Dogs and Safety: What\’s True for Them is True for You

Our rescue dog, LivvyLou, will randomly get spooked by stairs. On one recent day, when I had a desk-load of deadlines in my home office, I also had a dog at the top of the stairs, barking incessantly. 

The noise was deafening and it broke my heart and I got nothing done and I was paralyzed as to what to do to help her!

Getting Stuck in a Pattern of Fear

I Googled: How to get my dog down the stairs. First thing I read – don’t force them! (Reminds me of this fantastic NPR article on how Inuit parents raise their kids without punishment). 

Okay, good. Now what?

I tried to pick her up (all 55 pounds) but she was skittish and pulled away. I laid green towels on the carpeted stairs, thinking maybe contrasting colors would help her see a path forward.

I called the vet and they said: Tempt her with high-reward treats. She\’s a food-motivated dog, so perfect! I laid strategic treats at every step on the stairs and in her bowl at the bottom of the stairs.

Didn’t work.

Three hours later–seriously, I don’t know who was more traumatized, her or me—and I was about to go on a client call. I finally did what I’m not supposed to do: I put on her leash and dragged her down the first two steps. She then raced down the rest of the stairs to the treats in her dog bowl, and I was overjoyed.

While gleefully texting my husband the news, she turned around and ran back up the stairs, now stuck and barking at the top—again.

There’s something so familiar about this pattern, and I recognize it in me and in my work with clients. 

Yes? Have you been there yourself? Do you see it in your staff?  

Safety Breaks Our Mindless Patterns

For LivvyLou, my husband figured out the solution: We attached her leash to her collar (safety) and had her focus on him (connection and trust) while they did circles around the guest bedroom and she gained the focus needed to go down the stairs without any effort or fear.

And there it is again, safety and trust. The vital key to problem-solving.

Google and Safety: There is No Team Without Trust

In Google’s Project Aristotle study of 180,000 teams, safety and trust – called psychological safety – came out as the most important factor for high-performing teams. That\’s right, a tech company defining safety and trust as paramount. (Harvard Business Review, 2015)

I know, it’s a stretch to correlate high-performing teams with a dog. But stay with me just a bit more.

“There\’s no team without trust,” states Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google in an article by Laura Delizonna. (Harvard Business Review 2017)

The author continues that psychological safety is vital to uncertain, interdependent environments BECAUSE when under stress—and just when we need our brains the most—our amygdala signals alarm and we, literally, lose our minds and perspective.

The Power of Positive Emotions

However, the exciting news is that we’re finally coming to understand that success relies upon positive emotion to solve complex problems and foster cooperative relationships

Delizonna continues:

“[P]ositive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and help us build psychological, social, and physical resources. We become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe. Humor increases, as does solution-finding and divergent thinking, which are the cognitive processes underlying creativity.”

People become resilient, motivated, innovative and persistent through trust. We don’t get anywhere alone. We’re wired to connect!

So, who’s your LivvyLou?

Who’s driving you INSANE with their whining while stuck at the top of the stairs and not making progress? As counter-intuitive as it may seem, your best step forward may be to create greater safety and connection.  

When you establish trust, your LivvyLou is likely to take the risk to rejoin the teammotivated and inspired to provide you a bowl of treats brimming with ideas, perspectives and solutions. (And no more barking!)

To safety, trust, resilience and a heaping helping of humor!

Scroll to Top