What My Dog Will Teach You About People Engagement Skills

Lee Dempster

18th September 2017

We live in a complicated world with more technology than ever before allowing us to tag, share, author, update, rant, post, video, send, comment – through multiple devices and applications.

Technology has undoubtedly sharpened our ability to communicate, but we should also remember that these tools are the enabler for us to engage. Therefore, they are only valuable tools if you know the basics of people engagement in the first place.

To remember the basics, I like to use as my example a master of people interaction. My dog. He is called Oscar and I can guarantee that he is pleased to meet you!


Here are 5 key practices which will make you an amazing people engager

1)  Meeting new people (Customers):
When someone comes to my house, Oscar gets excited. He barks to let us know someone is here, stares out through the door with tail wagging (it has glass, he’s not superdog) until we open it. As the door opens he runs enthusiastically around the new visitor’s legs. By now they understand he is not going to kill them, and ultimately, they do the same thing every time – they bend down and give him a stroke and he shows he appreciates it with positive feedback. That is how he makes new people feel great.

2)  Meeting existing people (Customers):
The routine for people he already knows is very similar because Oscar is nothing if not consistent. However, the big difference is how he interacts as they step into the house. Now he knows that they are coming in and recognises their smell he knows to notch it up. After all, these are our repeat visitors in the house so are important. He goes on his hind legs and rests his paws on their leg. This now gives you the option of stroking his head, neck and back; a far more intimate and engaged interaction. Prime repeat visitors in the house and close friends will likely get a toy so they can also play. It’s a bit like a loyalty bonus.

3)  Have a strategy to engage:
If Oscar wants to engage, he has a cunning plan to make sure that you do. Sit in my garden and he will drop a ball by your feet. You can ignore the ball if you don’t want to play. Oscar will then pick up the ball and drop it on your foot. You can still continue to ignore him. Next, he will drop it on the garden table and nudge it towards you with his nose. He is staring at you because now he is going for eye contact. You can still ignore the ball but after meeting his eyes, he knows he has you. He will grab the ball and drop it in your lap followed by a slight whine. The ball is where you can’t ignore it and you are looking straight into his eyes. He whines again (an excited huffing rather than a pity whine – no one likes a whinger!) – and you throw the ball. He has engaged with you and you have now engaged with him. He now has you for the next hour because he never gets bored.

4) Make sure everyone knows the time frames and deadlines;

It is easy to say what we are going to do, but often it is harder to get it done – especially as busy people often forget. Oscar knows this so takes the lead in ensuring that he is reminding you of your commitments and that you don’t disappoint. At 7.30am and 5.30pm Oscar will clearly remind you that you need to feed him. He does this by sitting by his bowl. If that doesn’t work, he will follow you around and then go to his bowl. This works every time – except, in my experience, for teenagers who will claim that they have absolutely no idea what is going on with him. Most teenagers, it turns out, are neither good communicators or people engagers – who knew?

5)  People engagement flourishes if there is mutual benefit.

If Oscar is lying on the floor as you enter the room, his tail will start wagging – gently. He has learnt not to ignore the benefit of any passing engagement opportunity. As you move closer, the distance correlates directly to the speed of the wagging. Of course you think he is cute so bend down to give him a quick ruffle. He responds by getting up and nuzzling your hand to scratch his ears. If you stop now he will lightly put his paw on your hand, a sign to you to keep going. You sit down because squatting is uncomfortable and with a smile on your face you scratch his ears. You may say something like “Oh Oscar I have things to do, I really need to get on”….but you continue to interact. You are happy, Oscar is happy. JOB DONE!

So if you want to be a top people engager, try to be more like Oscar. Although I would suggest you refrain from licking people – most people consider that to be just plain weird.