God Save the Queen

  My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.

   Anna Sewell

During the Victorian Age, the concept “pure breds” came into being.  Sure, Shar Peis have been around for possibly thousands of years, but the first cataloging of these dogs began during this age.  Hand-in-hand with the cataloging came the desire for new breeds.  Thus, the Victorian Age created more new breeds of dog.  Fortunately, as more and more people dabbled in Artificial Selection (breeding), along came some of the first animal welfare acts.

Queen Victoria with one of her many beloved dogs

Queen Victoria with one of her many beloved dogs

Queen Victoria I, reigning sovereign of England from 1837 – 1901, and had a tremendous effect on how we view dogs.  She was a passionate dog lover, as well as a strong leader, and therefore bestowed quite a bit of influence upon the population’s perspective on dogs (and animals in general).  In 1822 Colonel Richard Martin succeeded in passing an act in the House of Commons preventing cruelty to such larger domestic animals as horses and cattle; two years later he organized the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to help enforce the law. Queen Victoria commanded the addition of the prefix “Royal” to the Society in 1840.  In 1837, Great Britain was the first to ban bull baiting, cockfighting, bear baiting, and a great many other atrocities against animals that had been occurring.  Suddenly animals were being treated well, humanely.

If you take a look at Victorian paintings, quite a few depict the family dog(s).  Animals became part of the literary scene (Black Beauty, a book about the cruelty of humans towards their domestic animals, from the animal’s point of view, being a forerunner).  The concept that an animal could suffer was beginning to emerge.  Suddenly dogs became more than living machines: they became, in the words of Edith Wharton “My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.”

As all things do, gradually the concept of animal welfare hopped the pond.  Eventually those in America started to pick up on these ideas (cockfighting was only banned in Louisiana in 2007).  But we still have a ways to go. In 2007 British law declared docking of an animal’s tail to be a crime.  Unfortunately, that is not the case here in America.  Compared to the protection given to animals in England, America sometimes looks downright backwater and medieval.  Hopefully, one day, we can be the forerunner in protecting animals.

Easy Rider

    It is better to travel well than to arrive.




Summer is almost here!  Road trips to the beach! Travel to the park!  Go! Go! Go!  If you’re like me, once the weather breaks, you want to be outside doing, well, …something.  Sparta, Orion and I love hiking once the weather breaks (technically, Sparta likes hiking before the weather breaks – Orion and I are too delicate).  Part of the fun, though, is discovering new areas to hike.  We live in Lakewood, and are very familiar with the trails around the Rocky River Reservation, but several times a week we will travel to a new locale:  Hinkley Reservation to hike Whipps Ledges.  Down south to Strongsville to hike Royalview.  In Vermilion, there is a great lagoon.  All of these trips require a car ride.

Sparta and Orion are perfect little beasts in the car.  But most dogs aren’t just born that way.  Sparta sits in the back seat, her usual stoic look upon her face, waiting for her next orders.  Orion sits in the passenger seat next to me, excited about our destination, but trying (and usually succeeding) to contain himself. 

So, how did I get my little companions to do so well in the car?

Piloting. There is no substitution, no harnesses, herbal remedies, or restraints that will help your dog relax in the car.  Piloting is the only thing that can take a dog who is hyper in the car and turn them into a road warrior.

You and your dog - Road Warriors

You and your dog – Road Warriors

Let’s take a few examples of bad behaviors in the car and address how to Pilot your dog through them:

  1. Hyper dog, who jumps back and forth between the seats and never seems to calm down.  A couple issues with this dog:  energy and possibly anxiousness.  All dogs have questions that need to be answered.  This dog’s questions are pretty simple:  Are we there yet?  Can I be in the front seat now?  Can I drive?   All of these are answered with a simple, gentle negative.As mentioned previously in the PAW Method, you need to control your situation before adding stimulation.  In other words, don’t start trying to Pilot the situation while flying down the highway at 65 mph.  Start simple.  Put your dog in the car, start your car, and hang out in your driveway.  If pooch starts acting hyper, simply use your body language and/or your negative command to address their question:  Can I be hyper?  Obviously the answer is no!   Angle your body as best you can so you are facing them, and them stare them down.  You may have to gently tap them on the ribs with your fingers to gain their attention (read: not discipline, you are merely getting them to focus).  The moment they care calm, give them a rewards (Touch, Talk, Treat).  Give a treat, gentle praise, and a gentle pet to reward.  Quickly you won’t need the treat anymore.  If you dog won’t accept the treat, that’s fine.  Still offer, and still give the Touch and the Talk.

    Stop the car and get your dog out once they are calm.  You should never let your dog out while they are hyper.  Remember, we are practicing calm – nothing fun ever happens unless they are calm first.  Keep practicing this in your driveway.  It is essentially the same as crate training: we want our dogs to become accustomed to the car.  It’s a normal, every day thing.  A “no energy” zone.

    After you have mastered the driveway, enlist someone’s help to start driving.  Anywhere is fine…just start moving.  Every time your dog even gives a hint of energy, give them that gentle negative.  If necessary, you can even stop the car until they’ve calmed down. Keep at it. Travel by car isn’t always achieved overnight.

  2. Anxious, worried, terrified dog.  This dog is truly a sad sight to see.  They are scared.  They look like a small child in the queue for the world’s largest roller coaster:  convinced they aren’t going to make it.  Resist the urge to comfort.  Remember, if everything is good, fine, and safe, why would you feel the need to confirm that?  You don’t walk around your house reassuring them that it’s safe, right?  Do the same thing in the car.  If they seem to be doing a little better, you can offer them calm, gentle positives.  Don’t try to soothe them with words:  you are rewarding them for relaxing, not trying to bribe them into relaxing.

  3. Car sick dog.  This usually occurs in puppies under 1 year, as their inner ear has not quite developed yet, giving them a frequent feeling of vertigo.  Unfortunately, the best thing to do is ride it out. Orion reliably got sick in the car, every single time, until just after his 1st birthday.  If your dog is older and still getting sick, it could be that you have a dog who is actually anxious in the car.  Pilot him.  He will calm down.  You can also ask your vet what you can give your dog to help their stomach while traveling.

Keep at it.  Don’t give up.  You will have the perfect traveling companion. You just have to help them realize that there are indeed rules for them in the car.

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


Aren’t You Ever Afraid?

Quite a few of my clients want to know gory details about what I do.  Yes, I do indeed work with aggressive dogs, but they tend to be less taxing on one’s patience than puppies.  Aggressive dogs just have a few questions that need to be answered by someone they trust, and then they are good to go!  Puppies are basically a time loop, where you repeat everything you say or do over and over until you feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Life with Puppies

Life with Puppies

Yet everyone still wants to know what the scariest session I’ve ever done was.  Well, that’s easy.  Patty’s session with Buddy!  It wasn’t that Buddy was particularly aggressive or anything.  He was a Lab.  But from what Patty had been describing on the phone, Buddy had some severe anxiety that was demonstrating itself through, as I refer to it, Securing The Perimeter.  That’s when a dog who normally wouldn’t be aggressive is acting aggressive through fear.  Guarding the door. Guarding the yard.  Guarding against, well…..everything.  Not the best way to live, in constant fear like that.

Those cases can be a little difficult.  I need to leave the situation feeling as if the owner is in the Pilot position firmly enough to answer any questions the dog may have, such as, should we kill this guest before they kill us?

Patty’s situation was nothing I hadn’t handled on very regular basis.  The problem was this:  I only had one shot at it.  See, Patty lived a couple hours away.  I had tried to work through this with her on the phone, talking her through it.  It didn’t feel right having to charge her for coming all the way out there.  She was a good person, who rescued a good dog, and was desperate not to lose her best friend because of aggression.  In essence, she was frightened to lose her dog, but she was frightened to be with her dog.  What would Buddy do next? It was constantly on her mind.

