My Other Kids

Raising children is a creative endeavor, an art rather than a science.
- Bruno Bettelheim


I dragged my kids (Eric, 9 and River, 7) yesterday to Jo-Ann’s.  That’s right up there on the “fun-o-meter” as tire shopping for them.  I spent about 20 minutes trying to find what it was that I needed.  They stuck right by me.  As they passed in front of someone standing in an aisle, they politely said, “Excuse me”.  As we left, the cashier wished me a happy holiday.  I wished her the same thing.  My children chimed in with “Have a great day!”.  They followed me out to the car, with Eric automatically taking River’s hand to help her across the parking lot.  I put on their favorite song in the car, to which the both said, “Thank you” as soon as the first few notes became recognizable.

Magic?  DNA jackpot?  Nope.  Repetition, repetition, repetition.  My children know what good manners are and are able to execute them because of a couple of factors.

  • I set them up for success.  River has problems behaving if she hasn’t had enough protein.  Eric can become overwhelmed in crowds.  Both are very hyper and need outlets for their energy.  If I take River to the store right before lunch after she’s been on the computer all morning, well, then, it’s my fault if she “misbehaves”, isn’t it?  I know the parameters within which she’s capable of behaving.  If I drag her outside that area, how is she supposed to behave?  It’s like taking a car off the road and into a lake, and then wondering why it isn’t working properly.
  • I give a negative when necessary.  I don’t like people being dismissed, be it a waitress, cashier or any other individual, for that matter.  I want my children to have the same mind-set.  That person behind the counter isn’t a robot, they are a human, and worthy of good manners.  Sometimes when I’d be completing a transaction, my children’s minds would float off.  The clerk would wish me a good day, and I’d thank them and wish them well.  My children would sometimes forget to reply in kind.  ”Excuse me?”, I would say to them, giving them an opportunity to fix their omission. They usually give the appropriate response at that point. Sometimes a bit more negative is necessary.  The other day, both kids were being little wretches in the car.  They had been set up for success, as I described above, but they started bickering in the car.  I reminded them twice that this behavior was unacceptable.  They started again.  They each lost use of their computers for two days as a result.  No, I don’t like doing that to them, but my job as a parent isn’t to always like what I do: it’s to parent.  I don’t like taking my kids for shots, but it’s for the greater good.
  • I praise/reward behavior that I want.  How much does a word of praise cost you?  Nothing.  When my children passed in front of the person in the aisle at Jo-Ann’s and used good manners, I complimented them on their manners.  When we got to the car, I put on their favorite song as a tiny reward for their behavior in purgatory Jo-Ann’s.  I do expect good manners from them, but manners can become linked with a positive.  In their minds, being well-behaved can get them anything from a word of praise (often) to a trip for ice-cream (less often, but still feasible).  Manners are good because when used, something good usually happens.
River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

Pretty soon my kids were on auto-pilot.  They can fly through most situations without prompts from me, navigating the complexities of manners quite nicely.  Until the day I die, I will still compliment them on their manners whenever presented the opportunity to do so.  Again, what does a kind word cost you?  Nothing.

So you’re probably wondering, When does this article start to talk about dogs?  Isn’t that why I’m here?  Who’s to say I haven’t been talking about our canine companions the whole time?  Raising dogs and kids, to some degree, isn’t much different.


  • I set them up for success.  Cody is a 9-month old Labradoodle.Labradoodle (n.) – Latin for perpetual motion.  See also: Hyperactivity.  Frivolity.Cody is an exceptionally sweet, kind, and loving animal. But at this young age, he has a very distinct set of circumstances that need to be adhered to to attain good behavior. For example, right now Cody is contentedly sleeping on the floor by my feet as I work on my computer.  This didn’t just happen.  I knew I needed to get some work done today, so Cody got an extra does of the PAW Method.  I gave him his Activity when we went for an extra long walk while wearing his backpack.  We then handled his Work needs by working on some new tricks with him and then feeding him through his enrichment feeder.  He is set up for success now.


  • I give a negative when necessary.  I’m ready to work, but Cody starts asking me a lot of questions:

    Can I play with the cat?  No.  Can I throw my ball around? No.  Can I play with the cat?  No.

I will continue to answer his questions as he asks them.  The first time he asks me about the cat, I use gentle negative body language from my seated position.  The next time he asks, I get up and “claim” the cat with my body, using much stronger body language.  Cody’s response?  Okay! Got it…so that’s a “no” on the cat then, right?

