Four Lessons from Adopting a Dog that Apply to Engineering

As today is National Dog Day I thought I would discuss how adopting a dog has helped me in my engineering career. My partner and I adopted Nemo (see photo below) a few months ago from our local animal shelter. As I am still working from home, he has been a great companion. Here are four lessons I have learned so far since adopting a dog:

1. Routines are everything

Especially when first adopting a dog, routines are key to a smooth transition while your new dog is being acclimated as everything else is so different (people, apartment, smells, etc.). Establishing a routine provides structure which directly relates to the work from home. Maintaining routines that you did in the office such as taking time away from work for lunch has been crucial for my efficiency throughout the day.

Because we don’t currently have a fenced-in yard, my main part of my daily routine with Nemo is taking him out for a walk each morning and before bed. As someone who heavily relies on her cup of coffee, this morning walk was rough originally to get used to. However, as I settled into the habit, I realized that this fresh air in the morning is a great way to start my day! Most days I don’t even bring my phone, so that I can focus on Nemo and appreciate the natural surroundings. In contrast to my fast-paced virtual work environment, these walks have reminded me the importance of slowing down and have helped greatly as a release for my anxiety. Also, these walks have been great for my creativity including coming up with examples for this blog post!

2. The power of positivity

Before we adopted Nemo, he already had been taught some basic commands, but we are working on good habits like not pulling on the leash. I learned very quickly the importance of positive reinforcement through praise and treats to reward Nemo when he repeats the good behavior.

We tend to repeat actions that gives us a positive reward, even if this is just verbal appreciation. At work, I try to remember to thank those who take time out of their busy day to answer a question of mine or even work late to help me to complete a task. I also like to think of this in terms of rewarding yourself after you hit a certain goal. For example, after a submission goes in on time, I like to reward myself by binge watching a few episodes of something I like on Netflix or getting sushi takeout for dinner. Positive reinforcement can also help you stick to your routine. Similar to training a dog, learning a new skill takes time and dedication. I prioritize my self-development by setting SMART goals in both my work and life so that I can incorporate fulfilling these goals through small steps in my daily routine.

3. The importance of responsibility

Growing up my family had many pets, but I don’t think I quite understood the full commitment of a dog until adopting my own. Dogs require a lot of our time and effort, which is a huge undertaking but also comes with many positives. Just as I am responsible for making sure Nemo is fed twice a day and other daily tasks, I am responsible for my engineering tasks at work. I may not be signing the plans as I am not yet a licensed P.E. but I still have the personal responsibility over the tasks that I am assigned and how it contributes to the overall project. One lesson that I have learned is soon after being assigned a task, I check in with whom assigned it to go over my general approach. This gives me the chance to verify design criteria as well as make sure that I am in alignment with the task assigned prior to continuing work. Especially in the consulting side of engineering, time is money so this approach helps to save time for me to understand the scope of the task assigned to me before diving into the main work of the task.

4. Never be too afraid to ask

When Nemo needs to go to the bathroom beyond our typical walks, he knows to sit at the front door (and sometimes even paws the bell on our door to audibly let me know). Whenever Nemo needs something from me, he has no shame in asking for his need to be met. This has served as an excellent reminder that I have the right to be heard and understood, especially at work. Also your supervisor isn’t psychic; They can’t help you achieve a goal if they don’t know what the goal is you are trying to accomplish. As such, you need to advocate for yourself and what you need to be better at your job. Most recently, I have done this through advocating my career development needs through my annual performance review. I want to eventually become a thought leader in the field of sustainability, so I expressed my need to my supervisor that earning the ENV SP certification would help me in accomplishing this goal. It required communicating effectively the benefit that this certification will have to both me as an employee and the company as a whole, but the hard work and coordination paid off and I will hopefully be getting this certification by the end of the calendar year.

Now every time I see my little Nemo, I am reminded of how important it is to advocate for myself and for others. I hope these lessons help you in your engineering journey!

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