Restraining Order

Freedom is not the absence of obligation or restraint, but the freedom of movement within healthy, chosen parameters.

Kristin Armstrong

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Last week I had a rather full schedule training, including a couple of dogs who were, for lack of a better term, “aggressive”.  And this is how my week ended.

image1-8I really wish I could say I got it doing something exciting. It didn’t happen while I was training dogs.  It happened while I was painting.

I’m officially middle aged.

Anyway, I’m supposed to rest it for at least a week, so as far as sprains go, it’s not too bad.  Now that brings to light a few questions, though:  how am I supposed to do this week’s training sessions, which includes one aggressive dog, as well as 3 super-hyper dogs, whom will undoubtedly need work on leash walking.

The answer is that if I can’t walk dogs with a mildly sprained wrist, then I can’t walk dogs.

The secret to working with dogs is to never make them feel restrained.  In other words, I shouldn’t need muscle to walk a dog.  If I am able to drive a car (which I am), then I am okay to walk a dog.

The biggest complaint I hear about people walking their dog is that the dog is pulling the whole time, causing the owner’s arms to become tired very quickly.  But let’s think about it  rationally:  the dog physically can not be pulling you unless you are pulling back.  In other words, you are pulling backwards just as much as they are pulling forward.  You are trying to muscle your way through the walk.  Even worse, the reason why your dog is pulling is because you’ve restrained them…no, not with the leash, but with the tension attached to the leash.  You’ve engaged their fight or flight response, causing them to pull forward, which in turn engaged your flight or fight response, causing you to automatically pull backwards.

Number5

But what if you didn’t fall into that vicious cycle?  What if you didn’t sink your feet into the ground, and pull back with all your force?  No, I’m not stating you should let your dog run amok while you follow meekly behind.  But rather than using brute force, have you tried answering your dog’s question instead?

Dogs ask a lot of question, all the time.   Answering your dog’s questions is called “Piloting” them.  Some questions you can ignore (“Is it okay if I scratch my ear now?” or “Mind if I take a nap?”).  Others you want to give a profound, hearty “yes” to, (“Should I potty outside?” or “Should I sit politely to get that treat?”).  But the most important ones sometimes require a “no”, such as, “Can I jump on your guest?”, or, in this case, “Can I lead our walk?”.  The answer must be “no“. So how do you “answer” your dog with a negative?

Easy.

Stand up as straight as you can, pretend your dog is a lot taller, and simply invade their personal space.  Keep your feel like a letter “V” so you don’t accidentally step on their paws.  The moment they are no longer “asking” the question, you are done.  So, for instance, if my Sparta were barking at something outside the window, I would simply stand up straight and get between her and the window she’s barking at, and back her off the window using strong, confident body language. I’m “claiming” the window, or, as we put it, answering her question, “Should I be worried about that dog outside?”.  The answer is “no”.

How can I tell when she’s accepted the answer?  She will stop barking for a moment, perhaps look at me, sit down, turn her head away, or even just walk away.  She is no longer actively engaged in the window, or what’s outside, therefore, I no longer have to answer her question.  I’m done.  No force involved.  I didn’t drag her away from the window, I merely crowded her out from it, using my body.

So how does this work on a walk?  Well, let’s start with the three most important steps:
1) Control yourself. No anger, no yelling. Good, confident body language. Fake it if you have to.

2) Control the situation.  Did you just walk out that door with the dog dragging you, and then continue walking? Control each and every moment.  If you lost control, that’s okay, just reboot to regain control.  Don’t just follow the momentum. Create calm.  It’s okay to stop and start over.

3) Answer questions as they come up, using the body language.

Okay, now you’re ready.

Go to the front door.  Put Fido’s leash on.  Now I want you to “claim” the door.  In other words, Fido’s first question is going to be, “Do you want me to lead you out the door?”  Your answer is “No”, so simply pivot on your foot that’s closest to your dog, and now you should be facing Fido, with your back to the door. You yourself should look like you are a door that just slammed in Fido’s face.  Using your body language, gently back him away from the door, using an occasional tug, tug, tug on the leash if necessary, but never holding him back physically. Now he’s calm?  Okay then, you’re ready to walk outside.

Take each step slowly.  If he tries to drag you down the front steps, stop, give a series of gentle tugs until he is close by you again.  His ears should never be past your knees – if they are, he’s leading you.  Simply answer his question; the moment his ears get past your leg, give a gentle tug on the leash, and/or pivot on your foot so you are now facing him, again, looking like you are a door that just closed on him.

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When Fido backs up to where he belongs, and/or looks away, you’re good to “unslam” the door and move on.  No pulling, no yanking, and now restraining.  Merely answering questions.

At first, Fido is going to have a lot of questions that need answering, because let’s face it, he’s always lead you on the walks before.  Stick with it.  Answer his question each and every time he asks if he should lead.  The first 10 minutes are going to be very frustrating for you.  The next 10 minutes will be less so.  The final 10 minutes are going to be like a whole new, positive experience.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Another No Good, Very Bad (Rotten) Day

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
-Winnie the Pooh

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

A few days ago, Danika posted a wonderful article about her day when nothing seemed to be going right with Porter.  Glad she posted that, because oh, boy, did I have a doozy with my day today.  Only mine involved a severely dog-reactive dog, and this:

*cue dramatic music*

*cue dramatic music*

But we’ll get back to that in a moment.

I know I’m not perfect.  Actually, I’m glad I’m not perfect, because that’s such a high expectation to live up to.  A pretty big job that I certainly don’t want.  However, that doesn’t mean I can’t do the best with what I have.  Sometimes I don’t have a lot, either.  So let’s start with my frame of mind when I first started to go for a walk with Sparta, my dog reactive dog, this evening:

My daughter (River, aged 8) decided she wanted to be vegetarian. We agreed, but we informed her that meant she needs to eat everything we cook for her, because she’s growing, and nutrition is important.  Fine.  Well, today she didn’t like what I cooked.  I told her that she didn’t have to eat it, but that I would not be making anything else, and reminded her that she needed to stay healthy.  ”I choose death instead”, was the response I got from her.

What I felt like

What I felt like

Apparently part of “being the adult” includes not getting to smash things when you’re angry.  So I used the PAW Method (as I so often do) on my darling little child.  In other words, I followed the three most important steps to Piloting your demon child:

1) Control yourself.

I didn’t immediately respond to River’s demand for death (which she was this close to getting).  Instead, I took a deep breath and controlled myself.

Because, like, "adulting" and stuff...

Because, like, “adulting” and stuff…

2) Control the situation.

There was no way I was going to be able to make her eat her food without a long, drawn out battle. I knew she was going to try to push my buttons, so rather than fight with her, I moved the fight to my desired location.  Meaning, I told River that if she chose death, there was nothing I could do about it, as I already tried to feed her, and could she could go ahead and starve to death upstairs in her room.  She quietly went upstairs as she was told.  In other words, I diffused the situation.  I didn’t fuel it.  Gasoline and Fire went to their respective corners.

3) Answer the question/correct the behavior.

I wasn’t there yet; remember, I had to send River to her room to keep from squishing her like a grape.  It’s okay to get angry, but you are responsible for how you act upon your anger.  In other words, I had control of the present situation…but if I had added even an ounce of stimulation (say…an eye roll), I knew I could lose it.  And once words are said, they can never be taken back.  So I left River to stew in her room.

Now.  Back to that first picture.

Sparta, as you may already know, is very dog reactive.  That’s why I choose to (mostly) walk her at night, especially if I’d had a rough day already.  Today was no different.

mostlySo we went for our walk.  Me, not thinking about how keyed up I still was about River trying to commit hari kari by not eating dinner.  Sparta obviously felt it.  We usually go for about 2 miles, and she did mostly well during those two miles, without a lot of Piloting that was needed.  However, the wind was blowing pretty badly, and of course it’s garbage day tomorrow, and debris was blowing everywhere, including right at us.  So now Sparta was on her toes, getting a little jumpy (to be honest, so was I – it was pretty bad).

When I was young, I used to think this was my 3rd grade teacher. Now I know better.  It was.

When I was young, I used to think this was my 3rd grade teacher. Now I know better. It was.

Now for the dramatic twist.  Another dog.  I spotted the dog before Sparta sensed it.  It was about 1/4 block away from us, headed in our direction.  The owner seemed to be doing well with the dog, who appeared to have already caught a whiff of Sparta.  In other words, the owner was Piloting their dog (which kinda surprised me, which in a way is sad).  The owner was taking their time, and just looked calm and relaxed, helping their dog relax.  I answered Sparta’s question (“Is that dog a threat?”) about the dog when she spotted it, and once she accepted my answer (“No”), I took her across the street so as to control the situation better.  Considering the high energy we both had going into the situation, she did pretty well.  When she’d ask the question again, I’d answer, and because I was too keyed up myself to go right back to walking, I’d turn her around the other way to calmly take a few steps, almost like getting a running start before hitting the gauntlet, before starting again.  She was doing fine, until…..I tugged on the leash, which suddenly wasn’t attached to my dog anymore.  The clasp had completely come undone, broken from the main part of the leash.  Sparta immediately went running across the street after the dog.

Now, I had a few choices:  I could either panic and start yelling and shouting frantically at my dog, but that would only add energy to a situation I didn’t have control of.  So I chose a different path.

Thanks for the reminder, Liz.

Thanks for the reminder, Liz.

I took a deep breath, and speed walked my way across the street. I called Sparta’s name repeatedly, but not in a panicked fashion.  At this point, she had already gotten to the other dog, where she had started to bark at it, and essentially try to chase it away.  I grabbed Sparta, looped what’s left of the leash around her neck, and controlled the situation as best I could given the circumstances. In other words, she calmed down, and the other owner (#OhMyGodImSoSorryAboutThat), was able to safely take their dog away. As they were walking away, I heard the owner say something to the effect of, “Calm down Sheila”, at which point I said, “It totally wasn’t Sheila’s fault.”

Now, a word about the other owner.  He never lost his cool.  He was calm, and bored, and essentially an amazing Pilot, especially given the circumstances.  Quite frankly, he was the reason the situation was resolved so quickly: he added no energy, and just diffused his dog, and ignored mine.  Beautiful.

So, he continued on his way, and I took Sparta back home. I sat down in a chair, whereupon Sparta curled up at my feet, just like she always does.  The incident already out of her mind.  Yeah, it was scary, but either we could dwell upon it, or move on. And honestly, part of Step 2 (control the situation) is knowing when the situation is over.  Just let it go. Nobody was hurt. Nobody got hit by a car. I was able to Pilot Sparta pretty quickly, and we got home safely with 1/2 a leash.  I couldn’t be angry for Sparta for being who she was (fearful of other dogs), but I could be proud of her for trying so hard to move past her fears.  She’s an incredible dog who has come a very long way.  She’s not perfect, but I don’t want her to be.  That’s such a difficult thing to be: perfect.  She did the best she could with what she had.

As I was sitting there, my daughter came back downstairs.  She said she decided she wanted to live, and that she loved me.  I told her I was very proud of her, and that no matter what, she’s always My Favorite Little Girl in the Whole Wide World.  We hugged it out, and I knew that I needed to control the previous situation: by letting it go.

So there I was.  Another No Good, Very Bad (Rotten) Day that ended with my two girls, Sparta and River, both doing the best they could with what they had, just as I had tried to do.  Not perfect, but who wants to be perfect anyway.    After all, it’s about progress, not perfection.

Keep calm and pilot on

Questions

Set your course by the stars, not by the light of every passing ship.  - Anon.

All that sass...

All that sass…

My daughter, River (aged almost-10), and I got into a battle of wills the other day.  I realize it’s part of growing up: expressing a difference of opinions, not readily agreeing with with everyone says, and generally breaking away a bit.  Just because it’s a normal phase (and let’s face it, necessary), doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Or even fight those battles.

Yes, you read that correctly.  I am not my daughter’s “alpha” any more than I am my dog’s “alpha”.  That term actually disgusts me.  What I’m here to do is answer questions for my daughter as long as she needs me to do so.  As she gets older, the questions get less frequent, but more intense and definitely more serious.  When she was 4, she wanted to know if she could have candy for dinner (um…no).  Now that she’s a tween, she wants to know if she can spend hours on her computer and neglect her homework.  It’s obviously not a question that is vocalized, but rather asked through her actions (or lack thereof).  Again, the answer is “no”.  Eventually, she will be at a point where she doesn’t need me to answer her questions anymore (though she still may want to seek my advice). I will hopefully have done my job as a parent, and showed her how to think for herself; how to take information and act upon it.

It’s a difficult break when the time comes, but as a human, that’s my goal:  a child who will always be my little girl. To the rest of the world however, she will be a strong, courageous woman capable of both standing up for what is right, but also apologizing when she’s wrong.

River in full bloom.

River in full bloom.

I raise my kids in a very similar way that I raise my dogs.  No, really.  I’m here to answer my kids’ and my dogs’ questions.  As far as my dogs go, Sparta’s big questions usually involve other dogs, and if they are a threat or not.  For Orion, it’s usually about a fear of being separated from me.  I’m not their “alpha”.  I’m the person who has answered all of their questions in a way that they understand, and doesn’t scare them. I don’t lose my temper…at least not in front of them.  (Hint: It’s okay to walk away.)  The difference between dogs and kids, though, is that you aren’t raising dogs to be independent.  Dogs will always require a Pilot to help them navigate our human world.  The important thing to remember, is that it is still their right to question our answers.

Let me repeat that: a dog is allowed to ask questions, and to challenge the answers you have given them. 

03-17-16-5

The key is that you have the right to stand firm in your answer.  For instance, Sparta’s main question, as I’ve stated in an many posts, has to do with other dogs.  She perceives them as a threat.  Her question is usually, “Should I kill it before it kills me?”.

Of course my answer is “no”.  But it is her right not to immediately accept my answer.  I call it the Are You Sure.   The object of the game isn’t to bully her into accepting that my answer is valid and correct.  It’s to help her understand that I will stand firm in this answer, and that I will keep answering her questions until she accepts my answer.

Look at it from a human perspective.  I recently bought a new house, and did a 100% gut and remodel of the interior.  During the process, I was convinced that I wanted hardwood floors.  I love the look, the feel and just the vibe of hardwood.  My husband, on the other hand, suggested tile floors.

No way.

So he set about answering my concerns about it:

It will look cheap. No, there’s tiles that look exactly like hardwood floors.

We can’t refinish it like hardwood. We won’t need to refinish it; it’s so much more durable than hardwood.  

It’s cold.  We can put radiant heating under it.  

So eventually, I took the leap of faith (after many, many more rounds of Q & A). I accepted his answers to my questions.  We put in the tile.  

And I love it!

But bear in mind that my husband did not “alpha” his way into getting me to accept his answer.  He gave his answers in a calm manner.  He didn’t ignore my questions, nor did he try to distract me from my questions about the tile.  He definitely didn’t use an electric shock collar on me to get me to accept his answer (I mean, wtf?!).  He answered questions for me until I felt that his answers made more sense than mine did.   Now, I’m not going to say I can always be this cool and rational about a difference of opinion.  After all, I’m human, and so is he.  We sometimes throw emotions into it.  The really nifty thing is that dogs don’t.  They are logical, sensical beings who, once you have a higher amount of money in your Piloting Piggy Bank than they have, will acquiesce. And the more money you have in your bank, the more they trust your answers.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

I will never bully my way into being Pilot.  I want them to ask questions of me. To feel safe asking questions that I will always answer for them (to the best of my ability).  One cannot use the pain of a shock collar to establish your role as Pilot.  That role is earned, not inherited just because I have opposable thumbs and they don’t.  I answer their questions.  And most importantly, I choose my battles.  Yes, I usually answer their questions (“Can I bark at the mailman?”  ”May I please have a treat?” “Can I pull on the leash?”) but only if I feel mentally capable of doing so at time.  I need to be calm and rational when answering questions.  Not harried and frustrated.  Let’s be frank, the more I answer their questions, the more money I get in my Piloting Piggy Bank.  But sometimes, I just don’t have it in me, and that’s fine.  As I told my husband the other day, I win 100% of the battles I choose to fight with our dogs (and our kids!).

So that battle with River I had? It really wasn’t a battle of wills.  It was a battle of my being tired after working all day, along with her being a tween and trying to move her boundaries forward.  But I’m the adult.  I’m her Pilot.  I knew I wasn’t in a position to Pilot her correctly when I was tired, so I didn’t.  I told her issue was valid for discussion, and that we would address it in the morning when we were both more rational.  I stood hard and firm in that conviction, and gently, but firmly negated her attempts to discuss at that moment.  After a few “Are You Sure’s” from her, she accepted that answer, and we did end up discussing it in the morning.

And you know what?  I answered her original question (Can I have a later bedtime) with a positive.  She presented her answers why she should be allowed, and I agreed.  She was right.  Piloting isn’t always about standing firm in your convictions; it’s about being able to change your views when presented with more information.  That’s what Piloting is about: giving the correct answer, not the easiest nor the most convenient. And that’s how to win a battle correctly.

image1 (4)

 

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Bringing Up Baby

Hold puppies, kittens, and babies anytime you get the chance.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

So here I am, a deadline for a blog post looming over me, and I’m drawing a blank on what to write.  To my rescue:  a telephone call from a past client.   Apparently they’ve brought home a new addition over the weekend and wanted to verify how to integrate their current dog with the new addition.  After verifying that they meant a new baby, and not a new puppy (completely different set of rules), I set about giving them the lowdown on creating a harmonious house while dealing with a new baby.  So here are a few things to bear in mind:

It sucks.

You’ve just given birth (historically, if you’re female).  You’re sore, tired and overwhelmed with both love and the looming, daunting task of raising a mini-human.  Unfortunately, the dog is going to fall by the wayside for a little bit.  That’s okay (short-term).  Okay, it’s not really ok, but you’re going to do the best you can with what you have.  Piloting doesn’t mean being perfect…it means accepting that you’re the one in charge with difficult decisions, and that you will answer all questions.  Only now you’re doing it on 2 hours sleep a night.  There is only so much of you to go around.  It’s okay.  Fido will manage.  This is short term, until you find your footing.  Right now you’re doing triage, so don’t beat yourself up if Fido doesn’t get his usual 5 mile hike each day.  Just do your best.

Look For Shortcuts.

Just because you’re doing your best doesn’t mean there isn’t a baseline that needs to be adhered to.  For example, when I was pregnant with my son Eric, Darwin was already an old dog of about 10.  His baseline for activity was at least a walk of about 1/2 mile every day.  That was no where near his maximum capacity, but that was the sweet spot.  Any less than that, and he would start to exhibit unsavory behaviors, such as hyperactivity, pacing or even destruction.  Right after I had Eric via c-section, I wasn’t even up for 1/2 mile hikes, so I did the best I could to equal that amount of activity.  Short cuts, if you will, such as these.  Think outside the, uh…leash.  Agility, backpacks or playdates.  I had a client who, while pregnant with twins, trained her dog to run up and down the steps on command, just to wear him out.  No, this won’t work forever, but it’s not meant to.  It’s meant to be a stop-gap between the time you give birth and the time you are able to sleep more than 4 hours a night.

The same goes for Work.  Make sure your dog is still getting the mental Work they require.  Otherwise they will come up with something to occupy themselves, and believe me, you won’t like it.

Remember Whose Baby This Is.

I’m all for bonding kids and dogs, but the time to do that is a little bit later.  Right now Fido needs to understand that this is your baby.  And thank you for the offer, Fido, but I think I’ve got it.  Odds are Fido will ask you questions about the baby.  It’s natural to be curious about something new (and loud and smelly) that enters your life.  However, it’s up to you to set boundaries.  With my children, the boundary was roughly 2 feet.  My dogs were not allowed within that area of my child.  Mean?  Maybe.  But there were no bites – no issues with uncertainty around my children.  They were mine, and I’ll tend to them, thankyouverymuch.  I treated my infants as if they were a chocolate frosted cake I was carrying around.  Would you let your dog go nose-to-nose with that?  Nope, didn’t think so.

By making sure Fido understands that this is your baby, you are removing all his rights to correcting the child (read: nipping the child to get them to stop crying).  There will be no face licking when the baby spits up all over (a dangerous and repulsive behavior).

Once the child is about 6-8 weeks old, it’s a good time to start slowly introducing them.  If Fido is on the floor sleeping by you, and the baby is calm, take the baby’s foot and start slowly petting the dog with it, immediately giving calm positives when the dog remains calm, and giving a gentle, but firm, negative if your dog gets excited or hyper.  You are training your dog that calm interactions with the baby equal positives.  Add more stimulation to the situation as your dog grows accustomed to the interaction.  Gradually start to bridge the 2-foot perimeter you set up for safety previously.  Gently redirect your baby towards appropriate petting if they start to grab Fido’s fur.  Praise positive, gentle petting.  You are setting the flavor of future interactions.  Read: no pouncing on the baby.  No jumping on the toddler wandering with a handful of pretzels.  No pulling on Fido’s ears/tail/tongue.  You are setting the scene for future interactions between your child and Fido now.  Don’t wait until there’s a problem – establish calm as the go-to mode between them.

Abuse Your Dog (a little)

Yeah, this one’s a bit of a heartbreaker, but you’ve got to get Fido used to some things that babies may do.  Obviously it’s up to you to make sure that your children are acting appropriately towards your dog, but accidents happen in a heartbeat.  Set everyone up for success.

Start pulling on Fido’s tail (and then immediately giving them a reward).  Take a knuckle and “noogie” his ears gently.  Pry open his mouth, and then give a positive.  Get them accustomed to anything that a young child may do.  No, it’s not fair that your dog has to go through this to help de-sensitize him – it’s always up to you to make sure you child acts appropriately – but if you screw up (because, like, you’re human), then hopefully you’ve set the groundwork for success rather than becoming another statistic.

…And Protect Your Dog

Yes, kids can be jerks to dogs, knowingly or otherwise.  Make sure you handle it.  If a toddler-aged child is abusing an animal, give them a hardcore consequence – I don’t care what your parenting style is, drop the hammer!  A harsher punishment is nothing in comparison to a dog bite!

If it’s an 8 month old baby, that’s a different story.  No, a child that young doesn’t understand that it is wrong to yank fur off the dog, but your dog will need to see you are protecting them from the threat your child is giving.  Protect your dog!  (Another good reason for the “2 foot rule” regarding babies, as I stated above.)

In my house all the animals are mine.  Yes, my children will cuddle with whatever animal is available, but they are borrowing my animals.  Because let’s face it, elementary school kids don’t always take good care of what is theirs.  Toys get broken or discarded.  However, what belongs to mommy?  Well, that’s a different story.  What’s mine will be treated with respect and with the understanding that consequences happen if my things get broken, abused or disrespected.  If my kids treat the dog well, get him water if the water bowl is low or simply engaged appropriately?  That deserves some praise.

“Help” the cat down the back porch, though (as my daughter, River, did)?  That was a full week without any type of electronics.  My daughter almost died during that week.  I had the eulogy written out and everything….we were frankly surprised she was able to pull through, but miraculously she did. And has never done anything remotely disrespectful to the animals again.

River, aged 7, exhibiting advanced stages of "Not Allowed On The Computer-Itis".  Note the apathy towards life, the "I'm Bored" mantra, and the general distaste for ever disrespecting a cat again. Please also notice absurdly loyal cat patiently waiting by River's bedside for her recovery.

River, aged 7, exhibiting advanced stages of “Not Allowed On The Computer-Itis”. Note the apathy towards life, sulking under her covers, the “I’m Bored” mantra, and the general distaste for ever disrespecting a cat again. Please also notice absurdly loyal cat patiently waiting by River’s bedside for her recovery.

In short, use common sense.  We need to bear in mind what we are integrating: a young child and a dog.  Not two grown adult humans.  Misunderstandings happen.  It doesn’t mean that your dog is Cujo, or your baby will grow up to be Elmira.

Seriously, was I the only one who watched this show?!

Seriously, was I the only one who watched this show?!

Address the small issues as they happen, so they don’t grow to be huge incidents later on.  Above all, maintain a sense of humor.  Because when you look back, yes, these were  the good ol’ days…but only because you’re finally out of them.

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

 

How Lakewood’s BSL Came To Be

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
-Edmund Burke

Roux

Name: Roux
Breed: Pittie Mix
Crime: Letting a thief into her owners’ house in their absence, and then snuggling with the cops who arrived after neighbors alerted authorities

There’s just something about Lakewood.  A city where a population of 52,131 is somehow comfortably held on 5.5 square miles of land. And we peacefully co-exist!  We have a small-town mentality that feels almost like modern Mayberry.  We are a tolerant city, where we don’t merely look past our differences; we celebrate them.  We thrive on knowing each other, not merely being “just neighbors”.  We truly feel a sense of community that goes beyond what most cities’ capabilities.

That’s why when, on July 21, 2008, we were all so shocked when a law was passed in our city.

Summary:

No person may keep, harbor or own pit bull dogs or canary dogs in Lakewood, Ohio, with exceptions for dogs in the city on the effective date. A dog may be allowed to stay provided it has a microchip for identification, has been sterilized, the owner has liability insurance of $100,000, and the dog is properly confined or secured. Failure to comply could result in the removal or impoundment of the dog. The owner may also be charged with a misdemeanor. (Source: animalaw.info)

In other words, our tolerant, diverse city passed a law outlawing …diversity.    A law passed based upon how an individual looked, rather than what their actions entailed. How did this happen?

Well, that’s hard to say.  I truly don’t believe that our council members hate dogs.  Perhaps they saw an increase in dog bites in general, or just merely became aware that dog bites happen, and made a reactionary response to the problem, rather than a rational response.  I say “reactionary” because the logic utilized in this ban doesn’t make any sense.

Let me explain.

Right before the ban was passed in July 2008, Lakewood Observer published this article on May 25, 2008 by Brian Powers (former Lakewood councilman who pushed the pit bull ban on Lakewood).

The “article” – which reads as if written by a drunk college frat boy cribbing from Wikipedia the night before his 50 page paper is due – would be humorous if it hadn’t been written by an individual with the ability to pass laws based upon the content of said late-night cribbing session.  For example, the article states that:

“Every legitimate study conducted in America, including the study by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, has demonstrated that pit bull bites are more likely to result in a fatality than bites or attacks by any other breed.” – Brian Powers

 

Please define "legitimate study".

Please define “legitimate study”.

No citations of any kind were included with any of Powers’ “facts”.  Trust me, I looked.  And looked and looked.  I then searched and Googled my heart out.  All I came up with was this quote:

The CDC strongly recommends against breed-specific laws in its oft-cited study of fatal dog attacks, noting that data collection related to bites by breed is fraught with potential sources of error (Sacks et al., 2000) – ASPCA Policy and Position Statements

 

Absolutely no justification nor citation for anything in Powers’ stance on BSL, as stated in his article in the Lakewood Observer, merely contradiction on every point.  Powers’ somehow became the spearhead of a movement with devastating consequences based upon…nothing.  No facts. No logic. No research.  Merely a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived problem. Sound familiar?
Ask a doctor about vaccines.  Ask animal care professional about pitties.

Ask a doctor about vaccines. Ask animal care professional about pitties.

I wanted to write a post picking apart Lakewood’s ban on pit bulls (and the Powers’ article), but it’s like cotton candy: made of nothing but spun sugar and air. Fragile, falling apart if examined at all. Not a shred of logic, science or reality.
 Apparently Conway worked as fact checker for Lakewood City Council in 2008.


Apparently Conway worked as fact checker for Lakewood City Council in 2008.

  As Greg Murray Photography, a staunch supporter working to #endbsl put it:
“I read this interview of then councilman Brian Powers every month. He was a councilman in Lakewood in 2008 when BSL was passed. These terrible and heart breaking answers are some of many things that drive me to advocate for pits.
‘Question: All breeds of dog bite. Are pit bulls really more dangerous than other dogs?
Brian Powers Answer: Unfortunately, yes, pit bulls are very dangerous. When a labrador, collie or other dog bites, you might end up with a bruise or, in some cases, a puncture wound. When a pit bull attacks, you may end up maimed for life or, in many cases, dead.’
bigly so
Greg Murray has asked via his Facebook page:
“If you have children and a pit in your home, you are a terrible parent. Let Lakewood [City Council] know what it’s like to have children and pits in the same household. Here are the emails for council and the mayor. Please write them now.
Sam.OLeary@lakewoodoh.net, david.anderson@lakewoodoh.net, john.litten@lakewoodoh.net, daniel.omalley@lakewoodoh.net, tom.bullock@lakewoodoh.net, cindy.marx@lakewoodoh.net, ryan.nowlin@lakewoodoh.net, Mike.Summers@lakewoodoh.net
Let me note that some of the people listed above DO NOT support BSL. But we still need to email all of them.”
Well said, Greg.
Name: Lucy Breed: Pittie Mix Crime: Blanket Theif and Serial Cuddler

Name: Lucy
Breed: Pittie Mix
Crime: Blanket Theif and Serial Cuddler

But while many of our council members do not actively support the BSL, I ask why they aren’t speaking out against it?
I strongly encourage not only contacting your Lakewood representative, but visiting All Breeds Lakewood, a group that is dedicated not only to ending BSL, but enriching the lives of pet owners in the City of Lakewood by not only ending discrimination against dogs based upon breed, but strengthening the scope of our current dangerous dog law to target actual dangerous dogs.  Further, making sure through dog safety outreach programs, education and services, our dogs are not put into dangerous situations.
Only a fool would think that legislating against a given group would make an entire population safer.  It’s time to end Lakewood’s breed specific legislation.
For information on how you can help end BSL, please visit All Breeds Lakewood, a grassroots organization dedicated to not only ending BSL, but ensuring all dogs have the opportunity to thrive in our community through outreach, education and resources. 
Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Lakewood, Ohio

“Mine” Craft – Working with Food Aggressive Dogs

“People aren’t against you; they are for themselves.” – Anon

A shelter dog undergoes the SAFTER test.  Food reactivity is guaged when the fake hand tries to take away the food.

A shelter dog undergoes the SAFTER test. Food reactivity is guaged when the fake hand tries to take away the food.

A few days ago I had a very difficult situation to work with.  The dog in question, a Shar Pei mix, I’ll call Lisbon, was food aggressive (had actually bitten people and other dogs in the house) as well as resource guarding (resource guarding is the same as food aggression, only in place of the food, she was aggressively guarding areas in the house she deemed as her own).

If a dog is reacting with aggression over anything other than their safety (i,e., they’re scared of you), or the safety of their pack, that’s trouble.  That’s the sign of a dog who is in the Pilot position, and who is frequently more than happy to try to take money out of your Piloting Piggy Bank.  Remember, whomever has the most money wins, so frequently these dogs are indeed the Pilot in the house simply because snapping and growing over a resource works.  Essentially, they tell you “no”, and it works because, well, teeth can be scary!  The more often they tell you “no”, and the more often you accept that as an answer, the more money the dog has taken out of your Piloting Piggy Bank.

Most other things aren’t quite so dangerous to work with because we are working with questions that the dog actually hopes end in a “no”.

Will that other dog kill me?

No, Fido.

Have any dogs ever died in a thunderstorm before?

No Fido, and I doubt you’ll be the first.

Resource guarding is different.  A dog has decided that something is theirs, and no matter what, they are keeping it.  Sometimes when I come into a house a dog is resource guarding, but their heart really isn’t into it.  They’ve accidentally become Pilot in the house because the owner has never properly communicated with the dog, letting them know that they don’t have to be Pilot.  Hint:  most dogs don’t even want the job!

These dogs aren’t resource guarding so much as taking all the perks that come with the Piloting position.  For a dog, being Pilot can be scary, terrifying, and generally sucks.  Just like not every human feels comfortable leading, the same is true for dogs.  If they’re going to be Pilot, there had better be some perks that come along with it!  These include the right to eat first, the right to sleep where they want to…basically, the right of first refusal for anything.  For the dogs who aren’t even really into the Pilot position, and didn’t want the damn job to begin with, merely Piloting them and taking the money out of their bank is sufficient.  They aren’t true resource guarders.

As Danika mentioned in her blog post On Food Reactivity….Nothing Personal.  Really.,   they aren’t doing it because they hate you.  Or because they want to hurt you.  In their minds, you are asking a question:  Can I have that back? They are answering your question (No), but you aren’t listening, apparently, so they have to answer it with more force, until you finally back down.

Dogs and wolves are a pack. They are a single entity driven towards one thing, survival and continuation of the pack.  In the pack, only alpha male and alpha female breed.  They are the Pilots.  They have (for the moment) the best shot of perpetuating the pack because they are the best dogs/wolves in the pack.  Obviously this can change.  Dogs and wolves don’t vote in who they think is the best for Pilot.  There’s no bribes.  Either you are or you aren’t and accepting another dog’s “no” to a question you asked can take enough money out of your Piloting bank to no longer make you Pilot.

Wolves deciding who's eating first. The wolf on the left is giving typical "back off, it's mine" body language. The wolf on the right is submitting.

Wolves deciding who’s eating first. The wolf on the left is giving typical “back off, it’s mine” body language. The wolf on the right is submitting.

So back to resource guarding.  It isn’t a bad behavior.  Remember, nothing a dog does is bad; it’s always perfectly correct.  For a dog.  However, as humans, we can not safely tolerate resource guarding.  It’s dangerous, and for kids, it’s the second biggest reason I see them get bit, (first is teasing or torturing the dog).  The difference is, a bite because a child is manhandling a dog is usually a sudden nip.  Yes, it may cause blood even (remember, you’re supposed to be covered in hair and loose skin, like a dog, not soft vulnerable flesh), but it’s typically not that bad unless the dog hit a lucky spot.  With resource guarding, it can be a lot, lot worse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  resource guarding is one of the few things (the only?) that I will tell a client to put a dog down for.  Yes, they can be worked with, and you can indeed take the Piloting position back, but you will have to defend it the rest of your dog’s life.  They may challenge you at any moment.  You may absent-mindedly drop food on the floor, lean over to pick it up, and the dog decides at that moment to claim it, meaning a bite.

These dogs can be the sweetest, kindest dogs on the planet, as Lisbon is.  Wonderful, loving family pets.  But once the food comes out, they are like a vampire who hasn’t fed being led through a blood bank.  Yucky, ugly things ensue.

So back to Lisbon:  how did things end?  Well, they haven’t yet.  They never will.  Some dogs you can slack with on the Piloting and still be fine.  Lisbon’s owner will always be on alert for any sign Lisbon is trying to take money out of his bank.  Lisbon’s owner is single with no kids, so he doesn’t have to worry about a child being bit.  He also understood the severity of the issue.  He is dedicated to the training regime, which includes:

- Feeding Lisbon after a successfully Piloted walk.  A walk done correctly (read: you are leading, not your dog) takes money out of their Piloting Piggy Bank.  We want to empty Lisbon’s account out as much as possible before feeding.

- Lisbon will always be on a leash during feeding times, just like you always wear a seat belt in the car.  You may never truly need it, but there’s nothing like feeling safe to help bring out the Pilot inside of you.

- Hand feeding Lisbon.  Food only comes from him, and no other source.  We want to remove everything as a possible option for Lisbon to acquire food.  She need to be dependent upon her owner for all food. Food is placed on the counter, and Lisbon will be seated and fed one handful at a time, and only if she is calmly waiting.

- Removing signals that may increase energy during feeding time.  For example, when Lisbon sees her owner grab her food dish on the counter, she knows her owner is about to feed her.  Her energy level goes way up, and she can be difficult to manage.  Lisbon will never be fed out of a bowl again.  Even the vessel used to contain the food while she is being hand fed will be switched out frequently so she never knows if food is coming or if her owner is merely grabbing a cup for some coffee.

- Dropping food on the ground doesn’t mean it’s yours!!!  Lisbon’s owner, while hand feeding Lisbon, will occasionally gently place food on the ground behind him, moving very slowly.  If she lunges for the food, he can redirect her with the leash, wait until she’s calm, and then slowly pick the food up and throw it away.  Lisbon will never have the right to food on the floor.  Ever.  If she remains calm during that little exercise, she will get another handful of food.

- Never toss food at Lisbon.  The very act of snatching food in the air is aggressive.  In some dogs it’s not a big deal, and is even amusing (Darwin could catch food out of a dead sleep!), but those dogs aren’t really jockeying for Pilot position.  We are driving the point home that calm is the only thing that gets Lisbon food, and lunging towards food won’t be accepted any more.

- Getting her used to disappointment.  A lot of resource guarding dogs get upset and retaliate if they think they were about to get food but don’t.  For example, the now-defunct food bowl.  If Lisbon’s owner simply picked up the food bowl to move it without feeding her, Lisbon might retaliate.  You were supposed to feed me, remember?  Touching the food bowl is a visual marker that is supposed to end a certain way, and if it doesn’t…bad things happen.  So he’s going to get her used to disappointment.  Dropping the food on the floor is a good start, but sometimes putting food in a cup on the counter, creating calm with Lisbon, and then dumping the food back into the bin, all in a controlled manner.  Calm doesn’t always get Lisbon food.  It’s merely the only way she might get food.  It’s like the lottery:  you don’t always win, but unless you play, you aren’t going to win.

Hand feeding... in the good way

Hand feeding… in the good way

I have great hopes for Lisbon and her owner.  Lisbon is a great dog, and they made wonderful strides in the two hours I was with them.  Lisbon’s owner is dedicated, and he understood the severity of the problem.  If anyone has a chance at a safe, wonderful bond with a resource guarding dog, it’s him.

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

The Ten Commandments (For Dog Owners)

Nefretiri: You will be king of Egypt and I will be your footstool!

Moses: The man stupid enough to use you as a footstool isn’t wise enough to rule Egypt.

The Ten Commandments (1956 film)

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

I have a long history of standing by my statement that dogs are very simple creatures.  They definitely aren’t stupid. They’re refreshingly simple.  There’s not much subterfuge about them.  I’ve never cottoned much to people coming up with long lists of do’s and don’ts when it comes to dogs.  Why complicate such simplistically beautiful creatures, such as dogs are, with all kinds of clauses,  addendum and notations?  Still, humans tend to fare better when at least given the general direction of where to start with dogs, preferably written down.  In stone.  So I therefore present to you,

THE FIFTEEN COMMANDMENTS (FOR DOG OWNERS)

tumblr_mvb7r9inVE1rxam8fo2_250

tumblr_mvb7r9inVE1rxam8fo1_250 THE FIFTEEN TEN COMMANDMENTS (FOR DOG OWNERS)

1) THOU SHALT PILOT THY DOG.  Thy dog is not savvy unto the ways of the human world, for thine canine is but a canine,though created perfectly, as a canine.  

In other words, if you want a square peg to fit in a round hole, it’s going to need some help.  Both the square peg and the round hole may need to change and accommodate each other, but both need to change.  In most households, I see the dog is expected to adapt to living in a human world, whereas the humans are expected to merely expect the dog to accommodate them by changing into a human.  Dogs need Pilots.  Until they develop opposable thumbs, help them to understand this human world.  Answer their myriad of questions, whether it be as benign as “Hey, you going to eat that?” to as serious as “Is that other dog going to kill us?”.  Give them the answers they crave in the form of Piloting, and help them make sense of this place.  - Book of Kerry, Yes Way, No Way

2) THOU SHALT KEEP THEY DOG IN MOVEMENT. For  thine canine is not a machine, it has a heart which loveth thou deeply. Keep it pumping.

Your dog is not a mobile area rug, nor should you expect it to behave as one.  If you want a good dog, give your dog the Activity he craves, no just for his enjoyment, but for his well being.  A dog who is not exercised has plenty of demons.  Exorcise Exercise those demons.  - Book of Kerry, Calm

200-1 cea

3) THOU SHALT GIVE YOUR DOG A JOB.  Thine canine was created for a purpose, and a purpose he must have.

Don’t treat you dog like he’s stupid, because he ain’t.  He’s got a big ol’ brain in his head, designed to help him work with his pack to hunt his food.  Right now that huge cranium is being used to hunt down the last Cheerio from under the couch.  Treat a dog like a dog…like the intelligent, sentient being he is.  Give him food for his brain.  - Book of Kerry Blood(less) Sport

4) THOU SHALT NEVER PUNISH A DOG FOR BEING A DOG.  Thy canine has been created perfectly, as a canine. Thou shalt not punish him for not acting human.

You got a dog because you wanted a dog.  If you want another human, go on a date, realize it’s stupid, humans are dumb, and then get a dog, because dogs are so much better.

tumblr_inline_n2z0zlIWbv1s31pko

 Don’t punish the dog because it doesn’t fully understand a human world, and doesn’t do human things.  Punishment is sick and gross, and so overrated. -Book of Kerry Shocking

5) THOU SHALT USE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT LIBERLLY, BUT ONLY AS APPROPRIATE.  Thou shalt Pilot thy dog, not bribe thy dog.

You simply cannot use positive reinforcement for every single situation your dog gets into. Learn to identify when positive is merited (a lot more often than you’d think) and how to give it (it’s not just treats!).  Marking a behavior you like (housebreaking, calmness, or a trick) with positive reinforcement is only half the answer.  Making sure you don’t mark unwanted behaviors with positive is the other half.  - Book of Kerry Positive Influence

6) THOU SHALT REALIZE THE DEPTH OF DEVOTION THY CANINE HAS.  And thou shalt strive to be worthy of said devotion.

Your dog will only live 10-15 years.  Some less, some more.  Most of their time is spent waiting for you. For that brief moment of happiness they get when you spend just a little bit of time with them. For that quick “Hi Fido. Miss me today boy?” that they get in that five minutes between you coming home from work to let them out and you going out again for drinks with you friends.  It means the world to them.  You mean the world to them.  Be worthy of it. They spend their entire lives waiting.  Don’t let it be in vain.  Love them.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

7) THOU SHALT SCREW UP, AND THOU SHALT BE FORGIVEN.  Thy canine is but a canine, and thou art but human.  Forgive thyself as thy canine hast already done.

I stepped on Orion’s tail yesterday.  After I kicked him in the face during our walk.  I totally suck.  But he forgave me, and I forgave myself because I did the best I could. I look back at my first dog, Saint Darwin (he’s been canonized for this post), and I see so many things I would have done differently with him, but it was nearly 20 years ago.  I did the best I could.  If you can truly say that, then you’re forgiven.  Grudges are never held. That’s the beauty of the Church of Dog.

All is forgiven for those who are truly trying.

All is forgiven for those who are truly trying.

8) THOU SHALT NOT FEEL THE NEED TO LIKE THY CANINE AT ALL TIMES, FOR HE CAN TRULY BE AN ASSHOLE.  Yet thou shalt still remember to love thy canine despite his proclivity towards assholery.

20-dog-shaming-photos-that-will-have-you-cracking-up-2

Sometimes you really want to murder your dog.  Usually over a new pair of shoes, or what is now 1 1/2 pairs of shoes.  Remember, your dog isn’t out to get you, your dog isn’t angry, and your dog isn’t “acting out”.  But that doesn’t help assuage your anger, though, does it?

I have a saying:  ”I’d rather say a mean thing than do a mean thing.”

I give you permission to call your dog is an asshole.  To not like him at the moment. To call him whatever name you want to (Hint:  ”Shitbird” has already been taken by Orion; Sparta is “Crazy Bitch”.) I will never yell these names  at my dogs, because my dogs are not ever to be demeaned by yelling.  But calmly acknowledging that I don’t like them right now …well, that’s imperative.  I’m not going to pretend that I love working with Sparta’s dog reactivity, or that Orion’s anxious nature is something I had long dreamed to have in a dog.  I may not like these issues, but I’m the human, and it’s up to me to deal with them. And it’s ok not to like them.  But I will always love them.  No matter what they’ve done, I love them still. – Book of Kerry Time Out

9) THOU SHALT LOVE THE CANINE YOU HAVE, NOT THE CANINE YOU WANT.  For the canine thou want is but a mythical beast which lives only in thy imagination.

Sparta is dog reactive. Orion is hyper.  Not the dog I want, but always the dogs I’ll love.  I will never try to turn them into something they aren’t.  - Book of Kerry  What Could Have Been

10) THOU SHALT KNOWETH THAT THY CANINE IS UNIQUE, AND SHALL REMAIN SPECIAL IN YOUR HEART FOREVER.

Whomever painted this is either the most compassionate animal lover or an absolute masochist towards humans.  Crying yet?

One of a kind.  The best dog ever.  Mourn them when they’re gone.  Get a little weepy eyed when you see another dog walking down the street that looks exactly like your old dog, Rex.  They spend such a brief period with us…physically.  In spirit, though, let them linger on for as long as you breathe for that is truly the best monument to give to a dog: memory of them. A small smile and a misty eye are the best shrine your dog could ever have, even 30 years later.  And they deserved it.  Even after everything, they always deserve it.

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

 

Stranger Danger

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.

Shirley MacLaine

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

“My dog is aggressive towards strangers.

“My dog is fearful.”

“My dog is skittish.”

I hear these phrases constantly.  Some dogs are goofy, fun-loving balls of affection who have never met a stranger.  Then we have dogs who have what I call a healthy sense of self-preservation.  My Orion used to be like that.

No, Orion wasn’t abused, which is a common misconception with dogs such as these.  As humans we try to rationalize and explain behavior.  It must have a cause!  Something precise that has caused our dogs to be wary of the world.

But the world doesn’t work like that.  For example, my daughter, River, is the most fun-loving, outgoing creature I have ever met.  She explained to the pizza delivery guy a few days ago that if he ever encountered a monster, she’d protect him.  She then gave him a hug.  River is the equivalent of a pittie:  the life of the party who thrives on any type of human interaction.

My son Eric is completely different.  He’s more circumspect.  He has wonderful social manners, but it takes him a long time to warm up to someone and feel comfortable.  He needs to feel out a situation before he participates in it.

Neither of my kids have been abused.  Both have been raised exactly the same way.  We accept that kids can have different personalities, but we don’t allow much wiggle room for our canine companions.  They have to be exuberant balls of fun, just desperate for human interaction, regardless of with whom, in order for the to be healthy, happy dogs.  But just as not all humans are of that caliber (I certainly am not), not all dogs need to fit into the one-size-fits-all mould of “dog behavior”.

Orion, who took a few weeks to warm up to my husband, now thoroughly enjoys any attention he can get from him.

Orion, who took a few weeks to warm up to my husband, now thoroughly enjoys any attention he can get from him.

 

Orion, for instance, is a lot more wary and aloof than a lot of dogs. As a matter of fact, when I first met Orion, he bit me.  Completely not his fault:  he didn’t know me, and I had thrust my hand inside his carrier to retrieve him, as he had gotten caught in the back of it somehow.  Any creature with a lick of sense (especially one weighing 5 lbs.) would do the same thing!  It doesn’t mean he’s damaged, it means he has an healthy sense of self-preservation.

Gradually I built up Orion’s trust in me.  I started by not yelling, kicking, hitting or otherwise abusing the dog.  Common sense, right?  The longer I went without kicking Orion, he figured the more likely it was that I wasn’t going to start.  But then we moved beyond that.  There’s a difference between a friend and a protector.  I was to become both.  I needed to Pilot Orion.  In other words, I needed to not only answer all of his tough questions (such as, “Is that person a threat?” and, “Should I be afraid?”), but I had to get him to trust me enough to forgo his own determination of a situation and accept my answer.

Teaching a new trick can help build trust.  You're working together as a team with a common goal: communication. Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Teaching a new trick can help build trust. You’re working together as a team with a common goal: communication.
Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Look at it like this:  What if I told you to sell everything you own and invest a certain stock?  Your reaction would probably be, Why on earth should I listen to you and do something so potentially catastrophic?! You’d be crazy to just listen to me regarding such a decision.  However, what if I started off with small suggestions, such as putting $5 towards something.  You take a look at my situation, which seems financially comfortable, and decide to take the $5 plunge.  That $5 turns into $10.  Your faith in my decisions is boosted.  I give you another suggestion, you take it, and make more money, or, at the very least, don’t lose any.  Pretty soon you’re actively looking to me for suggestions.

That’s how it works with dogs.  You have to give them a reason why your answers to their questions are better than what they can come up with.  That’s what Piloting is all about.  Now obviously you can answer their questions with force, and with pain and anger, but that’s losing the most important part of the Piloting equation:  trust.  So how do you get a dog to trust you? Easy! Put them in very simple situations that require only a very small leap of faith, and then gradually up the ante.

I recently boarded the world’s most adorable Labradoodle, Cody, in my home due to his owner’s injury and anticipated long convalescence.  How did I get him accustomed to me, and used to my answering his questions?  I started with agility. Teaching him to jump over a yardstick placed directly on the floor.  Then adding stimulation: placing one end on a soup can, raising it just a bit.  Then the next side is raised.  Pretty soon Cody is trusting me enough to go bounding back and forth across the “jump”.  If I had started out with the jump raised all the way…well, that’s a bit of a stretch.  He didn’t know me very well, and that’s an awful lot to ask of a dog.  But by adding gradual amounts of stimulation to the situation, raising it slowly, I was able to expand his level of comfort with my decisions until eventually he trusts my answers more than he trusts his own.  That is what Piloting is all about.

So how do we put this in play with regard to stranger danger?  Well, we need to start with the fact that it is okay that your dog is wary of strangers.  We aren’t trying to change who your dog fundamentally is.  But we can indeed broaden their horizons a bit.  Get your dog to trust your answers with the small things, like walking by the man on the other side of the street.  Answer their questions as you are walking, and make sure you are Pilot during the walk.  Don’t just drag your dog along past the stranger – that’s forcing them past a point, not answering their questions.  It may take a bit of mental fortitude on your part to make it past the first person, but if you are Pilot, take your time, and keep your patience, you will do it.  Remember, this is difficult for your dog: this is the first time you are Piloting them past a perceived danger.  It is a huge leap of faith on their part and should be treated as such.  Just because you realize that the other person isn’t a threat doesn’t mean they do.  But if you get them past the first person, answering their questions all the while, the second person is easier to get by, then the third, and so on.  Pretty soon your dog is looking for your answers rather than coming up with their own.

Orion is still wary of strangers.  I allow him to be.  Unless I don’t.  That’s the beauty of Piloting.  If you don’t abuse the position, you can ask your dog to do marvelous things.  Orion and I worked on his stranger danger, gradually upping the ante each time.  First he had to walk calmly by strangers, which is difficult when you barley reach someone’s ankles – no wonder everything looked like a threat!  (You try walking among a herd of elephants without being apprehensive, and then you’ll understand what a small dog can feel like on the sidewalk.)

Next we worked on strangers approaching. They would ask to pet my dog, and I would let them…in a very controlled way.  I would pick him up and present him rear first.  If Orion would ask a question, such as “Can I make them stop petting me?”, I would answer his question by very gently tapping him on the derriere with all five fingers, similar to the way one taps out an email on a computer:  no harder.  It’s not about pain, it’s about getting him to refocus on me and the answer I was giving him.

Trust is integral.  If I’m asking Orion to trust my judgment about someone, it’s up to me to keep him safe and make wise judgments.  So if the individual who wants to pet Orion seems very hyper or is giving off a lot of negative energy, my answer is no.  My first duty is to my dog, not to social graces.  It’s up to me to put Orion in situations where he can thrive, not situations that test his faith in me to beyond capacity.  I also don’t force Orion to take affection without a good reason.  I don’t make him be pet just for the sake of being pet. Affection has to be mutual.  My goal was to make sure he was acclimated to being touched by anyone, just in case circumstances arose where he needed to be (vet, boarding, etc.).  I still make him accept being pet, but only for one of two reasons: he truly wants to be pet by that person, or I need to work on his accepting touch to keep him from backsliding into not accepting touch from a human.

As Orion accepted being pet by strangers, he was always given a reward.  For Orion, food doesn’t do much, but calm gentle praise certainly did.  He wanted to know he was on the right track, and I most definitely assured him of it.  Answer his questions, give positive when he chooses to accept the answer.  Wash rinse repeat.

Orion is still wary of strangers, but rather than immediately cowering in fear or lashing out when someone decides to pet him, he takes a different approach now.  He looks at me.  He expects me to answer his questions.  Sometimes he has to accept that he will be pet, but since I’ve always protected him during the petting, he isn’t afraid anymore.  Now he’s the dog who will warm up to a stranger after a bit, and actually “ask” to be pet – something that I never thought would happen.

Orion and Cody.  It took a little Piloting to get Orion to accept my answers and Cody, namely that Cody wasn't a threat.

Orion and Cody. It took a little Piloting to get Orion to accept my answers and Cody, namely that Cody wasn’t a threat.

Orion has come a long way from that frightened little creature he once was.  Yes, I have put a lot of effort into Piloting him and answering his questions, but it’s always easier to be the one answering questions than the one who has to take a leap of faith.  That’s why I’ll always strive to be worthy of the Pilot position and never shake his faith through ego or vanity or putting him in situations that we haven’t worked towards yet.  I’ve earned his trust, and it’s up to me to make sure I don’t abuse it.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog training in Cleveland, Ohio

The Complete, Unabridged Set of Dog Rules

The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

“Is it okay that my dog is on the couch?”

“Can we play tug with a rope toy? Or is that wrong?”

“We’re using puppy pads.  Is that bad?”

Questions like these from my clients make me crazy.  No, not because they are asking me questions, but because somehow they got it in their head that there are hard and fast rules to “dogging”.  They get a dog, and the first thing they want to know is what the rules are.  All. The. Rules.

winterBecause obviously, if something isn’t complicated and supremely structured, it doesn’t work.  The more rules, the better you’re doing, right?  After all, t’s been working for the DMV.

We must be cautious.

We must be cautious.

So obviously, rules suck.  Unless you’re a dog owner, and then you want the rules.  All the rules.  Well, you want ‘em?  You got ‘em.

Before I tell you the rules, let’s review the steps to working with a dog, in any capacity.  Whether stopping the barking, teaching them to sit, or maybe something a little more intricate.

Everything starts with these steps:

1) Control Yourself. 

Controlling yourself means you are calm (even if only on the outside).  You are using confident body language (stand up straight!).  You are not yelling, or even talking.  In other words, you are NOT Corky Romano.

Don’t be a Corky.

2) Control the Situation.

Meaning if you can’t stuff 10 pounds of dirt in a 5 pound bag, why are you trying to stuff 15?  Stop, take a look at the current situation.  For example, if someone is at the door, but your dog is there barking, jumping, and, well, being Corky Romano, do you have control of the situation?  No!  Then don’t add any stimulation (such as opening the door) until you have control. Answer your dog’s question about the door, and then move forward when you have control. Reboot if necessary.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Okay, now that you know the playing field (controlling yourself and controlling the situation), now for the rules.

I use a mix of negative and positive.  The same way you do throughout your life.  I asked my husband it was raining outside  He said “no”.  That’s a negative  My daughter asked if she could go to a friends house. I said “yes”.  That’s a positive.  Think of it as a game of “hot or cold”. We call this Piloting your dog.

Rules of When to Use Negatives

1) When you don’t like what your dog is doing.  Yes, seriously…it’s that easy.  Ask yourself if you like the behavior your dog is giving (barking, jumping, or just laying against the fridge that you are trying to open), and if you don’t like it, give them a negative.  Remember your dog isn’t bad.  Dogs are incapable of being bad.  They are perfect… for a dog.  They just happen to suck at being human.

And guess what?  You probably don’t make a very good dog.

So let’s jettison the whole “Good/Bad” thing…and the gun.  You’re answering questions for your dog, not deciding if the questions make your dog “good” or “bad”.

2) When your dog is “yo-bitching” you.  Now there’s an interesting term:  ”yo-bitching“.  What does that mean?  It’s when a dog slaps you with their paw.  Or jumps on you.  Or pushes you out of the way.  It’s the human equivalent of saying, “Yo, Bitch, gimme a cookie.” Or “Yo, Bitch, that’s my chair”.  Vulgar?  Absolutely.  Acceptable?  Never.  You wouldn’t accept a human addressing you like that, so don’t accept that from a dog.  Dog’s are perfectly capable of using polite, “May-I-Please” body language.  Start to demand and expect it at all times.

On to the positives!

1) The come command/recall.  Positive, people.  Give your dog a good reason to come when you call.

2) When you are asking your dog to be human.  Think about what one dog will tell another dog.  Things like, “Go away”, or “Let’s play” or even “That’s mine”.  But dogs don’t teach each other English (“Sit”, for example). They don’t housebreak each other.  So if one dog can’t teach it to another dog, and you’re asking your dog to be a little bit human, you must use positives.

3) Calm.  This is the most important, most overlook opportunity for positives.  I want calm to be a like a lottery ticket:  You have to play to win (you’re probably not going to win), but unless you have a ticket, you definitely aren’t going to win.  That ticket is calm.  The more your dog has the “calm ticket” the more likely he is to win.  So if he’s calm, give him a gentle positive.  Anything from chilling out on the floor, to trying his best to be calm at the vet.  Reward the effort.  Progress, not perfection.

So there you have it.  That’s all the rules.  When to give positive and when to give negative.  Everything you ever needed to know about how to work with your dog.

But I didn’t address your questions from earlier?

“Is it okay that my dog is on the couch?”

“Can we play tug with a rope toy? Or is that wrong?”

“We’re using puppy pads.  Is that bad?”

Yes, I did!  About the couch, think about the negatives.  Do you like what your dog is doing on the couch?  No?  Then give him a negative.  Don’t care that he’s on the couch?  Well, then, neither do I, as long as he isn’t “yo bitching” you.

Playing tug with a rope toy?  Cool!  I love a good, rough game of tug.  My husband doesn’t.  I encourage it.  My husband negates it.  Remember, ask yourself if you like the behavior, and if the answer is “yes”, go for it.  If the answer is “no”, then negate it.  Just make sure that you have your limits adhered to.  My Sparta is allowed to really go at it with me when we wrestle…until she isn’t  When I feel things have escalated too much, I simply give her a negative, and she stops.

Puppy pads?  If it works for you, it works for me.

In short, nobody should be telling you how to enjoy your dog.  My dogs are allowed to beg from the table, as I frequently give them a small amount of table scraps.  But once I’m done with them, they are given a negative, and they know to stop begging and stay away from me while I eat.

My dogs, like yours, are only here for my enjoyment.  They make life easier, and so much sunnier!  Don’t let a book full of rules tell you how you should be enjoying their company.  Make sure you are indeed enjoying your dog, and not merely tolerating their behavior.  If you don’t like their behavior (say, getting up on the couch), it’s up to you to answer your dog’s question (“Can I sleep up here?”), and set your own rules of how to enjoy your dog.  The rules will differ from house to house, but the enjoyment will be constant.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to snuggle in bed with my dogs while I share my snack of cheese and crackers with them. I’m tired from all that rope-tug I played with Sparta.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Problem with Pitties

It matters not what one is born, but what they grow to be.
- Albus Dumbledore

3-13-14(1)I recently wrote a post on why I love (accurate) breed profiling.  I briefly mentioned pitties (A.K.A., pit bulls), but didn’t really go into depth about them as a specific “breed” of dog. Right now pit bulls are a polarizing breed.  Lovers or fighters?  Vicious or victims?

As I’ve previously written, I’m all for accurate breed descriptions, or profiling. Name things accurately. Describe things correctly. As Dumbledore pointed out to Harry Potter, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”  Sage words.

Polarizing things, such as pitties, puts them in angel or devil categories, each side slinging skewed statistics and unrealistic qualities, towards the other:

  • Their jaws lock on their victims/There’s no such thing as an aggressive pittie
  • The pit bull terrier is the breed of choice for criminals./Pit bulls are the best family dogs.
  • Pit bulls will readily fight other dogs/Pit bulls are the most social dogs out there

Who’s right?  The problem lies within the fact that we only have two choices within to categorize pits: angel or devil.

In 1820, Sir Walter Scott wrote his famous Ivanhoe, a medieval romance set in 12th century England.  One of Ivanhoe’s characters that doesn’t get a lot of credit is Isaac of York, a Jew.  In 12th century England, where the story is set, Jews were basically a pariah. Hated and maligned, and apparently quite capable of witchcraft against Gentiles, according to the ludicrous thinking of the period.  They had mostly, if not always, been portrayed in western fiction as evil, base and cowardly.  After a bit of time, a small, select group of people began to loathe the treatment of Jews in literature, and portrayed them to be enlightened people, who were innocent beyond reproach (even Rebecca in Ivanhoe was treated as a pinnacle of beauty and innocence).  Obviously neither description of Jews was accurate – any large group of people cannot possibly be all good or bad.

Then comes Isaac.  Sir Walter Scott did something amazing when he created the character of Isaac:  he allowed Isaac to be base and elevated. Kind and cruel.  Able to be callous one moment, and show extreme tenderness the next.  In other words, Scott made him real.  To my recollection, this was the first time in history that Western culture had portrayed someone Jewish as, well, neither angel nor devil.  He was merely human. He was just like other humans.  And we judge humans on a case-by-case basis, not by gender, by ethnicity, or by…well, anything other than who the individual is.

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Consider Isaac when debates about pit bulls come up.  The best thing we can do for pitties as a “breed” is to allow them to land somewhere between angel and devil, just like any other breed of dog living being.  Pitties are not perfect. Please don’t put that label, so full of pressure, on them.  Pitties are dogs, no more, no less.  Just like every other dog, they have their quirks, and they have their amazing redeeming qualities.  Most importantly, they are individuals, not to be defined as a one-size-fits-all breed standard.

I am admittedly a pittie fan.  Being a trainer, I am familiar with these dogs. I’d say roughly 60% of my clients own pitties/pittie mixes, however, I have never been bit by one. They can be very timid sometimes, and occasionally very submissive, but stand-offish is not a word for them.  Sometimes shy, sometimes boisterous.  Always a riot, though.  Typically, they’re the type of dog who’d apologize for apologizing too much.

I’ve worked with a few clients who had dog-reactive pit bulls, but then again, I’ve had 4 pugs in the last week who were dog reactive.   Pitties are not suitable for every situation, but then, no dog is. But I’d confidently say they’re appropriate for most situations. I will not lie and say they are without fault; believe me, they can have faults, just like every other dog.  But they have heart. They have loyalty.  They seem to be willing to try to do what ever you want them to do. They are a dog. I personally do not own one because, unfortunately, that would be illegal in my home city of Lakewood.  But hopefully I will be able to in the near future.  I’ve kinda developed a crush on pitties, you see.

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This is why Darwin Dogs is so vocal about ending breed specific legislation (“BSL” or “Breed Bans”), and are aggressively pursuing an end to them..  As our mission statement proclaims, we are dedicated to peacefully and logically examining the necessity of Breed Specific Legislation in various cities, starting with our hometown of Lakewood, Ohio.

So instead of serving the Kool-aid of “Perfect Pitties” or the poison contained in the BSL’s, it’s time to give the victims of the BSL laws what they deserve: the opportunity to be looked upon with all their glorious faults and beauty.  In other words, just a regular dog. Perfectly imperfect.

Please help us in our fight against stereotypes, such as BSL.  For more information about how you can help, please check out All Breeds Lakewood, which is comprised of a handful of Lakewood citizens who have banded together to end breed discrimination and promote dog safety in our city.

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