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The Canine Watershed – an Examination of Human Change Sciences and their Implications to the Efficacy of Canine Behaviour Modification

Susan Smith, MSST, CCB, January 2017

If canine cognitive and emotional capacity is similar to the complexities found in humans, can we increase the efficacy and long-term effects of canine behavior modification by applying organizational change methods? Organizational theory and other science fields have provided a century-old body of knowledge, used today by Change Professionals to help employees navigate organizational change. Is not a Canine Behaviourist, in essence also a Change Professional, albeit for another species?  Do we not also have to forge a path to move a canine and their human caregivers through a change to achieve behavior modification just like in Organizational Change programs?  Based on emerging articles from leading animal behaviorists and zoologists it is clear that the overlap between science and species is consistent. The use of the same foundational science field used in the last century to advance the Organizational Change is now emerging in new articles relating to Dogs, including:

  • Engineering ‘Choice’ into those undergoing change to increase sustainability1
  • Interdependent and interconnectedness within a wholistic view when considering canine needs
  • Death and Loss – the way humans and dogs cope; similarly moving through the same stages3
  • Modeling behaviours in peer groups4
  • The efficacy of praise and reward in change5

The organizational change body of knowledge will provide a basis for advancing methods for change in Human and Canine Behavior Modification. Fields of science influencing our knowledge on change include: Thermodynamics, Psychology, Neuroscience, Systems Theory, and Organizational Theory.

Organizational Change as a field has been influenced by scientists as early as the 1900’s, as illustrated in the following diagram:


Figure 1: Timeline of Organizational Change Field’s Evolution

Most recently human change management has seen innovation in Neuroscience and Systems Dynamics.  Utilizing aspects of Neuro-organizational Science, Systems Theory, and Organizational Theory, provides a strong innovative model for behaviour modification in dogs. In my opinion, the three together present like a three-legged stool.  Each is dependent on one another and without any one of them will fail to deliver behaviour modification as effectively as possible. Together these fields of science can dramatically impact our ability to shift a dog’s mindset in a profound and lasting manner.

Many insights in Organizational Science, Neuroscience and Systems Science have created a watershed of insights and improvements that are transferable to the Behavior Modification processes. This will be referenced as the “Canine Watershed”.

Utilizing the Canine Watershed we can begin to see there is a wealth of potential applications and this paper merely scratches the surface of the potential.

In Organizational Science we will examine:

  • The Change Curve
  • A ‘WIIFM’ – What’s In It For Me?
  • The importance of Choice in Change

In Neuroscience we will apply:

  • SCARF©8 – A memory tool that defines five emotional dimension in which we identify ourselves within a change

In Systems Science we will apply:

  • The Hierarchy of Living Open Systems applied to create a Canine Behavior Modification System Scope© to identify a dog’s universe
  • The 12 Natural Laws of Living Open Systems and their implications to Canine Behaviour Modification as rules to follows

I will follow with a Case Study where the application of the tools has been applied and describe the outcome achieved with lasting results.

Organizational Science:

Organizational Science popularized the Change Curve, first attributed to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist who specialized in personal transition in grief and bereavement. The curve provides several insights into human behavior whilst undergoing change. It must be considered as a guide not a rigid process to follow.  Since its first debut in 1969, it has had many names including a Grief Curve and the Roller-Coaster of Change.  The curve was introduced to explain human reaction to death and then, to predict and anticipate how people will react to change. It has been applied to business change where employees need to adapt to a new strategy and change their patterns of behaviour which are often deeply embedded in the culture of an organization. Dogs undergoing behavior modification benefit from the application of the Change Curve, allowing the Behaviorist to guide Caregivers on the dog’s reaction to change.


Figure 2: Change Curve – Stages of Personal Adjustment to Transition Model©

– John Adams6

In canine behaviour modification we need to adapt the Change Curve once again in order to leverage the base model and apply it to Behavior Modification.