  • I praise/reward behavior that I want. Cody grabs a chew toy and plops down by my feet.  That’s a couple different positives I need to address there: he’s calmed himself down, and he’s redirected himself in an appropriate manner (the chew toy).  I give him a few seconds to “settle in” to this behavior, and then I gently start scratching his head.  He doubles down on the chew toy, so I up my ante and start to give him some very gentle very softly-spoken praise (I want him calm, so riling him up would be my bad).  He continues along the righteous path.  I stop petting him so I can start working, but every few minutes give him a word of gentle praise.  Pretty soon he drops his chew toy and puts his head down.  He’s ready to sleep.  I whip out the big guns:  a single Cheerio.  Cody is in the process of learning what’s acceptable behavior.  He needs to have his positive behaviors marked with a pretty strong positive.  That’s how he learns what we want from him.  Catching the moment.  I try to catch as many of his moments as I can, which means a lot of Touch, Talk, Treat.  He’d get sick on so many larger treats, so I use Cheerios.  Eventually, I’ll start to wean off the treats and focus on touch and talk.  But for now, he’s still learning.



It’s a process.  I expect mistakes (mostly from me).  It’s difficult, but oh so rewarding.  I don’t expect perfection; that’s only at the end of the rainbow.  What your working for is much more precious than perfection:  you’re working towards being a family.  That’s even better than perfection.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Pure Devotion

 True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it. – Daniel Goleman


- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

Sometimes, I’m amazed by the pure perfection of our four legged friends. Everyone has their story of how their dog has showed unconditional love, bravery and compassion. I’ve been able to be a part of my own stories. Yet, it seems that every time a dog shows compassion towards me I’m still amazed. And I hope that’s something that never goes away. I never want to take that for granted.

The other day, I was having a difficult day. A family member passed and it was one of those times where it hit me like a wave. There are 3 things I know that help me reset my emotions and regroup my energy. Those things are water, nature and my dog. So, I went to the lake and took Porter with me.


Porter had been cooped up in his crate all day, so I knew there would be a ton of energy that he needed to get rid of. However, when we got in the car he was calm. He would occasionally give me gentle kisses and I could feel him just staring. He knew something was not normal so kept looking to me for direction. As you know, the direction doesn’t always have to be verbal. And he was able to pick up on the energy I was exuding and knew something was different with me.

You know the saying it’s the little things? Well, that’s what Porter did for me that night. A bunch of little things. And maybe to some, they wouldn’t have noticed it, but to me, they made a world of difference.

As we sat by the water he didn’t go around and sniff at the grass or find a stick to chew like he usually does. No, he chose to sit right next to me and lean in so that we were both holding each other up. He chose to not whine when he was bored. Instead he would occasionally give me a lick or a touch with his nose.


When we got home, he didn’t ask to be fed. Instead he pulled his blanket closer to me on and curled up. He made sure he was in reaching distance so I could pet him.

When he laid down, he didn’t just go to sleep. Instead, he positioned himself so he could watch me. His brown eyes watched my every move to make sure he didn’t need to be on comfort patrol.

When I found myself laughing at something, instead of looking up annoyed because I was interrupting his resting time (yes, this does happen), he would let out a big sigh as if it was relieving to hear me make a normal sound.

When I went to bed, instead of curling up by my feet, he chose to sleep right by chest so that his nose was facing mine. Instead of going to bed right away, he stayed awake and would intermittently give me a kiss.


Brittany Graham Photography

Porter made small choices to show me that he cared. He did what he could, and that’s more than I could ever expect. And that’s the amazing thing about dogs. They read us look a book. Then they do what they can. There’s such pure devotion from an animal that if it doesn’t make you have a feeling of awe I’m not sure what can.

Your dog doesn’t have to pull you from a burning building to show you the amount of love and esteem they have for you. They can simply choose to move that blanket a little closer. Time to be a little more present and notice the little things our dogs are doing for us.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

A Simple Matter


  Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

 - Leonardo da Vinci

Dogs are simple.  Not stupid…definitely not stupid.  But they keep things very simple and streamlined in their world.  Their communication is based upon a binary system of “yes” and “no”.  They don’t complicate their emotions.  Have you ever heard of a dog questioning why they love you?  They accept their emotions, be it love or fear, completely, without judgment or reason.  They feel a certain way because they do.  No need to siphon out a reason.

That’s why it makes my eyes itch when I see people overcomplicating their dogs.  No, your skittish dog probably wasn’t abused before coming to a the shelter.  No, your food-aggressive dog wasn’t starved before you got him.  Behavior doesn’t necessarily need a reason.  It just is.  And that is completely wonderful.  As I’ve stated countless times, dogs are incapable of doing anything wrong.  They are absolutely perfect…for dogs.

Now, unfortunately, not all behaviors are appropriate in our human world.  Take food-aggression for instance.  In the not-so-long-ago days when dogs lived in the wild, food-aggression was merely a way for a dog to keep whatever nutrients might stumble its way.  Dogs didn’t necessarily live in the land of milk and honey.  Sometimes each calorie was hard won, and therefore vigorously guarded.  In the wild, we call that survival.  (Regrettably, in the human world, I call this one of the very few good reasons to rehome a dog in certain situations.  Yes, this behavior can indeed be managed, but it is like keeping a loaded gun in the house.  With a family of children.)

Back to simplicity.  The simple, wonderfully brilliant thing about dog is that you don’t have to know why they are evidencing a certain behavior to help them modify that behavior to be suitable in a human world.

