Working Like a Dog: How Much Do You Know About Your Employees?

Article main image
Mar 10, 2014

My wife and I have three lazy dogs.

Given the choice, I know Ozzy, Olivia and Toby would like to be out chasing the deer, elk, and fox that run free in the mountains surrounding our house, but we can’t trust that they’ll come back so we don’t give them that freedom. As a result, they’ve mastered the art of continual relaxation.

Before dogs were domesticated 150 years ago (and subsequently are now typically pampered and spoiled by their owners) they were used for pulling carts, herding sheep, and chasing predators away from livestock.

It’s not known for sure where the phrase “work like a dog” originated, but it’s safe to assume it was a tribute to our canine friends by those who were in awe of their work ethic.

Working like a dog?

Today, one out of three households in America have at least one dog. However, other than those used in service for the disabled and those relied upon to guard people or property and aid police, the vast majority of dog owners don’t expect any sort of labor to be performed by their furry friends.

So, is the cliché working like a dog obsolete?

I thought so.

But last week, a friend sent me a very amusing video featuring a mature beagle so determined to get some of his owner’s chicken nuggets out of a convection oven that his relentless pursuit yields him a significant treasure.

(If you can’t see this video on YouTube, click here.)

My book Reviving Work Ethic defines work ethic very simply as knowing what to do – and doing it.

This clever beagle knew exactly what he wanted and he knew how to go about getting it. He combined his knowledge with every ounce of energy he could muster and every available resource (the chair) to achieve his objective. This dog knew what to do, and he did it.

Pause, reflect, and react

Imagine that a private detective walked into your office with a video of each employee who reports to you that captures three random hours of each individual’s time spent on the job over the past week. After viewing the performance of each of your people, you are asked to answer two questions, providing only a yes or no response to each:

  1. Do they KNOW what to do? Has this person been trained well enough so that they are proficiently working towards a clear objective, capable of recognizing when that mission is accomplished to the required standards?
  2. Are they DOING it? Is this individual performing up to their full potential, using all of their creativity, talents, skills, and strengths to achieve the goals and objectives that have been established and mutually agreed upon?

If you are as in-touch with your direct reports as you should be, then you can probably predict how you would respond to those questions for each. And if you’d answer both questions with an enthusiastic “yes,” congratulations! That employee is truly “working like a dog” or, at least, like a hungry beagle. (There should be some sweet nuggets coming their way.)

If, however, you hesitate in your answer, or you answer either or both questions with a no, it’s time to teach your old dog a few new tricks before they get fleas and spread them throughout your pack.

And as the lead dog in this scenario, you should probably add a few new tricks to your act, as well.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!