Figure 3 – Canine Behaviour Modification Curve© – Susan Smith, 20177

 Focusing on the path for Canine Change, we arrive to a scene on the left side of the Canine Behaviour Modification Curve (CBMC).  Possibly a dog who is confused and trying to please their caregiver in a multitude of ways, often sad, frustrated and in worse cases, angry (Stage 1, 2 or 3).  Our role is to set a course to move them through the curve as quickly as possible, while honouring the dog’s individual pace to adjust to change.

The trough in the curve (Stage 4) is the point where the past must be let go in order to establish a path forward.  Letting go of the past is the hard part. It is a pivotal point in breaking old patterns and establishing new ones. We are dealing with emotional memories that are reinforced with behaviors.  The trough is where time can pass. As Human’s facing change, as in the loss of a loved one, they can become stuck in Stage 4 indefinitely, never moving forward. It is only when they are guided to see a future where they are successful and happy that they can move to the right side of the curve.  In applying the same pattern to dogs, we would map this important stage in the CBMC as the time to show a dog how new behaviours could elevate its quality of life. To do this in humans, we develop within them an understanding of why they should change. For those undergoing change, it is an exercise to visualize a future where they can be successful. To do this we develop a benefit statement, called “What’s In It For Me?” or WIIFM (pronounced Wiff-im).  The WIIFM, adopted into the Change Management field, was derived from the Neurophysiological Community studying Decision Theory.  It was shown to be prevalent in monkeys’ decision-making when “choices with higher payoffs and choices yielding more likely payoffs (were) preferred”8.

For dogs, a similar WIIFM must be created, albeit more simply.  The act of small steps of building activities and rewards develops the WIIFM. The dog begins to understand that by doing A they get B where B results in experiencing pleasure. As Behaviourists, we first establish a framework with the dog by giving them a small adjustment in their behaviour followed by a reward. We help to embed their performance by adding joy and happiness through play after each successful adjustment6 increasing the motivational strength of the WIIFM.

WIIFM-based actions increase movement and momentum through the change curve from Stage 4 to Stage 5.  When we begin behaviour modification work, most dogs are curious to the adjustment, especially when done kindly and gently. Both in human and dog change, we build on the trust we wish to wrap around the change activities, and allow them to test boundaries to deepen their understanding of the change.  We see this in people examining the requested change and then modifying it slightly to make it their own. In dogs the same approach should be equally beneficial and impactful. It is interesting to consider what a modification plan would look like if a dog were able to understand the goal first, and to make a choice9, rather then be led blindly to a strictly regimented path to achieve an outcome. What would it mean to achieve long-lasting change if they were allowed to creatively come up with their own path to achieve the desired outcome? In Systems Theory this is referred to as equifinality10 a natural law applied to all living systems, defining flexibility and adaptivness, with an inherent recognition that there is more than one way to do something. Equifinality is one of the twelve natural laws. It underpins discussions of ‘choice’ in dog training and it challenges the long-term efficacy of using strict regimented control over canines (or humans) when introducing change plans. Consider for a moment all the ways a dog tells us they need to go outside with a biological understanding that it needs to urinate, and that they are to do it outdoors. Sometime the dog comes up with the communication signal, like a paw on the door, in other cases, we train a path for the dog to jingle some bells, or bark once. We can see several paths, demonstrating equifinality, achieving the same outcome; relieving oneself outdoors.  During curiosity and boundary testing (Stage 5), allowing a dog a choice in how to achieve the ideal state of being is a vital step and should be coupled with patience and positive reinforcement.

The next stage (Stage 6) is when there is clear understanding and hopefulness that a desired behaviour is achievable, and results in happiness for both the dog and caregiver. We quickly see movement into the final stage (Stage 7), reaching confidence that the dog knows what the caregiver wants and has the capabilities and desire to deliver on it.

What I find most fascinating about the CBMC are the implications to those who use force to modify canine behaviour. The CBMC fundamentally supports how the use of force fails a dog.  Removing choice, and introducing fear is against natural laws, for which we are governed by. It is clear that a dog remaining at Stage 3 is never going to move through to the right-side of the CBMC.

Humans may move through the curve very rapidly, even in seconds, to a longer-term journey that may last for a year.  Dogs are likely to also move through their CBMC at various speeds. Experienced Behaviourists know this intuitively and watch for opportunities where a dog can move more rapidly through the change curve. Also, humans often slide backwards from the trough to the left side of the curve. This occurs when a roadblock appears and seems insurmountable. The same can occur in dogs, and set-backs do occur in a similar manner.


