The Accepted Way of Doing Things

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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.”

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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”).

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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

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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?

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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!

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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

 

Stranger Danger

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.

Shirley MacLaine

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

“My dog is aggressive towards strangers.

“My dog is fearful.”

“My dog is skittish.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog training in Cleveland, Ohio

The Simple Life

In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Entering into a new training session, there are always a few consistencies.  I have only two hours to accomplish many things:

  • Gain the trust of the humans
  • Gain the trust of the dog(s)
  • Ascertain the situation
  • Develop a game plan for addressing the behavior issues
  • Create bonds of communication between dog and owner
  • Have fun.

It doesn’t necessarily happen in that order, but that’s a pretty good synopsis of everything I can accomplish in two hours.  It seems like a lot, but as I’ve stated numerous times, dogs aren’t stupid. I also believe that (most) people aren’t stupid either. There are, of course, occasionally the incredible human exceptions.  Dogs, however, are amazingly simple.  That’s why I’m able to keep my training sessions short and simple.  Remember, there is nothing wrong with your dog; he just sucks at being human.  And most people are pretty decent humans; they just suck at being dogs.  So, simply put, we need some communication going on, not a bunch of rules and regulations about how the two species should interact.  Three steps to working with your dog; that’s all it takes for any situation involving a dog to be solved.

I firmly believe dogs ask questions.  We’ve already agreed that dogs aren’t stupid, so of course they ask questions.  They’re curious creatures, and aside from wanting to know about their world around them, they want to know what you think of the world around them.  How should they react?  Should they react? And most importantly, is it time to eat?!

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All of their questions can be answered, but not all of them necessarily need to be answered.  There are simply some that must be answered.  But more on that in a moment.

Working with your dog involves 3 components: Piloting, Activity and Work, or what we refer to as The PAW Method.  To break it down:

Piloting: Answer your dog’s questions. They only ask “yes/no” questions, so it’s pretty easy to do!  Learn how here.

Activity: Keep ‘em moving and active.  Ever experience something called a runner’s high?  Yeah, well, neither have I, but I hear it’s wonderful, and dog’s are addicted to it. They need their Activity, and either you give it to them, or they figure out how to get it themselves, and that’s never a good thing.

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Work: Dogs aren’t stupid, nor are they merely knick-knacks strewn about your house to be idly admired: they are thinking beings with cognitive abilities that we still haven’t fully explored in the tens of thousands of years they’ve been with us.  In other words, keep them mentally engaged. A bored dog is truly a destructive force.

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That’s the groundwork, your foundation.  Make it a good, strong foundation, and you can build upon it by answering your dog’s questions. Dogs are binary, which means every question they ever ask you will require a “yes” or a “no”, which is different than “good” or “bad”.  Your dog is incapable of being bad: he will always choose what’s right for a dog, which may be in direct conflict of what’s right for a human.  Remember, you are merely answering questions for your dog, not punishing them, nor should you be inflicting pain or fear upon a dog.

Using “yes” and “no” can be very confusing.  When do you give negatives, and when do you use positives?  Simple.

Negatives/No

1) When you don’t like what your dog is doing.  Sounds simple enough, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t understand that “No” is a complete sentence and can be used liberally.  Ask yourself, “Do I like this behavior that Fido is doing?”  If the answer is “no”, then give them a negative.  Anything from jumping, barking, and getting on furniture to the simple questions Fido may ask on a walk: “Do we turn left here?”.  If the answer is “no”, then give them a negative!  Remember negative doesn’t mean bad, it just means “no”.

So how do you answer a dog’s questions?

Use your body language to answer these questions. If your dog is staring at a treat on the floor and then at you, he’s asking if he can have it. If you do not want your dog to have it, answer his question by walking in between him and the treat, facing him, with the treat behind you. This means that you are “claiming” the treat. You can move into his personal space to back him off it a bit.  Once he’s engaged with you, nothing, or everything (in other words, looking anywhere but at the treat), remove your strong body language by walking to the side or away from him. This shows him that he is giving you the correct response: accepting that the treat is yours. If he looks at your treat again, simply use the body language again.

Think of it as a game of hot/cold.  His question is, “Can I have that?”  The answer is “No”. You answer his question using that body language.  When he accepts the answer (looking at you, everything, or nothing, but definitely NOT looking at the treat), then you’re finished.  Remove your negative body language.  You may have to put the negative body language right back on him if he immediately tries to go for it, but that’s natural – it may take him a few times to accept your answer.  Remember, remaining calm is the key.  Anger should never be a part of this exercise.

So again, Piloting is answering a dog’s questions. You would answer the question in the same way if he is asking if something is a threat (stand between your dog and the perceived threat, facing your dog, and simply back him off while standing up straight). Pretty easy, huh? The more you show your dog that you are capable of being in control and the Pilot, the more your dog will be able to relax and actually be a dog. He’ll look to you for guidance instead of feeling as though he needs to protect you and your family from every garbage can, dog and plastic bag in the neighborhood.

