Depth Perception

 “We are all animals of this planet. We are all creatures. And nonhuman animals experience pain sensations just like we do. They too are strong, intelligent, industrious, mobile, and evolutional[...]And like us, they are surviving. Like us they also seek their own comfort rather than discomfort. And like us they express degrees of emotion. In short like us, they are alive.” – Joaquin Phoenix

Pic courtesy of The Mandarin Duck

Pic courtesy of The Mandarin Duck

My mom hated cats when I was growing up.  She would never harm one, but she claimed they were creepy and sneaky.  And it totally grossed her out the way they would come slinking up around your legs, like a snake coiling around a tree branch, eyeing its prize. My mom was never raised around cats.  Dogs, sure.  But there was never a cat in her house when she was a child.

One day, when I was 15, my mom accompanied me to the stables where we boarded our horses so I could work on some horsemanship skills.  She usually didn’t come with me, but today she did.  Inside one of the empty stalls was one of the many barn cats.  And in the corner of that stall, was a mewling mess of adorableness – she had given birth to her kittens!  I showed mom, and she mumbled something about them being cute.

The next time she accompanied me to the stables, the kittens were about 6 weeks old and a patchwork quilt of tabby, calico and gray fun.  I watched them and laughed as they scampered about the stall.  My mom stopped to look, too, staying for a few minutes before moving on.  I noticed that one of the kittens hung back under the feed bin, and every once in a while, one of the larger kittens would come and terrorize the little calico, who happened to be a runt.  My protective nature took over.  I rushed inside and seized the tiny little calico and brought her outside to spend time with me while the horses were in paddock.  I showed her to my mom, and mentioned how the other cats were picking on her.  My mom gave her a little rub on the head.  The kitten sat down on the picnic table we were sitting at, and looked up.  With those eyes.  You know the look I’m talking about.

The Look

The Look

“But mom”, I wailed, “If we leave her here she could die!”  The little kitten played along gamely, vogue her best pathetic “If You Leave Me Here I Could Die” look.  My mother caved. I named her Belle, and she lived with me for the next 15 years of her life, until the day I had to let her go. She went with dignity, as she had gone through her life.  My mom sobbed the day I had to had say goodbye to Belle.  For something had happened.  Belle had charmed her.  About a week after I brought her home, Belle started winding herself around my mother’s legs in hope of some canned food, or at least a cuddle.  And my mother would respond!  My mom mentioned she never realized cats could be actual loving, sweet companions.  Who could blame her?  She’d never been around one.

I’m proud of my mother because she was able to open her mind that something could be more than what it was perceived to be.  She entertained the notion that she may be wrong about a preconception she had, and more importantly, was willing to change.  Since I moved out with Belle, she has had 7 cats, all of whom have lived to a ripe old age.  Two are still with her.

So what am I doing writing about cats on a dog post?  Animals are animals.  All are able to feel pain, fear and abandonment.  Those feelings were the reason my mother took Belle in to begin with: not because she liked Belle, or even liked cats.  It was because my mother was capable of understanding an animal’s need for safety, and my mother was able to reach past her distaste to help an animal in need, even one she didn’t particularly care for.  In the process, she found a new trove of love and companionship she didn’t realize existed before:  cats.

This doesn’t happen to cats alone.  In some societies where dogs are considered vermin, people are changing.  My friend, Jocelyn, writes a blog a blog about love, family and relationships in China, including AMWF (Asian male/Western female) love called Speaking of China. 洋媳妇谈中国.  Obviously there are going to be some cultural differences in a marriage such as Jocelyn’s.  Finding common ground and understanding can be difficult.  But “if you open up your mind, maybe I can open up mine” is the only way to go about it.  This includes the concept of what deserves compassion.

Jocelyn recently referenced a story a peer had written:  The Day I Changed my Chinese Parents-in-law. Minds can be changed, even in a small village in China.  A family who once looked at dogs as vermin can accept that maybe they were wrong.  And look at the rewards they get:  love, kisses and the companionship that only a dog can give you.  A true, loyal friend.

Jocelyn herself even mentions a similar situation with her in-laws:

“They weren’t always kind to dogs either, but now that John and I helped raise their newest dog Snoopy (who we’ve socialized to be a very loving and affectionate dog), I think everyone in the house has fallen in love with Snoopy!”

 

 

Jocelyn's husband, Jun, and their dog Snoopy.  Where Jocelyn is living in rural China, most people keep dogs to protect their property.  Having a dog as a companion is unusual, but gaining popularity.  Photo courtesy of Speaking of China

Jocelyn’s husband, Jun, and their dog Snoopy. Where Jocelyn is living in rural China, most people keep dogs to protect their property. Having a dog as a companion is unusual, but gaining popularity. Photo courtesy of Speaking of China

I’m not asking you to change your mind about an entire species, as these people all did.  This blog is (supposed) to be about dogs.  If you’re here, you already love dogs.  Spread the word about what humanity means.  Be an example of education, the same way Belle educated my mom about what a cat can really mean to a human. Don’t assume that because you love animals and care about their welfare that everyone does.  Some people have never been around a dog or a cat, and therefore have no commonality with them.  Without shared experiences and memories to draw from, it’s hard to make a connection, and without a connection, there is no empathy.  Help share that empathy.   After all, that’s the greatest gift of all:  finding love and companionship where you never realized it could exist before.

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

Married to the Mob

Love doesn’t make the world go ’round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.

Franklin P. Jones

[Editor's note:  My husband, Michael came up to me the other day as I was writing a blog post.  He asked what I was doing, and I told him.  He mentioned that he should write a blog post for me about what it's like being married to a dog trainer.  Of course I jumped at the chance!  So, I present to you, Michael's take on what it's like being married to someone who trains dogs]

I guess Orion is my Co-Pilot

I guess Orion is my Co-Pilot

I ran into one of my co-workers in the kitchen the other day. “I see you like Darwin Dogs on Facebook too! We hired Darwin Dogs a few weeks ago. Did you hire them too?”

I see it coming before I answer. “No,” I replied. “I’m Kerry’s husband.”

My co-worker began to laugh. “Does she Pilot you when she wants the dishes done? Does she do that thing she does to the dogs when you do something she doesn’t like? Does she give you a ‘negative’?” It kept up like this for quite a while. It was clear my co-worker was enjoying himself.

Of course, the answer is “No”, the reality far more pedestrian — we’re a normal married couple who treat one another like any other married couple. That is to say, we fight sometimes, get along most of the time, and love one another dearly. However, there are probably a few key ways in which my household differs from others:

1. We don’t tolerate bad behavior from our kids, or our dogs.

I think one of the key insights in having a well-behaved dog is to think of them as children, at least in a sense. When you see your children behaving badly, you correct the behavior.

However, when a dog starts jumping on most people, they think, “Ahh, that’s just a dog being a dog.” When a dog jumps on one of us, we immediately think of a small child yelling, “gimme gimme gimme”, and react appropriately.