Pitfalls that cause set-backs, or conversely, ways to accelerate change are identified through other sciences, such as Neuroscience and Systems Theory.  Breakthroughs from Dr. David Rock, a Neuroscientist, allows us to both avoid slow progress and to fast-track forward momentum on CBMC.  Dr. Rock effectively discovered how our brains are hardwired to react to change11. This knowledge allows us to create a better framework increasing the speed and long-term benefits of change. Dr. Rock created ‘SCARF’12, a brain-based model to understand how humans react on five different dimensions when facing change. It too is transferable to the application of behavior modification in dogs.

SCARF is an acronym representing each dimension as follows:

Status – For humans it relates to our standing amongst our peers. In Dogs, it relates to it’s standing amongst its social circle.

Certainty – Humans want control and to be able to predict their future. For Dogs, they also like to know what is coming and enjoy routines.

Autonomy – Ask a human to take orders from another and you see resentment. We like to have the right to act and make decisions on our own. In Dogs, autonomy in our society comes more rarely, seen at times like the leash-free dog park, where a dog is free to meet and engage another dog. In Behaviour Modification, engineering choice into reaching a desired goal is a powerful concept explored further in this thesis.

Relatedness – Being apart from the crowd is uncomfortable for humans, especially when it is done so purposefully, like when a group of people exclude another from a desired activity. Similarly, a dog prefers to be with his social circle and finds it painful to be forcibly removed from activities.

Fairness – Human perceive fairness as an even trade between people, and find it difficult when they feel they have been treated unfairly. Dogs’ sense of fairness is clear in their code of conduct, their physical communications and being authentic in what is communicated7

When we see a dog found on the left side of the CBMC, we need to functionally analyze the drivers at play supporting the behaviours seen. For example, a dog who destroys his bed when confined to another room away from the family, would likely be working from Relatedness. The SCARF model helps us to easily remember the drivers behind the behaviours and to analyze and resolve more efficiently and effectively.

Systems science:

Systems Science, or Systems Thinking, is the study and the application of living systems and governing rules on how they interact. There are 12 Natural Laws of Living Open Systems.

This table illustrates how they relate to Humans13 undergoing change and proposed application to Canines:

Law Human Change Application Canine Change Application
Wholism Recognizing broader insights and views, creating a future vision Creating a realistic view of all parts required to shape & achieve the future goals for the dog
Open Systems “Outside-In” implications, assessing personal risk Confidence and maturation of the dog himself & outside influences that may undermine the modification plans
Boundaries Clarity of interdependent systems surrounding change Insight of the dog’s social systems in which it functions: family, home/spaces, friends, community, and regulations
Input/Output The way natural systems operate, the current state and the final outcome of change The background where the undesired behaviour originates, the vision of the future goals related to the current state
Feedback Receiving feedback on what is working to move the change forward and what is not Dog body language, vocalizations and expressions. Human feedback to the dog in similar manner. Insight from Behaviourist during observation
Multiple Outcomes Goal seeking, ‘What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) Dog’s desire to be cooperative, his  decision-making, his rewards, and choice to deliver the desired behavior
Equifinality Delivering choice, allowing for more than one way to do it, creating buy-in Dog’s decision-making, engineered choices designed into behavioral modification plan, allow for creative problem-solving to achieve goal
Entropy Input of energy, like providing a ‘booster-shot’ to help when a set-back occurs Pre-setting expectations of set-backs with caregivers, providing encouragement to dog/caregiver at low points
Hierarchies Self-organizing groups to help create and move change, a productive order emerges Caregiver family unit defines who is responsible for what to make plan successful, dog families adjusting their interaction based on behaviour modification
Relationships Related parts, patterns, interdependencies on how the change fits within the bigger picture Identifying interdependent players needed to reinforce and support the plan, their relationship with each other and the dog
Dynamic Equilibrium Maintaining stability during change, self-regulating Reducing outside stimulation, or too many changes, during a behavioural modification plan to help expedite the change
Internal Elaboration Creating details on how the change will happen, using clarity and simplicity to explain it Reducing the plan into small manageable steps/activities to achieve the behaviour goals


Applying the 12 Natural Laws is part of the Canine Watershed, providing fundamental rules in a Canine Behaviour Modification process.

In addition to the 12 Natural Laws, we can also benefit from developing a reference tool to understand the relationship between a dog and its universe.  To develop this reference tool, we turn to the eight levels of living/open systems14 similar to a solar system, where each orbiting planet is nested and interdependent within our universe:

  1. Cell
  2. Organ
  3. Organisms/Individual
  4. Group/Team/Family
  5. Organization
  6. Community
  7. Society
  8. Supranational Systems/Earth

For dogs, we apply this to create a Canine Behavior Modification Systems Scope©15. This enhances the effectiveness of behavioural modification plans by identifying the dog’s universe in which the solution is found and supported. Nothing exists in isolation when developing a plan to resolve a dog behaviour issue. By identifying and remaining cognizant of the interdependent factors, plans are more comprehensive and wholistic, providing for longer-term results.


Figure 4: Canine Behavior Modification Systems Scope© – 2017, Susan Smith

Case Study 1:

Buster – September 2016

Buster arrived from a breeder in Utterson, Ontario as a 9-week old Yorkie puppy. He was 11 months old and neutered when he arrived for behaviourial modification. He is a very small toy dog and looks the part, groomed and dressed to resemble a toy. The behaviour complaint was primarily around his barking, described as only stopping during the nighttime sleep. His primary caregiver is named Ragan. Ragan worked on Buster’s barking by scolding him, regulating him to a crate, and possibly other members of his family circle may have used force to try and stop the barking without Ragan’s knowledge.  At the time of engaging me, Ragan felt hopeless and was defending Buster against a recommendation by friends to use a shock collar.

Buster was observed as over-stimulated.  He would bark if he felt threatened by strangers, other dogs barking in the distance, a truck gearing down on a far-off highway, a chipmunk in the woods far away, or even a Raven flying overhead. His body was stiff, ears forward, and tail extended. He appeared to swing between high alert and frantic play in order to distract himself.  The signs of confusion were obvious; do I shout about all the scary things and face the repercussions, or do I find comfort in my toys? During our cognitive assessment, I set up a series of indoor puzzles. Buster was shown a small, light-weight basket. I took a squeaky toy, demonstrating the squeak, and placed it on the floor. I placed the basket over the toy, and released Buster, encouraging him to remove the coveted squeaky toy from beneath the overturned basket.  He moved quickly to obtain the toy, totally focused. He pushed the basket with his nose, which only moved the basket and the toy across the room. He pawed the basket, which shifted the basket up but then fell back down on the toy.  He sat down and whined. The initial intense focus and determination indicated he found pleasure in the challenge. He employed two strategies quickly and sequentially, observing what was ‘not’ working, suggesting intellectual strength.  When he gave up it hinted at a low self-confidence that would later become definitive. I made the game easier, by placing the basket on its side and Buster quickly figured out how to get the toy from the rocking basket. His head leaned in, while his body stayed as far away as possible. Using his front teeth he grasped the toy to drag it out, while eyeing the rocking movement of basket.  It was easy to observe the delight at recovering the toy. Repeating this challenge multiple times increased his response time, his physical distance became closer to the basket, and he no longer dragged the toy out, but lifted it using his full mouth. Essentially he had improved his process of recovery and soon the game was no longer challenging. In this minor change challenge, he had moved from Stage 1 to Stage 7 in approximately 20 minutes.

Stage 1: Buster was observed as confused, with low confidence when he was unable to recover the toy

Stage 2: Appeasement was seen when he stopped and looked at me, giving in to the fact the toy was not to be his

Stage 3: Loss and sadness were observed when he sat down and whined

Stage 4 & 5: Noted when the puzzle became easier, and a path to a solution could be seen by Presley

Stage 6: Hopefulness occurred quickly when he stretched and touched the toy with no harm to himself

Stage 7: On retrieving the toy his confidence soared, observed more and more clearly with each subsequent retrieval.

Buster’s Wholistic Behaviour Modification Plan

How did the CBMC map to his broader behaviour modification plan? Buster’s movement during our behaviour modification plan mirrored the cognitive assessment exercise noted above.

Stage 1:  It was noted that Buster shied away whenever his caregivers reached for him to pick him up. His tail tucked, head tucked deeply into his shoulders, his ears were flat against his head, and a sound like a purr was heard. I pointed out that his purr was growling. Putting on coats and harnesses were highly fearful. Buster was working from a place of Autonomy (ref. SCARF© above) and it was recognized he needed more choices when it came to his body. Buster’s communication signals were not being understood resulting in confusion and low confidence. Buster was also an adolescent, a time noted to be difficult in a dog becoming more self-aware, and trying to find their value within their social circle. His caregiver was also embarrassed and confused within her neighborhood and her professional community by his vocalization when he accompanied her.

Stage 2: His low confidence moved into appeasement, observed after he growled by licking under the chin of his caregivers, a signal for them to calm down, or perhaps a request to not hurt him. At least one previous incident where he had been picked up, resulted in him being thrown into a lake by a misinformed family member believing all dogs like water and can swim.  As an adolescent, it was clear that his sense of value in his social circle was very low.  Buster’s low value is related to Status in the SCARF© model and required a plan that provided him to relate and be valued within his family and their friends.

Stage 3: Buster showed great fear, especially in his inability to control his body, and the ground beneath his feet. He growled and barked nearly constantly as if shouting that he was scared, didn’t know how to resolve the situation, was frustrated with his caregivers, and clearly lacked confidence. His physical space found in his home was a high-ceiling Muskoka-style home with wide-open floor-to-ceiling windows on either side of the home. Guarding this home would have been daunting for such a little dog.

Stage 4: Buster needed a new framework for his life that nurtured who he was, tapping into his personhood and his unique cognitive and emotional intellect. Using the Canine Behaviour Modification Systems Scope, we developed a comprehensive framework, establishing new ways for him to be interacted with, and how he would interact within his universe.  A critical aspect of note was the need to protect him physically, creating a transaction between caregivers and himself, whereby he provided permission to be bodily handled. We increased communication, training caregivers in reading his body language and responding appropriately through vocalization, body positioning, body signals, and touch. We developed several exercises to build his confidence. We set a course to guide Buster through each fear he experienced to help him to overcome and trust his caregivers to protect him.   Finally, we developed a method to engage all elements of his universe towards his development, with the exception of ‘regulatory’ which was out of scope for this modification plan.

Stage 5: We observed Buster testing boundaries and becoming more curious during the implementation of the framework.  For example, when asked if he could be touched to put on a coat that had to be stepped into, he stopped tolerating having his legs pushed through the coat arm holes, and started to say ‘no,’ which was respected by the caregivers. Coats not requiring a step in, rather a placement over his back and secured under his chest were accepted.

During Stage 5, Buster slid backwards on the curve to Stage 3, when he was left overnight at a home that had a cat. Buster had never before seen a cat and did not have the guidance from his caregivers to help him understand what it was and not to be fearful. Sliding backwards occurs from time to time and in this instance it was not following my recommendations to not introduce anything new without discussion during our behaviour modification timeline. We reset him onto a forward path again by using some of the strong foundational work found in our behaviour modification framework.

Stage 6: Barking really stood out as a great example of Stage 6. As the framework came together, Buster showed signs of feeling hopeful, and barking was reduced significantly. He appeared to no longer be working from a place of Status as found in the SCARF© model. The caregivers observed him starting to gear up to bark and then he would look their way, as he was making the decision to not  bark, seeking their approval.  Choice was indicated by him looking at them when he saw something new or slightly scary. Once observed, the caregivers praised his choice to not bark.

Stage 7: Today, Buster is an amazing little dog thanks to the high commitment of his caregivers in executing the behaviour modification plan. Other family members, who have used the Resort’s care facilities for overnight care, have remarked on the significant transformation of Buster, noting his confidence, his calmness, and his sense of self. He is truly integrated into his family and social circle and is a much happier dog.


It is clear by reviewing the Canine Watershed, that there is a springboard for knowledge that scientist and practitioners of canine behaviour can explore. Advances in Canine neuroscience and psychology seem to daily illustrate the complexities and relatedness to human beings, so why not how they cope with change?  Indeed, it behooves us as practitioners to draw these parallels and deliver innovative new models and methods to increase the quality of what we do, and how we do it.  We must also recognize the brilliance of our best Behaviourist, often not scientist and sometimes with no formal education, who use intuitive ways and organic methods. Their tried and true techniques are often embedded in natural laws in which all living things are governed. It is only in sharing methods and techniques that we can see true innovation in the Canine Behaviourist field.

This paper and the tools within, are only the beginning of how Behaviourists can optimize their efficiency in modifying behaviour by applying Organizational Science, Neuroscience, and Systems Science.  New to the profession of Canine Behaviorist, yet experienced in Complex Organizational Change and Systems Thinking, I have analyzed the change across the two species exhaustively to find bridges and gaps.

Further studies I plan to pursue include:

  • Further developing the Canine Watershed and its tools
  • Integrating into the CBMC© the journey of the caregiver during the behaviour modification cycle to further understand their role and interconnections to the successful transition of their dog
  • The role of choice related to a ‘WIIFM,’ combined with Neuroscience breakthroughs in accelerating change through decision-making and choice
  • The use of Systems Theory to identify the multiple interconnections and interdependent systems related to a dog’s behaviors. Mapping the systems surrounding a successful behaviour change may structure a more rapid diagnostic process, and quicker movement through the change curve

It is only time, research and their application before related human-based change tools and methods becomes mainstream, fundamentally an aspect of the Canine Watershed.



1- Decision Theory: What’s In It For Me, A Gunewald, 1999,

2 – Hierarchy of Dog Needs™, copyright 2015, Linda Michaels and

Canine Behavior Modification Systems Scope©, copyright 2017, Susan Smith

3 – Do Dogs Grieve Over a Lost Loved One? – Stanley Coren, November 2014 and Associations between Stress and Quality of Life: Differences between Owners Keeping a Living Dog or Losing a Dog by Euthanasia

Lilian Tzivian , Michael Friger , Talma Kushnir

Published: March 31, 2015

4 – Dogs Learn by Modeling the Behavior of Other Dogs – Stanley Coren, January 23, 2013 and Positive Peer Pressure: A Powerful Ally to Change – Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan, April 6, 2010,

5 – Using Positive Reinforcement in Employee Motivation – Dr. Seidenfeld, September 2013, and The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training – Jonathan J. Cooper , Nina Cracknell, Jessica Hardiman, Hannah Wright, Daniel Mills, September 3, 2014,

6 – Stages of Personal Adjustment to Transition Model© – John D. Adams, 1979, 1990 Taken from The Change Leader’s Roadmap: How to Navigate Your Organization’s Transformation (jJossey-Bass US Non-Franchise Leadership)

7 – Canine Behaviour Modification Curve© – Susan Smith, 2017

8 – Decision Theory: What’s In It For Me, A Gunewald, 1999,

9 – Training a Dog to Make a Choice, Pat Miller, Nov. 2016

10 – Systems Thinking: Foundational Research II, 12 Natural Laws of Living (human/social) Systems©, Stephen Haines, 2011

11 – Dr. David Rock: “He is the author of the business best-seller Your Brain at Work (Harper Business, 2009), as well as Quiet Leadership (Harper Collins, 2006) and the textbook Coaching with the Brain in Mind (Wiley & Sons, 2009). He blogs for the Harvard Business Review, Fortune Magazine, Psychology Today and the Huffington Post, and is quoted widely in the media about leadership, organizational effectiveness, and the brain.

12 – SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others – David Rock, 2008

13 – Systems Thinking: Foundational Research II, 12 Natural Laws of Living (human/social) Systems©, Stephen Haines, 2011

14 – Systems Thinking Foundational Research: The Natural Way the World Works©, Stephen Haines, 2011

15 – Canine Behavior Modification Systems Scope©, Susan Smith, 2017