A personality saw the headline from my Treat Them Like Dogs seminar and sent a scathing email attacking me for claiming to be a talent advocate while suggesting management should abuse the personalities. After watching the seminar, his attitude completely changed because this air talent realized that most of us treat dogs better than people. There are 10 good reasons to treat talent like dogs.

Dogs are our best friends. They’re friendly, loyal, and always there for their master, as long as they’re properly treated. We love dogs, and we should love radio personalities. It’s not a bad thing to treat talent like dogs.

Treat Talent Like Dogs? Yes!

The process of working with air talent is similar to training a dog. These adorable, talented creatures (I’m talking about air personalities now) drive managers crazy and test their patience because they have their own ideas of how to behave. Raising a fun, healthy dog requires the owner to understand, inspire, motivate, and reward them!

Do it right and it’s the most enjoyable process in the radio business.

There are 10 good reasons to treat talent like dogs. Following these guidelines will help programmers have a more productive relationship with the personalities that hold the keys to future success. And you can apply the same concepts to training your next Golden Retriever!

They Respond to Praise

Air personalities want to make managers happy, just as puppies love to make their owners happy.  They really, truly do! But they often don’t know how to do it because managers haven’t been clear or specific.

Smart managers explain what they expect at the beginning of the relationship, then reinforce positive behavior consistent with established goals. All humans respond best to praise and that’s particularly true for sensitive radio personalities. In fact, psychological studies prove that it takes nine positive reinforcements to offset a single criticism. That’s just to break even!

When personalities do something right, tell them! Dog trainers fill their pockets with treats to reward puppies when they demonstrate good behavior. When they catch them doing something good, the dog is rewarded. It works better than yelling at the dog.

They Learn at Their Own Pace

Progress doesn’t happen as quickly as we want or think it should. Logical programmers think personalities should be able to understand and apply a concept just by discussing it. That’s not how it works.

Comparing your dog (or kid) to another puppy in the class is frustrating. There’s always an over-achiever that makes you feel like your puppy is the dumbest dog ever. Puppies (and talent) love to learn. It inspires them, but the light turns on at different times for each personality.

Don’t get frustrated. Be persistent, but patient. And when a goal is reached, introduce something new. Trainers teach owners to always be working on a new skill or trick because when dogs aren’t learning, they get bored. When they get bored, they stop paying attention. Then, bad things follow!

Time and Patience

Puppies learn through repetition. They don’t magically figure out how to sit by explaining or demonstrating it just once or twice. New habits have to be formed and that takes time.

Personalities don’t “get it” in a meeting and perform with perfection tomorrow morning. Invest time to help them master concepts and ideas through repetition, reinforcement, and of course, rewards.

Keep It Simple

Programmers tend to make things more complicated than necessary by over-explaining things personalities don’t understand or care about (such as stop set placement).

Similarly, puppies don’t understand complex commands and detailed instructions. What would happen if you explained this to a puppy:

I want you to put your butt on the ground and look up at me because that’s what good dogs do. If you do this, people will like you more.

Nothing would happen. They respond to simple words like “Sit” or “Down”, followed by a treat that reinforces the behavior when they get it right. When a manager tries to explain complex programming philosophies or principles, they get bored or overwhelmed.

They don’t need to understand all the mechanical reasons for getting into the stop set by :13. Just explain that it will help with ratings manipulation, then reward them when they do it right.

Offer simple guidance and concepts that are easy to execute.

There Will Be Mistakes

Puppies pee on the floor. More than once. At first, they don’t know any better or are too young to control themselves. When it happens, the trainer cleans up after them.

Peeing on the floor doesn’t make the puppy a bad dog. They just did a bad thing. Make sure they know that the behavior is unacceptable. Deal with it quickly with corrections and instructions for “next time”, then reward that good behavior when it happens.

When mistakes happen, fix it and move on to get back into a positive coaching relationship quickly.

Establish Boundaries

Puppies without boundaries become spoiled dogs. They need to know what is and is not acceptable. And so do personalities.

Establish those ground rules early in the relationship so they know what is and is not allowed. There should be relatively few actual rules but many guidelines that allow creative expression.

Treat them kindly and fairly, but with clearly established expectations. Nobody wants a morning show host jumping into a guest’s lap at the dinner table!

Keep Them Leashed Until Learned

Trainers keep dogs on a leash until they’re trained to respond to voice commands. A leash is not being mean. It’s for the puppy’s safety! A leash allows exploration and expression during training without the risk of the dog running in front of a car or getting in a fight with a Doberman.

Puppies can’t be expected to figure out what the owner wants and personalities shouldn’t be expected to figure out what a great show sounds like on your station.

After a few key rules are established, start with a tight leash. Loosen it gradually as the personalities develop the skills and expertise to earn more freedom. The goal is to trust the show and eliminate the leash entirely but don’t do this all at once. If they’re allowed to run free, don’t be upset or surprsied if they run off and get in trouble.

Some Dogs Can’t Be Trained

It’s important to know each pet individually. Some breeds are smarter than others and each dog is more or less capable than others in the same litter.

Some are capable of performing complicated tricks. Those dogs should have higher expectations than other puppies. Others are challenged to get through the basics.

Everyone has gifts. Identify each personality’s strengths, learn their capabilities, and realize that each has limits. It could be that your talent is just not the right “breed”. You might also discover that the dog is more capable than suspected.

The point: Work with them to reach their full potential, but don’t try to turn them into something they’re not.

You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks

But it’s not as easy as training a puppy.

Experienced air personalities are valuable but they present a unique challenge. Old dogs often don’t want to learn new tricks. They don’t respond to treats like a young puppy full of enthusiasm. It’s not fresh and exciting to them. They’re more interested in napping in the sun.

The radio industry is littered with personalities living in the past. Some are stuck using ideas that worked in the 80s. The ideas worked then, but the techniques are outdated, ineffective, and worn out.

Try to understand them, but realize it may take more time and effort to find the techniques that inspire the old dog.

Dogs Love Car Rides

Have you seen a dog with his head sticking out of the car window with his ears flying in the wind? They love it. That exuberance is pure joy. It’s the ultimate reward.

Air personalities love car rides, too, and someday they may give you a ride in a new sports car they buy with the rating bonus they earn!


Treat talent like dogs. When a dog is properly trained, they are loyal for life. Training is hard work, but it’s actually fun and extremely rewarding.

Dog trainers know they aren’t training puppies as much as they are owners. We can help. To hire a trainer to help learn how to inspire great performances, please contact us.

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