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Posted: May 10, 2011

On management: I will teach my dog to read

Then I will add something to my own presentation

Pat Wiesner

How can I justify writing about a dog trick in a business magazine? Well, there might be a couple of reasons like, a) I'm on vacation in a foreign land (Florida), and it's the only thing different I've seen in the last month or, b) watch the cool way I try to develop a business application from the dog trick.
But probably the real reason is that it was the best dog trick I have ever seen, and I want to tell you about it.

We were staying in a condo in South Florida, and one of our neighbors asked us to come over for some wine and a visit, which we did. These were nice people whom we had met a couple of times before and who had this beautiful blue Weimaraner with piercing, intelligent eyes that seemed to be uninterested in and disdainful of whatever the people present were doing. When you arrived on the scene this dog would look up at you in inspection, then lie back down and continue doing nothing.

In our neighbor's home the dog did the same thing - checked us out and went about its business. I could never have guessed that it was anything but a normal dog. Certainly not the smartest dog I had ever met. I did not realize that I was in the presence of dog greatness.

During our visit, the conversation somehow drifted to the dog, and its owner said, rather matter-of-factly, "Our dog Bella can read." After some "no's" and some "yesses," our hostess went to a drawer and produced two 8-by-11 white cardboards and some dog biscuits. The dog knew something was up and got a little excited while we all circled around. Each card had only one word on it, and it was large, black hand-printed about three fourths of the card in height. The two words were "SIT" and "DOWN."

Our hostess would show one or the other card to the dog, after which it would either sit or lie down, depending on what was on the card. Each time the dog would stare at the card for a couple of seconds as though it was reading the word, then comply with whatever command was on the card. Then our hostess would give it a treat.

When working on the longer word, "DOWN," the dog seemed to take even longer to stare at the word and, I swear, its head seemed to move from side to side as though it were spelling out the word or actually reading it.

It was startling and spellbinding. We mixed up the cards and otherwise tried to confuse the dog, but it always got the reading problem right.
The owner said that Bella learned the two words in about two weeks. At this rate of 50 words per year it may never be able to read even the simplest book, but it should be deserving of a stint on Letterman, don't you think? Maybe the dog could learn cursive? Or perhaps Arabic and be translator in the field for the CIA?

In any case, here comes the business tidbit to think about. I will never forget Bella. Everyone who wants to cut a wide path in business has to have some of that "I'll never forget" mystique. The boss you will never forget because in addition to all the other things his mind was on, he had a keen interest in the career health of all his people, and because of this he had the best people.

The salesman you will never forget because he always seemed more interested in your problem than in selling you something. The accountant who tried so hard to put his world into words and relate it to your world so you could understand your position better.

Make yourself especially interested in others. Then train your dog to read.
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Pat Wiesner is the retired CEO of WiesnerMedia, publisher of ColoradoBiz. He still leads sales training for the company. E-mail him at pwiesner@cobizmag.com.

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