Example:  I had a client named Claire, and her beautiful Rottie named Bubbles (I kid you not).  Bubbles was a lovely, happy, drooling bubbly ball of fun with one pretty big issue.  On the walk, Bubbles would be going along just fine, with his head right by his owner’s leg, and the leash slack.  Suddenly, Bubbles would rear up like a dinosaur, desperate to get away from his owner, the leash, everything.  He turned into a snarling, writhing mess.  It was all the Claire could do to keep Bubbles under control during one of these “episodes”.  Medical issues were ruled out.  She couldn’t figure out what set Bubbles off.  Some days would be fine, others, she could barely make it around the block.  When Claire called me, she was at the end of her rope.  “I’ve tried everything.  I can’t figure out what’s making him react like this!”

“Who cares why he’s reacting like that.  All we need to do is answer his questions. Obviously, something is scaring him, but we don’t need to know what that “something” is to answer a question, do we?  And the answer is definitely ‘no, Bubbles, nothing is going to hurt you.”  I calmly stated back.

So we went to work.  Bubbles tried to react with me on the leash, but here’s the thing… I could read his intentions early.  Dogs are wonderful at projecting their thoughts.  Bubbles was no exception.  His ear pricked forward, a series of wrinkles developed along his forehead between his ears.  He stood on his toes and leaned forward as his tail (undocked!) when straight up. All of these signals of his intentions happened in less than 5 seconds, but I was ready for him.  I didn’t blink.  Just was quickly as he started to ask the question, I answered it.   I didn’t wait until Bubbles was in a full on tantrum of terror, lunging and growling.  I answered his questions the second I saw he was asking it. I honestly didn’t know what the question was, aside from a general, “Will that hurt us?”.  I didn’t need to know what that was.

I do that to my kids a lot.  “Mom, can we-”   “NO.”  End of discussion.

Bubbles and I went around the neighborhood with no instances of lunging, but quite a few questions answered.  Then I handed the leash to Claire, who also started to answer Bubbles’ questions.  Everything went beautifully.  Bubbles’ now had his questions answered.  Claire realized that she didn’t have to know what Bubbles was reacting to in order to give him a “no”, making him feels safe.  I didn’t get Rottie drool on me (by some sort of divine intervention).  The whole situation ended with a “happily ever after”.

A Piloted dog is a happy dog

A Piloted dog is a happy dog


Claire called me about 6 months later.  She was excited on the phone. “I think I finally figured out what originally set Bubbles off!  I think I finally figured out the exact question he was asking me!!!!”   Of course I was dying to hear this.  “Well, as you know, I live in a rural area.  Mailboxes are at the end of the driveways.  I knew it wasn’t the mailboxes that were setting him off.  However, I finally discovered that if the red flag on the mailbox was up, he’d flip out. He was terrified of the little red flags!”

And that’s a Rottie for you.

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

Creating Calm

Just do it.
- Nike

Sparta, Orion and Cody.  Three energetic dogs.  Calm moments like this don't just happen, I work to make sure they happen.

Sparta, Orion and Cody. Three energetic dogs. Calm moments like this don’t just happen, I work to make sure they happen.

Okay, I get it.  The holidays are here.  It’s cold outside, and you’re just so busy. That doesn’t leave a lot of extra time for giving your dog the Activity that they require. Getting your dog’s daily quota of Work in shouldn’t be that difficult.  You are feeding them with an enrichment toy, right?  (If not, read this article to find out why Work is so important.) But just because you’re busy doesn’t mean that your dog’s need for Activity is suddenly gone.

Now, I want to go outside as much as the next person in this weather (Cleveland weather can be very unforgiving).  But there are more ways to give your dog exercise than just with a walk.  I currently have a pack of three, Sparta (100 lb. rottie/shep mix), Orion (7 lb. papillon) and Cody (a Labradoodle that I’m boarding).  That’s a lot of dog and I don’t necessarily have the time nor the inclination to take each of them for a long hike every day.  That’s why I cheat.  There are plenty of ways to exercise a dog that don’t involve freezing outside.


Yeah, I know.  I treadmill is definitely an investment in both space and money.  But you can pick up a treadmill from Goodwill, Craigslist or Salvation Army for under $100.  Do the math: how much damage has your dog done to say, your couch, because they had too much energy?  That $100 you spend on a treadmill is actually an insurance policy to prevent your dog from destroying perhaps thousands of dollars worth of items in your home, including your sanity.  Here’s a video on how to get your dog started on the treadmill.

Play Dates

When Sparta was 6 months old, my husband and I practically lived at the dog park.  Sparta is a huge dog who had a huge appetite for Activity when she was younger.  In the winter, that can be problem.  So every night my husband and I would take turns with who would take her to the dog park.  She would run and gambol among a pack of huskies who showed up every night, come home tired, and not destroy things.  If you don’t have a dog park near you, what about just setting up a play date for your dog?  Pick another dog of a similar age and similar playing style. Sparta, and my boarder, Cody, both love to wrestle together.  Orion is a runner.  That leaves him odd-man out, so sometimes I take Orion to my mother’s house to play with her dog, Kiwi, another runner.


