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On Being a Changemaker

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So you've become a clicker trainer! Naturally you are very excited. You want other people around you to stop using punishment-based methods and start clicking. So you introduce the clicker at your dog club or high school or wherever you are using it. And guess what: people not only don't change, they get mad at you.

What do you do now? Here's a biologist's look at the process of making changes.

happy dog lying in the grass

What people do when you start to institute a change (in chronological order):

  1. Ignore you
  2. Pretend to agree, but actually do nothing
  3. Resist, delay, obstruct
  4. Openly attack you (the dangerous phase, but also a sign that change is starting)
  5. Absorb
  6. Utilize
  7. Take credit
  8. Proselytize

What people say in the process of accepting the change:

  1. "That might work for your population but not for mine." (absorbing)
  2. "I can use it, but not for anything important." (absorbing and utilizing)
  3. "Some of my people can use it if they feel they need to." (utilizing)
  4. "Oh yes, we've been doing that for years, it's quite good." (utilizing and taking credit)
  5. "We've come up with a really incredible program; you should try it." (taking credit and proselytizing)

How the changemaker can react effectively

  1. When they ignore you, find allies and persist.
  2. Don't be misled by lip service. Find allies and persist.
  3. Meet resistance with persistence. Move around the resistance; try other avenues.
  4. The stage of open attack is a touchy time. People can get fired, for example. Keep your head down, but persist. Don't take the attack personally, even if it is a personal attack. Attack is information; it tells you:
    a) You're getting somewhere: change IS happening, causing extinction-induced aggression.
    b) Your attacker is frightened. Empathize.
    c) Your attacker still believes in the efficacy of aversives.
  5. Absorbing and utilizing: this stage can last a year or more. Maintain generous schedules of reinforcement.
  6. They're taking credit for your idea? By all means let them; your goal is the change. Credit is a low-cost reinforcer and people who want it don't satiate. Give it away in buckets.
  7. Are they pitching the change? Good. If you want to change something else, you now have new allies.
About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

Extinction and taking credit.

Two tough phases for me to go through and keep my composure in an effort to plant the C/T seed at the local training club.  I either want to fight or flee.  Thanks for reminding me about the extinction phase as a positive sign of improvement. 

So True

This fits into not only our training lives but every other area of our day to day living.

Laurie Luck's picture

We all need this

This invaluable advice was passed along from you to me through my mentor, who has since passed away. She also gave me "Don't Shoot the Dog." Both have been key components of my life ever since. I'm glad you posted this here - we all need the reminder from time to time. It's a little boost when life drags us down.

Casey Lomonaco's picture

Great advice!

Hi Karen,

Thanks for the great advice! I can see so many applications for these tips, both in and out of the classroom.

Casey Lomonaco, KPA CTP, APDT

Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training

Binghamton, New York


this is

just sooo true, I just had to say thank you for writing it down... it does make things easier when you know why people are acting like they do...

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