Does the dog understand, before corrections are considered

Michael Ellis

Michael Ellis teaching a Rottweiler to hold a Kong toy

Michael Ellis, a professional trainer of dog trainers discusses in the below Leerburg video how he doesn’t believe dogs always know what is expected of them. To paraphrase him, “If I’m unsure if the dog understood, then I will go back (in the training process) and help him (understand) using motivational methods.”

The Michigan Dog Trainer agrees fully with Ellis. Before a handler uses a correction to stop unwanted behavior, several questions should be asked and answered:

  1. Was the exercise broken down into steps and taught systematically to the dog?
  2. Did the handler give the cue as it was taught?
  3. Did the dog truly hear or see the cue,
  4. Was the dog prepared and proofed in the environment in which the cue was given?
  5. Is the dog capable of performing the desired action (e.g. an older dog may not be able to sit comfortably anymore because of hip pain)?

If the answer to the above questions is “yes” to each, then a correction to stop the behavior may be warranted but only with enough intensity to stop the unwanted behavior. An over the top correction is unnecessary punishment and only serves to vent the handler’s frustration. If the answer to any of the questions is “no”, then the training plan and/or expectations need to be adjusted.

“What the dog knows” video

About Michael Burkey

Michael Burkey is a professional dog trainer, behaviorist and owner of, a highly successful dog training company whose aim is to promote peaceful relationships between pets and families. Additionally, he is an expert trial witness, certified Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluator for the American Kennel Club (AKC), former Police K9 Handler, Search and Rescue (SAR) K9 Training Director and SAR K9 Handler, obedience and rally competitor and social worker. Dog training is a complex science and art requiring knowledge of behavioral science and learning. You can rely on Michael's experience, teaching methods, and integrity. He can be contacted at or 734-634-4152.
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