So I had one shot at this.  I drove to her house, nervous the whole way, dragging my Long Suffering Husband, Michael along as Buddy Bait (hey, anything to get the dog react so I can show Patty how to prevent it,right?). But what if it wasn’t exactly as Patty had said and there were other issues going on?  What if Patty isn’t willing to listen and utilize what I’ve taught her?  What if, what if, what if?   To say I was terrified was an understatement.  I could not fail these wonderful people!

Michael and I finally arrived and knocked on the door.  A huge yellow lab immediately lunged at the door, barking in a possessive manner.  The barking intensified (if possible) as I heard someone coming to the door.  It must be Patty.  She tried to maneuver around the dog, while holding him back, so she could answer the door.  I totally relaxed.  This would work.  I told Patty not to worry, just open the door and let Buddy out at us.  My husband gave me a look like, This dog is going ballistic.  Are you sure you want him at us right now?  Bear in mind my husband is a Comp Sci geek. I usually don’t ask him to come with me on sessions.

Patty let Buddy out, who immediately charged at us full throttle…..and then stopped short, smelled us for a second, and started jumping on us and trying to lick us.  We went back inside and worked with Patty and her husband Dan (who had to be the most intently focused clients I’ve ever had) and showed her how to answer Buddy’s questions so he wouldn’t have to do it himself anymore.

We went for a walk past a Rottie who Buddy had gotten into a scrape with just days before (Patty answered Buddy’s question, Is he going to hurt us?, by answering “No” and we moved peacefully along).  We practiced Patty answering the door while my husband banged on it outside.  Buddy was not allowed to see who was there, but had to trust Patty’s judgement.  Mom, will this person hurt us?   No, Buddy, I’ve got this.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I left that session feeling great about myself and the situation I’d left behind.  I left with three new friends who I will always admire.  Sure, Buddy still needed to be worked with, but Patty did just that, and I still get frequent updates, years later.  All of them make me proud of Buddy and his owners’ commitment to their best friend.

Buddy showing off.

Buddy showing off.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Just Like The Other One

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”  - Irish Headstone

Darwin and Pirate


Sparta trampled my feet as she walked back into the house this morning. She never means to, but well, she always steps on them, and it really frosts my cookies.  ”Darwin never did that”, I always say to her.

It’s true!  Darwin never stepped on my feet by accident.  Even when he was older than dirt and half blind, he was always very cautious about stepping on my feet.  Sparta sometimes comes through me like the Kool-Aid Man.   Oh yeah!  

It’s something we’re still working on.

Darwin was also my assisted living dog (of sorts).  Due to the nature of my profession, I wear boots all the time.  Whenever Darwin would see me grabbing my boots to put them on, he’d run over to my left side.  I’d lean on him while I wrestled on my right boot.  As soon as I’d get it on, he’d run over to the other side, helping me put on my left boot.  He was a great dog!

I tried it with Sparta.  The second I tried to lean on her, she fell over, playing dead.  We both crashed to the ground.  Come on, Sparta….Darwin never even had to be trained to to that.  He just picked it up.

Darwin was my first dog (as an adult).  I adopted him from a shelter when I was in my very early 20′s.  I had him for more than 13 years.  He was my date to parties, my extra blanket on cold nights. He was my road trip buddy, and he kept all my secrets.  He was indeed my best friend.  I still miss him terribly, almost 5 years after I said goodbye.

I probably developed my love for black dogs from Darwin.  I never had a preferred dog color before Darwin.  But Darwin was so….perfect. But Sparta is not Darwin.  She never will be.  She’s not supposed  to be.  Sparta is Sparta.  It’s hard to remember that.  Darwin is merely perfect because he’s gone now.  Sparta isn’t because we live day-to-day life together.

I always gently chastise my clients who compare their new dog to their old dog.  They tell me they got another Chocolate Lab puppy because their last one was so wonderful, and he died recently a the ripe old age of 14.  They can’t understand why their new dog is such a handful when the last Lab was so great.  I guarantee he didn’t start out great!  We tend to hold on to the memories that we love.

If I want to be honest with myself, Darwin was a hit-or-miss kind of car rider.  He would still occasionally get carsick.  Darwin also used to supplement his diet with whatever he could.  He was a constant work in progress with the counter-surfing.  If I really want to think about it, Darwin could sometimes be a real pain-in-the-ass.  I just happen to miss him terribly, which cancels out all the “bad” stuff he ever did.

Sparta has never once been sick in the car – even as a puppy!  Sparta can be trusted with anything, and I mean anything, left on the counter.  She’s a great dog.  I’m sure 15 years from now, after she’s long gone, I’ll be rolling my eyes at my new dog, because, well, Sparta never did that.

Sparta Holding Dog Treats



Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Ugly Truth

  My eyes were made to erase all that is ugly.

  – Raoul Dufy

"Ug"- Britain's reigning champion of the Ugliest Dog Contest

“Ug”- reigning champion of the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest

“What an ugly dog!  Wow…it looks like he fell out of the Ugly Tree and hit every branch on the way down.”

“Why yes, he most certainly does look that way!  He’s the winner of the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest.”  

I absolutely despise these Ugly Dog contests.  Yes, I realize that these dogs don’t have feelings like humans do – they really couldn’t care less what they look like.  Problem is, they are perfectly capable of caring what they feel like.

Every time I see a pic of a dog on Pinterest, or on Facebook, touting how ugly a specific dog is, I cringe.  Ever wonder why a dog might look like that?  Yes, some dogs are lucky enough to randomly draw from the wrong genetic material, but for the most part, these ugly dogs are made.

When a woman is pregnant, she takes many precautions against her health.  Neonatal vitamins. Doctor visits. Getting enough rest.  Why?  So she can have a healthy, happy baby.  But what if we locked her up in a cage? Forbade her to bathe? Fed her sub-par food?  Never allowed her even the freedom of movement? Made her sleep on metal mesh flooring? That would be a horrible and despicable act against humanity! But think of this?  What would happen to her child, if she were even able to carry it to term?

The world has seen examples of what can happen to mothers who gave birth after periods of extreme deprivation. War and poverty has produced birth defects in babies.  Poor health as children.  It is a wretched cycle.

So…think again how that that funny little dog came to be so funny-looking.  Not so funny anymore.  And how about the concept of the world’s ugliest kid?  Not too appealing once you realize how they may have achieved that dubious title.  Instead of laughing and celebrating the health conditions that lead to the title “Ugliest”…what about education instead?  How did this dog get to be so unhealthy that it even effected his physical appearance?  Poor breeding at best.  Probably a puppy mill at its worst.  Disposable dogs for a disposable society.


Poor Ug was at a local animal shelter.  Fortunately, he was adopted into a loving home, and renamed “Dough”.  Even his current owner has an interesting statement about him, though:

‘When people see him they do a double take. He looks comical with his bug eyes and cross teeth and he’s always bumping into things.”

Isn’t that hysterical?  He bumps into things because he’s so malformed!  Such a bringer of amusement!

Let’s stop it.  Other’s misfortune (yes, even animals’) is never legitimate source of humor.  Ellen DeGeneres has a wonderful quote about what’s funny and what isn’t:

Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And I find that that’s just a form of bullying in a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting somebody else’s feelings.

Yes, dogs don’t have feeling based upon what they look like, but they do have feelings about how they got to look the way they do.  Let’s put energy into making sure there are no more contestants for the Ugly Dog Contest instead of giving an award that amounts to Ugliest Puppy Mill Survivor.

Doug, I’m sorry you went through what you did. You didn’t ask to look like this, nor did you ask for what happened to make you look like this.  But fortunately, beauty is indeed skin deep, as you’ve already shown your new owners.

