The history of dog training is a chronicle of gradual evolution, interspersed with periods of revolutionary change in theory and method. The last revolution, with which much of the dog training world still has not caught up, was the introduction of reward-centric training techniques beginning in the 1980’s. Prior to this time, the bulk of training was accomplished through more or less forcing the dogs to comply. After 1980, however, the “operant conditioning” techniques pioneered by students of B.F. Skinner for the training of exotic animals, and brought to the level of high art by trainers employed in private animal parks in the U.S., began to penetrate into the dog training fancy.
In the first phase of this penetration, dog trainers began making extensive use of rewards like food and toys to not only motivate dogs to work, but also to teach them the necessary understandings. The first field to be extensively influenced was competitive obedience, but gradually through the influence of pioneers such as Gottfried Dildei, reward-centric methods assumed importance in Schutzhund/IPO as well. However, although many dog trainers were quick to adopt reward-based methods, they were slow to realize the importance of informational aspects of “operant” animal training methods.
This realization had to wait for the second phase of the penetration, during which trainers began to figure out how conditioned reinforcers, called “bridges,” or “markers,” could be developed for dogs, and used to teach the animals to better understand the relationships between their behavior and rewards. Again, the influence was first felt in the realm of competitive obedience. What we might call the “working dog” disciplines (Schutzhund/IPO, Ring Sport, and Police K9) lagged behind. Obedience trainers tended to take in one gulp all the methods and ideas that had been developed for exotic animal training. These methods and ideas sprang ultimately from the work of B.F. Skinner and other Radical Behaviorists, and included the axiom that the use in animal training of any aversive stimuli (or “corrections”) is somehow unethical and counter-productive. In contrast, “working dog” trainers have always relied on “corrections” to train their dogs, partly because they contend with a different set of problems -- their dogs are trained, and perform, in very intensely drive-motivated states such as profound aggression. And it must be remembered that, as a result of 100 years of development, systems of traditional “correction-based” training can accomplish amazing feats, such as 400-point performances in French Ring competition, and 300-point performances in Schutzhund/IPO.
In the third phase of the dog training revolution that we are witnessing today, traditional systems of dog training are being integrated with “operant” methods, creating the most powerful and humane systems of working dog training ever in existence. In these elegant and tightly-integrated systems, corrections are exploited to rapidly establish strong control over powerfully-motivated behaviors; rewards are used to teach and motivate performance; and a sophisticated system of conditioned behavior markers is used to render it all clear to the dog. By the benefit of his extraordinary intelligence, his impressive teaching ability, and his raw talent with dogs of all shapes, sizes, and training disciplines, one of the most important figures is Michael Ellis, of San Francisco, California. In my 30 years in dog training, I have not seen anyone with Michael’s ability to tackle the most fundamental problems in dog training, innovating on the most subtle and sophisticated levels, yet still explain his methods in the clearest, most economical terms. Michael Ellis is a gigantic talent, who has the ability to teach others to do what he does, and I recommend him to all serious students of dog training art and science.
Dr. Stewart Hilliard
San Antonio, Texas -- 2009
If you are reading the testimonials you must be still in doubt which School for Dog Trainers to attend? And if you are reading this one, you must value my opinion so here it is:
I don’t know of “any” other school instructor(s) that has the gift and passion for teaching, combined with years of collected experience and knowledge that Michael Ellis have! Sure we may have some differences in training, but overall there is no other trainer I could agree more with. This is the school.
Multiple IPO World Champion
I have been lucky to have the training and support of Michael over the years. He has an amazing ability to clarify his methods and translate them into layman's terms. He has helped me prepare for regional, national and international events getting my dogs to perform reliably and successfully. Also being a multi breed competitor I truly appreciate Michael's ability to work with any breed in an unbiased manner giving everything he does 100%.
Thanks for all your help.
National IPO Competitor and World Team member
As a search and rescue/competitive herding Border Collie handler, I’m grateful for my training at Michael Ellis obedience clinics. The solid foundation my dogs and I have built with Michael’s help has paid off again and again, as my dogs consistently obey and look to me for guidance under duress. Whether facing the chaos of fleeing sheep or the stress and confusion of search base operations, the basic communication skills we developed have kept my dogs safe and proved to be the key to our success.
