trainers stimulate their sense of high achievement (4PawsUniversity, 2016). Four Paws University posits that dogs respond positively to growing levels of tasks difficulty especially when trainers engage the nurturing aspect of rewards in ways that match the dog’s achievement. This follows Northouse’s (2016) inference that transformational leaders heighten followers’ commitment when they actively participate in subordinates’ vision and provide high goals with sufficient supportive communication and vested input into subordinates’ personal pursuits. This is yet another of Northouse’s (2016) transformational leadership factors – Inspirational Motivation. While the latter aspect of personal pursuits may seem foreign to a dog’s interaction, I have seen time-and-time that the incorporation of the dog’s individual interest closely resembles personal pursuits and when integrated into training sessions at regular intervals, higher levels of tasks accomplishment usually follows.
When dog training involves not only elevated challenging tasks but tasks that are of a more complex degree, a correlation can be observed where the subject’s response time to assimilate new tasks achievement becomes more rapid (4PawsUniversity, 2016). While there have been no rationalized explanations that link the exact psychology of this in dogs, the direct relations of improved learning has been noted, I concur from my own experience. Combined with allowing dogs the time and opportunity to figure out how to achieve the illustrated desired end result, I have found that this freedom to become involved helps dogs feel motivated in persisting in difficult tasks training. Ironically, this very complex integration of subjects in their own training process has a direct correlation to another of Northouse’s (2016) transformational leadership factor – Intellectual Stimulation. Northouse (2016) describes it as stimulating followers by allow them to be creative in achieving tasks and the active encouragement of followers, by leaders, to problem-solve on their own. The phenomenon of congruence in behaviors by dogs similar to followers (in human leader-follower situations) of being stimulated into higher achievement when encourages to be independent has no proven research or authoritative figure to confirm it, but my personal experience of numerous years of training dogs and utilizing this connection has had outstanding results in achieving rapid tasks understanding leading to optimum learning and repeat performance with high precision; delivering much of the same outcomes Northouse (2016) speaks of that is expected by followers when engaging with transformational leaders using this factor.
Combined, it’s outstanding to see the amazing results that can be achieved when training dogs with non-punishment charismatic methodologies and the many similarities they share with transformation leadership theory. Not only are the behavioral and principles done in near identical manners to achieve stimulating and motivation subjects/followers into performing optimally, the outcomes of increased follower loyalty, improved identity with principles of trainers/followers, and higher achievements by both signal that the psychology involved may be having the same impact on both followers and animals. It leaves no doubt in my mind that dog trainers that utilize non-punishment charisma to train are themselves transformational leaders and confirms the effectiveness of this method of leadership as an alternative to punishment or authoritatively near abusive methods of training.
4Pawsuniversity.com (2016, April 23). Dog training and behavior library resource. Retrieved from http://4pawsu.com/articles.htm
Bennis, W. G. (1999). Managing people is like herding cats. Provo, UT: Executive Excellence Publishing.
Corner, C. (2012, May 24). Is punishment an effective way to change the behavior of dogs? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201205/is-punishment-effective-way-change-the-behavior-dogs
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.