True Pack Mentality

As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.

Bill Gates

I had a wonderful client – we’ll call her Jane –  last weekend.  She was exceptionally well-prepared for my visit: asked all the right questions on the phone, gave me plenty of information about the dogs I would be working with, and had even read the Darwin Dogs’ blog extensively.

During our training session, Jane mentioned a few blogs that she had found exceptionally helpful: Leash Walking 101 and Stopping the Winter Blues were examples she cited.  She also mentioned that, while she didn’t personally own a pittie, after having read the article about Darwin Dogs’ Pittie Parade, she would most definitely be joining in our parade with her pooch in support of ending BSL.

I just smiled as she was rattling off her favorite blog posts.  She didn’t realize that I hadn’t written a single one of them.  Those were all Danika’s posts. Danika’s posts (typically) come out on Mondays, and I take Wednesdays and Fridays.  I didn’t mention this to Jane, as I wished to save her any embarrassment.  I thanked her profusely for her compliments, and mentioned a few more posts that she might like, including this one about taking cues in your personal life from your dog, as well as this one, which is about over-thinking issues with dog-reactive dogs.

Yes, I gave her more of Danika’s articles to read.  She apparently enjoyed Danika’s writing style, and Danika does have away with words, especially when writing about her personal experiences with Porter.

Danika and I are always preaching The PAW Method, and what it means to be Pilot for your dog.  Your pack (which may consist of a house full of dogs, or may just consist of you and Fido) is a single entity.  There is no “I” in pack.

There is a lot of "ack" in "pack", as in, "Ack!!!!! What did I just step in?!!

There is a lot of “ack” in “pack”, though.  As in, “Ack!!!!! What did I just step in?!!

Yes, there needs to be a Pilot in your pack.  Someone to “fly the plane” if you will.  But it’s the diversity of the pack, operating as one entity, that makes it a beautiful, healthy, and functional thing.  Quite honesty, pack mentality is typically a lot healthier than the “I deserve the credit!” mentality that we humans often operate  with.    My two dogs, Sparta and Orion, don’t argue over who did the most work towards securing the yard from squirrel threats (sorry, the answer is the cat, anyway).  Each does their best according to their own ability.  And their own abilities are very different, as they are as dissimilar as two dogs can possibly be.


Technically speaking, on paper, Danika is a contractor for Darwin Dogs, and I am the owner. In reality, though, she’s a partner.  When she isn’t sure she can handle a certain issue in a training session, I’m there to tell her to put on her big girl pants and just do it. (And she does it perfectly!).  When I come up with some crazy idea about how we can make the Pittie Parade even better if we only added…she automatically vetoes it.

Seriously, who couldn't get into a dock diving event during the Pittie Parade?

Seriously, who couldn’t get into a dock diving event during the Pittie Parade?

Danika and I operate as a pack.  A pack always has a leader, or Pilot, but it can change depending upon the circumstances.  Neither of us feel the need to take all the glory for anything. There’s never an “I did it” moment – we always did it.  Sometimes we disagree, but we disagree because we each want what is best for Darwin Dogs and our clients, not because one of us is plotting to take down the other, or someone isn’t getting enough recognition.  That makes me have more faith in Danika’s Piloting abilities, as well has hers in mine. We respect where the other is coming from because we understand the intent is always for “us” not “me”.

Danika and I at a recent event.  There was absolutely NO alcohol involved in the making of this pic. Nope.  None.

Danika and I at a recent event. There was absolutely NO alcohol involved in the making of this pic. Nope. None.

Applying this same concept to your pack (be it dog, human or otherwise) is imperative.  Your dog isn’t working against you.  As a matter of fact, your dog is probably trying to create a healthy pack just as much as you.  Fido just has different ideas on how to do it.  So rather than taking anything (and everything) your dog does as an affront, realize that Fido is merely trying to keep the pack healthy and functional.  Dogs don’t do things to get back at you, nor do they ever do things in anger.  Can you say the same?  Have you ever felt the need punish your dog?  Put them in a “time out” so they know what they did was wrong?  If you even for a moment think your dog is “bad”, or has wronged you in some way, then you need to “dog it down” a little. Stop thinking in a human fashion, just for a moment, and bask in the simplicity that is dog.


At this point I thought my blog post was done.  However, I felt that the idea I was trying to convey might be a little bit nuanced, so I asked Danika to read the post before it went live.  ”Looks good, but I would include in the conclusion a point in time that maybe your dog would be a better Pilot. If you’re lost or in the woods by yourself or something like that.”

Kerry suddenly realizes that although Stan thought he was following the Red Trail, he has actually been following the Grey Trail.

Stan, in helping Kerry find the Red Trail, has only succeeded in finding multiple “Gray  Trails”.

Or perhaps a time where you were lost in a blog and decided to let someone else Pilot you out of it.  Thanks, Danika.  I needed that.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


Walking Terror

Terror made me cruel.
- Emily Brontë Wuthering Heights

As I’ve mentioned previously, dogs are binary creatures:  everything is “yes” or “no” to them.  Just as I can give you a precise location on this planet using only latitude and longitude, “yes” and “no” help a dog safely navigate their surroundings.  It helps them identify threats (either you are a threat or you aren’t).  Unfortunately, this system can result in terrifying encounters.

For example, Sparta, (my crazy beloved shepherd/rottie mix) is very dog-reactive.   For instance, a walk for us might play out like this in her mind:

There’s something up there.  It looks like a dog.  Is it pack/safe?
Is it a potential threat?
Should I make it go away?

And that right there is dog reactivity in a nutshell.  If I don’t answer her questions, she has to come up with her own answers which are always the wrong answer.  So I Pilot her. When she’s asking an important question (“Is it a threat?”) and trying to cipher it out for herself, her body language changes.  Her ears go stiff.  Her forehead wrinkles between her ears.  Tail goes straight up.  She’s about to answer a question for herself, and that’s bad.

Total protonic reversal.  Or in layman’s terms, she flips her lid.

So I Pilot her by answering her questions (learn how here), and we have a nice walk. I don’t always know what question she’s asking in specific, but that doesn’t preclude me from answering “no” anyway.  When I see her tail go straight up, and she stands almost on her toes, head up, that posture means something….she’s asking a question.

We call it "meerkat-ing" or "prairie dogging"

We call that posture “meerkat-ing” or “prairie dogging”

If I start craning my head around to see what she’s asking about, now I’m meerkatting, too!  I don’t care what question she’s asking about.  All of her senses are better than mine, so it could be anything from the man across the street to a butterfly flapping its wings in China.  I don’t need to know what the question is…the answer is “no”.

Now, if I catch Sparta’s questions early enough, the answer is easier for her to accept.  Rather than letting her energy build and build to unmanageable conditions before I answer her questions, I answer them the moment she asks them.  In other words, I’m giving her the respect she deserves by answering a (legitimate) question she’s asking, rather than ignoring her or punishing her for even asking a question.  I am Sparta’s Pilot.  She has every right to ask a question and not get punished.  Answering questions should involve body language, not pain.  Remember, your dog is not bad.  She’s merely asking a question.

Prong collar designed so people can't see you're using a prong collar.

In this case, I truly hope you are missing the point.

So now you’ve been putting these practices in use with your reactive dog.  Walks are so much easier now.  You still have to Pilot them a lot, but your dog’s questions are getting easier and easier to answer because your dog is starting to trust your answers.  Piloting is like a big piggy bank: whomever has the most money wins.  You take money out of your dog’s bank and put it into yours every time you answer one of your dog’s questions. The easy questions your dog asks (“Do I turn left here?”) are almost nothing to answer at all.  Even the harder questions (“Can I chase that squirrel?”) that require more “money” are not nearly the problem they were previously.  But then Something Big Happens.  A question that requires all the Piloting money you’ve been hoarding in your Piloting Piggy Bank.

An off-leash dog comes rushing at you.

Okay.  You can deal with this.   Those same three steps I’ve been going on and on about in previous posts?  Yeah, they’re going to come in handy right about now.  Let’s review:

1) Control yourself.  Yes, this is a terrifying situation.  Acknowledge it for what it is, and move on.  Don’t add energy by yelling, screaming, shouting or flailing your arms about like a windmill.  Calm, confident body language (stand up straight and square your shoulders).  Your dog needs you to be calm.  Now shut up and do it!

Listen to Liz.  She knows.  Except maybe skip the lipstick and drink until after it's all over.

Listen to Liz. She knows. Except maybe skip the lipstick and drink until after it’s all over.

2.) Control the situation.  Meaning, don’t bite off more than you can chew.  Um, yeah.  This one’s going to be a little tougher, but can still be done.  Controlling the situation means you have to respond to the rapid-fire questions your dog is asking, hopefully before the other dog gets to you.  If your dog hits Defcon 6 while the dog is still at a distance, well, you try your damnedest  to control the current situation, while the dog is still coming at you. Your dog WILL ask questions about that other dog.  In Sparta’s case, it’s:

“Permission to engage?  May I engage the enemy? Can I pursue offensive maneuvers?”

all done one after another, like dominoes falling.  She’s like a Klingon defending her honor at Warf speed.

Okay... a bit much, but you get the picture.

Okay… a bit much, but you get the picture.

3)  Add Stimulation.   In other words, what are you going to do? Well, you have a few options:

Look around for the owner. Tell them (don’t ask, tell them) to call their dog off.  A statement from them that their dog is friendly is not an acceptable response.  I’ve heard a lot of people say a lot of things in response when presented with the “my dog is friendly” routine, from “but my dog isn’t!” or “he’s in training”, etc., by the response I’ve always found that works the best is, “my dog is still contagious!”.  Yes, it works.

Gauge if it’s safe to let them meet.  If the owner isn’t around, or isn’t doing much to control their dog, sometimes it’s easier to just let the dogs meet.  Try to read the other dog’s body language. Does it seem more like a “No-No Bad Dog”, or is it a Cujo? Typically dogs merely want to get information from the other dog (as in a derriere sniff). Rarely is a dog out for your blood, especially if you not letting your dog boil over. If you choose to go ahead and let them meet, be aware that your dog will be taking cues from you as to how to react.  You WILL be calm.  Your dog is counting on you, remember?

Use your body language.  Get between your dog and the oncoming dog, essentially body-blocking the dog.  Your dog sees that you are protecting them.  The other dog sees you giving the universal body language for “mine”.  I’ve done this with much success in the past, but you must make sure you feel safe to do this.

Protect your dog by whatever means necessary.  I have had to kick a dog off my dog in the past, and I did it as hard as I could.  The leash laws are on your side.  No, I don’t get my jollies by injuring another animal, but if it means protecting mine, I’ll do whatever it takes.   If the dogs have engaged aggressively, it’s about making sure you’re safe first, and your dog second.  You have every right to protect your dog.  Let me repeat that: you have my permission to protect your dog.  Just make sure you can do it safely. Don’t reach between them with your hand.  Kick with your foot, use whatever you have around  you, from garbage can lids to a fallen branch.  I’ve heard of someone taking off their jacket and “whipping” the other dog with it until the dog latched on to her jacket instead of her Pomeranian- it’s all about keeping your wits about you.

And remember, an ounce of prevention….

- Carry a stick, umbrella, anything that may help you fend off a dog.

- If you have a certain dog in your neighborhood that frequently roams, call the police. Have it logged somewhere that the dog has been at large in the past.  You may need that evidence in the future.

- Avoid the area if you know there’s a loose dog.

 Remember, control yourself, control the situation, add stimulation. Pilot your dog. Answer their questions, and you will get through this ordeal.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Flower Power

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them – A.A. Milne

There’s a lot of reasons I like SNL. I love the talent, the laughs and the thought that anything can happen when they’re on stage. But, what I love most is seeing the guest stars show a different side to themselves.

Seeing tough guy Robert DeNiro singing with Kermit the Frog warmed my heart and makes you realize he’s just another person. In fact, he kinda makes you want to hug him without fear.

Live From New York….

Watching the dead pan Christopher Walken ask for more cowbell made you see a side of him that probably made your sides hurt from laughing.

Then there’s the time that Peyton Manning showed us he had a goofy side when he danced like a crazy man in the locker room with Will Forte.

Break it down Peyton…

Sometimes, it takes us seeing someone in a different light for us to truly understand what they’re like. It causes us to reevaluate our current feelings of someone and change them.

That’s exactly what photographer Sophie Gamand is trying to do. She’s a pitbull advocate and is using her skill as a photographer to help people see these dogs in a different light than they’re used to. Sometimes, it takes an artistic and different approach to change minds. Even if it’s just one person’s mind it’s worth it. Check out her take on pitbulls here. The pictures are beautiful, soft and invoke a sense of peace and calm. Just like pitbulls.

Sometimes, the louder you raise your voice, the less people listen. It’s coming up with peaceful and creative approaches to changing others’ minds that is the most efficient way to make a difference.

 Keep calm and pilot on

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

Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew

“Some people care too much.  I think it’s called love.”
- Winnie the Pooh

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

We all try our best.  I know I do.  We try to give our dogs a good life, make them happy, and help them feel safe and secure. We work through behavioral issues as best we can.  We read books.  We watch videos and tv shows about dog trainers and behaviorists, each vilifying the others, everyone contradicting each other.  So who’s right?

Your dog.

Orion and Sparta.  Brittany Graham Photography

Orion and Sparta. Brittany Graham Photography

Your dog is constantly communicating with you. You need only to be sensitive enough to notice what they are trying to tell you, and suddenly it becomes crystal clear.  Take away the background noise, turn off the tv, put down the book, and pay attention to who has the best information on what your dog needs:  your dog.  

Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew

1) We are simple.  We don’t apologize for being simple, just as we don’t apologize for being dogs.  We will never understand your human need to over-complicate the most simplest issues.  We are not stupid, but we do prefer being in the moment.  We don’t worry about what may happen tomorrow.  We are your best friend.  We mean you best friend…you know, the kind that will tell your that the outfit your wearing does indeed make your butt look big.  We don’t worry about giving offense because we never take offense.  We love you enough to never be anything but sincere. Now please go change your outfit.


2)  We are always trying our hardest.   I know I sometimes get anxious and nervous when I see another predator dog while we’re out on a walk.  I don’t mean to be a jerk, I’m really just afraid that vicious creauture puppy might try to kill you.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that you’ll protect both of us.  I’m not trying to be bad, I’m actually trying my hardest to be the best body guard friend I can be.

Brittany Graham Photography

3) I ask a lot of questions.  Please answer them.  You may think they’re stupid, but they mean the world to me.  So seriously, now, is the mailman trying to kill us?  If you’d just answer the question, I could stop barking.


4) We don’t understand punishment.  We understand “yes” and “no”.  When I understand that the answer to my question about chewing on your shoes was “no”, please let it go.  We don’t understand punishment or discipline.  If it makes you feel better to punish me, though, then I love you enough to let you.  But it confuses and frightens me. I’d feel much better if you’d just answer my questions and move on.

My Sparta

5) Give me what I need, and I’ll do anything you want.  All I need from you is the basics for life, and some Piloting, Activity and Work.  Don’t pick and choose when giving me what I need.  Give me all those things I need,and I’ll do anything you want, like, stop chewing on your shoes, for instance. If nobody Pilots me, then I guess I have to do the job myself.  I really don’t want to be a leader and Pilot everyone, though. Please don’t make me.

Brittany Graham Photography

6)  Keep me forever.  I’ve only got a short time to live compared to you, please let me live it with you.  I can’t help that I shed, or that the new apartment you want won’t let me in.   It frightens me not to have a home, and it takes a toll on me each time I’m bounced from home to home.  I would give me life for you. I ask only that you never turn me away, and keep me always by you.

IMG_55297) And then let me go.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  I tried not to get old, but it’s hard for me to walk well, and it’s too much for me to come bounding up to greet you like I used to when I was younger.  I know you tried your hardest as well.  You took me to the vet’s office regularly, and made sure I had a good diet and exercise, but now it’s time for me to go.  Who thought we’d have this long together? I’ll be okay. I promise you.


Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

An Asthmatic’s Guide to Dog Training

“So perhaps the best thing to do is to stop writing Introductions and just get on with the book.”

Winnie the Pooh

I firmly believe in simplifying things.  I don’t like strict rules about what to do and what not to do with your dog.  There needs to be some room for interpretation.  Also, who wants to remember so many different rules and mantras.  So I like to keep things simple.

The first rule of three: The PAW Method.  Piloting, Activity and Work.  

Think of it as a recipe with only three simple ingredients, like my favorite shortbread cookies.  You can’t cut corners.  You can’t give your dog Piloting, Activity but no Work and expect to have a happy, healthy, well-adjusted dog.  Your bond with your dog is a living thing, and in order for it to thrive, it deserves the care it needs. Giving your dog the Piloting, Activity and Work they require is the way to ensure it grows in a healthy manner.

My second rule of three is more like the tools you use to bake those scrumptious short-bread cookies.  Yes, the cookie recipe has three ingredients (flour, sugar and butter), but I need a mixer, a cookie sheet and an oven to work those ingredients into their final form.


Actually, cookies are the sub-final form.  Regret come bathing suit season is actual the final form of shortbread cookies. But I digress.

Just as Piloting, Activity and Work (The PAW Method) are your ingredients to work with your dog, you will also have tools you will use.    And I have an interesting story about how I finally discovered those three tools, and how I use them everyday.  See, I have asthma.  Full-blown, can’t breath, searching for air air like a Kardashian searching for publicity.



Asthma was a huge problem for me. Until one day I decided it wasn’t. I came up with a method to help regulate my breathing during an attack.

  1. Control Myself - Meaning I have to watch my posture during an asthma attack.  Sitting up straight, or standing straight, seemed to help with my breathing, rather than slouching or tensing up. Force myself to be calm.
  2. Control My Situation  – Okay, so I can’t breath right now.  My airflow is restricted, but not gone.  So I take small sips of breath.  If I try to take in too much air, I panic.  I take only what I can handle right now.
  3. Add Stimulation - Gradually I can take larger and larger breaths, until things are back to normal.  If I try to take a larger breath and it doesn’t work, I simply revert back a step, and figure out at what point I have control of the situation.
Now Luke here!

Now Luke here!

At first it was a struggle to implement these three tools, but gradually I started to notice that I would start reaching for those three tools rather than my inhaler.  Yes, I still carry an inhaler, but I haven’t actually needed it in a very long time.

So what does all this have to do with your dog?  Well, you’re going to use the same three tools whenever you’re answering your dog’s questions. And believe me, your dog has a LOT of questions.  Let’s use those tools to answer them.  For example, let’s say that Fido is asking a question about the person who just knocked on the front door. We need to answer his question (“Is that a threat?”).  To even begin to answer the question, we need to do the following:

1. Control Yourself  – Are you angry?  Frustrated? Rushed? Annoyed?  Then it won’t work.  You must be calm.  Do not add any energy to the situation. No yelling or shouting. Actually, just don’t talk at all.  As you can hear, Fido is adding enough energy for both of you.  Also, what about your body language?  Your posture should look like a letter “T”, not a letter “S”.  In other words, you need to look like you can answer the question your dog is asking.

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2.  Control the Situation.  Figure out what “The Situation” is.

Hint: not THAT situation.

Hint: not THAT situation.

In this case, the situation is the door, or rather, your dog’s response to it.  Your dog is not calm, so you can’t add more stimulation to the situation by say, opening the door.  You need to control the present situation first. Back your dog off from the door using strong body language.  Pretend that it’s a child behind you instead of a door, and your dog is a snarling alien. Use body language that conveys the message that your are protecting what’s yours, namely, the child/door.

"Get away from her you...."

“Get away from her you….”


Remember, you are only backing your dog a bit away from the door, not into the next county.  You only need to control the current situation.  Don’t anticipate what your dog might do next.  Don’t start answering questions your dog hasn’t even asked yet, just give yourself a bit of room to operate.  Some personal space for you and the door.  A few feet back from you should do it.  There, you’ve controlled the present situation.  If your dog starts up again, back them off the door again.  Remember, this is probably the first time you’ve ever answer their question about the door, it’s only fair that they don’t take you seriously at first. Keep at it.

Add Stimulation.  You’ve got control of the present situation (Fido is calm and a few feet away from the door).  Now you’re ready to add stimulation: answer the door.  Back towards the door, with your eyes on your dog at all time, facing him as much as possible.  Remember, dog are based on body language, so you have to see if he’s going to ask a question.  As you back off of him, point at him to keep him secured in his current location.  Otherwise he’s apt to follow you as you answer the door.  You should look like Uncle Sam.

Listen to your Uncle Sam.  He's got it right.

Listen to your Uncle Sam. He’s got it right.

If as you open the door, Fido comes charging at you, simply go back to Step 2 and control the current situation. Just like my asthma, you can’t gulp air if you can’t even sip it yet.  Take it slowly, and you’ll do fine.

These three tools apply to every single situation you could possibly be in with your dog, from teaching them a new trick to answering scary questions for your dog while at the vet’s office.

Control yourself. Are you freaked out about being at the vet’s office yourself?  Are you nervously petting your dog?  Is your body language looking calmly confident?

Control the situation.  Is the dog next to you acting like an idiot while their owner is oblivious?  Perhaps you need to move to a different chair?  Control your environment as much as you can.  Is your dog asking if they should be nervous?  Remember, the answer is no.

Add stimulation.   Let’s go into the vet’s exam room.  If you need to answer a question on the way, go for it.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Three simple ingredients: Piloting, Activity and Work.  Combine and shape using three simple tools:  Controlling yourself, controlling the situation, adding stimulation.  Can you smell what we’re cooking?

Yes you are

Yes you are

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


Stopping the Winter Blues


Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn – Hal Borland

It’s February. We know what that means. It means we’re all struggling to get to spring. The fact that we can’t be outside constantly is getting to us and we have a vague recollection of what the sun looks like. It also means, that maybe our walks with the dog are cut shorter due to the freezing temperatures.

This can create some chaos in the house. Your dog isn’t used to being cooped up as much as they are. There may be some shoes chewed, commands not listened to and some more barking than normal. Your dog is feeling just like you are. Cooped up and without as much stimulation and exercise that they’re used to. Activity is a huge part of making sure your dog is leading a balanced life. So, let’s talk about some things you can do with your pup when the weather is below zero and walks aren’t as much of an option anymore.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

New Commands

Take a minute to search some fun dog commands on the internet. You can look on YouTube as well. Then, have fun! Teach your dog a  new command! It doesn’t have to be hours out of your day, in fact, avoid that. Take 10 minutes a day to work on a new command. Work on that command for a week and see how far you’ve come! This creates some mental activity for your dog and creates some bonding time between the two of you. Porter and I are now working on the command Peek-a-boo. This is where if I say the command “Peek-a-boo” he comes in between my legs and looks up at me.

Run some Stairs

If your dog is healthy enough and you have stairs in your home feel free to use them to your advantage! Throw a ball up the stairs for your dog to go chase. Or have one person stay upstairs and one person stay downstairs and call your dog back and forth. This will help him burn some energy and get some activity in without freezing paws or snow burrs.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Scent Detection

Working with your dog on scent detection is a great way to work his brain and get some activity in. You’re also working on your bonding with your dog as well. Have fun with this! This is great. Porter loves this game. Here’s directions on how to start the scent detection game with your pup.

Treadmill Training

Getting your dog on the treadmill allows him to get his walking activity in without dealing with the freezing cold temperatures outside. It’s a great way to supplement the walk in this weather. You can even have your dog wear his backpack while he’s on there!

Here’s a video on Treadmill Training your dog featuring the lovely Kerry Stack.

Mountain Climbing

If you’re taking your dog outside for a bathroom break and there are some big snow piles around, have him run up and down them a few times before coming inside. Running hills and snow piles is a good way to help wear them out. Any little bit helps.

Get creative! Brittany Graham Photography

Get creative!
Brittany Graham Photography


Do some agility work in the house! Seriously! Teach your dog the over command by taking a broom stick or yard stick on the floor. Use a treat to entice your dog over the stick all while repeating the command “over”. You can put the treat close to his nose and tug lightly on his collar to encourage him to cross the object. Once all four paws cross, give your pup the treat and praise him like crazy. Now, go back the other way doing the same thing. The whole time you will be repeating the command “over”. Once your dog is comfortable with the command you can begin not to give them the treat every time but continue the praise.

Eventually you can raise the stick on soup cans or books, making it so that your dog has to jump over. When he gets really good you can get creative! Put the broom between your couch and the coffee table and have your dog jump over it, back and forth. Empty boxes? Use those too! Doing agility gives your dog some great activity as well as mental work. And you’re working together as a team!

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Get creative with the activity aspect of your dog’s needs. It’s tough right now, we get that. It’s hard to give them as much walking activity as you did in the summer. But, in order to have a happy dog, they still need to burn some energy. Everyone has the winter blues. Including our 4 legged family members. So, give them some activity that is fun and lifts both your spirits and theirs. Hang in there, spring will be here eventually.

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore

Darwin Dogs, LLC

Dog Training in Cleveland, OH



 Stereotypes do exist, but we have to walk through them.
- Forest Whitaker


As you may have heard, here at Darwin Dogs we are starting our Pittie Parade.  This is where we try to get people to look past the stereotypes of this breed and see who they’re really about: love, loyalty, and a whole lotta goofiness.  Maybe we need to do the same for humans as well.

When I was about 20, I was involved in a car crash.  Nobody was injured, but both cars were damaged.  My car’s tire was completely blown.  As usually happens in an accident, a group of people gathered around immediately.  Cops showed up.  While I giving my statement to the police, a very “rough” looking man pulled up to the scene on a bike.  He had the entire ensemble going: from biker boots to the head-to-toe leather…right down to the red bandana on his head.  He calmly walked up to me and asked me for my car keys.  Being very shaken up, I automatically gave them to him without thinking.  He silently walked over to my car, popped the trunk, and proceeded to remove the damaged tire and put the spare tire on my car.  He then handed the keys back to the cop (I was signing documentation) and left.  I never got to thank him.  Not just for changing my tire, but for changing my perception.

No, this is not the gentleman who fixed my tire, but it's a pretty good clone of him!

No, this is not the gentleman who fixed my tire, but it’s a pretty good clone of him!

Take a look at the first picture again.  The one at the top of this post.  That man, what did you think of when you saw him? Gang? Violence? Thugs?  Drugs and alcohol? But what about animal advocacy?  I’ll bet that didn’t pop up in your head immediately.  This is Danny Trejo.   You can read a little about him here.

Pic from the BAAC website's Rodeo.

Pic from the BAAC website’s Rodeo.

This is a picture from Bikers Against Animal Cruelty, a non-profit dedicated to animal advocacy.  Probably not what you expected. Check out their link…it’s a pretty amazing group of people doing a pretty amazing thing.  They certainly look different from me, and probably from you as well (if not, well then you’re cooler than I’ll ever be!).  But different isn’t good nor bad…it’s just, well, different.  Kinda like the message we’re trying to spread about Pitties:  judge deeds, not breeds.

Up until I was 20 years old, I might have been inclined to think that “biker-types” were usually involved in violence.  Were thugs. In general, just unsavory people.  That changed in a moment, when one of these “thugs” helped me out when I really needed some help, with no motive other than to just help.  No, I didn’t get to know him, and never saw him again, but I saw in that moment who he was, not what he was.  And my opinion completely changed about bikers.  When I see one on the highway now, I think of that man all those years ago.  Opinions can change for the better.  That’s what October is all about: education about a breed that is misunderstood and maligned based upon a culture that thinks if something looks big and bad, it must be big and bad.  But we know better.  It’s up to us to change opinions.  Because it feels wonderful to have your stereotype lifted and to find commonality where you were certain there was none.  I can speak from experience.

Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Laws in Lakewood, Ohio (and plenty of other cities) encourage discrimination of pets based upon how they look.  Prejudiced and narrow-minded in application, and downright ridiculous in standing.  And so Darwin Dogs holds a Pittie Parade every year. “Bandannas for Banned Breeds” is our theme.  Wear your green bandanna in support of our cause. I’ll bet your dog would look great in one too!  If you’re in the Cleveland area, show your support by walking with us in the parade.  Help support our cause with a donation (we need all the help we can get!).

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 But most importantly, be an ambassador for kindness, be it in representing a breed of dog or a just as a human.  I truly wish that the gentleman who assisted me on that day 17 years ago is reading this.  I would thank him for changing my tire.  And I would thank him for changing my perspective.


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

A Little Bird Told Me…

  My dogs are a priority and a big responsibility… but the payoffs are well worth it.

  – Will Estes

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I recently had a training session with a tiny, spunky little Chihuahua mix named Bird.  Bird’s owner was concerned about the level of energy her dog was exhibiting, as well as some other issues.  Bird’s owner, Kim, was impressive to watch as she basically went from being her dog’s doormat to a true Pilot:  a calm, benevolent leader.  I received this email from her a few days later:

Hi Kerry! I wanted to thank you and to let you know how well Bird  is doing since our session!  My mom even commented on how much calmer and more respectful she is now that she knows I’m the pilot (or at least getting there).  I’m so grateful for what you have taught me.
Today, though, I had a very frightening experience with Bird.  I was at Lakewood park with a friend and we were reading on blankets on the grass.  Bird was laying next to me on a leash.  I noticed she was growling a little bit at every dog that passed by so I tried the fake “bite” with my hand which don’t seem to stop her from growling. Then before I could stop it, another little dog (off leash) ran up to sniff her.  Bird freaked out, snarled and almost attacked the other dog.  When I grabbed her to pull her away she snarled again and almost bit ME. She has NEVER done anything like this before.  I was so embarrassed and sad. I felt like such a bad dog-mom.
So, for future notice, I’m wondering what I should do when Bird growls/barks at other dogs.  I tried the pretend “bite” with my hand which didn’t seem to work.  I tried standing between her and the other dog, which seemed to distract her a little bit, but nothing really stopped it. Like I said, this is the very first time this has ever happened.  She has never shown aggression toward another dog beyond growling at them.
Thank you again for all your help.  I think you are wonderful at what you do and I’m so happy to have you as a resource. – Kim
Aggressive dog?  Just because  a dog shows teeth doesn't mean they're aggressive.  Sometimes they are merely trying to protect themselves or their owner.  Photo: Brittany Graham Photography

Aggressive dog? Just because a dog shows teeth doesn’t mean they’re aggressive. Sometimes they are merely trying to protect themselves or their owner. Photo: Brittany Graham Photography

So it looks as if Kim is doing just about everything right, so what happened?!  Read on for my response:

Hi Kim – let me rephrase what happened from Bird’s point of view:  She gave an alert about potential danger while you were lying prone on the grass.  While she was still trying to get handle on the situation, a predator ran right up to your prone form, forcing her to protect you.  While she was busy trying to defend you against the unanswered question, another hand came out of nowhere, whereupon her adrenalin (which was already kicked up to begin with) forced her to react to this new danger, whereupon she realized right before contact that it was only your hand.

That’s exactly what you stated above, but only from her perspective.  At no point did she do anything wrong, nor is she a bad dog.  However, as I mentioned before, you can give a negative to her if you happen not to like what she is currently doing.

So, playing this scenario out again, with what you can do next time.

1)  Use as much “no” as is necessary.   You “bit” her using your fingertips, but she wasn’t able to accept the answer to her question.  It’s okay to add layers.  Remember, the fingertip-bite is only there to get her attention so she can see what you’re “saying”.  Dogs are based on body language, remember.  The moment she looked at you, use your negative body language.  If that didn’t work, stand up and do it.  Remember, that tiny little girl was trying to protect your prone form from passing predators.

2)   Sometimes you need to walk it off.  Your Piloting was tested when she wouldn’t stop the growling after you answered her question the first time, thereby refusing to accept your answer to her question.  Meaning she took some money out of your bank… Take it back!  The best way to add Piloting to your piggy bank is to go for a very short walk, answering her questions as you go along.  Maybe even as little as 800 feet.  When you feel you’ve got your money back, add a little more than she took, and then you’re done.  Try the scenario again.  Remember, whomever has the most money in their Piloting Piggy Bank gets to be Pilot.  Be stingy in giving money back to her.

3) Position matters.  What was the positioning?  Was she hanging out in front of you, otherwise known as the “Sentinel Position”, wherein she has inadvertently been asked to keep a lookout?  If so, change her position.  Things you are supposed to protect belong behind you.  Things that are protecting you are in front of you. If she’s having problems, try positioning her so you are between her and the perceived threat.

Watch your positioning.  Your dog may not always feel comfortable being in the Sentinel  position  (in front of you).  Brittany Graham Photography

Watch your positioning. Your dog may not always feel comfortable being in the Sentinel position (in front of you). Brittany Graham Photography

Lastly, always keep in mind the steps to working with a dog:

- Control yourself. No anger. No excitement.  Acting calmly bored is best, no matter how your dog is reacting.

- Control the situation.  This includes proper positioning, if necessary, as well as layering on the negatives as necessary.  Some questions are bigger than others, and may require more layers of “no”.  “May I have a piece of your pizza?’  takes only one or two layers of “no”.  “Is that dog going to kill us?”, obviously is a harder question requiring more layers.

- Answer the question.  Layer on the “no”.  Gentle tap with your fingertips on the ribs, confident body language directed at her, standing up, moving into her, gentle tap on the leash, moving into her.  These are all layers of “no” that can be used.

Your situation at the park was a perfect example of how you can have everything under control, and then suddenly lose it.  Dogs live in the here and now.  Shake it off and move on.  Don’t carry any of that last experience in the park with you on your next experience.  In other words, set yourself up for success next time, paying attention to body positioning, etc., but don’t go into the situation expecting a battle.  You’ll get one if you do.

Add some positives to the situation next time.  If she sees a dog and she growls, answer the question first (always answer the question!), but once the accepts the answer, give her a gentle pet, a calm word, and/or a treat.  Touch Talk Treat.  You working to establish that Being Calm = Good Things.

Judging by what I saw Kim do during our training session, I have full confidence that she will soon have Bird feeling safe and protected, no matter what the circumstances may be.

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


Off with you! You’re a happy fellow, for you’ll give happiness and joy to many other people. There is nothing better or greater than that!

 - Ludwig van Beethoven

In the words of Beethoven, "huh?"

In the words of Beethoven, “huh?”

I’m a nerd.  Really.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, you really haven’t been reading many of my posts, have you?  Well, this post shouldn’t shock you either.

Too much?

Too much?

Something happened today that made me want to listen to Beethoven (we’ll get to the incident in a moment).  Specifically, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, hailed as perhaps one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed.  I’m sure you know it, or at least how it starts out.  The same five notes, over and over, twisted around new forms, altering their tone, tempo, or sound, but constantly, those same four notes.  It’s very moving in a dark, desperate kind of way.  Almost chaotic. 

Dark and terrible.  That’s what most people think of when the Beethoven’s 5th comes to mind. We’ve seen its resonance as the heroine runs through the dark forest only to trip and fall as Some Dark Figure approaches.  We’ve heard it playing as we do our taxes.  Perhaps we’ve heard it as background on a war documentary.  It feels passionately hopeless.

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So that’s what imagery is conjured up by Beethoven’s terribly magnificent 5th Symphony.  The first movement.  See, there are four movements.  But we’ll get to those in a moment.  Now, on to what made me think of Beethoven.  Meet Beethoven.

Not what you wanted to see?  Me neither.

Not what you wanted to see? Me neither.

This Beethoven has had a tremendously horrific life thus far.  He was found in Cleveland this week by a good Samaritan who brought him to All Dogs Heaven.  He weighed 36 lbs. His body temperature was 94 degrees (99-102 is considered normal).  I will spare you the visuals of his condition, but suffice it to say his limbs look like hamburger meat.  He can’t walk. If he makes it, it will be a long, difficult journey.

He made me think of those famous first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  This Beethoven has had the same four notes playing his entire life.  Pain. Hunger. Terror.  Loneliness.  Over and over again, swelling and cresting, but constant companions.  Pain. Hunger. Terror. Loneliness.

But did you know about the other 3 movements in Beethoven’s 5th?

The second sounds like what I imagine Beethoven must have felt when someone finally slowed their car down as they passed him huddled in the street, temperatures below zero.  It must have sounded like one little glimmer of hope as a woman, sobbing over his condition, gently cradled him as she placed him tenderly into her warm car.  Just a tiny little sliver, but nevertheless a break in the excruciating four notes that had thus far filled his days.

Huddled in the backseat of the car, he was then transported to a vet, who initially had to leave the room to composer herself before she could start to treat his wretched condition. Tender hands working to console him, care for him, love him. The third movement of Beethoven’s 5th.  Pain, Hunger, Terror, Loneliness is starting to melt away into something else.  Uncertainty? Maybe.  Pain?  Still there.  But so were friends.  Beethoven’s tail started to wag (and 2 days later still hasn’t stopped!).  Food is replacing the hunger.  Certainty is replacing the dreadful unknown.



A scratch behind the ear.  Love. Affection.  Our furry little Beethoven is about to enter into the 4th and final movement, which is the sound of rebirth.  He’s only just started, a few moments into the final movement, and he needs your help!  His medical bills will be quite staggering, and his rescuer is quite burdened with other fosters in her care.

Beethoven needs his final movement played.  At least given the chance to hear his symphony end with triumph instead of those same callous four notes he’s been hearing his entire life!  Please consider making a donation to his cause by clicking here.  All donations go directly to his care.  Let’s help him discover that last movement of the greatest symphony of all time.



Ludwig von Beethoven gave birth to what was the greatest era of music:  Romanticism.  He embodied perfection in composition.  Our little Beethoven?  He embodies every dog. His inability to give up.  His endurance despite desperate circumstances.  But most importantly, the beauty of living here and now, in the moment, and despite all he has survived so far, to have enough hope to start to wag his tail.  I for one would like to hear his triumphant finale rather than an unfinished and discarded masterpiece.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

A Meet Cute


Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

The unknown is not what to be afraid of, it’s only when the unknown becomes known that one can decide whether to be afraid or not – Markus Peterson

Often, we’re afraid and skeptical of people and things we don’t know, haven’t met, or don’t understand. It’s in our nature to be skeptical. It’s called survival! However, it becomes a problem when we let those fears hold us back from getting to know someone or trying new adventures. You never know who you might meet or what you might accomplish!

Sometimes, it’s hard for me to understand an individual’s initial fear of pitbulls. I look at them and I see wiggly butts, goofy smiles, and the best cuddle partner you could ask for. But, occasionally I force myself to look at pitties from a point of view of someone who has never had much contact with them.

That pittie smile! Brittany Graham Photography

That pittie smile!
Brittany Graham Photography

The media portrays them as vicious dogs. They’re extremely muscular. And, well, they don’t look like the normal dog we’re used to seeing on TV. They don’t resemble much of Toto, Lassie or Air Bud. I can understand someone’s apprehension at first…. my advice: Just meet one. You won’t be able to not smile at some point.

Here’s a video of individuals meeting pitties for the first time. As much as it’s awesome to see individuals change their minds about them, it’s important for us that are pittie advocates to understand where some of these individuals are coming from. What you don’t know can be scary. So, let’s take a kind and gentle approach (just like the pitties) and create an atmosphere where Pittie Newbies can meet these amazing dogs and not feel intimidated.

And please, join our Pittie Parade on Sunday May 9th in Lakewood, OH! We will be walking to bring awareness to BSL. Check out our page!

Keep calm and pilot on

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