Sandia Search Dogs and New Mexico Herding Dog Association
I first met Michael at one of his seminars over 4 years ago. I came with my young Malinois Ibn, who has lots of enthusiasm but seemed unable to focus training. Worse, I had been advised by many trainers that he was too scattered and had such poor gripping style that he was unlikely to earn any titles in Schutzhund. But Michael was patient and with his system I learned to communicate with Ibn who bloomed - finally understanding what we expected from him. Ibn and I have continued training with Michael as often as possible over the years. I have learned to use markers and good timing for clear communication and feedback. I have learned to play with my dog to enhance our relationship. And most effectively, I have learned how to teach my dog skills in understandable small increments to a build solid and enthusiastic performance.
Since using Michael's methods, Ibn and I not only earned our Schutzhund 3 in nice style - but we have entered the exciting world of Mondioring. Ibn struggled as an adult dog to learn the suit work and independent decision making needed for Mondio, but with Michael's coaching and the help of others who understand Michael's methods, Ibn worked hard and earned his Brevet, then MR1, and now has both legs of his MR2. I can not say enough about the support, patience, and insightful coaching we have received from Michael. He brought Ibn and I together as team and we have had a blast the whole time!
Terry Miller, New Mexico
Member of Endeavor Working Dogs, and AWMA High Mesa Malinois and Mondioring
I have been working with Michael over the past several years. Prior to meeting Michael, I had been doing Schutzhund for about 15 years. Michael talked me into trying Mondioring, and I love it. My GSD, Polar, was the 2009 Mondioring 1 National Champion. Michael's patience, coaching, and encouragement where critical to our success. I still enjoy Schutzhund too, but it is fun to try something new and have new exercises to teach the dogs.
Michael's teaching style is calm, and over the years, I have seen him patiently explain the same concepts (what feels like) 100 times to people of all experience levels. He totally tailors the conversation and the complexity of concepts to the audience. I think he used the term "cerebral" trainer once... that is how I view him... let's talk about and conceptually understand what we are doing, and then do it. I love that.
I'm so excited for him and this opportunity to start his school. I know it will be a terrific success!!
National competitor in Schutzhund and Mondioring
There are people who can train dogs and can’t communicate, and then there are people who can communicate but can’t train dogs. Michael has talents in both. Novice trainers are given a background in operant and classical reinforcement theory which is the basis for teaching different behaviors. Experienced handlers receive input on how to improve their technique, methods, and communication with their dog. Training with him always is insightful, and I come away with fresh perspectives on what I can do to improve my handling and get that little bit extra out of my dog. His approach is to give the handler the tools and insight to do the training rather than providing a “quick fix” with “secret methods” that can’t be sustained. As a decoy and helper, he has an excellent ability to read a dog, play up the dog’s strengths, and help compensate for the dog’s weaknesses. Most importantly, I trust him completely with the safety of my dog. It is always a pleasure to work with him – I recommend him without reservation to anyone interested in obedience and protection sports.
National IPO Competitor
President American Working Malinois Association
The thing you hear most often about Michael is his skill at communication, and this means both his communication with the dogs and his work with their dumber companions. Michael knows how to break an exercise into its smallest possible pieces, so that the handler and trainer can isolate the parts that are causing an issue before putting them back together (that’s the communication with the dog part). Furthermore, I’ve never seen Michael tell a handler to do something that he couldn’t explain in an appropriate level of detail. Sure, Michael is a gifted trainer, and I hate it when he takes my dog away from me to do something that I’m failing at, because he always does it better. But there are NO TRICKS. I can tell you WHY it works better with Michael than with me – his body language might be cleaner, or his marking of the correct behavior is more on target, or (one of his pet peeves) Michael’s not marking and pulling the toy out of his pocket at the same time, thereby erasing the marker! Having attended a number of his seminars, I’m always further ahead and a little bit better handler by the end than at the beginning. I hope to be able to take part in his classes when the new school is up and running – I have no doubt they’ll be awesome!
