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Horses for Courses and Dogs for Meetings, Says Psychologist

Originally Published 02 October 2003

National Meetings Week 2003 runs from October 6-10, and as a bit of fun, to mark the event, the organisers asked Dr June McNicholas, a senior research psychologist from the University of Warwick, to suggest how dogs could be used in meetings.

In turn, Dr McNicholas suggests that specific dog breeds could be used in meetings to illustrate points and reinforce company culture, so just as there are horses for courses, specific dog breeds are more suited for specific meeting types.

Dr McNicholas, from the University of Warwick, said: “It’s now well known that dogs are very good social catalysts, acting as ice breakers in many social settings, but it’s also important to note that particular types of dogs send out particular messages. Most people have beliefs about the qualities and characteristics of dog breeds and it is these, as much as the looks of the breed, that sway people to their choice of breed. Further, these messages can be utilised in situations of meetings and conferences.”

Beliefs of breed characteristics are formally outlined in the Kennel Club Breed Standards for each breed. A ‘good’ specimen of a breed conforms to type in temperament and personality, as well as the work it is intended to perform and its looks.

The use of breed representations is not entirely new, think of the Bulldog behind ‘Buy British’ type campaigns, asserts Dr McNicholas, who also proposes that characters of breed types can be matched to types of meeting. Sometimes this can be in a humorous way to give a light-hearted feel to the meeting. For example, a Basset Hound with its wise, wrinkled appearance, and placid, benevolent, hard working, but slow-ish nature is the perfect representative at retirement functions for senior management.

Or, it can be more serious. The tenacious character of the Jack Russell terrier could be perfect for the meeting of a small company determined to take on larger competitors in a tough market. Or tough-talking Chief Execs with a hard-hitting message for their workforce could reinforce their impact with a Bull terrier at their side.

So how is the dog used? Well, participants first meet the dog (utilising the general social catalysis function of any dog). Then explain what that particular breed represents. Illustrate this by having a working display of that breed, either for real or a video. Then make frequent cross references between the main discussion points of the meeting with what was seen in the dog’s display of abilities and talents.

Dr McNicholas added: “There is probably a dog for every occasion, and in a world where image is important, and messages need multi-dimensional reinforcement, why not use the characteristics of breed types for your events?”

“As concrete example, show a pack of foxhounds working. They are hard-working with a common goal, but rather undisciplined and forget they have to work together– a good basis for major points when assembling your regional sales teams. Alternatively, a video of a working sheepdog showing how the dog has to keep a constant eye on his targets, anticipate a number of potential actions that could be taken, stay calm enough not to rush his goals but quick, when necessary, to retrieve a situation when something unexpectedly breaks away. Ideal for a number of management training courses!”

Contacts: Jenny Murray, University of Warwick, on Tel: 02476 574255 or Dr June McNicholas, University of Warwick, Tel: 01854 633 796 Email: