When we took Detroit to puppy class, we were told that dogs want to please us, and they will know they are pleasing us by our praise. We were told dogs needed to hear “good girl” or “good boy” often and that a little pat on the head or scratch behind the ear would reinforce the message. It reminded me of an old Amy Grant song about how we all need to hear an “atta girl” or “atta boy” from time to time.
My walks with Detroit became running monologues of what a good girl she is. I would tell her she was a good walker, pee-er, poop-er, squirrel hunter, etc. I would tell her she was the best dog in town. “Good ‘leave it,’” I would say when she actually responded to the command, or “good ‘sit/stay’” when she sat at a corner waiting for me to release her and continue our walk.
At some point during these walks, I became aware that while it might be good for Detroit to be praised, it was also good for me to praise her. I realized that praise was not a habit I had, and I decided to change that.
I made a commitment to praise someone at work every day and to pay a random compliment to a stranger at least once a day.
It was easy to praise people at work because our students, volunteers and staff were always doing good things, a fact I had known, but now I was committed to acknowledging it. I tried to be specific in my praise so that people knew I was truly seeing them and commenting on something they did. I soon found myself being more positive about work and more optimistic in general.
The random compliments part of the commitment was even easier. I would compliment store employees for how the store looked or tell the deli workers what a great job they did in making my sandwich. I would compliment people on their clothes or hair. I would tell people the difference they were making in my life just by doing what they were doing—my car mechanic or the customer service representative or restaurant staff.
I had long been aware of people who love what they do and would often comment on it, but not usually to the person. Now I was acknowledging when someone seemed well-suited to their work. And to the people who clearly did not love what they were doing, I would try to find a way to encourage them or at least empathize with them in their mismatched situation.
I learned that people like to be noticed. Even noticing that someone got a haircut would get a “thank you” in response; “thank you for noticing me” is what the person was saying.
Maybe, like our dogs, we really do want to please others, and maybe Amy Gant was right when she sang that we all need to hear an “atta girl” or “atta boy” from time to time.