No, agility doesn’t have to involve classes or joining a group.  In my house, agility is two soup cans with a yardstick balanced across them.  All the dogs in my house learn quickly how to jump over and go under on command.

“Over, under, under, over, under, over, over.  Good girl, Sparta!  Again! Over, under, over, over, under…”

Five minutes of this, and Sparta has had her energy levels at least topped off.  When she and Orion were both younger, it could sometimes be difficult to manage their energy while trying to get rid of their energy.  In other words, they needed to get exercise prior to going for a walk so the walk wasn’t unbearable.  We would do agility for roughly 5 minutes before our walk, and that did the trick.  It brought their energy levels down to bearable amounts so I could take them for a walk with more ease.

Another benefit to agility is that it gives  you an opportunity for positive reinforcement, which helps you bond with your dog.  You’re both working towards the same goal, and each time your dog hit that goal, you create the pack mentality of “we did it together”.  Sometimes you really need that positive.

The video below shows how to train a dog to jump through a hoop.  The concept is no different when training a dog to jump over a yardstick balanced on two soup cans.


I’ve been touting the benefits of backpacks for dogs for years.  It’s a cheap, easy way to top off their energy levels.  Sparta below is kindly modeling her backpack.  She wears it on walks, but she also wears it inside the house.

Sparta BackpackWhen she was younger, Sparta would wear the backpack all day while I was home (never leave a backpack on a dog unsupervised).  I would put about 1/4-1/2 pound of weight on each side, and the very act of carrying around that extra bulk all day would take the edge off her.  When we would go for a hike, I would add another pound of weight to each side.

A good rule of thumb for a dog is to start out with 1/2% of their body weight total in the backpack.  Work up from there, but never more than 5% max.  Sparta currently has one package of coffee on each side of her backpack, for a total of 2 lbs.  She’s getting older, and I don’t want so much stress on her back and her joints.  At 100 lbs., that’s only 2% of her total body weight.  I use things like dried beans, rice, coffee…things that disseminate evenly across the backpack (no water bottles, and nothing too interesting, like, say…dog food).  No water bottles; they bang against the dog’s ribs as they walk, and are typically too heavy and bulky.  Here is a link to the brand that I usually use.



Yes, your dog may love fetch, and it may take a while for them to get worn out playing fetch indoors, so why not make it more difficult?  Sparta is not a fetch dog.  I wish she were, but as I discussed in this article, you can’t make fetch happen.  However, if you have a dog who loves fetch, go for it, but tweak it a little for inside the house.

I put utilize the soup cans and yard stick again from agility.  Place it in a threshold through which you throw the toy.  The dog has to jump over it to retrieve the ball, thus burning more energy.  I’ll also throw the ball up and down the steps.  What about putting the backpack on your dog (with a small amount of weight) while playing fetch.  Think outside the, er…ball, and see how you can make fetch more of a workout for your dog.

I sometime wonder about the dogs in shelters, the owner surrenders.  How many of them surrendered their dogs because the dog was unmanageable in the house, when what really happened was the house became unmanageable for the dog, like in this scenario.  Riley never stood a chance against boredom and energy.  He was starving for activity, and took his “meals” wherever he could find them…usually in an inappropriate way involving destruction and mayhem.

All work and no play...

All work and no play…we all know how this ends.

Piloting, Activity and Work.  That’s the PAW Method.  It’s a tripod – remove one of those three things and everything topples over.  It’s not a smorgasbord or a buffet where you pick which items you want.  Yes, getting your dog’s energy levels under control can feel like an insurmountable obstacle, especially if your dog is young.  But utilize some of (all of!) these tricks, and you’ll find that good dog buried deep, deep down inside of your beloved canine.

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




Holiday Vacations

“Did you know that there are over three hundred words for love in canine?” – Gabrielle Zevin, Elsewhere


Porter sporting his holiday bandana… about as dressed up as he gets.


All of my family lives in CT. Holiday season is always crazy for me. There’s a lot of traveling and not much sleep. It’s crazy and hectic, but worth it, so I can spend the holidays with the people I love. Which, brings me to why I feel so guilty a few days before I leave: Porter doesn’t come with me.

As you can tell by now, I’m pretty no nonsense with my dog. Sure, he wears a bandana every once in a while, and he’ll also wear a coat if it’s too cold out, but I’m not the type to dress him up because “he’s my little boy”.

If he gets hurt, I don’t baby him.

I don’t cry when I leave him somewhere.

I don’t rearrange my day for him.

However, leaving him on the holidays makes me feel like the biggest jerk and the worst dog owner there is.


Okay, so he has his days where he likes to dress up like a Russian Grandmother…. it’s totally normal

I brought him home one holiday season. It was a 9 hour drive both ways. Although he was amazing on both legs of the trip, he wasn’t happy. It was stressful to be in one place that long without the option of getting some activity.

We then found our preferred boarding place. He loves it. He can’t get out of the car fast enough.

(Here’s some tips on how to say goodbye properly)

Every time there’s a holiday I start to feel guilty again. We spend the holidays with the people we love, and well, I love Porter, so shouldn’t he come with me?

I looked into if he could fit on my flight this time. Not because I actually thought bringing him on a flight would be a good idea, but because I just needed to know my options. If I could somehow shrink his legs, make him less anxious, and suddenly make him okay being cramped in a small place for hours we’d be all set!

Ok, so not the greatest option. Then I started thinking about how the holidays can get stressful. What would make Porter’s holiday the least stressful? What would be his ideal holiday?

-          Room to run

-          Hours and hours of outside time

-          Other dogs to play with (although dog reactive, he’s mostly dog reactive in the Mom, can I play with him now?? Pleeeasssseeee??? way now. See, Piloting does work!)

-          Food

-          People to give him tons of pets and attention

The easiest way to make his holiday come true is to make sure he’s not at mine. I can’t offer him those options when I’m running to visit relative after relative.

A picture that was sent to me from Porter's sleep away camp! He loves it there!

A picture that was sent to me from Porter’s sleep away camp! He loves it there!

We need to start reevaluating how we measure our love for our dogs. Some people measure it by how much time you spend with them, sacrificing lots of things to make sure you’re together. But guess what, sometimes loving your dog is making the decision that’s best for them in a logical and rational way. We need to let the judgments of other people stop clouding our mind. We have to learn to think with our hearts and minds instead of thinking just with our heads.

Same goes for Piloting. We learn to say no to our dogs because we think with our hearts and our minds. Sure, we’d love to give our dogs nothing but happiness…. But although they think that chocolate would make them happy, we know better.

Porter beyond tired after a week of playing with new friends

Porter beyond tired after a week of playing with new friends

Never feel guilty for making the decision that your dog must stay somewhere else for the holiday. Whether it be at a boarding setting, a friend’s house, or through Make the decision that will make the holidays the least stressful for you and your four legged friend. Start thinking with your heart and your mind.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

A Simple Solution

If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

Abraham Maslow


Pure-Bred-Pitbull-Puppies-In-ShelterI’ve done many blog posts regarding my thoughts on different types of shelters, how to adopt from a shelter, and even what to do with your new companion after adoption.  We all know that saving a life and adopting can be a very rewarding experience.  Shelter dogs can easily become beloved family members.

But wouldn’t it be great if you couldn’t adopt from a shelter because, well, there weren’t enough dogs to warrant shelters?

I think we all know that the number one cause of all the homeless pets is overpopulation.  Dogs do not experience reproductive limitations like humans do.  Female dogs can give birth well into old age, as they do not go through menopause. Male dogs are capable of impregnating a female dog in estrus at any time after puberty.  Obviously, with each litter ranging from 4-8 puppies (or more!) this is a serious problem.

 Overpopulation of dogs isn’t just an American problem:  it is estimated that there are 375 million stray dogs in the world.  We got a glimpse of this through the Sochi Olympics.  Who can forget the images of all those dogs wandering through the street?

Stray dogs in Sochi

Stray dogs in Sochi

India is even worse.  Conditions in India are ripe for supporting a feral and stray dog population, resulting in India having the highest number of human rabies deaths in the world (estimated at 35,000 per year) due to stray dog bites.  Massive amounts of trash remain uncollected in streets, providing these dogs with food, if sub-adequate at best.  Further, in 2001, a law went into effect making it illegal to kill these dogs.

So how is this problem solved?

Obviously spaying and neutering a dog is expensive and time consuming.  Trap and release efforts can cause funding issues, especially with female dogs, for whom surgery is far more difficult, expensive and invasive.

But there’s a new technique of sterilization that may revolutionize how we approach the animal overpopulation crisis, at least with male dogs.  It’s cheap, painless, and costs less than $1 per dog:  calcium chloride.  A simple solution.  After a light sedative, an injection is given to a male dog, which renders them sterile.  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article,

“In three studies published in October in a Scandinavian veterinary journal, researchers in Bari, Italy, tested a variety of doses and solutions in 80 dogs over one year and concluded that a 20% solution of calcium chloride in ethyl alcohol was optimal, rendering dogs “azoospermic” (without sperm) and reducing testosterone levels by 70%, with no adverse effects.”

Seems like a no-brainer!  Cheaper, safer for the dogs (no general sedative is needed and no incision).  Well, there’s a problem. Calcium chloride can’t be patented (kind of like how salt can’t be patented – it’s a common chemical).  Therefore, there is no money to be made by drug companies on this form of sterilization, which means nobody wants to go through the time and expense of shuttling this through the FDA for approval.  Without FDA approval, it’s difficult to convince shelters and vets that the method is safe and reliable.

