Here’s some unexpected advice for programmers and managers: Treat talent like dogs.

That sounds strange coming from a radio talent coach, but hold on. Dogs are our best friends. They’re friendly, loyal, and always there for you. We love dogs, and we should love our radio talent. It’s not a bad thing to treat talent like dogs.

In my eBook Treat Them Like Dogs, I compare the process of working with radio talent to training a dog. These adorable, talented creatures (I’m talking about air personalities now) drive managers crazy and test their patience. Success depends on understanding them, and learning to inspire, motivate, and reward them!

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

How To Treat Talent Like Dogs

Here are 10 reasons to treat talent like dogs.

They Respond to Praise: Air personalities want to make managers happy, just as puppies love to make their owners happy.  But they often don’t know what that means. Smart managers explain clearly what they expect, then reinforce positive behavior with praise. Psychological studies prove that it takes nine positive reinforcements to offset a single criticism. When personalities do something right, tell them. Reward them with praise. Dog trainers carry a pocket full of treats to reward a puppy when they do well. They try to catch them doing something good and reward them with a treat. It works a lot better than yelling at the dog, hoping they figure it out.

They Learn at Their Own Pace: Progress doesn’t happen as quickly as we want or think it should. And it doesn’t match how another talent grows. Comparing a dog to another is frustrating and counter-productive. Puppies (and talent) love to learn. It inspires, motivates, and challenges them. When they aren’t learning, they get bored. When they get bored, they stop paying attention. Then, bad things follow!

Time and Patience: Puppies learn with repetition. They don’t magically figure out how to sit by explaining it once. New habits have to be formed. And that takes time and patience. Personalities require attention. They don’t “get it” in a meeting and immediately perform differently. Help them learn through repetition, reinforcement, and of course, rewards.

Keep It Simple: Puppies don’t understand complex commands or detailed instructions. They respond to simple words like “Sit” or “Down.” And when a manager starts explaining complex programming philosophies or principles, air talent is quickly overwhelmed. Offer simple guidance and concepts that are easy to apply.

There Will Be Mistakes: Puppies are going to pee on the floor. More than once. At first, they don’t know any better. Or can’t 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. They need to be corrected and taught better behavior. When mistakes happen, make sure they know that the behavior is unacceptable. Deal with it quickly, then move on. Don’t stay mad and don’t bring it up again.

Establish Boundaries: Indulging a puppy produces a spoiled dog. They need boundaries. And so do personalities. They must know what is and is not allowed. Treat them kindly and fairly, but with clearly established expectations. You don’t want a morning show host jumping into a guest’s lap at the dinner table!

Some Dogs Can’t Be Trained: Some dogs are smarter than others. They’re capable of performing complicated tricks. Those dogs should have higher expectations than other puppies. Everyone has gifts. We all have strengths. Learn their capabilities and realize that personalities also have limits. It could be that your talent is just not the right “breed” for your needs. Don’t try to turn them into something they’re not.

You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks: Experienced air personalities are valuable. But they present a unique challenge. The radio industry is full of personalities living in the past. Some personalities are stuck using ideas that worked in the 80s. It may have worked then, but the techniques are outdated, ineffective, and just worn out. Understand it may take more time and understanding.

Keep Them Leashed Until Learned: Trainers keep dogs on a leash until they’re trained to respond to the voice commands. It’s not to be mean. It’s for the puppy’s safety! But in radio, personalities are hired, then expected to figure it out. That’s a mistake. Start with a tight leash. Loosen it gradually. Eventually, you may be able to throw the leash away. But if you let them run free, don’t be upset if they run away and don’t come back.

They Love Car Rides: Have you seen a dog with his head out the car window? They love it. 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!


When a dog is properly trained, they are loyal for life. It’s the same with air personalities. Treat talent like dogs. If you’d like to discuss how this can benefit your station, show, or company, please contact me.

Subscribe to Receive the Latest Radio and Personality News