Change Management & Dog training - Where do they meet?

I’m Annelies, part of the ChangeLab team since 2016 as Change Coach and professional dog trainer in a separate life. If you would ask friends, family and colleagues about my interests, they will tell you: Dogs & people. I know, what a great combo!

Anyone who gets to know me as a dog trainer doesn’t expect me sitting at a desk from 9 to 5 creating strategies on digital transformation within IT organizations. For my business colleagues my passion for dogs is no secret!

As a Change Manager, my role often consists of supporting and coaching business owners, product owners and team leads in a transformation process. I have tools and guidelines to create action plans and build steady communication bridges between the business and their end-users.

As a coach I encounter less struggle with the actual execution of the plan and how the end-users receive the message and adapt to the “new state” … The biggest hurdle is changing the mindset of those leading the change!

Change Managers vs Dog Trainers

Dog trainers (professionals coaching dog owners in how to change behavior with their dogs) encounter the same struggle. It’s not that hard to create an approach for changing dog behavior, if you’re a skilled professional of course. However, it’s the owners you have to convince of the outcome!

Even though it’s the owner requesting your help, at a certain point in training, he will question your methods and blame you as a trainer for the failure of certain exercises. What we need to communicate to these owners at that point:

  • It requires a combination of leadership: Being a role model, a parent, building a trustworthy relationship with the dog.

  • Training: Coaching your dog to learn good behavior. It is not the dog trainer who trains the dog, the dog trainer gives the owner tools and the knowledge to be successful in training.

  • Communication & interaction: Being transparent, clear about what you desire from your four-legged friend, get their feedback and adjust: read their body language.

“Changing behavior is not quick and dirty, it’s not a leash wrapped tightly around the neck to make them obey at your command.”

This multistep program takes patience to be successful. Like when your kids learn to walk, speak or read, it’s not effortless and you need to take the learning ability of the individual into account.

Business Owners vs Dog Owners

So why do our business owners and dog owners get triggered by change themselves? Suddenly questioning the action plan, your approach, doubting a successful outcome, being hesitant or not confident enough about themselves…

Are we, as Change Managers and Dog Trainers, pointing out too many mistakes? Do we intervene with the owner’s normal way of working and thinking too much? Did we really prepare them enough for the challenges that are accompanying change in behavior? Didn’t they expect any resistance from their stakeholders/their dogs? Whatever the trigger is for their change in mindset, we have one problem… We need them to lead by example, pro-transformation, they’re one of the pillars in making this change in behavior successful!

Becoming a dog/people trainer

In my capacity as a dog trainer, I learnt one important lesson: Dog training is not about the dogs, it’s about the owners. How can you make the owner accept that what you say will benefit their dog? How can you make them effectively apply your advice with the right set of tools and mindset? How can you teach them to cope with failure and setbacks? How can you make them the trainer and not the trainee?

I would like to share these 7 dog-trainer secrets, applied on our business owners. This to help you tackle resistance in the Change Management process:

  1. Listen to his/her expectations, shake your head like you understand every word. Ok, now forget everything he/she said and then ask one question: How would you like your employee to respond to the change? Get your mental notes ready and settle on a definition of success.

  2. Don’t break their bubble. In some cases, we know they didn’t really make the right decision, creating even more resistance. Ask them if they achieved the result they’d hoped for. Discuss which approach could produce even better results the next time?

  3. Keep it simple! Business Owners are no Change Managers, use easy language and make your plans visual where possible.

  4. Ask the right questions and they’ll throw the answer you wanted right in front of you. Create a sense of involvement in the process and let self-empowerment boost their willingness to succeed.

  5. Don’t assume all business owners are prepared for the impact of Change Management on their organization. Communication will be stimulated, more questions will be asked, interaction will be normalized and business owners will be more visible, transparent and asked for feedback. Fill their backpack with a set of tools and skills they can use in communicating with colleagues, employees, team leaders, top-management, etc.

  6. When you see signs of stress, stop! People (and dogs) aren’t able to get a hold of situations or learn new things when they’re stressed or overwhelmed. Give it some time and invest in small “wins” to regain their trust.

  7. Don’t forget to reward their efforts and make sure they acknowledge and reward the efforts of others. We always take good (changed) behavior for granted because it is easier to complain when things go wrong then to compliment when all goes well.

Stakeholders vs Dogs

First of all, this is NOT a comparison as in stakeholders are like dogs! However, it’s interesting to notice the similarities when working on the adoption of new behavior with both groups.

In today’s methods of dog training and behavior shaping (because that’s what we want to do with Change Management) we encourage dogs to teach themselves, rewarding new and good behavior, giving them support and courage when stress and anxiety take over. Showing them how they can cope with different situations where they normally would be scared.

We’re getting away from “I’m your boss and you are going to do what I tell you” to “no matter how you feel or what you think about it!”.

Going to “I will help you to adapt to new things, it will be challenging but only when you feel prepared and skilled, we take the next step!”

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Of course you can! With professional coaching, a Business Owner will even be capable to help stakeholders, stuck in old routines or habits, to change their ways. Finding the “what’s in it for them” will be key. With dogs, we look for their favorite treat or toy and work on building a stronger relationship between the owner and the dog.

Change Management meets Dog Training

Let’s take a part of Change Management methodology and compare it to our dog training technics: ADKAR, a method to define the current state of change readiness and next steps to take for our stakeholder:

Process Change Manager Dog Trainer


Awareness Is your business owner aware Is the dog owner aware of the

of the need for change? need for change in his training technics?

Desire Does your business owner have Does the dog owner have the desire to