Further muddling the issue is that animal testing would be required for FDA approval.  Now, I’m against animal testing.  Usually.  But logic dictates that testing a group of dogs by sterilizing them to prevent perhaps millions of other dogs from needlessly dying due to over population is quite obviously the much lesser of two evils. According to the ASPCA, roughly 2.7 million shelter animals are euthanized each year.

Think of the benefits that are being wasted by not utilizing chemical sterilization: medical costs for shelters would drop, both with the cost of neutering and after-care issues.  This method is insanely quick to administer, so just the sheer number of dogs who could be sterilized is staggering.  Dogs who are neutered using this method have a decreased amount of testosterone (similar to dogs who have been surgically neutered), leading to less wandering, marking and dominant behavior that is associated with un-altered males.

Quite obviously this isn’t the entire solution to the epic catastrophe that is over population, but it is a possible lifeline.  Break the cycle.  End the euthanasia at shelters, not because it’s a good or bad way to deal with unwanted pets, but because it isn’t needed anymore.

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

Reality Bites

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

 -Winston Churchill


Clockwise from the munchkin: Orion, Sparta and Cody

Clockwise from the munchkin: Orion, Sparta and Cody

Orion bit Cody (the dog I’m boarding) today.  Orion started with a low growl, worked up to baring of teeth, and then, for the grand finale, bit Cody square on the nose.  And what did I do during this entire engagement?

I watched.  It wasn’t my place to intervene at that moment.  Cody was actually being a twerp, and totally deserved that bite.  Orion had a Kong and was engaged with the peanut butter inside.  Cody came bounding up to Orion, stuck his nose right between the Kong and Orion, and proceeded to just be an absolute pest.  Orion gave him ample warning before finally resorting to “violence”, if that’s the correct word for a 7 lb dog defending his toy from 40 lbs. of annoying, 8-month old, Labradoodle.


Now that’s not to say that in my pack my dogs are allowed to just “have at”, snarling and fighting over anything they think belongs to them.  I will have peace in my house.  But just like any other family, frequently there are misunderstandings.  And let’s face it: it does take a village, and Cody had not been part of a healthy village when I met him. He would invade your personal space, jump on you, grab other dog’s toys from under them, etc.  He’s a wonderfully sweet dog, but he was like a child who had never heard the word “no” before: in other words, a total brat.  His owner had a serious injury just a few months after she got him, and he had been boarded at a regular doggie daycare for weeks before he met me, as she was essentially bedridden and unable to care for her beloved puppy.  Daycare is fine and wonderful for exercise, but not so good for Piloting your dog, as she realized, which was why she called me.   So, how do you un-brat an 8-month old puppy?

Well, if it were indeed just me, that would require my having to answer every one of his questions, which is the basis of Piloting.  Any behavior that was unacceptable, well, that was up to me to address. That can be a bit of an overwhelming job.  So I farmed out some of the work to Orion, and eventually to Sparta.

To make these types of situations work safely,  I need to be Pilot over both Sparta and Orion completely. In other words, they need to check with me frequently to make sure that whatever type of “answer” they are offering Cody is acceptable to me.  So when Orion first growled at Cody over the Kong, Orion frequently looked at me to make sure this was acceptable for him to do this.

Mom, can I handle this problem?

I neglected to answer Orion’s question (and remember, the absence of “no” is “yes”), so Orion continued.  Unfortunately, Cody didn’t catch the drift, so Orion had to escalate to a snarl (Cody is kinda dense sometimes).  Yes, Orion continued to keep an eye on me in case I had an answer different than the one I had previously given.  Nope. I didn’t.  Cody still didn’t get the idea that this behavior was unsavory.  So Orion leaped 1.5 feet in the air and nipped Cody squarely on the nose.  Cody caught on.  Finally. No blood, no mark, not even a scratch.  Problem handled – safely.

Now, letting Orion help me “raise” Cody for a few weeks is a lot different than letting Sparta do the same thing.  I work with Orion in a work setting very frequently.  I know how far Orion is willing to go to make his point, and exactly what means he will utilize to get that point across.  Orion is tremendously professional.  He never overdoes it, but he is willing to get his point across.  Sparta, on the other hand, is a bit totalitarian.  It also took a lot longer for her to accept Cody as Pack. She required frequent reminders.  That’s not to say she isn’t well behaved.  My girl will accept an answer to one of her questions instantly.  She’s freakishly well-behaved in that regard.  One just needs to bear in mind that, as a Shepherd, she was bred to protect the Pack (be it humans, sheep, etc.) from other predators.  Meaning I needed to be on top of all of Sparta’s questions as soon as she asked them. It took about a week before she was able to instantly identify Cody as Pack rather than something to annihilate.  But finally she accepted him and stopped asking questions.  And, of course, Cody decided to test his bounds with her as well.

When Sparta were first allowed run of the house together, it was for short, heavily monitored amounts of time.  I watched them like a lion eyeing a wounded gazelle, my gaze never lifted from them, all the while appearing “normal”.  Sitting on the couch, reading a book.  On my computer, all the while stealthily running surveillance.  Cody decided to try to trample Sparta while Sparta was calmly resting in her favorite spot  Not a bright thing to do.

