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December 3, 2019 | by Bob Weidner

What We Can Learn from Humankind’s Best Friend

“My little dog – a heartbeat at my feet.” – Edith Wharton, American novelist & playwright

A recent Harris survey found nearly 70 percent of Americans who own a dog believe their pet is the favorite member of their household. The Weidners have owned three golden retrievers—Casey, Jake, and Murphy—and while I never would admit that any one was my favorite, several recent new stories got me thinking about the attributes that make canines popular, and how those traits are beneficial to any community or organization.

Dogs are loyal, of course, but they also are courageous risk-takers and compassionate companions. They can spot challenges, and work quickly to overcome them. And, perhaps because of their essential good nature and openness, they bring people together. Often, they are the heartbeat of the family or institution.

The first story I noticed was out of Georgia. A police K-9 named D’Jango was injured when a suspect he was pursuing fired a gun. D’Jango was rushed into emergency surgery to fix his leg, which had been fractured by a bullet. After that procedure, and another, area police officers kept vigil, sitting outside D’Jango’s hospital kennel 24/7, “just like they do for injured human officers.”

Dekalb County Police Sergeant Frank Cusimano said D’Jango “did his job valiantly.”

Dogs regularly display incredible dedication and courage, as we saw this fall during the capture of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A Belgian Malinois named Conan chased the terrorist leader into a Syrian tunnel. Cornered, Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest. Conan was injured by the explosion, but recovered quickly and was back on duty within days.

Conan is not the first canine to serve at pivotal moments in our nation’s history. As a recent Chicago Tribune article explained, the U.S. military began using dogs in operations in World War I. Specifically, our four-legged friends were asked to carry messages “at vital moments of attack.” A small retriever sustained serious injuries during a seven-mile run under heavy gunfire before successfully delivering his message. Author and expert Rebecca Frankel said “dogs are the best nonhuman partners on the ground” because “their will to complete a mission is pretty unflappable.”

Like D’Jango, Conan has been praised by public officials for his dedication. He even visited the president in the White House after his heroic efforts.

Chances are Conan and D’Jango’s human colleagues did not wait until their dogs were injured to show their appreciation.

Business leaders must remember that fact. In a 2016 report on the American workplace, Gallup said “In today’s war for talent, organizations and leaders are looking for strategies to attract and retain their top performers,” but in their search they “could be overlooking one of the most easily executed strategies: employee recognition.” Gallup noted employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year. We must reward dedication.

Dogs also exude compassion.

Last summer, USA Today featured 25 heroic dogs, including Charlie, a Labrador retriever who helps veterans recover from injuries. The American Humane Society’s Hero Dog for 2019 is Alice, a German shepherd who serves a 12-year-old boy named Antonio who nearly died four years ago in a random act of gun violence. Antonio has permanent traumatic brain injury that causes seizures. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tells it, Alice is so in tune with her charge that she can give an adult “15 minutes notice that a seizure is coming so [Antonio] can get to a safe place before it happens.” The newspaper said, “Without Alice, Antonio would not be able to attend a school.”

Every good service center CEO knows so-called soft skills like empathy are important traits to look for in all workers, especially those in sales. As this Entrepreneur article put it, “Truly understanding your customers’ needs means reflecting on their fears, desires, pain points and whatever keeps them up at night.”

Dogs also have an impressive ability to spot adversity and danger. Sometimes they, literally, are our eyes and ears on the ground. The world witnessed this fact in 2001 when a yellow Labrador named Roselle guided a vision-impaired man down 78 floors of Tower One of the World Trade Center. In 2013, Hook, who is part Chihuahua, part Jack Russell terrier, pulled Joyce Herman, a hearing impaired individual, away from tracks as a train was coming swiftly in Herman’s direction.

Finally, dogs have an uncanny ability to drive consensus.

Researchers at Central Michigan University found having a dog in the workplace promotes cooperation, bonding, and expressions of vulnerability that indicate improved trust among colleagues.

It would be wonderful if we all could simply bring our dogs to the office or shop floor to promote cooperation. In the absence of that opportunity, MSCI’s mission is to be your heartbeat. We aim to sustain a community of industrial metals companies and related organizations that support one another so we all can thrive. Through our professional development and educational programs, we hope to give our member company employees the kind of experiential learning and training programs that facilitate the teamwork, compassion, foresight, and risk-taking that humankind’s best friend displays every day.