Some five years ago we were having ‘dog gap years’ following the loss of Tess, our golden retriever, aged fourteen. It was a break from getting up in dark, wet winter mornings for the first walk. It was also a gap from the love, fun and unconditional hugs, and licks of my ear I got each day from her. Not every cafe and hotel are dog friendly though, so we visited new places too.
We were in Hexham visiting old university friends on our way to Scotland. They were also dog lovers, owners of Copper, a lively Red Setter, and suggested we took the road to West Woodburn on our way north to see the memorial to Old Hemp, considered to be the foundation sire of the Border Collie breed, so off we set.
Adam Telfer was a shepherd who lived in the village of West Woodburn and acknowledged as the man who bred Old Hemp, the first Border Collie sheepdog, in September 1893. Legend has it that Hemp’s mother, Meg, was a reticent and very strong-eyed black sheepdog, while Hemp’s father, Roy, was a loose-eyed black, white, and tan sheepdog with a good-natured temperament.
First following sheep at the age of six weeks, Hemp grew to have a great ability to herd. He moved sheep quietly and was mild-mannered; he never ceased to impress Telfer, who once said he flashed like a meteor across the sheepdog horizon, and won many awards at sheepdog trials, a new countryside event at the time. Hemp had a way of working sheep in a low crouching style that was new, which you can still see in all Border Collies today. It’s estimated he had more than 200 offspring, due to his stud services being widely sought after.
The breed was first called ‘Border Collie’ in 1915 to differentiate them from the Scotch Collie, and to highlight their origin in the Scottish/English border region. Every Border Collie today can trace its lineage back to Old Hemp. The memorial to Telfer and Old Hemp we visited was unveiled on September 8, 2015, the event attended by a large assembly of Border Collies and their respective owners.
It was a sign. Our next dog was to be a Border Collie, as this followed an experience just the previous year. Touring New Zealand, we’d driven from Queenstown to Mount Cook National Park and onto Lake Tekapo. On the shores of the lake there is an impressive statute of a Border Collie. It’s not a statue of a particular dog; it’s a statue to all the Border Collies of New Zealand. The epitaph reads New Zealand owes a debt to the Border Collie without whom the vast lands of New Zealand could never have been farmed.
The Old Hemp memorial settled it. Within three months we had Mollie, a Border Collie rescue dog aged five, following a visit to Bleak Holt sanctuary high up in the Rossendale hills. It was love at first sight. Mollie was a former working hill dog who was too playful and wouldn’t concentrate, so was let go. We didn’t choose her, she chose us. We took her home where the first thing she needed was a good wash and then eventually a name. I think naming a dog is rather a special thing, just like humans.
And this blog has come about because as I was pondering what to write about this week, Mollie wandered over to nudge my hand, a subtle request for a ruffle of the ears or an early alert for the dinner time walk, and it occurred to me that her habits and characteristics were something that we could learn from. I spent the next hour or two watching her as she went about her day, and it became clear that she was, like all dogs, an exemplar of the entrepreneurial spirit. So, here is a list ten things us entrepreneurs can learn from canine companions like Mollie.
1. Give a dog a bone: be tenacious Anyone who has watched a dog with a marrow bone understands the meaning of the expression like a dog with a bone. When dogs know what they want, they demonstrate an impressive degree of single-mindedness and an ability to tune out what doesn’t matter. As an entrepreneur, you likely have more ideas than hours in the day. Instead of chasing every squirrel, set priorities and follow your dog’s example and be single-minded on the task in hand and see it through.
2. A man’s best friend: demonstrate loyalty When a dog bonds with their owner, that’s it, it’s a done deal. The end. They are friends for life, unconditional love and the dog will never turn away or do anything to harm her. Entrepreneurs need to show the same loyalty to their team, investors, and customers. Fierce and perpetual allegiances should be a priority for you – always treat others as you want to be treated yourself.