Now, thus far, Sparta had shown a remarkable amount of patience with Cody, putting up with him crashing into her, getting underfoot, and even jumping off the back steps and landing on her.  Honestly, she had more patience than I can muster sometimes.  But there’s an end to patience, and a time when questions need to be answered with a “no”.

And that’s just what she did.  Obviously the game dynamics change when the dog answering the question is 100 lbs. instead of 7 lbs., but the rules are still the same.  Sparta jumped up, nipped Cody, who immediately backed off. Sparta went right back to sleep.  Question answered.  No blood – not even a scratch.  Merely a question that has been answered, in a dog-appropriate fashion.

Now there are some situations where it would probably be safe to let Sparta answer Cody’s question, but I’m not going to chance it. Instances where both dogs are exhibiting energy (even positive) or if it involves food.  There’s no reason to take a chance, as minute as it may be.  I’m a perfectionist: I’ll only allow my dogs to answer another dog’s question under perfect circumstances.  That’s why it’s always very anti-climatic when they finally get to answer.  That’s also why my pack is calm.  If things ever escalate (which they did when I first added Orion to my pack), then I answer everyone’s question.

Dogs are like children in that you can rely on them to set up their own little social regime.  If they have a kind, benevolent leader who answers questions (such as a parent), then children’s social interactions will be handled in a healthy, appropriate manner among themselves.  I see this with my own children.  Yes, they have disagreements, but they understand the rules I have set forth for them to manage these disagreements on their own.  Occasionally they have difficulty, so I step in.

A lot of people are quick to blame a dog who bites or nips another dog, especially if they’re larger.  I see this a lot.  A typically normal “argument” among dogs blown way out of proportion.  Before deciding if your dog is being aggressive, ask yourself a few questions:

What was the fight about?

If the fight appeared completely unprovoked, or with very slight provocation (i.e., one dog just entered the room and the other dog attacked), then there is a problem.  But if, like in Cody’s case, the dog was being a dofus, well, then…perhaps it was justified.

How long did the fight last, and how severe was the fight?

A nip on the nose?  That is how one dog tells another dog “no”.  Stitches and medical treatment?  You have a problem.  Also, bear in mind how easily the fight was broken up.  A few days ago Sparta started to answer one of Cody’s questions, but I didn’t want her to. I gave her a negative and she instantly backed off.  In other words, she was still being Piloted by me, not answering her own questions.  I will never allow things to escalate to where my dogs are on auto-Pilot.  I won’t even toe the line and let them co-Pilot.

Was there a change in circumstances beyond your control?

Darwin bit Sparta once, and had escalated to a very dangerous point.  No, still no blood involved, but it took me a moment to Pilot him.  He went to the vet that same day.  Sparta had been acting normally (she was 6 mos old at the time, Darwin was about 12).  So she was being annoying as a young dog will be.  Darwin had never shown her anything but patience, and was smart enough to remove himself from a situation if it got out of control or to “ask” me for assistance by placing me between him and Sparta.  So the intensity of the disagreement merited a vet trip.  Yes, there was a problem. Darwin had been battling some health issues, and they had increased in size. That was the start of his declination, and it wasn’t too long afterwards that we had to say goodbye to him.  Any behavior that is out of the ordinary is grounds for a vet trip.  Because we went early, we were able to give him relative comfort for the last six months of his life.


 I’d like to continue this blog post, but Cody is asking Orion a question about who has rights to the bed Orion is currently occupying, and considering how much help the little guy has been to me today, I’ll let him take a pass on answering it.  Cody could use another walk after I answer the question, anyway.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

A Journey Through the Jungle

Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness – Euripides
 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Sometimes it takes years to build friendships. It can take a while for someone to warm up to you. Even dogs. It’s normal for us to have to work at gaining their trust and loyalty. And other times, all it takes is one Swedish meatball to gain the heart of an extraordinary and determined animal.

Deep in the jungle of Ecuador a Swedish team of extreme athletes were taking a rest in the Amazon jungle. They were participating in a 430 mile race that covered all terrains: mud, water, jungle, mountains. During their short rest, they opened a can of Swedish meatballs. And out came a four legged, ragged, wide eyed stray dog. They offered a meatball to the dog and expected him to cower back into the cover of the jungle. However, that’s not what happened.

They named the dog Arthur. Arthur means noble and courageous and he earned his name that journey. Through mud, water, jungle and mountains Arthur stayed with his team. Because that’s what they were. A team.

Here you can read the article about Arthur and his journey across Ecuador and the Amazon jungle. It will make you smile, it will warm your heart and it will make you run to the nearest Ikea, grab some meatballs and wait to see if you can find a new best friend. I’ll meet you there.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Child’s Play

Every child should have two things: a dog, and a mother willing to let him have one.

 - Anonymous



Yesterday at the National Dog Show in Philadelphia, this happened.  This little girl, handling this large hound.  She’s only 10 years old.  The look on her face says that she’s bonded with the dog, focused on him to the exclusion of the chaos around her, and as you can see here, things can get chaotic.  The dog looks at her with something akin to worship.

A ten year old girl holding her own against a crowd of people who “know better”.  Who have been working with dogs since before she was born.


People who have may have lost that innocent connection with the greatest friend man has ever had.   I’ve made my thoughts very clear about dog shows and breeders in general.  This little girl has it right.  The look on her face says she there not about a breed, not about the prize, or any of the other trappings that distance us from our pets and turn them into a commodity rather than a companion.  She’s there because of one dog.  The dog that has already one Best of Show in her world.

 Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

The Buddy System

 It’s so much more friendly with two- A.A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

If you pull up any article that starts with “The 5 Best Ways To Motivate Yourself To (Insert Hobby Here: Run, Lose Weight, Start Yoga, Learn to Knit, etc.)” usually, somewhere on that list is this advice: Don’t do it alone, grab a friend to go with you.

So guess what I’m going to tell you is a great way to start working on your walking skills:

Don’t do it alone! Grab a friend to go with you!

Doing a Pack Walk of 2 (or 4 once you add in the four legged ones) is extremely beneficial.

Make sure you go with someone that you’re comfortable with. It needs to be someone who has similar ideas on walking as you and is also a good Pilot for their dog. The main ingredient here is to choose someone that you can offer advice to and who can take advice from you. We’re not perfect and we need other people to help us out.


Brittany Graham Photography


Here are the top 5 reasons you should grab someone else, along with their dog, and go on a walk:

      1. You’ll feel more motivated to actually get out there

-          Right now, it’s freezing out. It’s dark. It’s pretty much miserable. However, if someone else is counting on you to show up, then you’re more likely to get out there and get your pup for a walk. Even though it’s gross out, your dog still needs his activity. This is a great way to make sure everyone gets outside and gets the activity they need. If someone else is counting on you, you’re more likely to go.

       2. You’ll be working on building your pack

-          When dogs go on a walk together, they become pack. By walking next to another dog and their owner, answering your pup’s questions (Is that dog walking right next to us a threat? No, Porter, no he’s not. Oh, okay, can I play with him then? Nope, not right now.) You’re making your dog accept the other dog as part of the pack. He will start to realize that this other dog isn’t so bad and you can all walk together in a leisurely manner. This builds on his social interaction skills along with trusting your Piloting.

        3.  You have someone to talk to when you decide your dog is being a jerk

-          Recently, Porter and I did our own little mini pack walk with my friend Karis and her dog, James Franco. When Porter was being difficult on the walk it was nice to turn to someone and say, “What a jerk right?” Instead of just being by yourself, talking to your dog, and letting people think you’re crazy. But, in all seriousness, it’s nice to have someone who can agree, let you know you’re not alone in how you feel, and move on. You don’t have to keep it inside and there’s a certain amount of comfort in knowing you’re not the only one who has these issues.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

        4. You can switch dogs when yours is being too difficult

-          This is KEY. When your dog is really getting on your nerves, and you’re starting to get frustrated, switch dogs. You’ll be amazed at the difference. It’s easier for someone else to walk your dog than you. It’s also easier for you to walk someone else’s dog. Why? Because there’s less history. Your friend has given your dog less love and affection than you have. It won’t be perfect at first of course, but switching dogs allows you to focus on another dog that you don’t feel as emotionally connected with. Which means you’ll be less frustrated and able to focus on your Piloting skills. And you’ll see their results right away.

Karis and I switched dogs on our walk and it was great. She got a break from her 9 month old border collie and I got a break from Porter. Now, if you have a dog reactive dog like I do, just be aware of your surroundings. I saw a dog ahead of us that was on a retractable (friends don’t let friends use retractable leashes, by the way), so I asked Karis if she was comfortable walking Porter by the other dog or not.

She was honest and said that she wasn’t comfortable with that yet, so we switched dogs back. No big deal. You can switch dogs as much and as many times as you want and whenever you want. Keep it interesting, but also keep it within your comfort zone.

         5. You’ll want to go again

-          Going on a walk with someone else is fun! You can catch up on each other’s lives. You can complain about your dogs. You can talk about the latest episodes or bounce new ideas off of each other.


What all that talking does is, makes you forget about your dog. Your instincts will kick in and you’ll think less and just do. And the time will fly by. You won’t realize you’ve already gone on an hour walk. The whole experience will be more enjoyable which means you’ll want to go again. And once you make plans with your walking Partner, you’re back to reason #1: because someone will be counting on you to show up.

So, find someone out there that you can pair up with and get your Activity on. It will benefit you and your pup. Walking is so important for your dog. We know it’s hard to be motivated once the sun seems to be in slumber for a while and the weather is not enjoyable. But this is a great way to keep yourself motivated and work on those Piloting skills!

Keep calm and pilot on

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