July 19-23, 2023 Kynology Symposium One

This event will take place on the MES Campus in Santa Rosa, Ca.
For those interested in working slots, you will receive an application after you register for the event. Dogs will be chosen to help us illustrate the concepts covered each day.
Email michaelellisschool@gmail.com if you have additional questions before registering.

July 19-23, 2023 Kynology Symposium One: A Deep Dive into Theory and Practice with Michael Ellis, Forrest Micke, and Stewart Hilliard

     A five-day conversation about dog training with Michael Ellis, Forrest Micke, and Stewart Hilliard. This event will be an exploration of science, historical development, practical technique, and the enduring technical challenges of shaping dog behavior. Emphasis will be upon enhancing participants’ overall understanding of behavior & training rather than advancing individual dogs (this isn’t a troubleshooting workshop), although there will be plenty of practical dog work each day.

     The event will be anchored by presentations about specific topics, but only loosely scheduled so as to permit discussion to “flow” as interests and events guide it. Michael, Forrest, and Stewart will assist participants in connecting the topics to their practical applications in training.  Topics proposed below will be engaged as interest and time allow.

     Because the objective is a symposium– a dialogue rather than a seminar— participants are encouraged to question and participate fully in a two-way conversation with presenters and each other.

     We are looking for 12 to 15 dog/handler teams to help us illustrate the concepts during the practical work.  These teams will be chosen through an application process, so please contact us if interested.

Topic 1— Red in Tooth and Claw— Ethology

Lorenz, Tinbergen and instinctive behavior– Moods and “drive,” capping and channeling— Aggression and predation— Konflikt and clarity— Is the kind of energy that the dog brings to work important, or is any energy useful? Is Helmut Raiser’s Model still relevant?

Topic 2— The Lessons of Dog Spit— Pavlovian Conditioning

How dogs inadvertently learning stuff first drove people crazy (just like it does today) but then got them Nobel prizes– The raw material of acquired behavior— Twitches, reflexes, likes and dislikes— Does Pavlovian responding consist merely of conditioned reflexes, automatic links between stimuli and responses, or does it represent complex information processing?  Where do we use it deliberately, and when does it just come along for the ride?

Topic 3— BF Skinner’s Anti-Theoretical Theory— Operant Conditioning

Behaviorism — The cumulative recorder and response probability— Do dog trainers need to know more about behavior than principles relating inputs to an animal’s nervous system with outputs in the form of responses?

Topic 4— Ivan’s Revenge— The Misbehavior of Organisms

The determining influence of stimulus-stimulus learning— Autoshaping and sign- vs goal-tracking— Mobilization and defensive responses— Why and how do Pavlovian responses highjack your training sessions again and again?

Topic 5— From the “click” of a rat feeder to Shamu— Signaling

Secondary reinforcers in the earliest Skinner box procedures— Response marking vs secondary reinforcement in long-delay learning—Teaching elaborate and artificial behaviors to large, toothy animals— Do secondary reinforcers carry out other important functions? Does a “marker” serve a purpose when response-consequence intervals are already super short?

Topic 6— But what about the command?— Stimulus Control

Complex and contextual control of responding— Strong vs weak stimulus control— Preparing for performance in contexts that will by definition be “untrained”— Higher-order conditioning and response chains— Object learning and configurations— Is an extinguished response gone? Why is that efficient lure technique such a great thing until it’s not anymore, and what are your other %$#@ing options?

Topic 7— When is the definition circular?— Thinking about Reinforcement

Drives, vacuum activity, and need reduction— Premack— The enduring mystery of avoidance learning— When the reinforcement kills the behavior you’re rewarding—Reinforcement and the older dog— Why do we feel like we have to explicitly reinforce every single desirable thing the dog does when it learns all kinds of shit we didn’t mean it to learn in the absence of explicit reinforcement we can easily identify? (subtext— “Michael, the bitch obviously likes to work— Just let her work….”)

Topic 8— Bill Koehler’s Revenge— Aversive Control

The evolution of dog training from intrinsically and unashamedly coercive to.…er…..the big argument we have right now — The issues of “free will” and internal locus of control— That whole “learned helplessness” theory….how did that come out in the end?— Is the purely positive crowd right, is it the case that to control dog behavior all you need is love, a lot of cookies, and technique?— If not, where do we draw the ethical and practical boundaries to aversive control?

Topic 9— The Two Sharp Edges of Routine— Frustration and Anticipation

When is behavioral plasticity our road to new behavior and when is it that the problem we can’t get rid of? Rituals and start-of-session cues— Handler bites we didn’t see coming and end-of-session cues— Behavioral loops and “jams” (Sub-text– Where Michael and Forrest get jiggy with it and Stewart gets out of the way)