3. Dogs protect their patch: be alert When the postman starts to walk up the drive, Mollie hears him 100m away and barks. She is tuned in to anything different, making it clear that this is her territory and will do whatever needs to be done to protect it. What can entrepreneurs learn? Watch your competition, stay out in front, and know a threat when you see it – protect the IP for your innovation. And don’t be afraid to growl…
4. Dogs trust their nose: stay curious Mollie never stop sniffing, whether on a walk in the park, looking out the open car window, or watching me cook in the kitchen, the nose is always twitching, always sensing the world around her. Effective entrepreneurs need to develop a ‘sense of smell’ – stay abreast of your market, your competition; your nose should be twitching every day and you should pay close attention to the signals. Plus, you’ll be the first to know when the sausages are ready.
5. Wag your tail: share the joyous moments We can learn from dogs at many levels, but especially this one. Dogs laugh with their tails when they’re pleased, it’s a joyous sight. Mollie always wags her tail in response to Good Girl, Mollie, I never tire from sharing in her excitement. Let’s face it sometimes there are repetitive tasks in any startup venture, but when the sparky moments come along enjoy them, it’s important to everyone. Make celebration part of your startup culture and give praise, we all want to wag our tails when feeling good about ourselves!
6. Keep your eyes on the ball: focus Like many dogs, Mollie has a favourite ball. When she plays with it, she gives it her full attention, her full energy. Likewise, entrepreneurs should have a sharp, diligent focus, eliminating distractions such as noisy social media while working on a specific task and breaking work down into manageable chunks, completing each one before taking a break or moving onto the next.
Focus on sales activity and a focus on the sales dashboard of numbers is one of the key aspects of being a startup leader. And if you think Mollie can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then only giving her two.
7. Dogs have amazing adaptive intelligence: trust your instincts Mollie is a retired working dog, she’s ten years off the farm, but her instincts are often seen in daily life – it’s not unusual for her to nip at the heels of visitors and attempt to round them up. She’s also a very quick learner. This instinctive IQ is adaptive intelligence, which refers to the ability of Mollie to learn for itself. This may include anything from her problem-solving ability to how she’s able to learn from previous experiences – again, striking qualities needed by all entrepreneurs.
8. Barking up the wrong tree: learn to pivot Mollie has an insane dislike of squirrels, and whilst it’s a 50-50 competition chasing them on the flat, once up a tree it’s game over. But she doesn’t accept this and would spend the next hour prowling round the base of the tree looking up getting increasingly agitated as a confident Mr. Squirrel flicked its tail to keep her attention. She doesn’t know when to give up and we have to put the lead on and drag her away. Sometimes entrepreneurs can be similarly blinded; you have to know when enough is enough, it’s not going to work out, and you have to pivot.
9. Don’t let the tail wag the dog: set priorities and routines Often in a startup there are 101 things to do, and often it’s the stuff we enjoy, or the easier stuff we chose to do first. Likewise, Mollie, she gets excited about the things she loves to do. When I say the word walk or show her the lead, she’s a tornado of energy. Dogs are not shy about getting excited about the things they care about, and entrepreneurs can learn from this.
But you also need to establish a set of scalable processes in your startup which build a ‘business as usual’ routine. That means doing it the same way, going through the same steps every time. Set your priorities and routines – and that’s how you train a dog, you must do the hard yards to build routine as Pavlov showed us, as well as the fun things. Disruption in routines causes a dog anxiety, and can also have the same impact in a business.
10. Dogs eat with gusto: do everything with passion Mollie has a great appetite, eating whatever is put in front of her, and with a fervour and enthusiasm. If you’ve never seen a dog eat, it’s like they’ve not had a meal for a week. Nothing comes between Mollie and her bowl. Approach your business, with the same driving hunger, enjoying every minute will put fire in your belly and give you a feeling of satisfaction.
In fact, dogs do most things with passion, and in your startup venture it’s a key attribute to evidence, connecting on an emotional level is where it’s at for both personal and business relationships. When you do this, the game changes for your business with employees, investors, and customers. Passion shows how much you are committed to fighting your way to success, and as Mark Twain said it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.