Never again will I laugh at how ugly a dog is.

Ug, renamed Doug, photographed with his new owner, Skye

Ug, renamed Doug, photographed with his new owner, Skye


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Keep calm and pilot on




Black Dog

   The perception of beauty is a moral test.

  – Henry David Thoreau

I’ve long maintained that Sparta is one of the most elegant dogs I’ve ever seen.  She has a shiny black coat, beautiful amber eyes, and a gait that can only be described as poetry in motion.  Sure, Shepherd/Rottie mixes have no breed standards, but her conformation will rival any of the purebreds at Westminster.  She looks like the dog version of a Porsche.

I have a penchant for black dogs.  Darwin was onyx.  Sparta is almost obsidian.  I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked them, and when adopting my dogs, the first thing that drew me to them was their color.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that their color usually works against them.



I’m not a big fan of pseudo-science.  I had always dismissed “Black Dog Syndrome”.  Probably because the first time I heard the term, a client of mine told me that a trainer informed her that the reason my client’s dog had attacked a lab was because the other dog was black. She called it Black Dog Syndrome.  I unfortunately will always link that term in in my mind with the utter incompetence of that trainer.  Fortunately my client saw the idiocy of that comment.  She used the PAW Method, and her dog is no longer attacking dogs of any color.

However, after volunteering for a bit at my local animal shelter, I started to see a pattern.  While there is no concrete evidence that people tend to veer away from black dogs at shelters, I started to feel like they were a bit overlooked.  Ah….so that’s what Black Dog Syndrome is!  The concept had never crossed my mind since I was actually partial to them.

Nobody knows the reason for this.  I have my thoughts, though.  Light hair is a marker of youth….extreme youth, actually.  Think about how much lighter your hair was as a child.  Mine was almost blonde, and now it’s almost black (yes, dogs and their owners do look alike, don’t we Sparta?).  Children are not something to be scared of (unless their name is Regan).  Children are non-threatening, even if they are strangers.  Adults, however, are a different story.  We have a natural …wariness of adult strangers, which was probably meant to keep us alive 10,000 years ago.  So, essentially, the more mature something looks, the greater amount of caution around it.  Again, this is just my hypothesis.

Whatever the reason, many wonderful dogs are overlooked at shelters.

Fred Levy, a photographer from Massachusetts, has started a photo series exclusively of black dogs against black backgrounds.  The results are stunning.  They seem to capture what all shelter volunteers already know:  black dogs are just dogs, with the same personality quirks, running the gamut from playful to stoic, as every other dog.

Black Dog Project.  Photo by Fred Levy

Black Dog Project. Photo by Fred Levy


Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

The Dog Next Door

   Do what you feel in your heart to be right–for you’ll be criticized anyway.

     —Eleanor Roosevelt

If you live in an apartment complex or even in a neighborhood, there can be the occasional dog that you dread. But, it’s not really the dog that you’re dreading, it’s the owners.

My favorite scenario that played out one day with Porter and I included the dog in our building snarling, snapping and doing everything he could to get to Porter. I used my body language to claim Porter and lead him away from the situation. The other dog’s owner’s response to me was “Oh, they just want to say hi. That’s how they do it”.

This owner had no idea who he was talking to or what he was talking about. If you know me well enough, you know that I can shoot daggers with my eyes. Just one of my many talents. I looked incredulously at the owner and said “no, that’s actually completely unacceptable. The best thing for us to do right now is to go separate ways. I will be taking my dog around the back. I would appreciate it if you did not follow us immediately”.

Actual pic of me during the encounter taken from surveillance cameras

Actual pic of me during the encounter taken from surveillance cameras

Awkward neighbors now? Oh, you bet. Do I care? No. I will not be putting my dog in a position that he will not be successful in because I don’t want to offend anyone.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t Pilot their dog if I need to.