2) When your dog is “Yo, Bitch”-ing you.  Wow….there’s a term.  What’s “Yo, Bitch”, anyway?   Symptoms include: slapping you with their paw, trampling you, pushing you out of your seat on the couch.  Basically, any behavior that would translate to : “Yo Bitch, give me a cookie”, or “Yo Bitch, pet me”.  It’s as detrimental to your healthy relationship with your dog as it would be in any human relationship!  Respect yourself enough to expect respect from your dog.  Your dog is perfectly capable of a “May I Please?” instead of a “Yo, Bitch”, and you know the “May I Please?” look.  It goes something like this:

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“May I Please” ….have a cookie?  Go for a walk? Jump in your lap?  All of these can be answered with a “yes” or a “no”.  Your choice.  But if your dog is “Yo, Bitch”-ing you, the answer must be a negative.  Don’t accept a bully dog‘s behavior.

Positives/Yes

1) The “come” command.  Always, always, always…positive.  Give them a treat. Tell them how wonderful they are!  Scratch their belly.  Whatever it takes to get them to understand that what they did was wonderful.  If you need help with “recall/come”, check out this link.

2) Asking a dog to do a “human” behavior.  Your dog is a perfect dog, and can be expected to do dog things wonderfully.  Being a human, on the other hand…well, that’s a little different.  Any time you are asking your dog to do something that another dog couldn’t ask them to do, you must use positive reinforcement.  For example, a dog will tell another dog to go away, or play, or stay away from their toy.  But they don’t teach each other English (sit, stay, come, etc.), nor do they teach each other tricks.  If you ask a dog to do a human thing, make it worth their while.

3) When they’re calm.  This is the most important of all. I always tell my clients I want “calm” to be like a lottery ticket:

1) you have to play to win;
2) You probably aren’t going to win; and
3) But unless you’re holding a ticket, you’re definitely not going to win.

I want your dog holding a many lottery tickets as possible.  Because the more tickets they have, the better their chances are at winning.  Reward calm any chance you get, and pretty soon Fido will understand that “calm” is like a magic button he can press that will (sometimes) get him exactly what he wants.  If you see your dog sleeping on the floor, give him a gentle scratch behind the ears.  If you’re cuddling on the couch, give him gentle praise for being calm.

And remember, calm is about progress, not perfection. So if you’re dealing with separation anxiety, just reward progress.  If you are crate training, but your dog in the crate and walk into the other room.  He’s going to escalate to a decibel 11….simply wait him out until he goes down to an 8 before re-entering the room.  You are trying to catch a behavior: increased calm.  It’s not always immediate, and it is rarely perfect, but that doesn’t mean the behavior isn’t there to catch.  Make sure you reward it.

So let’s break everything down:

Your dog needs Piloting, Activity and Work (the foundation).  Only once you have given them what the need are you able to build upon that foundation by answering your dog’s questions using “yes/no”.  Pretty simple.  You’ll notice I didn’t give a lot of rules.  I hate rules.  They don’t take into account human and dog personalities.  I know many trainers who:

-Insist a dog should never be on your bed.  Why not?  I sleep better snuggled next to a dog.  Just remember it’s your bed, and your choice who is in it.

-Don’t give your dog people food. Because….?  My dogs get plenty of people food (in a healthy moderation, of course).  If it isn’t on the lethal list (grapes, onions, chocolate, etc.), and your dog isn’t “Yo, Bitch-”ing you for the food, go ahead!  Just remember, it’s their right to beg for food, (“Can I have some?”) just as it’s your right to answer “no”.  

- Never play rope toy/tug/wrestle with your dog because then they’ll know they can beat you.  News flash:  my dog already knows they can beat me.  Using that logic I should never run with my dog because they are faster.  Playing rope/tug/wrestling with your dog is all about setting your boundaries.  We bond through play, and this is a prime way to do it…if you wish.  Set your boundaries.  For example, when Sparta and I play, I have very limited rules:  she’s allowed to knock me down, grab the rope, even (carefully) bite me.  But the second I feel it has gotten too rough, I give her a negative, and she instantly stops.  Some days I’m up for a WWF-style match, other days I’m only good for a drastically diminished version.  Just because we romped hard yesterday doesn’t mean that’s what our game is going to be about today.  You set the rules for each and every match…anything from “no rules” to “not playing at all” is acceptable.  Think of it like Fifty Shades of Grey:  Anything’s okay so long as you are both okay with it.  That includes not wrestling at all.

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So stop complicating your bond with Fido.  No more lengthy list of rules and regulations trying to define your relationship with your dog.  Your bond is unique:  just as there will never be another bond like I had with my first dog, Darwin, there will never be another bond like the dog you have with your dog.  So no more One Size Fits All training style, nor endless rules for working with your dog..  Only you know what you need from your relationship with your dog, and now you have the foundations to build that relationship.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio