Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I recently adopted a puppy. She and I are spending a lot of time together as I'm training her to be a therapy dog. Eventually she'll be joining me in the office. Part of Magnolia's training involves a lot of socialization. We go to parks, malls, and other places where she can encounter lots of different people. I have a list of experiences that she needs to be exposed to: older people, children, people using crutches, people in wheelchairs, etc.

I've heard people in the past joke about the best way to meet new people is to buy I dog. I had no idea how real that joke actually is. Admittedly, Magnolia is tiny and cute. Still, I didn't anticipate that people would actually stop their cars, roll down their windows, and start up a conversation. Since bringing Magnolia home on Saturday I've had no less than ten conversations with different people while I am out walking.

It got me thinking about why this is. I'm not doing anything different except walking with a prop--a cute dog on the leash. At least I didn't think I was doing anything different. After observing a little more I am realizing that I'm actually a lot more mindful of my surroundings. Sometimes big dogs come along and I need to snatch my eight week old pup off the ground. Sometimes little children come running to pet her, and I need to be ready to help negotiate the contact so neither party is afraid. Sometimes, I'm just making more eye contact with people. They notice me and what I'm doing. I notice them and what they are doing.

It made me wonder what other kinds of props people might use to start conversations and meet new people. Dogs and puppies help. Not everyone can have one. I've sent clients out in the past with homework assignments to hold the door open for people and make a few seconds of small talk, or comment on a pair of earrings that they notice and admire while in the check out line. Other clients, who spend lengthy amounts of time commuting on the T, get the homework assignment to make a comment or ask a question about a book they see someone reading.

The prop--or situation--really doesn't seem to matter. When people try out these homework assignments they are always successful: they have a brief conversation with a stranger. While it doesn't guarantee a new friendship is formed, it at least creates the opportunity for a moment of interpersonal contact.