Along those lines:

2. My dogs are the best behaved dogs I’ve ever met.

This is one of the perks of being married to a dog trainer. Frankly, I can be (and have been) a bit lazy about working with our dogs. I could chalk it up to having a full-time job (I work in technology), or the importance of the division of labor and specialization and all that, but the truth is more simple – I know my wife will do it and will do a better job than I will ever do, so I let her have at. In fairness, guess which of us sets up this blog and maintains the webpage?

Kerry thinks this is her girl, Sparta.  Kerry is wrong.  She's secretly MY Sparta.

Kerry thinks this is her girl, Sparta. Kerry is wrong. She’s secretly MY Sparta.

3. I hear a lot about dog problems

It has given me a lot of insight into dogs, and the typical types of problems dog owners have. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that nearly every owner thinks his or her problems are unique – everything from submissive urination, “aggressive” dogs (which are normally anything but) to simple poor leash-walking. My wife deals with the same problems over and over, which helps her to be better at her job. If she saw something new every single session, she wouldn’t be nearly as good as she is. Which brings me to:

4. My wife is *damn* good at what she does

Of course I’d probably say that even if it weren’t true, but I’ve been fortunate enough to accompany my wife on a few training gigs (somebody needs to stand outside in the winter and pretend to be the postal delivery person), and I’m amazed at just how well she does her job. While my wife is training dogs, she is really doing something far more involved – training humans how to interact with their dogs in a way the dogs will understand. My wife takes her role very seriously. Often, my wife is all that stands between the would-be dog owner, and either a well-adjusted dog, or a one-way trip to the shelter.

5. My wife has a demanding job

Though you might not realize it, her job is full-time. Beyond the training, there is the blog to maintain, calls to make & return, text messages to answer, volunteer work, market research — the list is nearly endless. The home visits themselves are really just the tip of a vast iceberg.

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Orion took a little while to warm up to me at first, but after some patience, was soon rewarded with a happy-puppy dance every morning and a lap dog to enjoy my coffee with.

While most of the things I’ve listed are positive, there are also drawbacks to being married to a dog trainer – we usually have more dogs than I’d prefer running around the house at any given moment, there are dog treats stuck in our washing machine, and my wife is required to work odd hours.  And of course initially when I’d ask her what her training schedule looked like on a particular day, my heart would skip a beat when she would casually throw out: “I have an aggressive Shepherd mix at 10, and then a puppy session from 1-3.”  Now I realize that aggressive dogs are typically just scared, and I know that Kerry finds the puppy sessions more exhausting. Fun, but exhausting.

Wait....who's dog is this?!

Wait….who’s dog is this?!  KERRY?!  DID WE GET ANOTHER DOG?!

Part of me does still get a kick out of people’s reactions when they hear what my wife does for a living.  I love watching her get all excited answering questions about their own dogs, which invariably happens when they discover her profession.  I’m proud of the volunteer and charity work Kerry does, and how she stands up for what she believes is right.  But if I were to sum up Kerry in one word, that word would of course be “Pilot”.  Someone who can calmly take the controls if necessary.  Someone who is confident enough to know when someone else should fly the plane.  Someone who knows their limitations, but tries every day to stretch those limitations.  Kerry is someone who inspires me to do the same.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Michael Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

The Accepted Way of Doing Things

Progress, not perfection. – Anon.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

I had a session with the cutest Golden Retriever named Ivy a few weeks ago.  Like most other 10-month old Golden Retrievers, she was a bundle of energy.  I gave her owners some ideas on how to manage all that, uh…let’s call it “enthusiasm for life”, which included Ivy wearing a backpack.  Ivy’s owner loved the idea, and mentioned that she’s seen a dog walking around the neighborhood with a backpack on.  I told her it was probably one of the dogs I’d worked with, since I love dogs wearing backpacks like a Kardashian loves to pimp a scandal.

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She described the dog as a smaller shepherd with a petite woman walking it.  I knew immediately who she was talking about.  I asked my client how they looked while walking. “Amazingly composed”, she said. “They pass by other dogs or people, and the dog is just completely focused on his owner.”

This thrilled me beyond all belief, because after getting a few more details, I became convinced I knew who it was.  A dog named Oscar who I had the pleasure of working with  a few times.  Oscar was adopted as a puppy by the most wonderful, caring owners you can imagine.  He was raised in a loving household, where he was never hit nor yelled at, but was treated with respect.

He unfortunately developed dog reactivity.

There’s that myth circulating that it’s all about “how the dog is raised”.  I have experienced first-hand, puppies who were “raised properly”, who were socialized young, who were given love, affection and respectful boundaries, but still developed food aggression, dog reactivity, separation anxiety…the list goes on.  Yes, it is completely realistic to expect that a dog who was abused might become aggressive.  It’s understandable that a dog who never had boundaries set as a puppy might take to bing food reactive or have resource guarding issues.  But the majority of dogs who develop these scary issues weren’t abused. They weren’t bait dogs.  They are dogs who have their own distinct personalities, and who have determined that their behavior is correct.  And they are right.

Dogs are great at being dogs.  The problem is that they really suck at being human.

So back to Oscar and his owner, Lynn.  Knowing that Lynn had worked so hard with Oscar on his dog-reactivity issues, I was thrilled to hear Ivy’s mom talking about how well he was traveling all around Lakewood with his little backpack on, ignoring other dogs.  I sent Oscar’s mom a message that night, passing along what had been said about her walking skills with Oscar.

“Oh, that wasn’t us”, she replied.  ”We don’t walk him anymore.  His reactivity got too stressful to deal with.”

dean molly who

I was crushed.  Lynn had been doing so well last time I talked with her!  Oscar had a few extra one-on-one sessions to work specifically with his dog-reactivity, and Lynn had absolutely nailed it.  Yes, he required copious amounts of Piloting when passing by another dog, but they were able to do it. Together.  I was devastated to hear that they didn’t do those walks anymore.

But then I had a horseback riding lesson today, and my perspective changed.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I took up riding originally to learn how to learn again, it being a very, very long time since I took up dog training.  I needed to feel how my clients felt, learning a new concept.  For me, horses.  For them, dogs.

During my last lesson, Jessica (my riding instructor) mentioned that my lesson horse, Bounce, was having some difficulty accepting the bit.  Usually, Bounce was so eager to get to riding that she would just crank her neck forward and eagerly snap at the bit.

Recently, though, Bounce had been refusing the bit.  She wouldn’t take it for me at all, and Jessica was having a somewhat of a problem as well.  Finally, Jessica decided to do something different. There’s a “right” way and a “wrong” way to have a horse take a bit.  Usually, you get them into what looks like almost a headlock, with a hand over their ears, and slip the bit right into their mouth.  That’s The Accepted Way Of Doing Things (“AWODT”).

bridle

But Bounce wasn’t accepting it.

Jessica took the bridle.  ”Hang on, let me try something”, she suggested.  Jessica offered the bridle to Bounce in what she referred to as the lazy way.  Bounce immediately Hungry Hippo-ed the bit.  I asked Jessica to take the bridle off and let me try.  Again, Bounce was eager to have the thing on so we could start our lesson.  It wasn’t the AWODT, but apparently the lazy way worked.  Rather than a long, drawn out battle of wills, by simply changing direction, we got to the same place we originally tried to go: the bit was in Bounce’s mouth.

Having AWODT is always a good thing.  Always mounting a horse on the left, always making sure your dog is calm before setting down food, etc., creates a ritual, and helps keep things normalized when sometimes they aren’t.  But horses and dogs aren’t one size fits all, just as humans aren’t.  It’s important to know when to deviate from a set path, even if that path is the AWODT.

Jessica realized that with Bounce.  Lynn realized that with Oscar.

Lynn wasn’t saying she gave up on Oscar.  She decided that the “We’re going to have fun whether we like it or not” walks just weren’t working.  Yes, she was able to Pilot Oscar past other dogs.  Yes, Oscar trusted her to do it, but each and every dog was considered such a threat to Oscar that the amount of Piloting necessary was a tremendous stress to Lynn. In other words, she did it, and then knew when to stop.

Oscar is still getting plenty of exercise (with an older canine sister and a dog “cousin”, if you will).  Oscar isn’t a youngster anymore himself, and is well into middle-aged for a dog, so he doesn’t require a huge amount of activity anymore.  He was never going to be that dog who relished walking through a crowd on the busy streets of Lakewood.  Yes, he could do it, but why?  Fundamentalists will be extremely up-in-arms over a dog who isn’t walked regularly, just as I was initially.  How dare she stop walking her dog!  But no living being should be boxed into doing something just because that’s how it’s always been done.  Oscar is still getting the Piloting, Activity and Work that he needs.  He’s getting the love and affection he wants.  So where was my problem?

In the future, I will always bridle a horse in the correct way: pseudo headlock style.  But if for some reason, the horse won’t accept the bit, I will think of Bounce and remember that the Accepted Way Of Doing Things isn’t about a regimen of uniformity and correctness.  It’s about looking out for an animal’s best interest and making them feel safe, secure and Piloted, which usually looks the same way each time.  But sometimes it just looks a little different than the AWODT.

Thank you, Bounce and Oscar, for teaching me that lesson.

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

Pit Stop

I originally wrote this post about 6 months ago, but after a recent trip to a local pet store out in the Pennsylvania area while on vacation, I thought it prudent to post it again, as I witnessed another dog fight right in front of me.  It was two small, mixed dogs, and it ended quickly and without bloodshed, but make no mistake: it was real and very violent.  I ask you to read this article before traveling to any pet store.  

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

― Sherrilyn Kenyon

A pit bull attacked another dog on Wednesday. The incident happened at a PetSmart in Georgia.  Frankly, I’m not surprised that the pit attacked.  Because he’s a pit?  No, don’t be stupid.  Because he’s a dog.

Breaking down the situation, here’s what happened according to Fox 5:

Mitch Philpott, 66, of Newnan, said he had headed down an aisle where the Pit Bull and its owner had been looking at merchandise.  Philpott said he asked the owner if her dog was okay and proceeded to pass her and the dog.  He said the Pitt Bull grabbed his Great Dane by the head and ear and bit him several times.

 

In a police report FOX 5 obtained, the Pitt Bull owner, Suzanne Peterson, told officers that she gave Philpott a verbal warning that she was not sure how her dog would respond to his dog and to stay away please.  The report quotes her as saying that Philpott continued anyway and said, “it’s okay, their tails are wagging.”  Philpott told Fox Five he never said that to the woman.

So who is wrong in this incident?  Both humans.  I’m not saying that the incident was deserved by anyone (let alone the dogs), but it was brought about by selfish owners.

Let’s take a step back here and dissect the scenario.  No, I really don’t care who said what and who did and did not control their dog.  However, it should be pointed out that this was obviously a fear-based “stay away from me” rather than an attack.  If it were an attack, there would have been actual serious damage, if not death, to either dogs or owners.  But I stand by my accusation that both owners were selfish.  Why?

Take a look at the average pet store where you can bring in your dog.  Narrow aisles for dogs to pass closely by each other.  You may say that the aisles are wider than grocery store aisles, but I can also say that Bill Cosby (who allegedly raped unconscious women he drugged) isn’t quite as bad as Jared Fogle (who allegedly raped conscious children).  It doesn’t matter.  Neither is a good choice for a dinner date.

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I think we can all agree that given a choice between the two, Cosby and Fogle, the answer is a resounding neither.  The same goes for aisles that are too narrow, or an aisle that is a little less too narrow.  The answer is neither.

Compound that with extreme stimulation.  Your dog isn’t happily going shopping with you for doggie supplies, as you’ve fooled yourself into selfishly thinking. Your dog is in a confined area with a lot of food and treats that they may resource guard, or have to be on the defensive against other resourcing guarding dogs.  And by the way, that other dog isn’t just another dog.  It’s another dog who is just as overstimulated as every other dog in the place.  Some are resource guarding. Some are desperately trying to guard themselves and their owners (as I believe was the case with the pit).  Others are too goofy to know this is a horrible situation and act all kinds of crazy, thereby increasing the (negative) energy of all the other dogs.

Remember, that idiot jacking his dog up in the car before he even gets into the store will be sharing close quarter aisle space with your dog.  Add to it the fact that the dog is under no semblance of control once they are in the store (the owner is following the dog around at the end of the leash like a moronic cow).

I will not bring my dogs into pet stores for this very reason.  There are many frightened, hyper, out of control bundles of energy in there.  And that’s just the people.  By being selfish and getting that “I Brought My Beloved Pup Into The Store” high that people so desperately want, we are actively ignoring all the warning signs of a dangerous situation, and blithely moving forward.  YOU are the adult human.  YOU are the one with opposable thumbs.  YOU are the one who should be realizing that this is a dangerous situation.  Even if your dog is very chill and well behaved and you Pilot the hell out of them….where is your guarantee that every other person in there is the same way? You don’t have one.  Suck it up. Find other ways to get that rush of “I Spoiled My Dog Today” high that you are so desperately seeking.

“Oh, but Fifi loves it so much!!!”

And I loved cutting class when I was in high school.  Believe me, that was not the answer my parents gave my principal when I was caught: “But she loves cutting class so much!”.

Yeah, I got grounded 6 months with another 6 month probation.

Yeah, I got grounded 6 months with another 6 month probation.

And now I’m grateful for their harsh punishment.  It helped turn me into a functional adult.

Point is, parenting, whether it be a dog or a human, involves tough choices.  Yes, it’s not always fun, and it most definitely involves handing down decisions that you’d rather not, but that’s why you’re the adult. That’s why you have the opposable thumbs.  Because you’re the one who is supposed to use rational thought rather than emotional reactions. So I blame anyone who subjects their dogs to this situation. I don’t care that Rover, a Lab who is 14 years old, loves going and has never bit anyone in his life.  Don’t do it.  The same way I don’t drive my kids around without their seat belts buckled.  ”Well, we’ve never gotten into an accident yet, I’m a careful driver, and my kids are well behaved.”  It’s just as stupid and reckless.  Yes, I can control my kids, my behavior, and perhaps even my car, but I can’t control situations around those things.

Finally, I blame PetSmart, Petco and all those other big box stores that allow pets into their store.  Simply to raise revenue and profit, they cater to the irresponsible people who bring their pets in, thereby putting the animals at risk.  Yes, the owners should know better than to bring them in, but I’ve already established that the owners are not always in the right frame of mind, and (if I’m going to be generous here), misinformed and didn’t know better.  Know who else operates on the same basis as these pet stores?

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A dog was put in a tough situation.  He was uncomfortable. He was nervous, and scared.  And he reacted the way a dog (or human) can be expected to react when pushed beyond their limits.  The real story isn’t about a dog who defended himself from attacked another dog.  This story is not about pits being aggressive, nor is about pits in general.  This is about failure.  Dogs being failed by their owners, and being failed by the very stores who are designed to benefit them.  All to boost their profitability.

End it now. Don’t bring you dog into such a situation.  If you want that “I Spoiled My Dog” rush, spend more time with them. Teach them agility. Teach them a trick.  Pilot them. Give them what the need, and stop trying to buy the wag of your dog’s tail. Earn it.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Horsing Around

I’ve often said there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse. Ronald Reagan

cowboy-dog-horse

I’ve been working with dogs for many, many, years at this point.  I’ve trained thousands of owners dogs, and my work load is pretty full, so I’m constantly able to re-evaluate my techniques and refine my approach, as well as fine-tune The PAW Method. While I will never be able to learn and know everything about dogs and their behaviors and interactions with humans, I will never stop adding to my cache of information, and will continue to learn until I’m gone from this world.  But I recently realized that there was on crucial element I was missing.

I haven’t learned how to learn in a long, long time.  

Look at it like riding a bike.  I’ve been able to ride one since I was 6.  Now everything I do on a bike is merely adding to information that I’ve already learned, but I’m not learning how to “bike” all over again, if you will.  The same has held true with working with dogs.  I’ve been “dogging” for so long, it’s second nature to me.  But I forget sometimes that the methods I use are foreign to most people (hint: that’s why they work).  I don’t do click and treat, nor do I feel the need to physically correct or punish a dog.  I essentially teach people how to “dog” from the beginning, in a whole new way.  Like learning how to ride a bike again, only in a fashion completely different from how you originally learned.

I need to learn how to learn again.

So I decided to do something about that.  Meet Bounce.

Why the long face?

Why the long face?

Bounce is a beautiful, sweet Thoroughbred owned by Jessica Cardillo, who runs Foundations Equestrian out of Olmsted Falls, Ohio.  Jessica has been working with horses for as long as I’ve been working with dogs.  I decided that it was about time for me to put myself in my clients’ shoes, and take instruction on a completely foreign concept.  Namely, learning how to “horse”.

I’ve learned a few things. More than a few things, actually (such as the best way to shovel manure).  But here are what I feel are the most important, especially how they apply to working with dogs.

1) Horses are huge.

No, that's not me, but that's how big I feel on top of Bounce, who is 16 hands high at the withers (base of her neck).  That translates to 64".

No, that’s not me, but that’s how big I feel on top of Bounce, who is 16 hands high at the withers (base of her neck). That translates to 64″ high…not including her neck and head.

Bite your head off, man.

I am conveniently terrified of heights.

Aggressive dog with a bite history?  No problem.  Need to get onto the second step of a ladder to paint a wall?

dean 1

How does that help me work better with my clients and their dogs?  Well, I work with a lot of people who own dog-reactive dogs.  These people are typically shell-shocked from trying to walk their dogs.  They are constantly scanning the area around them for a threat another dog, and live in perpetual fear of a dog running up to them, or some idiot with a dog on a retractable leash who wants to let the dogs “just say ‘hi’ to each other”.  They are literally terrified of their own dog, and how their dog reacts to other dogs.

I am literally terrified of getting on Bounce.  I will be sitting over 5′ up in the air.  That isn’t exactly what I’d classify as My Happy Place.  But funny enough, just as sometimes I have to Pilot my clients, Jessica ends up Piloting me with Bounce.

“Put your foot in the stirrup, swing your leg over, and climb up there”, she says in a bored yet amused voice, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

But wait, maybe it is.

I’m no stranger to Piloting my clients through a scary situation, such as walking their dog-reactive dog past another dog on the other side of the street.  ”Come on, let’s go.  You’ve got this”, I say, as if it’s no big deal.  And my clients do it, and do it well!  But I’ve never been in the situation of being told it’s No Big Deal.  But guess what….it wasn’t.

Well then.

I can see my house from here…

First time sucked.  Second time…sucked.  Third time…still sucking.  Actually, it always sucks.  I’m still terrified of heights.  Only now, I’m more accepting of the situation, at least on top of Bounce.  I’m never going to like mounting up, just as my clients with dog-reactive dogs are never going to enjoy passing another dog, but at least I’m comfortable with my fear, and I have the tools to manage the situation (sit up straight, heels down, and relax), just as I give my clients the tools to work with their dog-reactive dogs.

2) Muscle is worthless.

Bounce is in beautiful condition.  Me?  I pulled a muscle in my ass just crossing my legs.

Bounce is in beautiful condition. Me? I pulled a muscle in my ass just crossing my legs.

I have always loved working with dog owners who also have horses for one major reason: they already know they can’t muscle their way through a horse.  If a horse doesn’t want to do something, you ain’t gonna physically make ‘em!  So horse people don’t even try.  They understand that might doesn’t make right…if it did, your horse would always be right.  That translates onto their dogs.  Horse people don’t force an issue.  They rely on the horse trusting them.  They do what’s called ground work, which is essentially Piloting a horse on a very long leash called a longe line, basically getting the horse to work with you and trust that you have the answers before you climb up on their back.

Fortunately, Jessica and Bounce are a team.  Jessica has worked with Bounce, done the ground work, and Piloted Bounce so much that anything I do on Bounce’s back that’s wrong doesn’t freak Bounce out.  They have an unspoken communication between them.

Bounce: Mom, Tall Lady is sitting all wrong and she’s posting off diagonal.
Jessica:  I know, sweetie. She’s screwing it up.  It’s okay, though.  I’m watching her.  She’ll be fine.
Bounce:  Okay.  Just checking.

In other words, Jessica has Piloted Bounce so much that she trusts whatever Jessica does.  Because it’s always been okay, it always will be okay.  Jessica didn’t have to beat Bounce to achieve this, nor did she beg Bounce to trust her.  Jessica simply took the Pilot position, answering questions for Bounce when she asked them, (“Can I refuse this jump?”) by calmly, but firmly restating her answers (“No, sweetie, you can’t”) using her body language, and correctly reading her horse’s body language.  The more questions Jessica answers for Bounce, the easier it becomes to answer questions.

Not much different for dogs of any size.  Muscle is what distances you from your dog rather than bonding with them. Makes you Master instead of Pilot.  Dictator instead of Protector.  Feared Alpha instead of trusted Leader.  Just because you can (maybe) physically manhandle your dog into submission doesn’t mean you should.  Trust is the means that enables you to work with your dog.

3) Your head will spin.

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“Heels down! No chicken arms! Hold the reigns tightly! Heels down! Make her move, squeeze with your calves…she’s slowing down!  Coffee cups – your hands are falling down!!! Heels down!”  - Jessica Cardillo

All of this is said without a breath in between.  And I’m scrambling to try to keep it all together, while actively not falling off Bounce.

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Back to the bicycle again.  I can ride a bike easily, and I’m sure most of you can as well.  However, think back to when you were first learning to ride a bike.

"...back in my day"

“…back in my day”

There were so many things to remember!  How to brake.  How to steer.  Balance!  And there were plenty of scraped knees and roughed-up elbows.  But more and more you were able to put pieces together.  Maybe not all at once…but more and more pieces started to feel comfortable.   You could pedal without thinking of it anymore.  Braking became more natural.  Steering got better…pretty soon, you were “biking”!  You got it!

Sometimes my clients get a bit overwhelmed. I have faith that they will get it, but they are convinced they are failing miserably, simply because they need some reminders.

Stand up straight. Stop talking to Fido. Relax your arms.  Stand up straight. Fido’s meerkatting…answer his question! Stand up straight. – Kerry Stack

 

I see my clients’ heads spinning, especially when learning leash skills.  They’re thinking they’ll never get this right.  So much to remember…but then I watch them. I’m not telling them to stop talking anymore; they’ve stopped on their own.  They’re standing up straight.  Their arms are a bit stiff, but this about progress, not perfection.  And next thing you know, they’re “dogging”, and suddenly a beautiful grin comes across their face.  They’re doing it!

bounce 2

 

There's that grin.

There’s that grin.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

If you live in Northeast Ohio and are interested in learning to “horse”, Jessica can be reached at 440-821-4887 and foundationseq@gmail.com.  Bounce can be reached through feeding of carrots, brushing of her face, and a bit of spoiling and love.

When The Pilot Crashes

Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks.

- Isaac Watts

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Past couple weeks have been pretty rough for me.  Three weeks ago, on a Sunday night I came down with a high fever, chills and joint aches.  I spent the next 4 days in bed sleeping miserable.  I finally went to the doctor when my fever spiked to 103.7, which I believe is a record for me, as I’m normally quite healthy.  My husband immediately took me to the doctor, who informed us that it was a case of the flu, and that fevers higher than 102 are especially dangerous for women my age (my age?! I’m only 40!) because it can cause dehydration, fogginess, and even delirium.

Um, I may have tried to inform my husband at one point that there were monsters in our sunroom.  Live and learn, right?

Um, I may have tried to inform my husband at one point that there were monsters in our sunroom. Live and learn, right?

 

I am usually a rather assertive, get-things-done kind of person.  I do not like to procrastinate, and I’m not one to engage in idle chit chat. In other words, I’m a terrible patient.  So that Monday night I was faced with a huge problem: I couldn’t fly the plane anymore. I couldn’t Pilot. I literally could not talk coherently (during the doctor visit, my normally attentive doctor actually stopped talking to me and addressed my husband exclusively), and I was too weak to carry on a prolonged conversation anyway. I couldn’t keep thoughts in my head, and, well….just couldn’t.  But I had training sessions to conduct. Return phone calls and emails to handle.  Life doesn’t just stop because you’re sick, and life doesn’t really care if you can’t Pilot anymore.  It goes on…sometimes without you. So I did the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

I asked other people to completely Pilot me and my life.

My husband ended up doing return phone calls and explaining my situation (and fortunately, clients and potential clients were all exceptionally gracious).  Sessions had to be cancelled and rebooked.  Emails had to be attended to by people other than me.  Facebook posts, website maintenance (of course the Darwin Dogs’ webpage crashed right then), Twitter, Instagram….all had to be handled by Not Me.  It was terrifying. Not only that, but my personal life!  I had to have someone else grocery shop, and while my husband is an active parent in my child’s life, we co-parent.  I was asking him to do everything from homework to meal planning to brushing my daughter’s hair.  I had to ask my friend to pick up my children from school every day; each day I thought I’d get better…each day I didn’t.  It was exceptionally difficult for me, to say the least.

Fortunately my husband found the dinglehopper, so River's hair could be brushed.

Fortunately my husband found the dinglehopper, so River’s hair could be brushed.

The thing to remember is that Piloting is a big piggy bank: whomever has the most money in their piggy bank is Pilot.  So for example, when I’m in a strange city with my husband, he is usually in charge of navigation because he’s better at it, or has more money in his Piloting Piggy Bank than I do when it comes to navigation.  But if I’m just with my children in a strange city, I Pilot, because I have more money in my Piloting Piggy Bank when it comes to navigation than they do.  I had no money in my Piloting Piggy Bank for anything…everyone was in a better position to Pilot than I was. And that’s a truly terrifying place to be.

But then I thought of my Sparta.  Sparta happens to be very dog-reactive.  She isn’t a bad dog (she’s incredible), but she’s convinced that every other dog out there is a vicious predator who is trying to kill her.  Nobody made her that way, she wasn’t traumatized, nor was she subjected to vicious dogs herself.  Some dogs are just like that. She has a legitimate fear (at least in her mind).  I don’t pooh-pooh that.  We all have phobias, and quite frankly, hers makes more sense than most phobias.  My phobia is a fear of heights.  I seriously doubt anyone on this planet could Pilot me enough to get me to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, or to skydive.  But there I was, asking her to do the equivalent every day.

What other dogs look like to Sparta.  Hint: that ain't Beethoven.

What other dogs look like to Sparta. Hint: that ain’t Beethoven.

Every time I take Sparta for a walk, there is the potential she will meet her phobia: another dog.  She trusts me enough to allow me to Pilot her through her phobia, right past that dog.  It isn’t always easy, and sometimes I need to Pilot her more than others, but she has made tremendous progress, and I love her for it, and am grateful for her faith in me.

Being Piloted can be very scary.  I had never had to have anyone Pilot me to such an extent as now.  Yes, things were dropped (a missed training session, and several phone calls that slipped through the cracks), just as I’m not always perfect when I’m Piloting Sparta.  But gradually you build a trust. Gradually you realize that even though the other person isn’t perfect, they are better equipped to Pilot than you are.  It takes a while to build that trust, and now I know first hand.  

Unfortunately, my recovery from the “flu” has been anything but simple, and therefore has required me to ask for help, or be Piloted, for a long duration.  What started off as flu-like symptoms were finally diagnosed as a severe kidney infection in conjunction with kidney stones.  I’m still not healthy yet, but I’m learning that when I can’t safely Pilot myself through life, that trusting someone to Pilot me isn’t actually as scary as I thought it would be. 

We did it...together

We did it…together

I imagine that’s how Sparta felt.

The more I Pilot her, the easier it gets to Pilot her.  The more people help me recover, the easier it gets to trust my friends and family to help Pilot my life, and the faster I can recover.   I’ve also learned that the best Pilots are able to accept when they can’t Pilot a situation anymore, and need to step back and let others take over.  Even if just for a little while.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

I Can’t Keep Him Anymore

You and I will meet again, When we’re least expecting it, One day in some far off place, I will recognize your face, I won’t say goodbye my friend, For you and I will meet again.

Tom Petty
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An open letter to my dog’s new caretaker.  Not every relationship is forever.

I’d like to introduce you to my dog Darwin.  He’s a great dog.  I just can’t keep him here.  I know you’ll do a better job of caring for him, and I know he’ll be happy with you. I really don’t want to say goodbye to him, but I guess I must.  As I said, I can’t keep him here.

Before you take him, there are a few things I’d like you to know about my best friend.  I’ll never meet you before you take him, so I thought I’d write them out for you.  Please pay attention, these are important:

1) Never, ever, EVER leave him unleashed near any amount of water.  That goes for anything from the size of Lake Erie to that rut in the middle of your lawn that sometimes fills with water when it rains.  He will wallow in it like a pig.

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Actually, scratch what I just wrote.  Some of my favorites memories of Darwin are of him wallowing in the mud, with a silly smile on his face, tail wagging.  Enjoy those times, too.  If you can’t find the humor in those moments, you don’t deserve my dog.

2) Darwin’s not as fast as he used to be.  He doesn’t get up to greet me anymore when I come home from work.  He still wags his tail when he sees me, but he has an embarrassed look on his face.  One that says, “I love you, Lady, but I’m afraid I might need some help getting up to greet you properly”.  Don’t make him get up…if he’s comfortable, and you make him get up to greet you, you don’t deserve him.  I’d ask for him back, but as I said, I can’t keep him here.

3)  Darwin has a sneaky sense of smell (it’s one of the few senses that haven’t failed him).  He can’t hear me unless I’m close to him, but damn!  That dog can smell a pill in an entire jar of peanut butter.  Mercifully, you won’t have the same problems with needing to give him pills.  But I’m sure he’d still love the peanut butter.

4) Affection.  Darwin is part Lab, part Care Bear.  Make sure you let him know you love him.  His favorite spot is behind his left ear, but recently he loves having his sides scratched.  He’s too old to get at them himself – his legs are so arthritic now, he can only give those areas a perfunctory swipe before he gives up.  Help the old guy out won’t you?

My absolutely handsome dog, might I add.

My absolutely handsome dog, might I add.

5) Let him know I love him.  Tell him every day that I didn’t want to give him up.  That I fought tooth and nail for him.  That I fought long after I should have stopped.  Because he’s ready to go with you now.  I can see that.  Like I said, I can’t keep him here.  It isn’t right for me to keep him here.  I know he’ll be fine with you, but it’s so scary for me to watch him cross that bridge, knowing it only goes in one direction.  Just let him know that I’ll be there for him, and that he’s still my boy.

Take care of him.  Tell him I love him.  But most importantly, tell him I’ll be coming for him when I can’t stay here anymore either.  You may have to care for him until I join him, but he’s always going to be my dog.

Darwin's last pic.

Darwin’s last pic.

Darwin’s last pic. ‘Til we meet again, old friend.

I lost my best friend, Darwin, in 2007, after ten years with him.  He was a rescue, roughly 1.5 years old when I adopted him, and I cherished every moment with him, even when marriage, babies and work made those moments not quite as frequent as they used to be.  It’s been almost ten years since I lost him, and I still am amazed at how training a clients Lab, who happens to look a bit like Darwin, will make me teary-eyed, or how hearing the song “Atomic Dog”, which my friends dubbed his song, will make me long for a hike with D-Dog.  But above all, I’m grateful to have had him in my life.  

darwin

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Kidding Around

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”

— Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist

My children have been an endless source of frustration learning for me.  Somtimes, learning exactly how much patience I have.  But more frequently, learning to look at things from a perspective other than an adult human’s, and consequently, it has changed how I work with dogs.  And it’s for the better.

..

River, Eric and Orion cuddled up on a cold day.

So, here we go.  Lessons taught to me by my children.  Or at least the ones that are fit to print.

Perception is Based on Experience
Lesson taught by Eric, age 3

Eric (9) teaching Echo the basics of agility.

Eric (9) teaching Echo the basics of agility. And yes, he succeeded.

When my son Eric was 3, we had a very edifying conversation.  We were in the car, on our way back from a trip to the dentist, and Eric wanted to know why we brush our teeth.

“Well,” I explained, taking the imperious, condescending tone that parents sometimes accidentally take, “Right now you have practice teeth.  If you take good care of your practice teeth, and brush them and don’t eat too many sweets, they will eventually fall out, so you can get your grown-up teeth.”

Eric was quiet for a few moments. Then a tiny voice came from the backseat, “Do we get to keep our eyeballs?”

Yes, that little quip of his warranted an entry into a journal I keep entitled “Eric’s Deep Thoughts”.  It’s years in the making now, and the hits just keep on coming.  It’s easy enough to laugh at such a silly question, but when I look at it through his eyes, it’s suddenly not so funny anymore.  The boy was actually worried that his body parts were just going to start falling off, willy-nilly.  Which ones were for keeps, and which ones were going to stick with him, and which ones fall off?  After all, he was new to this whole “being human” thing.  He’d only been on the planet for 3 years at that point.  At least he was able to finally voice those questions once he learned speech.  Unfortunately for our dogs, though, they are unable to vocalize all the questions and concerns they may have, and most humans are unable to realize that their dogs are trying to communicate, and have many, many questions.  It’s just that dogs use body language to communicate them.

When I first got Orion, he was not quite 5 lbs. of nervous energy.  While he had never been abused, he had not been exposed to very much outside stimulation and sensory input (he lived on a farm previously).  The first time I took him for a walk on a leash, he did ok for it being his first time…until a car went by.  Then he panicked, and looked like he was being electrocuted at the end of the leash, desperately trying to run from the frightening beast. And then he threw up.

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It’s easy to say he was just being a baby, or that he was spoiled, but look at it from his point of view: he’d never seen a car in his life.  He was terrified, and rightfully so.  Here was this huge beastly thing coming straight at him.

Imagine taking someone from the 17th century and showing them a moving car.  Yeah…same response.  Just because you know and understand something doesn’t mean your dog does. Remember, their questions are legitimate.  Their fears are legitimate.  Make sure you don’t dismiss them simply because you understand what’s going on.

The Power of Calm
Lesson Taught by River, age 5

Sparta fixing River's hair.  When you don't have a sister, you make do.

Sparta fixing River’s hair. When you don’t have a sister, you make do.

A story I tell during most of my sessions is what happened when my daughter, River, had to get her kindergarten shots. River asked the dreaded question: “Mom, what’s a shot?”

My mind raced.  I wanted to try to soothe her, to tell her it wasn’t a big deal, and it was just a tiiiiiiiny little needle.  In other words, I wanted to lie to her.  This is what came out instead:

“The doctor takes a needle, they jab it in your arm, it hurts, you cry, and then we go out for ice-cream.”

I was horrified even as the words tumbled out of my mouth.  Her response?

“Okay”.

And that is exactly how the vaccination went. It hurt.  She cried (just a little, though), and then we went out for ice-cream.  I didn’t give her a phony answer, I remained calm, and I didn’t try to fake her out, or assuage my feelings by adding energy to the situation. I allowed calm to dictate the moment, and River hung onto that like a life raft.  Yes, she lost control (for a brief moment…it hurt!) but she was able to see that I wasn’t acting too worried about it, and she got herself back under control very quickly.

I have that incident in my mind every time I work with a dog reactive dog.  Every time I’m dealing with a frightened dog, or a dog with severe anxiety.  It even makes its way into my personal life with my dogs.  Calm gets me what I want – more calm.  Words (especially yelling) and out-of-control body language only adds energy.  Also, I’m the human/adult.  It’s not my job to try to make myself feel better about the situation through phony words, or by jabbering on and on. A calm, solid, confident presence is what my child/dog needs, and that is exactly what I will give them.

I had a client recently who has a toy poodle named Lizzy.  Lizzy had a plethora of issues, including an inability to go down the front stairs.  She was terrified.  Not sure why, but it didn’t matter.  Her question was still the same: “Should I be afraid?”.  And my answer didn’t waiver:  ”Nope.”  I took her leash and walked without pause, right down the front steps with her. Not a pause.  Her owner couldn’t believe it.  I had her do it.  She had been carrying Lizzy up and down those steps for all 7 years of Lizzy’s life, when all Lizzy needed was an answer.

So those times your dog is scared of another dog, or reacting badly at the vets office, think of how you are reacting. Are you yelling, screaming, and restraining, or are you a harbor of calm, answering your dog’s questions (like this).  And the beautiful thing is, the more you do it, the less you have to do it.

Nothing Personal
- Taught by Eric, age 2 1/2

There’s a story my husband likes to tell about our son, Eric. When Eric was about 2 1/2, he decided to try a little experiment on me.  Now, I should point out that Eric has always been an easy child.  Decadently so.  We never had the “terrible two’s” with him.  I can count on one hand how many tantrums that child has thrown in his 10 years on this planet.  However, from the very beginning, Eric has been a very analytical child, always asking questions and silently filing away the answers for future reference.  So, like all other children, it was only natural that he start experimenting and testing How Things Worked.

My husband and I were in the kitchen where Eric toddled up to me. He called my name, and I looked down at him.  ”Momma, we-cree peas?”, which was Eric-speak at the time for “May I please have some whipped cream?”.  I answered him in the negative, whereupon I returned my attention to the groceries I was putting away.  According to Michael, who was watching this exchange, Eric looked pensive for a moment, and then had an idea light across his face.  Eric then toddled over to me, whacked me on my derriere and immediately looked up with a smile on his face, as if to say, “That should do the trick”.  Without a pause, I spun around, snatched his arm and pirouetted him around so I could give him a return thwack on his diaper-clad bum, and then sent him on his way.  He essentially shrugged as if to say, “Well, apparently that’s not how I’m supposed to do it”, and toddled off to go play with his Megablocks.  The incident was never repeated.

Eric wasn’t trying to be a jerk, nor was he necessarily angry at the negative answer he received.  He was merely trying to see if it was a negotiable answer, or if there was a way he could change the answer.  That doesn’t make him a bad kid (if anything my respect went up for him in that moment).  He was merely trying to figure out where the boundaries were.  Where the double yellow line in the road was that he shouldn’t cross.

Your dog is doing the same thing.  When they “won’t listen”, ask yourself why.  Is it because they don’t understand?  Is it because they are trying to figure out their place in this pack?  Or is it because they’re scared?  Dogs are rational creatures, and contrary to what many believe, do not operate on anger, nor on revenge.  A dog doesn’t “get back” at you.  A dog is a dog, wanting only to figure out this human world they’re in, and where that double yellow line is.

The Power of Work
Eric and River, the rest of their lives

I’m pretty strict in my house.  My kids have chores, and they’re non-negotiable.  They do dishes every night (and at 8 and 10 respectively, they’ve gotten pretty good at it).  They are in charge of bringing groceries from the car to the house, and then unpacking them.  They also have set “clean house” days where they are at my disposal for most of the day, usually doing things like cleaning the bathroom or wiping down all he baseboards in the house.  Some days it take a couple hours.  Some days it takes a few minutes.  I never hear complaints, because I will not tolerate them.  Also, because it’s always been that way.

Now, I sound like some evil stepmother from a children’s book, but the thing is, when my kids perform age appropriate work (which, let’s face it, can still be stressful), they get a positive.  Sometimes it’s a piece of candy.  Sometimes it’s more computer time.  Once Eric got an iPad for simply doing the dishes well.  Sometimes it’s nothing more than a hug and a “great job!”.  But there’s always a positive attached at the end of the stress/work.  That builds confidence.

My dogs are required to work, too.  There’s no free meal in my house – no food bowls (water 24/7, though).  My dogs eat exclusively out of enrichment toys.  Work give them food (a positive) which then translates into more self confidence (and no issues with boredom-related destructive behaviors).  Learn how to get started here.

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Eric and River doing their expected chores. Um, in their pj’s. Not sure what that’s all about…let’s just run with it.

 

One of the greatest quotes I’ve ever heard came from a super sexy science bad ass man name Bill Nye.

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”

Bowties are cool

Bowties are cool

You can learn from anyone. Everyone. That, in my opinion, especially means children.  I love that quote because as our population grows, so does the amount of children in our word.  Children who can help us open our eyes to see things in ways we forgot.  To help us open our minds.

Ah...now I recall!

Ah…now I recall!

Don’t negate one of the best sources of learning you have – your children.  I love doing training sessions with children, because they give the best answers. They are all in and willing to try new ways of doing things. They are fearless, and aren’t worried about failure.  They take failure as just another lesson learned, and move on from it.  Maybe it’s time to act like a child.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Stay

Stay just a little bit longer
Please please please please please tell me that you’re gonna
- The Four Seasons

 

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

So you’ve worked hard at recall with your dog.  Now what?  How about the “stay” command?

If you go about it like most people do, you’ll put your dog into a sit, slowly back off of them, saying “stay, stay, stay”, then crouch down, and call them, giving them a treat when they get to you. Um, yeah…

bush_doing_it_wrong_1

 

Remember, you’re trying to catch a behavior and reward it with positive reinforcement.  So let’s start at the very beginning.  A very good place to start.

indeed

Remember the three steps to working with a dog:

  1. Control Yourself.  Don’t be angry, don’t be frustrated.  Be calm.  If you can’t be calm, be gone and try again later.
  2. Control the Situation.  Don’t add energy to a situation you don’t already have control of.
  3. Add Stimulation and Answer Questions.  “Can I get up yet?”. Not yet, Fido.

Okay, now, you’re ready to go.  Or stay.  Whatever.

We will be using positive reinforcement in this situation because we are asking a dog to do something human: learn a new language.  Of course your dog already knows how to stay.  So does an elephant, or any other animal. What we are teaching Fido how to do is link a word with a behavior.  Any word will do, be it “stay” or “Bananarama”.  The trick is to link it to the precise behavior you want.

So let’s take another look at what you did. You started off well, putting your dog in a sitting, calm position.  You then calmly repeated the word “stay, stay, stay”, as you slowly backed off your dog, adding as little energy as you could, making sure you “nailed” your dog to that spot with your eyes and your finger as you back away from your dog.

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

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

And then you derailed the whole thing by calling your dog and rewarding him when he came to you, telling him he was “Good stay!  You’re such a good boy…good stay Fido, good stay”.  Um,

521e4-whatitmeans

You’re trying to catch the behavior of “stay”, not “come”.  Now your dog is confused.  Stay and come have become entwined.  Remember, one word for one action.  ”Come” means moving towards you.  ”Stay” means not moving at all.  But you just mixed them up for your dog.

Great.  Total protonic reversal. Nice one.

Great. Total protonic reversal. Nice one.

So instead of calling them, after you’ve taken a few steps away from them, as you’re repeating “stay, stay, stay” ad nauseum, simply start moving towards them again, finger out Uncle Sam-style.  When you get to them, calmly give them a reward.  Your dog should not have moved a single muscle, staying glued to the floor the entire time.  That’s how you catch a behavior.

So, you did it once or twice, merely taking a few steps away from your dog, and remaining in eyesight the entire time.  You’ve controlled the present situation (as in Step 2 outlined above).  Now you’re ready to add more stimulation:  stay command out of sight.

So you put your dog in a sit, Uncle Sam him, and then leave the room, go outside, and take a jog around the block and, yeah…

youre-doing-it-wrong

Of course your dog didn’t stay!  You added too much stimulation.  Take baby steps…progress, not perfection.  The first time you go out of the line of vision of your dog (maybe around a corner for just an instant), you will still be repeating the word “stay”, calmly, over and over again.  You will only pop out of sight for just a brief moment.  Your dog stays as you walk back. You reward.  All is right with the universe.

Gradually add more and more to the amount of time you disappear from sight.  Gradually repeat “stay” less and less.  If the first time you repeated it 15 times during the exercise, the next time, try for 14.  If Fido gets up, go back to 15 times for the next round, and then try 14 again.  And then 12.  And pretty soon you’re down to once or twice.

So how long does it take until your dog “gets” it?

Well, look at it like this.  I’m currently learning Spanish.  Ten minutes after I do one of my language exercises, I can remember almost 100% of the vocabulary words  Two hours later, maybe 90%.  The next day, 50%.  That’s why I practice a lot  Your dog is learning not only a new language, but a new way of communicating.  Dogs aren’t based on vocal communications like we are.  They don’t understand inflection or tonality.

No, but you're learning now!

They are based on body language.  So cut them some slack, and don’t get angry when they’re being “stubborn”.  They’re doing the best they can learning an entirely different form of communication.  Give them some help:  frequent micro-training sessions of less than a minute.  Praise and rewards for getting it right.  And the well-earned gift of your patience.  Because that’s were true staying power comes from.

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

 

That One Dog

The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.
- Leon Trotsky

Bowie

Bowie

My friend adopted a dog from a local shelter about four years ago.  She named him Bowie.  She adopted him knowing full well that he was scheduled to be euthanized for aggressiveness.  She didn’t care…she bonded with him, and she was going to save him.

Are you readying yourself for a sad story here with an awful ending?

Well, you’ll be disappointed.  My friend worked with Bowie and just two months after she adopted him, he was a different dog.  He will never be a social butterfly, but he is a happy, loving part of her pack now, and is not the sniveling, cowering, reactive mess he was when she adopted him.  She was able to take the time and patience to rehabilitate him.  I sincerely get a kick out of this dog, too.  Clever, smart, funny, and very well dressed.  He’s always in formal attire…what’s not to love about him?

"I don't always pose for the camera, but when I do I look fabulous."

“I don’t always pose for the camera, but when I do I look fabulous.”

Here’s where I’m going to throw you for a loop:  I don’t necessarily disagree with the shelter’s decision that he needed to be put down.  They may have been right.

I know what you’re thinking right now…

Okay...put the knife down and give me a moment to explain

Okay…put the knife down and give me a moment to explain

Bowie was at a shelter with a limited amount of space.  Shelters and rescues are trying to save as many dogs as they possibly can, and they only have a certain amount of dollars, space and resources with which to do it.  Think about it:  there’s only so much room on the ark. Sometimes you pick up a dog who is too resource heavy, such as Bowie was.  The amount of money that it could have taken to rehabilitate him, plus the cage space he was taking up, could have saved 15 dogs instead of just him.  There are too many dogs, and not enough home.  Rescues and shelters are doing triage, and trying to save as many as they can.  And they’re doing a great job of it.

I tend towards thinking analytically, and frequently believe that, as Machiavelli put it, ”The ends justify the means.”  It’s a tough call to put down a (physically) healthy dog solely for the reason of saving 10 other dogs, but I will never judge someone who has made that call.  As a matter of fact, I will defend that decision.

I could never understand why people couldn’t see the logic behind the simple truth:  save this one dog, or save many dogs.  It doesn’t seem to be a very difficult number to crunch out.  1<10, right?

Do you even math?

Do you even math?

But then I learned something about that one dog.

That one dog is bringing community together.  That one dog is bonding shelter workers and volunteers in hopes of saving that one dog.  That one dog is bringing awareness to animal abuse/neglect in a way that those other ten dogs possibly couldn’t.  That one dog makes no sense financially, but emotionally, that one dog is untouchable in riches and rewards.  We worked together. We educated, and we were able to save That One Dog.

That One Dog may be what keeps a volunteer able to volunteer.  That One Dog may bring in a donation from a person whose heart was touched.  That One Dog may prevent hundreds of other dogs from suffering due to education.  That One Dog may be what prompts a dog owner to spay/neuter their dog.

That One Dog is actually priceless.  They may be taking up resources, but the average dog who comes into a shelter can not possibly create the bond and achievement That One Dog can.

Not every dog can be saved. We know that. Time and resources are a finite thing.  There simply isn’t enough of either to go around.  But I will no longer casually dismiss saving a resource-high dog as “vain” or “money better spent elsewhere”, as I may have done before.  We humans created this mess of abused, neglected and homeless dogs. It’s up to us to fix it.  But to do that, we need to work together, and to work together, we need something to bond over. Something that brings us together.

What we need is That One Dog.

That One Dog – Posie

Posie came in to Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter as a stray emaciated with advanced demodex.  She had a great deal of time and love invested into her, and she went being That One Dog to having a new family and is a happy, healthy dog.
Consider helping That One Dog currently under the care of Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter by donating to their cause. Best Friends Medical Relief Fund was created to help with the cost and care of That One Dog.  Please consider a donation, because That One Dog could make all the difference.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio