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

ht-funpics3466It’s Halloween!  Did you expect a post about Halloween safety for your pet?  That’s a bit cliche – here’s the basics: keep them inside, keep them safely contained, and Pilot them as needed.  Ta-da!  Halloween is handled!

October is Pitbull Awareness month.  Halloween marks the end of that month.  A month where we try to get people to look past the stereotypes of this breed and see who they’re really about: love, loyalty, and a whole lotta goofiness.  Maybe we need to do the same for humans as well.

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

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

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

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

Pic from the BAAC website's Rodeo.

Pic from the BAAC website’s Rodeo.

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

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

Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

And so we end October, National Pit Bull Advocacy Month.  I truly wish that the gentleman who assisted me on that day 17 years ago is reading this.  I would thank him for changing my tire.  And I would thank him for changing my mind.


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

The Little Things

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

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

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

I hear you have a job opening?

I hear you have a job opening?

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

The Little Things That Make Little Dogs Great.

1) They can go anywhere with you.  Easily.

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

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

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

2) They aren’t big eaters.

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

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

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

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

Awwwww....he's so cute!

Awwwww….he’s so cute!

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

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

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

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

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

5) Life span. 

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

6) No counter surfing.

Brittany Graham Photography

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

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

7) Eliminating the negative.

Eric, age 8, on poop patrol

Eric, age 8, on poop patrol

Ever clean up after a 100 lb dog?  Exactly.

8) Easier to manage.

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

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

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

9)  Portable.

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

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

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

10) They’re dogs.

My ,majestic Papillon.

My ,majestic Papillon.

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

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

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

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

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Momma’s Boys (or Girls)

“I’m essentially a Momma’s Boy with a good education” – Tom Sizemore

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

When I get home after being at work all day, I’m greeted by one very happy dog. Who then proceeds to show me all of his bones that I bought him. If I walk into the bathroom, guess who follows? If I go into the kitchen, guess who waits patiently at the end of the carpet, craning his neck so that he can try and see what I’m doing? Guess who gets nervous when I bring out my step stool (I’m 5’2 people, it’s a necessity in my life) and I start to climb it? Guess who, if we’re on a walk and I somehow get ahead or behind by a few steps searches for me incessantly? Guess who, when I’m away for a few days, sits diligently by the window, watching for me to walk up to the apartment? Nope, not Tall Guy, it’s that same dog that has to show me the bones for the 4580th time.

Porter’s a Momma’s boy. It’s true. There’s no denying it. He wants to be by me at all times and he looks to me for everything. Given a choice between me and anyone else, he’ll choose me every time. There’s a certain amount of pride and contentment that comes from him being a Momma’s Boy. I’ve done something amazing. I’ve gained an animal’s complete and utter devotion. Here’s the difference between me and other owners that revel in their dog loving them so much: I don’t baby him because of it.


A happy balanced little family!
- Brittany Graham Photography


If Kerry and I go on a walk together, we’ll sometimes switch off dogs. Mostly because someone else can Pilot your dog better than you can. There’s less history, less love and affection. When she walks Porter I don’t say “Oh, Momma’s right here, don’t worry”. I don’t feel bad for him. I don’t say anything to him. If I do say something to him, it probably contains a nickname that’s not G rated.

The key is to continue on. Sure, your dog might be attached to you. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem comes in when you feed into that dependence and treat them like they can’t do anything or go anywhere without you. Then you’re only feeding into their fear of being without you. You’re not allowing them to gain their own self confidence and hindering the realization that they’ll make it without you. They can still love you unconditionally, but now you’re not feeding into the dependence.

Quite honestly, seeing an owner baby talking, cooing, and coddling their dog is one of my biggest pet peeves (pun intended). You should be partners and companions in adventures and life. Not one of you depending completely on the other. That’s not healthy. Everyone has to grow up at some point (although I’m sure everyone can name a few that haven’t. And how obnoxious are they?).

