I hadn’t really considered the overlap between puppy training and people training until recently. One of our EPI team members has a new beagle puppy and she’s been regaling us with puppy stories over the past few weeks. To be sure, that’s one of the things I most enjoy about working with my EPI team members ꟷ exchanging tidbits from our lives with one another.

Through stories and photos, we’ve come to vicariously share in the delights and exhaustions of puppyhood.

Maggie learning to go up and down stairs. Or Maggie taking advantage of a brief moment of inattention to fly through the house with a precious (or dangerous) object. Maggie discovering her own strengths and abilities. And Maggie adorably crashing on the couch after an intense socialization class.

Beagle puppy on hammock

I’ve felt alternately envious and relieved that my own dog is well past his puppy days. But hearing our team member share her experiences has certainly given me an insight I hadn’t expected . . .

Puppy training and leadership training share several fundamental traits.

Rewarding the desired behavior is essential. Reinforce positive behaviors incrementally to increase those behaviors. Scientists have discovered that the neurotransmitter dopamine is linked to motivation in both people and animals. Give praise (and a tiny treat in the case of a puppy) for the small accomplishments. And keep it proportional. You wouldn’t give a dog a steak for doing one little thing right. Nor would you give a gigantic raise to an employee who did one task well.

Mentoring is important. In addition to benefiting in other ways, young people who are mentored are 130% more likely to hold leadership positions than those not mentored. Think puppies aren’t mentored? Think again. Puppies learn key socialization behaviors from older dogs. Like, “Ask me first it you want to play; don’t just jump on my head!” (That’s good advice for people too.)

“Chunking” increases learning retention and decreases cognitive overload. Puppies aren’t the only ones who get cranky if they get too much information in too little time. Chunking is a more effective way to learn. It encourages greater information storage. And chunking builds on previous learning, “providing both repetition and connection opportunities.”

In the learning and development world, we know about feedback, mentoring, and chunking. But we don’t always keep those simple concepts front of mind. Puppies like Maggie are a fun reminder that it’s worthwhile to get back to the basics.


lead change well photo of Michelle Kelly

Michelle Kelly, CEO (Chief Enjoyment Officer)


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