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…

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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 goldendoodle:  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 wriggly 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 typical Labrador Retriever.  Orion is a Papillon.  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 a 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.

sled

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

 

 

“Mine” Craft – Working with Food Aggressive Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will that other dog kill me?

No, Fido.

Have any dogs ever died in a thunderstorm before?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hand feeding... in the good way

Hand feeding… in the good way

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

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

Just a Bit Off the Top

  Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.

   – Thomas Merton

aggressive-dog

If you know anything about Darwin Dogs, you know that we don’t cotton much to extremes of any kind.  Extreme thinking is, well…rather extreme.  Not every behavior issue can be resolved with a click and a treat, and not every dog behavior requires a shock collar.  There is plenty of room for moderate, balanced training.

A few years ago I was presented with a very difficult dog named Chex to train.  Chex’s owner was very forthcoming with the issues.  He bit.  Everyone.  And not just a nip, it was all out aggression.  His owner, we’ll call her Annie, was concerned because she had already had another trainer out there.  I assured Annie that it was a situation that could be worked with.

I walked in the door and met Annie’s partner, Susan.  Susan was being followed by a very docile looking Border Collie mix.  This looked so much easier than what I had been preparing for!

“Oh, this isn’t Chex!  This is Sadie, my dog”, Susan informed me.  “Annie is in back with Chex.  She wanted to make sure you were safely here before she brought him out.”  Great.   I asked her to bring out Chex.

Out came a writhing 35 pound mass of dog, dragging his owner at the end of a harness.  Chex was out for blood. There was an intruder in the house (me!) and Chex felt the need to let everyone know that this wasn’t okay, and the situation was dire!

This is what Chex looked like to me.  Only a little less stable.

This is what Chex looked like to me. Only a little less stable.

Chex was in full-out panic mode.  His choices of flight or fight having been reduced by the fact he was restrained by a leash, he went all out on fight.  I knew I had to get him under control as quickly as possible.  That’s where I made a mistake.  See, Chex was on a harness.

Harness. n
1. an arrangement of leather straps buckled or looped together, fitted to an animal in order that the animal can be attached to and pull an item more easily and efficiently, such as a cart, or a human.

A harness offers no control (read: safety) for a human.  The dog is able to go teeth first towards whatever item they want.  That’s one of the reasons we use collars, so when held at arm’s length, a dog can’t put teeth to flesh quite as easily.  Unfortunately, Chex was looking for any place to put teeth, making this a very dangerous situation.  My choices:  ask them to take him into the back room again and put a collar on him that I had, or simply take the dog and work with him immediately, knowing full well I’d probably take a bite.

Of course I chose the latter.

As Annie tried to hand Chex over, he jumped up and bit me on the thigh.  It took some effort, but I managed to disengage him from my leg and kept him at arm’s length while using my body language to keep him from connecting.  After “dancing” with him for about 5 minutes, he calmed down enough for me to have his owners place the safety collar around his neck, and then we went for a walk.

The aftermath.  I called this bite The Eye of Sauron because of how it bruised.  Yes, I name any bites I receive. Hobby needed - pronto.

The aftermath. I called this bite The Eye of Sauron because of how it bruised. Yes, I name any bites I receive. Hobby needed – pronto.

Chex tried to attack me at least 5 more times during our walk.  I maintained calm boredom in between attacks, but when he did attack, I gave him a negative answer.  You simply can’t put a positive spin on, “Can I attack you now?”.  The answer must be a negative, and it must be given clearly.  The first attack inside the house was the worst, and resulted in an impressive bite.  By the time he attacked for the 5th time, it was a half-hearted attempt on his part…at best.  After our 10 minute walk, Chex and I went back into the house to meet with his astonished owners.  I explained to them that Chex was trying to protect them from everything.  He was actually a very frightened dog.  Nobody made him that way. Dogs have personalities, too, and they run from Hippie to Rambo, just like we all do.  Let’s just say that Chex wouldn’t have been caught dead at Woodstock.

Rambo_DogAnnie and Susan were amazing.  They understood how important it was for them to get this right.  Their dog wasn’t attacking people because he was a jerk – he was frightened!  After explaining the need for positive and negative reinforcement, and the proper times to give each, I took Annie on a walk.  We passed by a crazy old woman with her dog  off-leash lunging at us – a situation that would have set Chex to nuke-mode.  Chex merely eyeballed the other dog, eyeballed the old woman (who yelled at us for walking our dog on the sidewalk in front of her house and thereby making her dog go ballistic).  It was extremely anti-climatic from Chex’s and Annie’s point of reference.

After our session, they mentioned the other trainer they had gone through.  It was a click-n-treater.  Positive only.  They said she came in for 1/2 hour and was greeted with the same reaction from Chex that I had been treated to.  She refused to go near Chex, and proceeded to diagnose him from a distance.  Her expert opinion?

He’s bi-polar.  Oh, and probably had a bad past life.  That’ll be $75 for the visit, please and thank you.

I’ve heard from Annie since our session.  She said he’s a different dog now.  She answers his questions, and he doesn’t seem fearful any more.  He’s a dog now, instead of a mess of teeth and hate.

I train dogs.  I don’t train puddles of pudding with no personality.  Each dog I work with has a definite personality, from the “No-No Bad Dogs” to the heavy hitters like Chex.  The object is to retain the dog’s personality, but moderate it to accommodate a human world.  The “No-No Bad Dogs” need to have their questions answered (“Can I jump? Can I race around the house knocking things over?”) just as much as the Chex dogs do (“Should I attack that person before they attack us?”).  The nuance is not to create a robot in the process.  Chex is still Chex.  He hasn’t been turned in to a perfect little machine covered in fur.  He has his personality intact.  We’ve just skimmed the unsavory stuff from the top, and left the happy, mischievous dog in place.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs

Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Ctrl + Alt + Del

There is more to life than increasing its speed.

Mahatma Gandhi

I just spent the day at a local elementary school with one of my favorite dogs, Stan, who is a registered therapy dog.  I love going into the school, the enthusiasm the children show, how “Stan Time” can be earned by good behavior, and how Stan Time can also be used for helping children with stress or anxiety.  Stan Time includes children who have special needs.  He gives sensory therapy to those dealing with sensory issues, or encourages behaviors, such as using verbal communication to get a reward (getting to play fetch).  He also helps a typical child who may be doing very well in school and therefore earns a reward of Stan Time (children are able to save up points for good behavior, and then spend them like money on various rewards, such as lunch with the principal, or Stan Time).  Other children just need some time to reboot, and the mundane pleasure of throwing a ball for a big, goofy Golden Retriever can help melt stress prior to taking a test.

So in almost every sense of the word, Stan is a therapy dog. He gives all he can to these children (as well as their teachers).  It’s my job to make sure he is set up to be utilized to his full potential.  For example a child with sensory issues may not want to touch that slobbery tennis ball, and definitely does not want to have added stimuli of Stan running back and forth to fetch it, but they break out in smiles when simply allowed to lay their head on Stan’s side and snuggle with him.  Other children need an outlet, and would be far too energetic for snuggle time.  I took those children and showed them the basics of agility, which they then taught Stan to do.

A student working with Stan on agility.  Problem solving together...

A student working with Stan on agility. Problem solving together…

...helps with self confidence for both Stan and the children.

…helps with self confidence for both Stan and the children.

It’s always a wonderful experience for me when I’m at the school, and it’s nice to feel as if we’re making a difference, but let’s face it. It can be grueling for Stan sometimes. It’s exhausting for me, too.

Me walking through the school halls without Stan.

Me walking through the school halls without Stan.

OMG! It’s Stan!

That’s why every hour I give him a little bit of a break. Are we done? Not necessarily.  Just a bit of time to take breather.  To reboot, if you will.

The three-finger salute, as I refer to it.  Control + Alt + Delete.  Time to reboot.

The Three Finger Salute, as I refer to it. Control + Alt + Delete. Time to reboot.

No matter what he’s been doing, when he needs a reboot, he needs a reboot.  There’s only so much he has to give, and sometimes he needs some time to regain his composure.  The steps to working with a dog are:

1) Control yourself;

2) Control the situation;

3) Answer your dog’s questions, or as we refer to it, Piloting your dog.

By pushing forward when Stan’s mentally exhausted, I’m not adhering to Step 2.  I’m not controlling the situation, I’m merely adding more stimulation.  That never ends well.  So rather than pushing forward, I’ll take a step back and let him both of us relax for a moment.

I apply this concept to every aspect of my life.  I apply it during a walk with Sparta, who is notoriously dog-reactive.  She does very well with being Piloted past another dog, but two in a row?  On retractable leashes?  I’ll Pilot her, and then give her the Three Finger Salute, and let her reboot a bit after that one.  I simply answer her questions about the other dogs, get her past the situation in a calm manner, and since I know it was a mental struggle for her, I give her a moment to compose herself again.  Sit her down, scratch her gently behind her ears, and calmly praise her.  She literally shakes the incident off after a few seconds, and then is ready to go again, ready for the next dog I may need to Pilot her past.  In other words, I never run my dog down to empty. I always let them refuel mentally.

Rebooting the dogs has become a natural and normal part of my life over the years.  I automatically do it because I know I get better results from the dogs, and not pushing them to their limits earns more trust between us, allowing us to accomplish greater and greater feats.  Sparta now only requires very minimal Piloting when going past another dog.  Orion hasn’t had any stress-elimination in a very long time.

There is one aspect I keep neglecting, though.  Me.  So, while I had fun with Stan today, I came home exhausted.  I sat in my chair with my phone in one hand, a coffee in the other, and my computer on my lap, all ready to return the days phone calls and set up next week’s training sessions.

But I was tired.  I needed a Three Finger Salute.  I needed a reboot.  Sometimes I forget to give myself the same considerations I give to my dogs.  The same considerations that the students give themselves. They recognize when they need to cuddle Stan and just decompress.  I could learn a lot from those kids.

sdfdsfsdfsd

Control + Alt + Del

So for once, phone calls weren’t returned immediately.  For once, I didn’t set up appointments as soon as I came home.  For once, I immediately took care of myself.  Took a leisurely cup of coffee with a dog on my lap instead of a computer.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio