Recently, my relatively settled life has been taken over by a 7-pound Jack Russell puppy named Girlie. Girlie's schedule is now my schedule. My floors are strewn with dog toys and my house has dog crates and dog gates. She's a hurricane. She can outrun and out jump her master. She keeps me going long after I'm tired. The vet warns me she's "highly dominant" and that if I don't soon make my dominance clear, she'll be ordering me off the couch.

So I brought in a respected trainer to train not so much the dog as me. It's been 10 years since I last attempted to inculcate a puppy with the rules and routines of my household. How puppy training has changed! Today's trainer tries to manipulate situations so he or she can praise and reward the dog into doing the right thing. Trainers use punishment only as a last resort. This is what business teachers mean when they talk about "Vitamin P," that is, the power of praise in a business environment, said to be five times more effective than criticism in training employees.

With puppies, we accept that training doesn't involve teaching a concept just one time, but repeatedly. And, the puppy trainer says, we must make this learning fun, exciting, and varied. (Yes, I think this applies in your business too. How about using a large chocolate chip cookie to teach financial information? Or building a charity playhouse to review some technical concepts?)

Who's the boss?

Remember that dominance issue? With dogs, you use the "Alpha Wolf" technique. A wolf pack has a dominant leader. If challenged or irritated by a puppy, the alpha wolf rolls the offender on its back and stares it down until the insolent one turns away. My puppy princess nipped the vet. The vet immediately rolled Girlie on her back and stared her down.

I don't recommend the above technique with employees. As owner, production manager, sales manager, or lead carpenter, however, you must exert your dominance if challenged. In fact you may never need to do this. But if you do, make your status in the hierarchy clear in a way that exudes quiet confidence.

The strategy with puppies, kids, and staff is much the same. Make learning and training fun and rewarding. Make it long term. And in the end, make sure employees realize that you, the owner, are the leader and make the final call.

Invest for the future

I'm devoting all this time to my pup because she will be my life companion for the next dozen years. What she learns now will make our journey together either rewarding or frustrating. Do you look at your investment in a new employee that way? Do you hire "for life" and train with a considerable amount of time and money? Are you aware that the culture at your business and the one at your new employee's previous job is as different as the culture at your household and mine? Have you found, as I have, that some of the best remodeling business ideas come from outside the walls of your business? I recently heard a speech given by Jack Welch, General Electric's CEO, who institutionalized the concept of the "boundary-less sharing of ideas." To thrive at GE, you had to always be on the lookout for the next great idea -- often from an unexpected source, and often from outside the industry.

Now I'm off to learn more business hints from Monty Roberts, the master horse trainer (remember him from The Man Who Listens to Horses?). He has written a new book, Horse Sense for People. In it, he applies his revolutionary and humane horse handling techniques to business and family. You never know where your next great business idea is going to come from. --Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. (301) 490-5620;;