USA IPO Judge
Big Sky Schutzhund Club
I have been fortunate to train under, work with, and learn from Michael since 2004. In many states, in ALL climates, with radically different groups, he is thorough, helpful, and clear with his information. I pick up new things–or gain a better understanding of things I’ve heard repeatedly–with each lecture.
In practice, he demonstrates patiently, explains what he is doing, scales his information and feedback appropriately for each participant. With metronomic consistency, he repeats without condescension or tedium the Training 101 lecture for each group. He shows how to do it; he explains why he does it this way; he gives pointers, suggestions, and corrections to the handlers as we all fumble and struggle to master the simple-yet-complex physical movements, the timing, and the understanding to make progress. His methods are not radical, nor are they unique. Michael is not unilateral in his advocacy of training theories. The process works because, as he freely admits, he has developed it from working with many people, making many mistakes himself, and adapting as he progresses. These are values he passes to his students.
Apprenticing under Michael as a decoy, I have gained great skill and understanding of the training process. The same incremental process, the step-by-step progression to develop and build a dog’s understanding and confidence applies in obedience and protection work. Michael’s patience is impressive, and his willingness to work through a rough training patch (rather than give a cosmetically pretty but unproductive show for the handler’s reassurance) reflects his respect for both dogs and handlers. To be a good training decoy, the trainer must be in the moment (problem solving and adapting a plan as a situation shifts and dictates), but s/he must have a clear idea of what AND why the exercises are happening for each dog. S/he needs to be confident, humble (willing to admit mis-steps and alter the plan if necessary), and flexible; the ego must be in check–training the dog is not glamorous. These are traits I have gained from my time with Michael.
Many of us may never have the opportunity to work as many dogs as Michael has, and we may never develop the eye/skill to read each different dog as accurately, but the lessons I’ve learned from Michael have greatly improved my relationship with my personal dogs AND my ability to work with a range of other dogs.
As a decoy and a handler, I have gained immensely from Michael’s program and from his unique blend of theory, skill, and guidance. I recommend his training for anyone who wants to learn how to understand the workings of dog training better and who wants to understand the teaching process more clearly.
National Level Mondioring Decoy and Competitor
I was fortunate to meet Mike 7 years ago when I started to get involved in MondioRing. My first seminar was with him, and I was blown away at his natural talent. The way that he would teach how to communicate with your dog made so much sense. I immediately recognized that this is the person that I need to learn from.
I have had some success in the past 7 years as a handler and decoy, and I owe it all to Mike He is the ultimate mentor. Whenever I had a question, he was always there to help me walk through the issue and offer advice. There is absolutely no one else that has the natural ability to problem solve and work with each individual on a personal level like Mike can.
If you are looking for a dog training school, look no further. This is the best that there is in the United States.
International Level MondioRing Decoy and Competitor
Michael's clear and concise method of communicating with his students make him a highly effective teacher. He has the innate ability to read the student's ability and expertise level as well as he can read any dog. With this natural ability, Michael seamlessly adjusts his explanations to bring out the best in that student no matter what their level of expertise so that no student feels talked down to. With the dozens of Michael's seminars I have been to, with attendees from 20 to 82, (yes really 82), I have never seen anyone go away upset or frustrated. Everyone left with more knowledge, a sense of accomplishment and a path forward.
I have known Michael for over 10 years and we have been bringing him to our club regularly for over six years. Through Michael's teachings, and our club member's commitment to using his methods in our training, our club members have taken dogs to the highest levels of competition in a variety of working dog sports and disciplines. Learning to communicate with the dog effectively with Michael's methods makes learning for the dog fun and training for the handler a pleasure.
Michael's passion for the dogs and their training is evident, Working with Michael is a chance no dog trainer should miss. Michael is simply, inspiring.
Endeavor Working Club, Los Alamos, New Mexico
It is a rare thing to find a trainer who is a master of both the art and the science of dog training - someone who can take a dog he's never met and consistently make the dog better for the meeting. It is extraordinarily rare to find such a trainer who is also kind and gifted with the human end of the leash. Mike Ellis is just such a trainer. The field is better for him. Thank you, Mike, and good luck with your new school, I am sure it will be a great success!
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