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7 ways dogs are better workers than people

Military working dog wears Doggles to protect his eyes as a Chinook helicopter takes off in Afghanistan
Sgt. Jason Brace,Flickr user The U. S. Army

(MoneyWatch) A highly developed neocortex -- the part of the brain that allows people to think -- may make it possible for people to invent and innovate, but when it comes to basic working skills it can actually be a liability. The truth is that people can learn a lot about being effective workers from dogs.

The unique working relationship between humans and dogs dates back more than 15,000 years. That's right. Long before there were businesses and companies, men employed dogs to herd livestock, hunt, fish, control pests, guard, and pull loads, among other things.

Interestingly, ants and bees are even better at certain specialized work functions than mammals are. The only problem with insects is they don't take direction well (at least not from me). I know, I've tried everything, but they refuse to do what I tell them to do.

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Cats? Forget it. Certain dog breeds are hands-down some of the most dependable workers on the planet. Working dogs like German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Boxers -- which I've had for years -- may even have some advantages over humans. Here are seven I've picked up from trainers, working with my dogs, and research on the most successful interspecies relationship in history.

They are more open and direct about workplace issues. People can have workplace relationship problems that span months, cause all sorts of problems, and destroy productivity. Not dogs. Dogs bump heads exactly once. If they can get past their territorial issues, they'll move on like nothing ever happened. If not, you know they can't work together. Either way, it's over and done. There are no passive aggressive or back-stabbing dogs.

They don't overextend themselves. As far back as I can remember, I've had problems with employees making promises they can't keep. Dogs never bite off more work than they can chew. If you give them too large an area to guard or more work than they can reasonably handle, you'll quickly notice signs of stress and unwanted behavior. If you cut their workload back, they'll be happy and effective.

If you're a lousy leader, they let you know. In the above example, if you fail to recognize that you've given your workers more than they can handle, well, then that's clearly a management problem. Nevertheless, dogs will let you know. They'll become agitated and behave badly. A misbehaving dog is almost always the result of an owner who doesn't know how to effectively "lead" his "worker."

They're easily trainable and very hard workers. If you know how to manage a dog, they'll literally work until you tell them to stop or they drop (not that you should push them that far, of course). Most people don't know that because, in modern-day culture, people don't have much use for working dogs and simply don't know how to train them or communicate what they want done.

They take direction well and give great service. Dogs have the best "what can I do for you" customer service attitude I've ever seen. Once you communicate what you want them to do, they'll do it to the best of their ability no matter what. On the flip side, if you're busy and your dog is restless and bugging you, toss him a toy and tell him to play with it. He'll do that for a while and then snooze or clean himself. He won't bother you again for a long time. They just want to serve. All you have to do is give them something, anything, to do.

They're effective individually or in teams. Working dogs are primarily used individually or in small groups. However, when it comes to certain functions like transport, rescue, and defense, they can be highly effective in teams. Since they descended from gray wolves, I'm guessing there's still a pack animal in there somewhere.

They never complain and are completely loyal. All they really want is to do a great job, know you appreciate it, and get your attention and a treat every so often. For that, along with food and shelter, they'll give you years of loyal service. They'll never jump ship to another boss and they'll never complain. Come to think of it, the only problem is they just don't live long enough.

Here's a bonus -- a leadership lesson I learned from working with dogs. Breeding aside, dogs have behavioral issues primarily because their owners don't train or manage them properly. Personally, I think that people who can't manage their dogs -- or their children, for that matter -- probably don't make very good leaders in the working world, either.   

Come to think of it, since dogs lack high-level brain functions that complicate things, if you truly want to test a potential leader's emotional intelligence, pair him up with a working dog, give him several tasks to accomplish together, and see how they do. Once you've established a baseline, that's probably a more accurate indicator of EQ than those dumb tests that, frankly, are easy to game.

Image courtesy of Flickr user The U. S. Army