Our Influential Furry Friends

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to talk with animal advocates at the Taking Action for Animals conference here in Washington, D.C..  In preparing for the event, I did a lot of thinking about our very, very, VERY influential furry and feathered friends.  The picture here is of a much younger me and one of my earliest teachers in the Influence Game, Xena Warrior Princess Dog.  On a daily basis she understood and implemented several basic keys to effective influence — all without using words.  A few examples…

  • Know What You Want:  While we sometimes think of dogs as somewhat scatter-brained (look! there’s a squirrel), the truth is that when they decide to focus on something they do so with unwavering attention.  For example, if Xena wanted a treat she would stare at the treat jar in our kitchen for HOURS.  In fact, you could feel her using her sheer force of will to extract a biscuit. She knew what she wanted, she focused on it and, frankly, she almost always (OK, always) got it. The lesson for humans? In any influence situation you should know the location of the treat jar. Then focus on it intently until someone comes and gives you what you want.
  • Know Who You’re Talking To: Xena varied her approach depending on her audience.  With me there was a lot of “look how cute I am” stuff going on.  With more “alpha” members of the pack (like her dog walker) she tried groveling.  With newcomers she used intimidation until the aforementioned alpha members of the pack sternly told her to cut it out.  While most humans can’t replicate her unerring ability to immediately get the vibe of her audience and respond accordingly, we can at least research our audience before communicating at them.  Take some time to try to figure out what might work with them.  What gets them up in the morning?  What keeps them up at night?  Will they melt when you ask about their pets?  I will.
  • Deliver Your Messages Effectively:  As noted earlier, if it were a biscuit she wanted, Xena’s delivered that message by staring at the treat jar, staring at the human, staring at the treat jar, staring at the human and so on until the human FINALLY got the point.  If the particular goal was a belly rub, she would run in front of the human wherever he/she was walking and throw herself on the floor belly-up.  For walks she would grab her leash and bring it to you.  I recommend more subtle approaches in human interactions, but it’s hard to beat Xena for effectiveness.
  • Persistence:  Xena was a firm believer in the “everything in the house is up for grabs” theory.  Shoes. Stuffed animals. Snacks. Carpets.  And she never forgot where the coveted items were located. I had a small stuffed bear sitting on my dressing table for four years. It was above dog eye level (I checked once), but she knew it was there. For those four years she sat next to me every morning asking silently for the privilege of tearing the stuffing out of it.  I finally gave in to her persistence. It lasted five minutes.

And here’s a bonus lesson — “always know what it is you’re fighting about”: I remember a time when Xena really want to eat something in the street and SNAP, before I could turn around she had it in her mouth. She was a very hard-jawed, so I had to fight with her for a while.  I pulled and pulled and pulled until I realized that what I was pulling on was the dessicated carcass of a dead squirrel.  Startled by my blood-curdling scream, Xena let go of her quarry and we ran home double-time so I could boil my hand.  Lesson learned? Never fight with a dog in a street over an unidentified object.




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