It’s okay to have a dog that is completely devoted to you. However, it’s important that you don’t feed into that devotion. Don’t let them become so dependent on you that life seems unlivable without you. That’s not the way a dog should live.

- Brittany Graham Photography

We’re looking for happy, healthy, curious pups like this!
- Brittany Graham Photography

When Kerry hands Porter back to me, he may be extremely excited, however I act like nothing unusual happened. The walk continues just as if I had been walking him the whole time. Everything is calm and normal. Sure, you’re your dog’s owner and caregiver, but make sure it’s a healthy relationship and they’re not going to suddenly feel as though they can cease to exist without you. Take some time to evaluate your relationship with your dog.

There’s nothing wrong with the fact that your dog is a Momma’s boy (or girl), but just make sure you’re not creating an unhealthy balance within their lives. Eye rolls come in really handy when dealing with this.

Keep calm and pilot on


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

Junkyard Dogs

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.   – Anon.

flat550x550075fJunkyard dog.  Nothing makes my eyeballs itch quite like those two words put together.  Technically, it’s just a dog who is set to watch over a person’s property.  Sparta has a similar job description:  please don’t let any burglars in.  However, therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare put it.  Sparta has sooooo many other, much more important jobs.  Afterall, you don’t have something precious guarded by something even more precious.  Sparta is our:

  • Pillow for reading
  • Tension reliever
  • Hiking buddy
  • Floor monitor
  • Trick learner
  • Darwin Dogs mascot
  • Friend

Most junkyard dogs I have known (and usually rescued) have one job, with little to no benefits.  At times they are literally chained to their post.  Most have never even been pet by the hand that (sometimes) feeds them.  Most are initially ill-suited to their jobs, but due to the torture of deprivation, solitude and exposure, become unbalanced, and can require training to readjust to the role of family pet.  There’s only so much an animal can take, after all.

The amazing thing is, though, that the number of dogs who have difficulty transitioning from junkyard dog to family pet is actually pretty small. Take Icee, for instance.  During my tenure as a trainer for a local shelter, Icee came in as a cast off.  Apparently this vicious looking beast was actually wearing an ill-suited costume: the outside may have looked a bit menacing, but inside she was 100% sweetheart!  Funny enough, that was the cause of her being at the shelter.  Her “owner” had a junkyard.  He bought Icee to guard it.  Unfortunately, he never told her what to guard it from, because apparently she let the place get robbed. Several times.  The owner brought Icee to the shelter and gave an ultimatum: either we take her in or he’d put a bullet in her head.

Well then.

Icee, the failed junkyard dog

Icee, the failed junkyard dog

Icee was such a trooper.  She was completely green – no manners, no leash training, nothing!  But she was game.  She was the perfect dog to start the new volunteers with.  She’d give you a run for your money, and would even drag people at the end of the leash, but even just a modicum of Piloting made her true manners shine through.  However, with just a bit of Piloting, she would put Miss Manners to shame in the etiquette department.  She handled like a Aston Martin.  She desperately wanted to please, and generally just being around her would please anyone.  Her attitude was a mix of Shirley Temple and Pippi Longstocking.  Impish, but wholeheartedly good.  She helped a lot of people see the results from just a little bit of Piloting.  She found her forever home not too long after arriving at the shelter.  Humble beginnings.  The regal happily-ever-after she deserved.

Recently I read an article about Elmer and Elsie, two junkyard dogs who were recently saved.  Their Cinderella story is pretty similar except for they are still looking for their happily ever after.  Not all dogs can come from grand origins, but that doesn’t mean  they aren’t worthy of storybook endings.  I urge you to overlook backstory on dogs, because they all start at the same place.  Once upon a time…the ending is up to you.

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


A Piloting Transfer

 The thrill of coming home has never changed – Guy Pearce


- Porter taking advantage of nature's agility course

– Porter taking advantage of nature’s agility course


Last week, I was able to go home to CT for a while. I spent time visiting family and friends which left Porter and Tall Guy to themselves. Each day I’d get a picture of their hikes, adventures or Porter not wanting to wake up. The two of them had a lot of time together. Tall Guy had an entire week to work on his Piloting skills. Which means, he also got to put a lot more money in his Piloting Bank.

Upon my return there was a very excited dog. All of those moments that we look forward to after  being away from our four legged friends for a while. There was happy whimpering, lots of kisses and a dog that could not get close enough to me. Nothing can compare to that feeling of getting a dose of unconditional love.

But then…. A walk happened. We decided to go on a hike right after I got home. When the 3 of us go on hikes together, I’m the one that usually handles Porter. So, I stepped right back into that roll. But, here’s what I forgot: I hadn’t put any Piloting into Porter for over a week and Tall Guy had.

All of a sudden he was looking to Tall Guy for direction and not me. At first, I was stunned. But then, I thought about it from Porter’s point of view. Tall Guy had made sure that Porter hadn’t died all week by himself. Even though the main Pilot (me) was gone, Tall Guy had made sure the both of them had made it through the week. They went on multiple walks and hikes where murder was inevitable in Porter’s mind, and they had made it through. Guess who put more money in their Piloting Bank than me?

Here we are having a heart to heart... I don't think he's listening

Here we are having a heart to heart… I don’t think he’s listening

Instead of becoming frustrated, throwing my hands up and handing Porter over to Tall Guy, I made sure I walked Porter on all walks and hikes. I made sure I followed through on everything and put some more money in my bank. There were times where I became annoyed. I’m not perfect! When you have a bad walking day with your dog it’s not fun. However, each bad day means there’s another good day out there. I pushed through daily walks and hikes with Porter until I felt more comfortable with the amount of Piloting I had done. It took a few days, but Porter and I were back to our normal relationship.

I’ll be going away again this weekend as well. Which means, another boys weekend for Tall Guy and Porter. When I come back, I’ll have to do some more Piloting right away. I know that. I’m well aware. However, the best part is it gives Tall Guy even more time to work on his Piloting. Between the two of us Porter has a pretty great pack. It takes hard work from both of us, but it’s completely worth it.

Are you done making fun of me yet Mom?

Are you done making fun of me yet Mom?


Keep calm and pilot on

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


Creating a Great Co-Pilot

Every pilot needs a co-pilot, and let me tell you, it is awful nice to have someone sitting there beside you, especially when you hit some bumpy air – Eric Wald

- Pete and Tank, Brittany, from Brittany Graham Photography's own dogs!

– Pete and Tank, Brittany, from Brittany Graham Photography’s own dogs!


When we first got Porter, car rides were not so much fun with him. There was constant whimpering, some occasional barking and just general hyper activity happening in the back seat. However, now, he’s not annoying to have in the car. Of course, he likes to look out the windows, but there’s less noise, less barking and less anxiety.

Here are some steps that I took, along with Tall Guy, to help him get to this point:

We Kept Taking Car Rides

Sure, he was annoying, but it didn’t make us stop taking him places. If we had just chosen to never drive him anywhere, we would have missed out on a lot of great adventures. Not to mention the fact that the more he’s in the car, the less scary and new it is. Good things happen when he gets in the car. Yes, there’s the occasional dreaded vet trip, but the park, family, friends trips outweigh the vet trips by far.

Positive Reinforcement for Positive Behavior

The moments that Porter was quiet and relaxed in the backseat he received positive reinforcement. Now, for Porter, treats only add way too much energy to the situation. So he received praise and a pet when he was calm in the backseat. Think, Touch, Talk, Treat. A pat, “good boy” and then if your dog is less of a jerk than mine you can pop a treat in his mouth. What we’re letting him know is that good things happen when he’s calm in the car.

Negative Reinforcement for Negative Behavior

When Porter would bark, he would get a negative. For him, that’s a snap from me since we’ve worked on a lot of Piloting in the house already. If you need to, have someone else drive and sit in the back with your dog. You can Pilot your dog the same way you do in the house, just use your upper body as opposed to your whole body. Use whatever negative sound you have correlated with your negative body language. If you feel like you’re giving a negative way too much and nothing is coming of it, then ignore the situation for a while. No positives, but no negatives either. Make sure you are not going to become angry or vocal with your dog. That won’t help the situation. Find your zen place in the backseat.

Shorter Trips

If you’re planning on working with your dog, try not to work on the car behavior while you’re on a long road trip. Go in short spurts to work on it. This will keep your temper in check and make sure you don’t get too frustrated. We’re looking for improvement, not perfection after the first time.

Exercise First

Make sure your dog is getting Activity before you work on the car behavior. This will release excess energy and the endorphins he will be feeling will help you in the long run. Do things to set yourself up for success. Make sure your pup has gotten a lot of PAW that day before working on the car situation.

 - Brittany Graham Photography

- Brittany Graham Photography


Improvement can take time, lots of time. But if you work on it, little by little you’ll realize that your dog’s car behavior has improved tremendously. Stick with it, and soon you’ll have the best four legged co-pilot ever.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Ode to Frankenmutt

In the past, people were born royal. Nowadays, royalty comes from what you do.

Gianni Versace



Corgi vs. Shepherd Imgur

I love all dogs.  I really do!  From the purebreds to the mongrels and the in between hybrids (pssst….you’re still mutts).  I love them all.  I love that when someone tells me they have a Golden, I know what to expect:  a warm fuzzy ball of “please pet me!!!”.  I love meeting new variations on the term “mutt”, and seeing who their personalities are and trying to guess at their lineage.

Above all, though, I love the Frankenmutts.  You know, the dogs who are obviously mixed breeds, but rather than a blend of say, Corgi and Shepherd, it looks as if a Shepherd head and coloration were merely plunked onto a Corgi body.  Someone forgot to knead the dough properly and smooth it out!  So here’s an ode to my favorite dogs off all.  The funniest-looking conglomeration of mutts ever:  Frankendogs!

Papillion vs. Cocker?  Imgur

Dachshund vs. Golden.  How is that even possible?  Imgur

Dachshund vs. Golden. How is that even possible? Imgur

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


There’s always tomorrow, right?  And tomorrow has a tomorrow, too! – My Cousin Becky

Sparta and I had a huge challenge this morning.  I took Orion for his usual hike separately because he can go for about 5 miles.  Sparta’s good for about two and that’s it.  (I’ve lost a lot of weight since getting two dogs, needless to say.)  Today I had a late start, and Sparta and I didn’t hit the trail until close to 11:00 this morning.  So Sparta and I went to the Metroparks where there is a 1/4 mile track at the top of a hill.  One of my favorite places, actually.  Peaceful, quiet, and nobody around.  Just as Sparta and I got started, a car pulls up.  Out pops a German Shepherd (offl-leash) and her two owners. They headed right for the center of the track.

Now, if this had been Orion with me, I’d have been annoyed, but not concerned.  Sparta, though, is extremely dog-reactive.  Sparta went on red alert immediately, but I was able to Pilot her right back down to calm.  The Shepherd and her owners may have had their dog off-leash, but I don’t think the dog realized it. The dog was focused on everything the owners said and did.  It soon became obvious that they were training heavily with her, because they immediately went into practice mode: calling the Shepherd (Amber) and then having Amber stop and sit halfway to the human calling her.  I’d like to say it was fun to watch them work with her.  I’d like to say I could have shared in the exhilaration of watching Amber succeed.

Unfortunately, I had to be ultra-focused on Sparta.  She was rapid firing questions at me, and if I missed answering one, she would enter her panic mode, which some people refer to as “red zone”.  You know it.  I’m sure you’ve seen dogs do it before.  On two legs, lunging, snapping, growling at what they deem a threat.  Not a big deal if you have a Chihuahua, but Sparta is 100 lbs of muscle.  I had just finished a death march with Orion.  I was tired!

I focused on Sparta and answered her most pressing question:  Is that other dog a threat?

Some people get angry or frustrated when their dog asks the same question more than once, but I want you to look at it through your dog’s eyes.  Sparta is a Rottie/Shep.  Her parents both came from prime European stock (and both owners were ignorant enough not to have their dogs fixed, or at least under lock and key when the female went into heat).  Thus I have Sparta.  Each of her parents were worth thousands of dollars because of their pedigree.  She was worth an adoption fee because she’s a mutt.  But I digress.  Stupid dog owners have that effect on me.

Sparta’s parents were both bred for protection.  That was it.  Sparta, being true to her nature, sees a potential threat (another predator).  That’s like a Border Collie seeing sheep but being told it’s never supposed to herd them.  A Lab being told it’s never ever supposed to go in the water.  In other words, I’m asking her to travel outside of who she is.  What she was meant to do.  What every fiber in her body is telling her: that the other dog is a potential threat that must be investigated.

To put it in human terms, imagine being thrust into a haunted house.  You know, the kind you pay a lot of money for so you can prove to your friends that you didn’t wet your pants. Now imagine nobody told you it was a charade.  You just suddenly ended up in one, and you’d never even heard of such a thing as a haunted house before!  You would be terrified.  Your friend who came with you keeps trying to tell you that’s it’s okay.  You’re trying to calm down, and listen to what they have to say, but OMG WHAT THE #$&!#&@!!! IS THAT THING OVER THERE?!!!!!!

Would you stop asking if you were safe after you were answered the first time?  Probably not.  What about the second?  How many times would you need to be reassured while going through the house?  Some of us may take quite a little while (*raising my hand*).  I would need constant reassurance from whomever I deemed the human “pilot” of this encounter.  I’d have to have a lot of faith in my friend that he was right.

That’s what your dog is going through if they’re dog-reactive.  It isn’t just another dog to them…it’s a potential threat.  Another predator.  They are truly terrified, for your safety, for theirs…it’s a stressful situation.  They aren’t trying to be bad, just as you weren’t trying to be difficult through the haunted house.

I’m not saying that you can’t get frustrated.  I sure get frustrated with Sparta.  I call her some very impressive names (I had inmates in the prison dog program keeping track of my swear words).  But here’s the thing: yes, I’ll call her names, but in a calm, bored voice.  I feel a release of stress, and she just sees me as speaking in my normal voice.  My body language doesn’t look stressed or angry.  I fake calm if I have to, but I will be Sparta’s Pilot.  If in order to fake calm I need to take a step back, then fine.  Rather than continuing to walk the track, I could have walked the parking lot.  I decided to go for the gold instead.

Today was trying at first.  But we did it.  We continued our walk.  It took us almost an hour to go 1 mile.  The first lap alone took us almost 30 minutes.  But I kept answering her questions.  I let her know that no matter what crazy things that dog was doing, it didn’t involve us.  The 4th and final lap took 6 minutes.

It can be hard to see outside of the present situation.  But compare.  Just because she isn’t perfect in a situation such as that doesn’t mean she isn’t making tremendous progress.  Yes, she’ll still be a $#&@*(!!!, but that’s a step down from what I was calling her 6 months ago.  And 2 years ago I could have been arrested in some countries for the names I was calling her.

Sparta is a work in progress, and always will be, just like me.  And every tomorrow is a chance to be better than yesterday.  Sparta and I will work on tomorrow together, because I love that little $#&#*!!!, despite her flaws.  The same way she loves me.

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

A Moment of Gratitude

The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it. – Hubert H. Humphrey

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

So you’ve been working on your Piloting and you’ve finally started to see results. There’s less jumping, less barking and your walks are even better. Sure, you have to correct your dog, but from where you started there’s a huge difference. It’s easy to get complacent. It’s easy to get into a place where you forget how far you’ve come and you can only focus on the negative.


Fido pulled too much today.

Fido barked at the neighbor’s dog which he hasn’t done in weeks.

I had to slam the door on Fido multiple times on today’s walk.


And all of a sudden you start to feel dissatisfied with you and your dog’s performance. When these days happen, I try and let them go. However, it’s not always that easy. That’s why I’m going to share a trick with you. Something I look for on the walk that makes my heart grow bigger and happiness consume me.

There’s this moment when you’re walking your dog, not all the time, but once or twice a walk, where he’ll look up at you like you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

 - Brittany Graham Photography

- Brittany Graham Photography

In technical talk: he’s looking to you for direction. You’ve set yourself up as the individual who is in charge of the walk, so every once in a while he’ll look to see what you’re doing up there, where you’re going, if you’re nervous about anything. Just a quick double check on his part.

In emotional talk: he trusts you. You’ve done something amazing. You’ve gained an animal’s trust. An animal who doesn’t understand your words, only your body language. An animal, that for some of you, may have never had a worthy individual to trust. Who may not have had a roof over their head or food in their bellies. You have gained the trust of an animal who may have seen the worst, but now is seeing the best of humanity.

When I catch Porter looking up at me like this, it amazes me. His warm brown eyes convey everything that he doesn’t need words to say. There’s a thank you in there, there’s a this is fun, a we can do anything together and a life is better now being said.

Please, try and catch this moment with your dog. It will make all of those trying times so worth it. You’ve done something amazing for your dog, and in return they’re saying thank you. Everyone needs a little hero worship every once in a while.

Keep calm and pilot on

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


Simply Put

If simple things amuses simple minds, image how wonderfully simple it could be to be happy.    – Me


I’m having a bad morning.  I’m out of coffee.  My son just informed me that he forgot to do his math homework last night, so I’m sitting here trying to figure out 4th grade math with him.  My daughter is crying because….?

Ugh.  Life sucks.

Orion is following me around like a shadow.  I trip over him.  I dub him with a few new names.  Sparta is hiding out in her room until another dog has the audacity to walk by the front yard.  She’s barking at the window full force.  I give her a negative signal, but she’s not having any of it.  She makes me get up and use my body languageWho invented dogs anyway? 

I’m going through my emails for the morning while trying to figure out Core Curriculum with my son (uh….?).  Someone has sent me a link, and out of character for me, I open it and am suddenly having a good day.  You will, too.

I’ve forgotten one of my basic mantras:  “If simple things amuses simple minds, image how wonderfully simple it could be to be happy.”  I’m focusing on the big things and forgetting the small things, and the small things make up the biggest thing in the world:  life.

So far I’ve had a 4 minor catastrophes this morning: Eric forgetting his math homework (he’s done now).  River is crying (she lost her favorite stuffed animal in her bedsheets – found).  Sparta barked out the window in her defense, the dog was on a retractable and almost to our doorstep). I tripped over Orion (but he forgave me instantly for the names I called him).

My kids are usually wonderfully easy and well behaved.  The same can be said for my dogs.  Everyone is allowed a slip-up, and my gang just had their slip-ups all at once.  Big deal.  As Elsa would say, Let It Go.  So many phone calls I get from my clients start with frantic speech:  “We were doing so well but yesterday Fido slipped up and lunged at another dog again he hasn’t done that in months are we regressing I thought we had this handled but OMG I was so worried he’s back to his old ways isn’t he?!!!!”  I always have them step back and look at what just happened:  Your dog, who couldn’t even see a dog on TV before without going berserk, barked and lunged while on a walk…  At another dog on a retractable coming right up to them.  You Piloted your dog out of the situation, and now the situation is under control.  You did it.  Your self confidence is shaken, that’s all.  You’re looking at the here and now and assuming this is forever (like I did this morning).

The moment has passed.  You’ll get your self confidence back (but fake it until you make it).  Remember, we’re only looking for progress, not perfection.  You’ve helped your dog be who they are supposed to be.  You know how to answer your dog’s questions now.  It’s a forever job, but the questions are no longer asked with such urgency.  You’ve done it, and you’ll continue to do it.  Slip ups are there to remind us how far we’ve come.

Life is good. It’s all about how I choose to look at it.  As the dog in the video figured out, either you can complain about getting wet, or revel while dancing in the rain.

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