Sometime later, I noticed they had left the light on in their car. No one wants to wake up to a dead battery, so I decided to knock on their door to let them know. I heard barking and snarling from the other side of the door and just did an eye roll. Bring on this rotten beast. He has no idea who’s living next to him.

The door opened without the dog being under control obviously. I was standing straight with confidence but acted bored. As if it was the most normal thing in the world for me to be knocking at their door. The dog came tearing out. I snapped once and made a slightly forward motion towards him and he paused. Hackles came down, barking stopped and a slow tail wag ensued. I ignored the dog while I spoke to the owner. The dog had decided to wander out into the hallway sniffing away. When I turned to leave, the dog was refusing to listen to his owner. Surprise, surprise. I stepped in front of the dog, pointed towards the apartment and snapped again. In the apartment he went. The owner started back at me mouth open. I just replied with a “have a nice night”.

When I’m with Porter, the majority of my focus will be on Piloting him. That’s my dog, my responsibility. If I need to, I will remove ourselves from the situation. If we go to walk out our door and the other dog is standing nearby, we will close the door and start again in a few minutes. There’s no need to put 2 dog reactive dogs, with only 1 Pilot in a small space where both dogs feel territorial. My ego is not that big that I feel like I must handle that situation.

However, don’t be afraid to Pilot another individual’s dog. I will never be concerned about Piloting a neighbor’s dog. The owner is obviously not concerned with my safety, so I must take care of myself. It’s not rude, it’s smart.

My dog neighbor now gives me no issues if I see him on my own. He is polite and respects me. Does he like me? Probably not. But I don’t care. Just like I don’t care if the owners are particularly fond of me. I don’t have any bite marks from the dog. That’s what I care about.

When I see him with Porter there’s still a reaction. Not as bad as before since he recognizes that Porter is mine and sees me claiming him. However, I will never be putting Porter in a position to meet this dog. With an owner who doesn’t respect or understand how dogs should be meeting, I would be putting Porter in a dangerous situation where his success rate is very low.

Don’t be afraid to Pilot a dog that does not belong to you, especially if your well-being is in question. You’ve learned these great skills, so use them. Apartment living and close quarters living with other dogs can be difficult. So make sure you’re using all the tools you have.

Keep Calm and Pilot On


Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


   The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.

  – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sparta guarding our house against, um, ...what was it you were guarding against, Sparta?

Sparta guarding our house against, um, …what was it you were guarding against, Sparta?
Brittany Graham Photography

My Sparta.  The most beautiful, obedient dog I’ve ever worked with.  Over 100 lbs. of pure physical poetry. She’s the type of dog who we can leave the Thanksgiving turkey out on the counter right above where she’s sleeping, and she’ll leave it alone (we do).  She will follow any command, no matter how scary, because she trusts us (she does).  In short, she is practically a machine when it comes to her obedience.  It’s sorta creepy, now that I think of it.  Sounds like the perfect dog, right?  Except she has one big problem.  As my husband likes to say, she reads too much Guns and Ammo.

Sparta is a Shepherd/Rottie mix (not a guess, but verified truth), with emphasis on the Shepherd.  Ah, suddenly it clicks why she’s so obedient.  Shepherds have been used for many years for a myriad of reasons: search and rescue, guide dogs, drug dogs, war, peace, agility and everything in between.  I truly believe that while they may not be the smartest dog (looking at you Border Collies and Poodles), they are probably the most willing to accept whatever training you wish.

However, I’m a firm believer in breed profiling.  It’s called “breed standard” for a reason.  Imagine going into a car dealership and saying I need a car…but what kind of car?  Mini-van, Corvette, Jeep?  What will you be using this car for?  The concept is absurd.  That’s why breed standards exist:  when you need to know what you are buying/adopting.  Even pound puppies follow some form of breed standard, usually whatever they are most predominantly.  If you adopt a Pit/Aussie mix, prepare for a lot of enthusiastic cuddling.  A Basset/Poodle?  Probably a lot of sedentary mind games, like chess. Not always the case, but a good general rule.

Back to Sparta.  She’s predominantly Shepherd, and boy does she show it.  Obedient, trusting…every command I give her, I feel as if her response is Sir, yes sir!  No, I didn’t make her that way; she just is.  The problem?  Shepherds were originally bred to guard livestock (not manage it….that you, Border Collies).  She has it ingrained in her DNA to guard her pack, flock, family – whatever you want to call it.  And she will do it with her life.

There’s an old joke about Shepherds:  How many Shepherds does it take to change a light bulb?   First you secure the perimeter.    That is exactly who my Sparta is.  That can make living with her in a very dense population a bit of a challenge.  If a zombie apocolypse were ever to happen, she’s the dog you want.  However, a walk through Downtown Lakewood?  Yeah, that’s some Piloting that needs to happen there. Yes, it can be done, and I do it, but I realize that I will be Piloting her and answering her questions very frequently.

 Is that a threat? No, Sparta.  Should we reinforce our rearguard?  No, Sparta.

I’m not angry with her, I’m never punishing her.  I’m merely answering her (legitimate) questions. However, I know my limitations, as well as hers.

I recently (foolishly?) decided to completely renovate my bathroom.  My family was out of town for about a week, and I thought it to be the perfect time to do it.  However, I needed some help.  I called a friend of our family, Sam, who generously came over every day to help me tear apart the bathroom, put in a new sub-floor, new tile, new vanity, new everything.  Obviously, very involved, and a lot of noise to go with the project.  Sparta happens to not like Sam.  I don’t care if she’s best friends with him or not.  She’s allowed to ask the question:

Can I kill him?
No, Sparta.  Not today.
Okay, then.  I’ll be in the mudroom if you need me to kill him.
You enjoy yourself there, Sparta.  And put down the Guns and Ammo mag.  How about some Highlights mags for a bit?

Problem is, she will be asking that question frequently.  Sometimes Sam might need to go downstairs by himself.  Sometimes he might need to come in and out of the house while cutting tile.  In Sparta’s mind, that is always a separate question.  And yes, she will immediately accept the answer, but only if I give it.  And right there is our limitation.  What if Sam runs downstairs, just one time, and I don’t notice, and don’t answer her question?  Sparta would do what comes naturally to her: defend the flock.

Sparta has spent a relaxing week at my mother’s house.  She got to play with her “cousins”, Louie and Kiwi.  More importantly, she had little to no questions to ask while she was there (thanks, Mom!).   When she comes back today, she will notice that there is a new bathroom.  Odds are, she’ll want to check it out to make sure there are no threats to our family in there (Sir, no Sir!) and all will be right with our little pack.

Sparta stoically securing the perimeter

Sparta stoically securing the perimeter
-Brittany Graham Photography


Keep Calm and Pilot On

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio




Learning Curve

I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.

  – Winston Churchill

Today’s quote pretty much mimics what I have long thought about adolescent dogs.  Anyone who has ever worked with a 1 year old dog knows to what I’m referring:  the inability to focus more than a moment.  Adolescent dogs have the attention span of a Bartlett pear.

That’s why I found it so interesting when this study about a dog’s attention changes throughout various ages was released.  In summary:

Dogs are known to be ‘Man’s best friend’. No other pet has adjusted to human lifestyles as well as this four-legged animal. Scientists have been the first to investigate the evolution of dogs’ attentiveness in the course of their lives and to what extent they resemble humans in this regard. The outcome: dogs’ attentional and sensorimotor control developmental trajectories are very similar to those found in humans.

In other words, you’re not crazy: your dog does indeed have trouble focusing during adolescence, the same way a human teenager does.  However, the same study indicates that adolescent dogs have a much steeper learning curve.  Their capacity to learn new things is staggering.

In other words, keep at your training with your adolescent dog.  Yes, they are obnoxious, and seem to act like they have a coke habit as well as an addiction to espresso, but the foundations of their training is most easily laid at this age.

Keep Calm and Pilot On


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

When It All Falls Apart

 No one really has a bad life. Not even a bad day. Just bad moments.
- Regina Brett

So you got your normal amount of sleep the night before and you wake up feeling great. You go to the kitchen to make breakfast and while grabbing for a plate, you somehow manage to fumble it and it shatters. Ok, Day 1 – You 0.

You shake the broken plate off and get to work. Soon you realize you were doing the last task (which you’ve done 100 times before) completely wrong. Day 2 – You 0.

Lunch time rolls around and you forgot that too. Day 3 – You 0.

You get home and realize you forgot your sister’s birthday. We’ll stop keeping score now.

Point is, we all have days where we are just not on our game. We’re off. Sometimes it’s because we’re tired, sometimes there’s no reason at all. It’s just how the day went.

Pour enough of the PAW method into your dog and you’ll be amazed with the results. It takes work. It takes dedication. It takes patience. But it’s worth it. However, dogs are still animals. Just like us. And we absolutely have our fair share of bad days. So why can’t our dogs?

I was reminded of this yesterday when Porter had a difficult day. Our walk didn’t start off great. I was consistently slamming the door on him until we were about 15 minutes in. Then he started to relax. The key to this is, don’t get discouraged. Keep with it. Try and find the positive moments in the walk. I focused on the fact that he was able to walk past 2 little girls on bikes without any issues. He’s never seen that before. After about 15 minutes we were able to have a 30 minute walk with only minor corrections infrequently.

Think Positive. Focus Positive.

When we got back to the apartment, I gave him the stay command so that I could get a towel. His feet were very muddy. The minute I was out of sight, he dashed in to get his bone. Muddy paw prints everywhere. However, I was able to get him back out of the front door and wait patiently as I wiped off his feet.

Think Positive. Focus Positive.

Dinner time rolled around and I was able to feed him with no signs of any food aggression. That’s always a good feeling for us.

Think Positive. Focus Positive.

Now, my dinner time. There was lots of testing of the boundaries. Army crawling to try and get near the table and licking of the air (which really unnerves me). I used my body language to back him off. There was lots of warbling and talking back, but he was still reacting to my body language and commands, even though he didn’t want to.

Think Positive. Focus Positive.

I look over at Porter a little later and he’s licking the carpet. Another one of those things that drives me crazy. I claim the spot and back him off. When I sit back down, he’s at it again. However, this time, all I need to do is snap and he backs away from it. Annoying? Absolutely. But he’s responding to me when I’m telling him “no, don’t do that” with my snap.

Think positive. Focus Positive.

Time to go to bed now. Porter doesn’t always get to sleep in the bed. And if he does, he must wait for the command that tells him that it’s allowed that night. I see him sitting at the side of the bed, tail going a mile a minute and some whimpering escaping. However, it’s not going to happen tonight. He’s been too annoying. All of a sudden he’s on the bed and laying down without being given the command. I give him a negative command. He’s off the bed and in his own, very comfy bed next to me, in a second.

Think Positive. Focus Positive.

So, Porter didn’t have the greatest day. Did he annoy the crap out of me? You bet. Did he have just a straight up terrible day? Absolutely. But, we’re all entitled to those every once in a while. He still listened to correctional commands and had glimpses of the dog that he usually is. So, I won’t get discouraged.

We’ll start all over again tomorrow and it’ll be different. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t try and annoy the crap out of him and work him extra hard the next day. Maybe a longer walk and some agility. Just tire him out completely. He’ll love it and will have no idea I’m just aiming for him to pass out when we get home.

Your dog is going to have bad days. You’re going to get frustrated and feel like everything you’ve been doing has been negated. It hasn’t. Don’t panic. Deep breaths and move forward. It’s just a bad day. We have them and so do they. Keep calm and Pilot on.

Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio