Positive Influence

Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.

- Sam Walton


Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

As you may know from previous posts regarding The Paw Method, here at Darwin Dogs, we are all about answering a dog’s questions.  Dogs are full of questions: Can I eat that? Is that person a threat?  Can we play ball?  And as with any healthy relationship, communication is key.  In other words, you must answer your dog’s questions, or they will come up with an answer for themselves, and odds are you won’t like it.

c7f1ac0ebacf13a9c116f588aeac4356 Dogs are binary creatures: every question they ask is a yes/no question.  Every answer you give them will be a yes or a no.  It’s like a giant game of hot/cold.  Remember, “no” doesn’t mean your dog is bad.  Your dog is incapable of being bad…they do everything perfectly, for a dog.  Unfortunately, they need some guidance in our human world.  That’s why we answer their questions.  But how can you tell when it’s appropriate to use positive reinforcement with your dog?  Simple:  it fits into one or more of these  categories:

You are calling your dog (“come” command).    No matter what, the “come” command must end in a positive.  Give them a reason to come to you, not a reason to run away.  For hints on how to work the “come” command, read this.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

You are asking them to be human(ish).  Dogs will tell each other to back off; not to mess with each other’s toys.  They will ask each other to play, and will give an appropriate answer to each other.  Dog do not teach each other agility, nor do they teach each other English (as in “sit”, “stay”, etc.).  So any time you are asking them to be more than a dog, fun it up with positive reinforcement.  You are both trying to discover a behavior together…make it fun for both of you.

Agility - it's like an exorcism for your animal.  Okay, for you, too.  Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

When they are calm.  I know….Fido is super happy to see you after you’ve been gone all day (or in human terms, 1/2 hour).  It’s tempting to return their enthusiasm upon coming home, but you’re setting yourself up for a hyper dog – one who uses energy to get what they want.  Instead, wait until they’re calmed to give them positive.  As a matter of fact, any time you catch your dog calm is a great time to give them some positive reinforcement.  We want them to understand the calm is the key to a great treasure: what they want.  No matter if it’s a walk, a treat or just a pat on the head, calmly asking is the only way they will ever get it. Not jumping.  Not barking. Not slapping you with their paw.  Calm.

Go ahead.  Just try to ignore this sweet, calm face!  Guess what?  You don't have to!  Slather on that affection - this calm boy deserves it!

Go ahead. Just try to ignore this sweet, calm face! Guess what? You don’t have to! Slather on that affection – this calm boy deserves it!

Sometimes you want to create a behavior out of nowhere.  Teaching your dog a new trick or command.  For instance, I decided to train Sparta to hold random objects in her mouth so I could take a picture each day (you can view the hilarious results here).  I obviously used positive reinforcement for that behavior, but exactly how does one give their dog a positive?

Playing bathroom attendant

Playing bathroom attendant should definitely earn Sparta a positive!

Simple:  We use Touch, Talk, Treat.  We created a Pavlovian response.  Any time I gave Sparta a treat, or even her food, I gently pet her head and in a soft, calm, voice tell her she’s a good girl.  That’s it.  We are linking Touch, Talk, Treat so closely together that when we gradually drop off the treats, they’re implied by the Touch and Talk.  Just like if I said I was going to to make myself a peanut butter sandwich, what’s implied?  Jelly, right?  Because peanut butter and jelly always go together.  Once you get your dog to understand that Touch, Talk and Treat are linked, you can easily remove one (or more) of the components.  After all, who really wants to walk around with a pocketful of treats all the time?  Not very convenient!

So when I was working with Sparta to get her to hold things in her mouth, it was quite obviously impossible for me to reward her with a treat while she had the item in her mouth.  Of course I could just give her the reward when she finally dropped the item, but dropping the item was exactly what I didn’t want.  I wanted her to hold it.  That’s why Touch, Talk, Treat is so important.  While she held it in her mouth, I could give her all the positives she wanted, telling her she was a good girl and petting her.  I could catch the precise moment  she gave me the behavior I wanted.  As she held the item in her mouth, the Touch and Talk were both cues that the treat was (eventually) forthcoming, and that holding the item was the correct behavior to earn the reward.

 Same goes for agility.  Some dogs (*cough* Border Collies *cough*) over think everything.  Suppose the behavior I’m trying to catch is merely jumping through a hoop (“hmmm… last time I went through the hoop, turned counterclockwise towards mom and sat down after blinking twice whereupon mom gave me a treat. She must want me to blink twice!”).  I can’t get food down their gullet while they’re jumping through the hoop, but I sure can yell out that positive word while they’re going through!  That’s catching a behavior. So much miscommunication between humans and their canine companions arises through not catching the precise moment of behavior we wish to see repeated.

This form of verbal positive can come in very handy when you don’t or can’t have treats readily available.  For example, when I am on a walk with Sparta and she sees another dog.  Sparta is very dog reactive, and it takes a lot of trust in me for her to calmly pass that other dog.  I want to reward that trust she has placed in me.  Once we pass by that other dog, I give her that calm praise and a gentle pet on the head.  We just had an entire conversation using only body language.  Translation:

“Mom, that other dog was scary.  Did I do alright?”


“You did beautifully, Sparta.  I’m proud of you.”


“Thanks for getting us through that, mom.”

Note:  I will not bribe her past that other dog.  I will Pilot her, answer her questions, and then reward her for being calm through the whole “ordeal” (and yes, sometimes a Chihuahua can be an ordeal).

Remember to use your positive reinforcement as much as you possibly can.  There are plenty of opportunities to use positive reinforcement with even the most ill-behaved dog.  Catch those moments.  I tell my clients that in order to know where you are in this world, you need latitude and longitude.  That’s it!  In order for your dog to understand what you wish from them, they must get both “yes” and “no”.  Don’t skip the positives!  If your dog is calm, for any reason slather those positives on them.  Teach them a new trick just for the sake of giving them some positives, (which is why I taught my cat agility).  The positives are what bind you together as pack.  It’s the glue that makes your dog want to learn.  Use it generously.


Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

A House with a View

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Set wide the window. Let me drink the day – Edith Wharton


Spring has been the theme lately. And for good reason. A lot of us are seeing “new” behaviors in our dogs. In reality, the behaviors are nothing new, they are just more noticeable once there are more triggers outside.

Spring and summer is a time of year where there is more activity outside. People are outside walking and biking. Sometimes they’re with dogs and sometimes they’re with strollers and little kids. The neighborhood cats are making their presence known a little more, and like we mentioned last week, the squirrels and birds are back and ready to party. What this might mean for you, is that your dog is a little bit more interested in what’s going on outside your windows. This interest can lead to barking, which can get frustrating. So, let’s take it step by step.

Your dog is barking to warn you that there’s something that you need to pay attention to outside. He’s raising the energy of the pack. So, all you have to do is answer his question of “There’s a woman walking by, is she going to murder us?” with a simple No and move on.

Look for signs before the barking starts. Ears perked, brow furrowed and stiff body langauge.  Brittany Graham Photography

Look for signs before the barking starts. Ears perked, brow furrowed and stiff body language.
- Brittany Graham Photography

When your dog starts barking, calmly place your body in between your dog and the window. Remember to stay calm. Once, you get in between your dog and the window use your body language to back him away while making a short sound. I’m a snapper, but you can make any noise that is quick. What we’re doing is linking this sound with your body language.

As you back your dog away from the window, make sure you have an endpoint in mind. Don’t back your dog all the way up the staircase and into the guest bedroom. A spot that is a few feet away is fine. Once your dog gets to that spot stay strong and calm with your body language. Your dog may keep barking, that’s okay! Barking is the last thing to go, so we’re getting your dog used to the fact that you can decide whether or not that squirrel out there is plotting to steal all of the milk bones. Stay in front of your dog until he stops barking. Once he stops, remove your negative body language. If your dog goes back to the window and starts barking, repeat the steps above.

Once your dog gets to the point that he accepts your answer and goes to lie down or chew a bone, give him some affection for being in a calm state.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

In the beginning this can be tedious and frustrating. But take some deep breaths to stay calm and know that the work you’re putting in now will make your life easier later on. The goal is to eventually be able to make your  noise that you’ve associated with your negative body language and have your dog listen to the command without you having to use your body language. However, if your dog does not listen to your noise, be ready to get up immediately and follow through on the command with your body.

There’s a lot more activity outside your window these days. By staying calm and answering your dog’s questions you will enjoy having the shades open and the sun pouring in. And so you will your dog, because he won’t be concerned about the neighbor’s cat plotting to cut your car’s brakes.

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH

Simple Dogma

And be a simple kind of man.
Be something you love and understand.


So many religions out there.  Varying philosophies. Ways to go about living your life “right”.  So many different thoughts about how to be the best person.  Rules deciding who isn’t a good person. Who we should emulate, and who we should eradicate.  Some are good, some are, uh…gooder.  Some are flat out wrong.  I can’t always tell them apart.  Sometimes they’re good and bad.  So many confusing thoughts and ideas out there, it’s how to deduce the best way to live; what philosophy is best. I think maybe a different dogma is in order.  Something much simpler.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I’ve long maintained that dogs are very, very simple.  Not stupid, just simple.

For example, one of my favorite foods – fresh tomatoes out of the garden, still warm from the sun – is about as simple as it can get.  Nothing complex.  Nothing weird lurking under all that deliciousness.  Probably won’t give me cancer, cellulite, bad hair days or an unsavoury reputation.  Just sweet simplicity.

Frequently we assume that simple can’t be good. At least not as good as something more intricate…more complex. The more engineered, the better.  Why?  I’ve never seen a tomato engineered to adequately replicate a sun-ripened tomato I’ve just picked from my garden.

Dogs are good because they’re simple …or they’re simple because they’re good.  You can’t redesign them or re-engineer them to be more simplistically perfect than they already are.  Go ahead.  Try.  I see people do it all the time.  It makes my eyeballs itch.

“I make Fido sit every time we stop while on a walk.”

“I don’t let him go swimming because his fur smells funny afterwards.”

“I only stay on the path so his paws don’t get muddy.”

“Fido isn’t allowed on the bed because it’s bad.”

Who came up with these ideas?!  Your dog is a dog. Not a machine.  Treat them like a dog, and you’ll have 10+ years of an imperfect being in your life, loving you as perfectly as only a dog can. A wonderfully smelly beast full of nasty fur, drooling mouth and sloppy kisses. If you want something pristine, I’d suggest a pet rock.


Brittany Graham Photography

Dogs love you because you’re simply there.  No reason is needed.  You exist, and they love you, whether you haven’t showered after your workout yet, or your socks don’t match.  They are so accepting of everything about us, they don’t even fetter us with descriptions of “good” and “bad”.  Rationalization and categorization are not a strong points with dogs (mercifully).  Why are you rationalizing them?  Over thinking everything?

Dogs ask simple questions:  yes or no are the only answers to these questions.  How simple is that? Dogs have simple needs:  Piloting, Activity and Work.  Give them that, and you can return their love as much as you want. Such a simple way to attain limitless affection!  They make it so easy for us, and we still try our best to mess it up.

We create back-stories for our dogs: “He’s afraid of men because he was a rescue, and I’m sure he was abused by a man.”  Nope.  It’s just who Fido is.  Don’t try to pick his brain apart.  Just answer his questions!

Should I be afraid of this man?

No, Fido.  I’ll protect you.

That’s all he wants to hear – the answer to his question.  Simply stated without all kinds of bells and whistles.  The same way he would answer it for you.

Even when it comes to commands I teach my dogs, I still keep it very simple.  Sit, Stay, Come, No.  That’s it.  Every single situation we run into can be covered by these simple commands.  I never taught my dogs “lie down”.  I never found it necessary.  Why waste time on something like that when I can train them to do something fun like this?  While you’re training your dog to sit at every stop sign or corner, Sparta and I spent a summer doing this!

Keep it simple.  I have a favorite phrase that I like to use when I find myself over-complicating things:  Eschew obfuscation.   That’s my dogma.  No, Sparta doesn’t sit every time I stop during a walk.  But she has learned some pretty amazing tricks that make both of us happy.  Orion never learned to lie down, but he’s a lot of fun to do agility with.  Our energy is going towards simple, easy goals: companionship.  Bonding. Joy.  And simply put – love.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Time Out

All punishment is mischief; all punishment in itself is evil.

Jeremy Bentham

Brittany Graham Photography
Brittany Graham Photography

So you’ve just caught your new puppy chewing on something in appropriate.  Or perhaps you’ve just cleaned up yet another mess on the floor that your Dachshund has left for you.  Maybe your Beagle won’t stop barking.  Whatever the behavior, I’m noticing a trend among how to handle the situation, and I hate it.

Put the dog in a time out.

You are punishing your dog by putting them “jail”.  For a crime they don’t even realize they committed!  Remember, you are asking your dog to be a human.  To insinuate themselves in a human world with human things and behaviors.  And you are punishing them for failing to be human.  

Is it symbolic?
Is it symbolic?

Ask yourself why you’re putting your dog in a time-out.  Is it so they know what they did was bad?  But was it?

Dogs are incapable of being bad.  There is no such thing.  They know love, devotion and happiness.  They know fear, hunger and pain.  However, they have no concept of bad.  Something is either accepted or it isn’t. It’s an unemotional answer to an unemotional question.  So rather than punish your dog for asking a question, such as “Can I chew on this?”, why not just answer their question?  And then be done with it.

For example, the puppy who is chewing on something inappropriate, simply use your body language to “claim” whatever it is they are engaged with, (as in, “No, you may not have that”).  Once they accept the answer, you are done  Now, in the case of a puppy, they will probably go right back to the thing that is verboten.  Puppies have the attention span of a Bartlett pear – that’s why they’re called “puppies” instead of “adult dogs”.  Answer their question again using the body language. Once they accept the answer, immediately remove the item.  Take your G.I. Joes and go home, in other words. You’ve now removed their opportunity to ask the question again, which would force you to answer the question.  Again.  Ad nauseam.

Your puppy is still going to want to have something to do, so let’s give them something appropriate.  This is a great opportunity to show them exactly what will earn them some positive attention.  Pick a toy and engage them with it for a bit (ie, play with it), and then let them have it.  If they start chewing on it, reward them with some positive attention.

Engage with your pup
Engage with your pup to get them interest in a more appropriate item
Allow them to play on their own
Give them a chance to go it alone.


Now for some positive
Give positive reinforcement for their ability to occupy themselves with an appropriate toy.

Tip: when I have a dog under 12 months in the house, I only keep 1/3 of all toys out for them.  The rest are kept away.  I then rotate the toys every 3-4 hours.  Result – everything old is new again, and nothing inappropriate gets chewed. 

Now, that’s not to say I have never locked my dogs up.  Sparta gets sent to her mudroom.  But it’s not to punish her.  It’s so I don’t punish her.  Remember that part where you take your G.I. Joes and go home?  Well, if Sparta is barking out the window (let’s face it, the weather has warmed up and there is a lot of activity outside for the first time in a while), then I will answer her question (“Can I bark?”) using my body language.  Once she accepts the answer, I take my G.I. Joes and go home.  In this instance, I know Sparta’s limitations – that’s why I’m her Pilot.  Rather than giving her negative body language for every threat person who walks by our house, I simply remove her from the situation. I let her calm down a bit so I don’t have to give her negatives.

That’s different than simply sending her there because she’s barking. I answered her question before putting her in her mudroom, rather than avoiding the question she’s asking.  In a little bit, I’m going to let her back out.  When I’m prepared to answer her questions again.  I’ve controlled the situation before adding more stimulation, as outlined here. If I simply try to blunder my way through it, continuously answering her questions without a break, I’m going to lose my temper.

Yeah...you realize nobody likes you when you're angry.
Yeah…you realize nobody likes you when you’re angry.

So instead of Hulking it out, I’m going to give myself a time out by removing Sparta from the situation.

...and that it's okay to take a break!
…and that it’s okay to take a break!

While we’re both chilling in separate areas from the house, I’ll give her something to do. Maybe a bone.  Maybe a Kong.  After a bit, I’m calmed down, and she isn’t as focused on the people outside.  She may eventually ask again about the people outside, but I’m in a better frame of mind to answer her questions unemotionally, which leads to a better experience for all of us.

Which is more my cup of  tea
Which is more my cup of tea

So before you send your dog to time-out, ask yourself a few questions:

1) Am I doing it to punish?  If so, rethink.  Dogs don’t need punishment.  They need answers.

2) Have I answered my dog’s question?  If you’ve already answered your dog’s question, and are removing them from the situation to prevent Hulking out on them, you have my blessing.

Bear in mind the more often you answer your dog’s questions unemotionally, the less likely they are to ask them again. We Pilot our dogs by infusing them with our own calm.   Now when someone is walking in front of our house, Sparta merely whines a little.  That’s it.  No, it didn’t happen overnight, but it definitely didn’t take a Hulk to make it happen.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Dogs of Ireland

The moon is none the worse for having the dogs bark at her.
- Irish Proverb

I'm not even sure if there's actually a dog under all that green!

I’m not even sure if there’s actually a dog under all that green!

Cead míle fáilte and welcome to our St. Patty’s Day blog post!  To celebrate the holiday, let’s take a look at breeds that have originated from the Emerald Isle.

Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier

Wheaton Terriers are possibly on the of the oldest dogs of Ireland.  Previously known as “the poor man’s dog”, they were used on farms for a variety of reasons, including protection and herding, but are at their best when doing their “terrier’ thing:  hunting down vermin.  Weighing in at about 30-45 lbs, they are a nice, solid dog.  In my opinion, they are also one of the sweetest dogs in the Terrier group (ever heard of the “Wheaton Greetin”?).



Kerry Blue Terrier

Also known as the “Irish Blue Terrier”, Kerry Blues are a gorgeous, animated and lively dog weighing in at approximately 30-40 lbs.  They originated in the 1700′s in County Kerry, Ireland, their namesake (as well as mine!).  They tend to be little jesters, who, like most terriers, are very intelligent and like to show off.  Typically friendly, they can be very courageous if needs be.  They are a good all-around working dog, taking occupations from herding and companion animals, to “the verminator” on some farms.

Kerry Blue Terrier

Kerry Blue Terrier

Kerry Beagle

Kerry Beagles were developed in, you guessed it, Kerry County, Ireland, as a scent hound.  Typically weighing in at roughly 60 pounds, it is still used for hunting fox.  Kerry Beagles almost died out, but fortunately, there are still people maintaining this lovely breed.

Kerry Beagle

Kerry Beagle

Irish Terrier

Also known as the “Irish Red Terrier”, this sprite little guy weighs in at under 30 lbs.  They are always ready for some fun, and can be a great hiking companion, as they have endless energy.  It is believed that these little sprites were one of the first terriers, and may be over 2000 years old!

Irish Terrier

Irish Terrier

Irish Water Spaniel

Justin McCarthy from Dublin, Ireland created this incredibly useful dog for retrieving on land and in (sometimes icy) waters.  Intelligent, active and possessing an amazing stamina, this was the go-to dog for hunters.  Unfortunately, they are rather rare now since the increasing popularity of Labradors has taken their place.

Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Wolfhound

Not sure if this is a dog or a pony, as this breed is gigantic weighing as much as 150 lbs. and can be 7 ft tall on their hinds legs.  Sweet (almost to a fault), they are the dogs who would apologize for apologizing too much.  Gentle giants, they are more likely to let an intruder in and serve them coffee rather than raise an alarm.  Originally bred for hunting wolves, as the name implies, they are a very, very old breed dating almost 2000 years.  As far as I can see, there only flaw is their lifespan, which is an all-too-short 6-8 years.

Irish Wolfhound - my personal favorite!

Irish Wolfhound – my personal favorite!

Irish Red and White Setter/Irish Setter

Two separate breeds, but essentially the same dog excepting colors (red vs. red and white), both Setters remind me of nothing so much as frolic and mirth on steroids.  Weighing in at up to 75 lbs., they are a very energetic breed and always looking for some fun.  These guys definitely have a mind of their own, and they sometimes can be a free spirit.  They excel at any type of hunting you throw at them, making them a very well-rounded gun dog.  Red and White Setters were originally much more common than their Red counterparts, but then in the mid-19th century the Reds gained popularity, so much that the the Red and Whites almost became extinct!  Fortunately, people have managed to preserve this wonderful variation for all to enjoy.


Irish Red and White Setter


Irish Setter

Glen of Imaal Terrier (Glen Terrier)

A very stately individual is the Glen Terrier.  Small, compact and low to the ground, this little guy packs a lot of courage and poise in that short little body.  They are intelligent and brave, and can be quite fierce when on the hunt.  They are truly kingly little dogs.  They derived their name from Glen of Imaal, in County Wicklow, Ireland. They have been used to kill foxes and badgers, as well as “turnspit” dogs (walking on a crude treadmill, they would turn meat on a spit for hours).  To me, they personify 35 lbs of quiet dignity.

Glen Terrier

Glen Terrier

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Fad saol agat, gob fliuch, agus bás in Éirinn!

Do you have a personal favorite?  Do you happen to own one of these beauties?  If so, let me know what your thoughts are on any of these breeds.

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Spring Distractions


Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk – O.A. Battista

As Porter and I were taking a walk last week, I couldn’t understand why I was having to correct so much more than normal. Yes, it’s been cold out and there’s a ton of pent up energy, but the amount of corrections I was making did not seem proportional to the usual walks that get out the winter kinks.

Then, I realized…. the birds were back and so were those pesky squirrels.

Over the winter, there’s less of a chance that you’re having to correct due to your dog’s prey drive. The squirrels stay to themselves and the birds, well, they’re smart and go south. So, all of a sudden your walks are pretty much critter free. Which is great! However, then spring hits and the squirrels are frantically running about and the birds are back in full song. And now, you’ve just spent 5 months walking your dog without having reiterate the fact that “no Fido, you cannot go see what squirrel meat tastes like” and “no, you cannot try and try and see if you can catch a Robin mid-flight”.

So, what to do? Well, let’s go back to the basics of dealing with prey drive during the walk.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

1. Don’t Get Frustrated: I know your dog hasn’t had this bad of a walk in a long time. And you are getting nowhere near the normal distance that you’re used to. But, it’s okay. You’re not doing anything wrong. You’ve just been handed a new set of distractions, so the walks are going to feel a little bit harder for a while. Deep breaths. And if you can’t go the same distance, that’s okay. Make sure you’re staying calm throughout the walk. Yelling and getting frustrated are not going to help your dog get to the walking state that you’re used to.

2. Pay Attention to the Questions: Look for the furrowed brow or you dog’s body stiffening. Make sure you’re answering your dog’s question of “I can have a squirrel appetizer today?” before he’s full on ordering it rare. Quick corrections are key. Pay attention to your dog’s body language so you can answer the question when they are first asking. Not after they’ve decided that squirrel is the correct choice for a snack.

3. Keep Moving: When it comes to little critters that are fidgety and exude a lot of energy it’s best not to stop and try and reboot in front of them. There’s so much energy there your dog won’t be able to focus on you. Keep moving. Don’t stop. Once you get them a bit past that huge amount of distraction (say, the squirrel appetizer) then, you can start answering your dog’s questions.  If you like, you can move past the situation that’s causing tension and once you have gotten enough distance between you and the squirrel, you can take a break and regroup. But it’s best to just keep moving forward.  Remember, control the situation; sometimes it’s just not feasible directly in front of an angry squirrel.

4. Don’t Compare Your Walks: You can’t compare your walks in the coming days to the ones that you were going on a month or two ago. It won’t be the same. With the weather changing it’s as if you’re going on a completely new route to your pups. There’s more smells, more things that are moving, more people and more creatures out there. It won’t do you any good to compare your walks to when the area looked desolate and you’d be lucky to see one other person as crazy as you were out there.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Just stick with it, you’ll get back to your calm walking state soon enough. It’ll just take a little work to get there. But, nothing that you can’t handle. Get out there and start enjoying that nice weather! You and your pup will be much happier for it!

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH

Personally Speaking

I am a great believer in found families and I’m not a great believer in blood.

Joss Whedon


A few weeks ago I was chatting online with a friend of mine.  He wanted to know what I thought about a certain “breed”of designer dog.  His wife wanted one for the family, and she had fallen in love with a friend’s new puppy, and they wanted one, too.  He told me that the puppy was from a well-respected “breeder”.  They got the information on a breeder website….as in, “We breed schoodles, morkies and shih-poos…”.  As soon as I saw that, flags went up.  This wasn’t a breeder – this was a puppy mill.

I tried to explain to him that respectable breeders didn’t advertise online.  Nor did they specialize in more than one breed, let alone claim to be breeders of dogs that aren’t even a breed.  Unfortunately, it all fell on deaf ears.  They proceeded to purchase a puppy.  I don’t believe they even set foot in a shelter.  Rather than rescuing a new family member, they attempted to purchase a designer label.  But at what cost?

Puppy Mills

We all know the horror behind-the-scenes of a puppy mill.  We’ve seen the numerous dogs who were rescued.  I’ve worked with dogs who were saved from years spent in a tiny 2′x2′ crate, giving birth to litter after litter in squalid conditions.  These dogs are no more than livestock, there as a commodity, conditions be damned.  Each one of those viable puppies is worth between $800-$1000.  Unfortunately, those chasing after the supposed prestige that comes with having a purebred dog usually don’t want to pay purebred prices.  So they buy a knockoff.  Unfortunately, just like knockoff Prada, someone always pays the price, usually behind the scenes.  Child labor in sweatshops or abused and neglected animals. Both victims of the “designer” label.



If you buy from a real breeder, you should feel as if you are applying for the CIA.  Background checks may be involved.  These are their lives’ work!  A breeder’s dogs are more like a family dog/work of art/live’s mission all rolled into one.  They will never let ou pick a dog from their litter – they interview you to find out which one of their puppies’ personalities will fit best in your household.  In other words, they have dogs, not investments. They aren’t a money making device!  Breeders typically don’t breed their dogs more than a handful of times in the dogs entire life!  According to Animal Rescue Corps., dogs in a mill have a much different schedule:

“Females are bred repeatedly, usually twice a year, every year, until they can no longer produce puppies. This is incredibly stressful on their bodies but they are viewed as moneymaking machines, as disposable property, not as individuals with inherent worth. Female dogs are commonly bred before it is safe to do so because the earlier they start, the more puppies they will produce in a lifetime. Puppy mill breeding dogs are often given hormones and steroids to try and increase the number of puppies they produce. These drugs can cause extreme pain and serious side effects – all in an attempt to increase the number of puppies for profit.”

But at least you got your cute puppy.

Designer Puppies

I just got a new niece. Her mother is Chinese, and her father is a mix of Finnish and Irish.  The baby is beautiful.  However, I am intelligent enough to know that she is one of a kind. I can’t recreate her, no matter how hard I try, even with parents of the same ancestry.  She will always be unique, from her looks to her personality.  My own children don’t even look like they’re related to each other, and their personalities are about as polar as they can be.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

River and Eric.  Or as my husband and I call them, Machete and The Professor.  

So why are you trying to recreate your neighbor’s adorable puppy, who happens to be a something-poo?  Your inability to realize that you can’t recreate a living being is disturbing to me.  I can understand having a type…. I personally prefer Am-Staffs (or pitties). I also love Shepherds.

Yes, Orion.  Papillons too.

Yes, Orion. Papillons too.

But here’s the thing:  I can rattle off why I love those breeds:  I love how fun-loving and goofy pitties are.  How they are desperate to have a rollicking good time and want nothing more than a good snuggle, followed by more fun.  I love how Shepherds are always so desperate to learn something new, and how absurdly stoic they can be.  I love how Papillions are such lively little creatures who are really too big on the inside for those tiny little bodies.  I love how they are just as rugged of a dog as a Coonhound or a Lab.  I understand that each dog in a specific breed will always have its own personality, it generally falls within a certain area.  If you’re going with a purebred, finding out breed standard for that specific breed is a very good start to having a wonderful companion rather than a chore, or even worse, an owner surrender to the local shelter.

In other words, I love these dogs based on more than how I think they look. When I asked my friend why they were heading towards the designer “breed” they had in mind, the response was, “he’s cute”.  Seriously, they’re basing living the next 10-15 years with a dog on nothing more than “he’s cute”.  Temperament is merely an afterthought.  As is exercise requirements and how much Piloting the dog will need.  It is imperative to come up with a list of wants vs. needs when choosing a new dog, whether it be from a shelter or a breeder!

Remember that a mutt (which is what your designer dog is) is a dog that can not be reliably bred to have a certain standard.  In other words, if I were breeding Golden Retrievers, I can with a high degree of certainty state that the next litter will contain pups who will grow to be a certain size, with a very predictable temperament (fun, easy going, eager to please, and friendly).  Same with Poodles:  I can reliably breed very intelligent and active dogs of a certain “look” who, while easy to train, want to know why they should be listening to you and not following their own orders.  (For that reason, I generally steer families with small children away from poodles.)  Now, let’s breed a Golden and a Poodle together.  What do you get?  Just about any mix of all these traits.  Anywhere from a dog who looks exactly like a Golden but acts just like a Poodle (and vice versa), to a complete blending of the two looks and temperaments.  In other words, a mutt.

Mutts are awesome, but just like every other dog, they must be judged on an individual basis before you decide to buy/adopt. Judge the dog on who they are, not what they appear to be.

You Blew Your Chance to Save A Life

Seriously, Robin.  Don't be a douche.

Seriously, Robin. Don’t be a douche.

Let’s not forget the biggest reason to adopt rather than shop. Or rather the 2.7 million reasons to adopt.  That’s the number of dogs and cats euthanized each year.  Yeah, sure, you can argue that you can only rescue one,and what’s “one” in the face of such a large number?

"Just one" is the most important number Boise can think of.  He only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.  Check out Boise, who's up for adoption, at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.
“Just one” is the most important number Boise can think of. He only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter. Check out Boise, who’s up for adoption, at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.

To be truthful, I had high hopes of convincing my friend not to shop for a puppy, especially not from a place that hit every single hallmark for being a puppy mill. I’d like to say this hasn’t changed how I view my friend, but there are only so many matted, filthy dogs I can help rehabilitate before it becomes personal.  Only so many dogs I can work with who are afraid of everything, who’ve never been outside their breeding box in the 2, 3 or even 8 years they’ve been on this planet, before I become judgmental and angry, even with longtime friends.  There’s a finite number to the dogs I can say goodbye to, and take them for their last long walk and few moments of fetch, before their time is up before it gets personal.

Yes.  It is personal.

Keep calm and pilot on



Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


The Little Things

  “Judge me by my size, do you?”
Yoda – The Empire Strikes Back

10385367_10204184623834452_9168845168471881616_nConfession:  I’ve always been afraid of small dogs.  Not necessarily afraid of them…more like afraid to be around them.  Or more importantly, on top of them.  I’m about as graceful as a giraffe on roller skates, so the little ones always put me on edge a bit.  I knew deep down that they were just like every other dog, and I could see how they responded just as quickly to a bit of Piloting as the large dogs did, but still, they looked so…delicate.  Even if I were working with a dog deemed “aggressive“, if it was a Chihuahua running up to me Cujo-style, it instantly put me on edge, more so than even a Rottie or other large dog.

Then a couple of years ago it became more and more apparent that I needed a “bait” dog.  A dog that could help me out with the dog-reactive dogs.  It had to be a dog that was friendly, but aloof unless given permission to be pet.  A dog who wasn’t dog reactive, and would trust me completely.  The dog needed to be intelligent, healthy, and above all, non-threatening in looks.  Enter all 5 lbs. of Orion.

I hear you have a job opening?

I hear you have a job opening?

Growing up I did indeed have a small-ish dog named Pebbles.  She was a 20-ish lb Aussie mix we got from a shelter when I was in preschool.  But there’s a difference between a small-ish dog and a tiny dog.  Or is there? And so I present:

The Little Things That Make Little Dogs Great.

1) They can go anywhere with you.  Easily.

Sparta desperately trying to fit into the mudroom she loves so much.

Sparta desperately trying to fit into the mudroom she loves so much.

As I discovered after trading in a minivan for an Elantra, size can indeed matter…and bigger is not necessarily better.  While all 100 lbs. of Sparta fit nicely in my van, the same doesn’t hold true for my new car.  Not so much now.  Actually, Sparta doesn’t fit anywhere nicely.  A small dog doesn’t have the space problems that a larger dog can. Yes, I know what you’re going to say: a Great Dane is a better apartment dog than a Jack Russel (and you’re right), but if your floor plan only has 700 square feet, you’re taking a pretty big chunk out that with a Dane.  Any dog who is given the appropriate amount of exercise is good in an apartment.  Unfortunately, you can’t exercise the size out of a large dog.

2) They aren’t big eaters.

They're really only about a mouthful.  Wait....that's not what I mean.

They’re really only about a mouthful. Wait….that’s not what I mean.

The cost of feeding a small dog is drastically less than a larger dog.  For example, Orion eats between 1/4 – 1/2 cup of food per day, depending on how hard we hike.  Sparta, on the other hand, eats anywhere between 5-7 cups per day.  A Mastiff can eat up to 10 cups per day.  The cost of keeping a smaller dog is significantly less.

3) People aren’t as easily spooked by a small dog.

Awwwww....he's so cute!

Awwwww….he’s so cute!

Now, if you’ve been around dogs enough, you know very well that the little Yorkie is just as likely to bite you as the German Shepherd, but a lot of people don’t see it that way.  They see small dog, they automatically think of it as a friendly happy puppy.  So much that landlords typically don’t discriminate against any small dogs.  Ergo, it’s easier to get an apartment that allows dogs.

4) It’s easy(ish) to travel with a small dog.

I'll bet I could fit him in there....easily

I’ll bet I could fit him in there….easily

On a recent flight to Austin, someone brought a small schnauzer on board the plane in a carry-on.  The little darling easily fit on is owner’s lap for the entire duration of the flight instead of being regulated to the cargo hold.

5) Life span. 

photo 4(2)Smaller dogs live longer than larger dogs.  Orion’s projected life expectancy is 13-15 years.  Sparta’s is about 10-12.  Sad but true.

6) No counter surfing.

Brittany Graham Photography

Guess which one of us can reach the counter? Brittany Graham Photography

I’m all about training your dogs, but isn’t it nice when an issue isn’t even on your radar?  Sparta had to be trained to leave things on the counter alone.  Orion thinks the counter is Mt. Everest.

7) Eliminating the negative.

Eric, age 8, on poop patrol

Eric, age 8, on poop patrol

Ever clean up after a 100 lb dog?  Exactly.

8) Easier to manage.

Size never takes the place of training, but when dealing with difficult dogs, obviously a smaller dog is easier from a safety standpoint.

Size never takes the place of training, but when dealing with difficult dogs, obviously a smaller dog is easier from a safety standpoint.

Okay, a dog who is behaving aggressively needs to have the situation addressed, no matter the size.  But let’s face it: if tiny little Fifi the toy poodle decides she wants a piece of the mailman walking by, odds are she isn’t strong enough to literally drag you across oncoming traffic to get to him.

9)  Portable.

This is where Orion hangs out in the car. Passenger side on the floor.  His little den.

This is where Orion hangs out in the car. Passenger side on the floor. His little den.

When Darwin was a senior, I had a tremendously difficult time transporting him. Getting him into the car turned into an ordeal simply because of his size.  Smaller dogs are so much easier to care for as they age, requiring less muscle.  Similarly, on a hike, if Sparta gets tired, we have to stop and rest.  Orion, on the other hand, is easily portable.  Not that I’ve ever seen Orion get tired.

10) They’re dogs.

My ,majestic Papillon.

My ,majestic Papillon.

I mean, isn’t that what it all boils down to?  Dog is a dog is a dog is a dog.  They’re just like every other dog.

Sure I’ve stepped on Orion and tripped over him, but not very often.  Orion is a lot tougher than he looks: he has chased deer away from us, he has caught many a chipmunk in my yard, and he has remained courageous when helping me rehabilitate a dog-reactive dog who outweighs him by 90+ lbs.  I do indeed wrestle with him.  He hikes with me for miles and miles, never tiring. He has mettle. He truly is a mascot for Darwin Dogs.

Treating a dog like a dog.  What a novel concept! I treat Orion just like Sparta, and guess what:  both are well-adjusted, wonderful, polite dogs.  Small dog syndrome is indeed a real thing, but it’s something that we humans have created in our small dogs by treating them differently.   We don’t cipher out humans based on size. Danika is roughly 12 inches shorter than me (I’m 6ft tall)… but if you test our mettle, it’s neck-and-neck.  She and I are capable of doing the same things. Our clients don’t say they prefer me because I’m bigger than Danika.  I see people in shelters a lot looking for a new dog, but eliminating a certain dog from the running because they’re “too small” or a “sissy dog”.  Usually it’s a man, and usually I stand right next to them, look down towards them, and ask if that makes them a sissy man in comparison to me.  They usually turn red and walk away.

Small dogs, big dogs…  let’s just remember the best part: dog.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

The Power of Experience

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything – George Bernard Shaw

Remember those days, where posters of your favorite movie star or boy band covered the walls of your room? It basically looked like a teeny bopper version of a stalker’s basement. Or remember when you would see your favorite movie star or boy band on tv or on a magazine, you would squeal and go on and on about how amazing they were and all their great qualities?

These guys used to cover my walls

These guys used to cover my walls

Well, my poor parents had to go through that stage with me twice. Once, when I was an actual teeny bopper. And once when I was older and found out that pitbulls had stolen my heart. Anytime one was on tv I would stop and stare after letting out a slightly embarrassing sound that I hadn’t used since my ‘NSync days.

If we saw a pitbull on the street, I would come close to drooling. I had pictures of them on my desktop background and I was constantly sharing facts and videos of them.

When this first started my parents didn’t seem to fully understand what was happening. They, like most people, hadn’t had much contact with any pitbulls. In fact, pretty much none. I was the only one that had met and interacted with bully breeds out of my family.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

At first, my parents would ask about certain traits that many people haven’t been around pitbulls or haven’t been able to gain enough information about the breed (I use the term breed loosely, because as we know, they’re just a mix) ask:.

Aren’t they aggressive?

Their jaws lock don’t they?

Don’t you think they’re kind of funny-looking?

Why aren’t they allowed in certain apartment complexes and towns?

This was my opportunity to educate! I would share the knowledge that I had gained about them every time the opportunity came up. My parents would just nod and smile. I never knew what they were thinking really. It was kind of like my teeny bopper days, they accepted it but didn’t fully understand. But that was okay with me. I went on oohing and aahhing over every pitbull I came across.

When Vesta came into my life (she’s the reason that I want BSL to end), I could tell they were hesitant again. But, they were supportive and went with it.

Vest as an adorable little puppy

Vest as an adorable little puppy

Vesta was a lovebug. As they would come to visit, I could see my parents warming up to her more and more. They saw how happy she made me. They also saw how sweet she was. She had an amount of devotion towards me that was extraordinary. She knew what my next move was going to be before I did. She knew how to make me feel comfortable and how to cheer me up. She also knew how to make everyone around her laugh and that endeared her to them. They were able to see the dog she was and not just the breed.

It’s hard to connect or change your mind about something or someone if you’ve never interacted with that individual or animal. You’re only able to go off of facts or stories that other people have told you. It’s not the same thing as experiencing it yourself. And sometimes, those that are able to change others minds can do it without even knowing.

The other day, I was home visiting when a neighbor was talking about a new dog in the neighborhood. It was a pitbull and they relayed concerns and incorrect facts about pitbulls. I took a deep breath to start in on my arguments and all of a sudden my parents piped in:

“They’re very loyal dogs you know”

“They’re not what the media makes them out to be”

“I saw him the other day, just standing there, wagging his tail with a big smile on his face. Looked like a great dog.”

I took a step back and just realized, the individuals that had never understood my pitbull obsession were standing up for my pitbull obsession. They were able to rely on experiences that they had had with the breed and help others appreciate these misunderstood dogs.

Vesta and I playing around

Vesta and I playing around

This is why the Pittie Parade is so important. It’s a chance for individuals to encounter well behaved and gentle dogs that they might not have met in any other circumstance. They get to meet the wiggly butts and goofy smiles that pitties so lovingly posses. That’s what it takes to changing minds. No yelling, no screaming, no yelling out facts over and over. It takes someone to say, “hey, this dog is really sweet” for some changes to start to take place.

If we can change just one mind, we’ve succeeded. If we can change more? Well, that could create some more loving homes and arms for wiggly butts and goofy smiles everywhere.

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH



“…so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” -Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park

o-PITBULL-570This is Hulk.  At 175 pounds, he is the world’s largest pitbull (which yes, I know isn’t even a breed, but rather a conglomeration of different breeds).  He is owned by Marlon Gannon of Dark Dynasty K9.  Hulk has been bred, and according to Gannon, is a trained professional guard dog, who will heed his owners every command and protect them with his life. Lisa Gannon claims she trusts him around her toddler “precisely because of his thorough guard-dog training” and even lets her toddler ride him(!), a very dangerous (and stupid) thing to do.

Because nothing shows respect so much as letting your children ride your dog

Because nothing shows respect so much as letting your children ride your dog

Let me start by stating that anyone who claims their dog will follow their “every command” has some ego problems.  My dogs and I are pack members. I have nothing to prove to them except that I will always take care of them, and in a crisis situation (say, intruder breaks in or a zombie apocalypse) I know they will do their best to protect me.  I will never claim any animal (or human, for that matter) will obey every command, as every creature has a breaking point.

I’ll admit it: I don’t respect guard dog trainers very much.  I think it takes a special kind of bully to turn a dog into a compensating appendage.

Contact your doctor if you try to compensate for more than four hours.

Contact your doctor if you try to compensate for more than four hours.

I do realize that there are indeed special circumstances that actually require a guard dog, and that there are indeed wonderful trainers who can train dogs to safely handle these situations.  Police dogs, military dogs, even personal protection dogs, are all a necessary evil.  However, I do wonder at the ludacris number of “guard dog trainers” out there. Especially the ones who use pitties as guard dogs.  One of the worst choices for the job.  Yeah, they’re muscular, but so was Michael Clarke Duncan.  Who was a vegetarian.  

So wait, muscular individuals don't dine on baby flesh?

So wait, muscular individuals don’t dine on baby flesh?

I stumbled across the best statement about this whole “Hulk” debacle on Facebook.  Trainer Shannon Duffy, from Your Good Dog, had this to say about it:

“This may come as a surprise but I am not a fan of Hulk. Well, Hulk I love, the situation around him is despicable in my opinion. Hulk, the 175 pound “Pit Bull”, is the latest internet sensation. Hulk is also a mutation that is the result of irresponsible breeding that is done purely for looks and size with no regard for the health or temperament of the dogs created. He seems to be a great family dog even when the parents, showing extreme poor judgment, allows their child to ride him like a horse. I wish him all the best and hope that he continues to be a good ambassador for Pit type dogs but I cannot support the concept of breeding based purely on appearance (looking at you too AKC).”

And that sums up everything despicable surrounding poor Hulk. I, too, wish you the best in this crazy world you’ve been thrust into, big guy.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio