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Friday, May 27, 2022

Training: Learning from the Labrador

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Mira and Maggy are so much more than just “sitting” and “lying down.” Brown and silver Labrador retrievers are “leadership dogs”; after all, they train executives. While other dogs fetch sticks and kick on command, “Mira and Maggy help entrepreneurs and managers communicate more clearly, act more purposefully, improve their impact, and lead themselves and others with respect.” says at least his mistress Melanie Ebert.

Ebert offers “animal assisted training” for companies and individuals in Willersdorf in Upper Franconia. She watches how humans and animals communicate with each other, which quickly leads to learning effects, the trainer says: “Dogs give direct, appreciative feedback.”

In one exercise, the seminar participants have to guide the dogs through a course, overcoming obstacles, on and off leash. This doesn’t work with coercion and shouting orders, but with clear announcements and rewards. In her book “Leadership ohne Leine”, Melanie Ebert summarizes her coaching method with the formula “wow effect”, which means “appreciation, attention and rethinking”.

Training: Melanie Ebert with Mira.  The two offer coaching for companies in Ebert in Upper Franconia.

Melanie Ebert with Mira. The two offer coaching for companies in Ebert in Upper Franconia.

(Photo: Lisa Doneff)

The industry is very inventive when it comes to selling expensive individual consultations, books and training courses to wealthy clients. After field games, Bach flowers, kinesiology and hypnosis, now it is the turn of animals as tools. In addition to dogs, Creative Career Consultants offer an entire petting zoo for team building, management training, and conflict resolution. The Naturakademie near Hamburg is firmly in the saddle when it comes to horse training. In Lüneburg, donkey-assisted training allows teams to experience what it means when the boss really is a donkey. Viennese trainer Patricia Staniek takes the participants of her course to a wolf enclosure. If she wishes, she can also test her leadership skills on sheep: will the flock follow her well or will they just complain?

Should bosses be equated with wolves and employees with sheep?

Animal lovers can enjoy such experiments. But can you really compare the behavior of a Labrador to that of a co-worker? Should bosses be equated with wolves and subordinates with sheep? In nature, hierarchies work differently than they do in humans, but there are parallels as well. Watching a pack of wolves or huskies, one quickly becomes aware of the largest, strongest and loudest animal. “In the pack, however, it’s not necessarily the strongest dog that leads, but the sovereign,” says Melanie Ebert. The leader is usually the member of the pack that works the most as a team, organizes the survival of the group and manages conflicts with a firm claw.

In the case of humans, on the other hand, the so-called alpha animals still have a voice in many hierarchies. Most of these are older men who are particularly gawky, have successfully bitten others, or have risen to the highest position because they are considered good professionals. But that doesn’t mean they’re the smartest and most socially competent on the team. In her seminars, trainer Melanie Ebert tries to teach participants appreciative communication and leadership at eye level with the help of her dogs. Animals will only cooperate if you clearly and calmly tell them what you want from them. So if bosses want to stop people from peeing on their legs or biting their calves right away, maybe they should go to dog training school.

Labradors are especially well-suited as trainers, as most of them have sensitive social antennae, like Mira and Maggy. However, Labradors are also particularly greedy. They would do anything for a treat, but without a reward they are sometimes too lazy to get up. To motivate them without food, additional encouragement through games and fun is needed. There are parallels here, too, according to Melanie Ebert: “You can’t put a meatloaf in front of your employee every day and then expect them to do better,” she says, “that requires significantly more meaningful tasks.”


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