Stop the Comparisons

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Comparison is an act of violence against the self – Iyanla Vanzant

There are some times when I find myself wondering what could have been.

What would it be like to be able to bring my dog to a crowded place and not have to be Piloting every minute?

What would it feel like to go for a hike and not take the first 5-10 minutes finding rocks or logs to have Porter jump over, just to wear out some energy?

How much less stressful would it be if I didn’t have to wonder about what each meal time will bring? Will there be any growling?

What would it be like to not have to make sure that squirrels and small little animals aren’t chased?

These thoughts run through my head sometimes. Not all the time, but every once in a while I’ll find myself wondering what it would be like to have a dog without some of the personality quirks that Porter has. But then I wonder…

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Would that dog still love to sleep as much as Porter?

Would he be as calm in the house no matter how little activity he’s received that day?

Would another dog road trip as easily?

How about the fact that another dog wouldn’t be Porter?

Comparison is one of those things, that no matter what aspect of life you let it into, it never ends well. There’s no use comparing your dog with another.
Here’s the deal. You have a dog who could use improvement on, let’s say, jumping and walking. So, you work on those issues. Maybe your dog won’t ever be a therapy dog, but that’s okay. You’ll improve on the jumping and the walking. Maybe you won’t be able to visit any extremely crowded places, but visits to the park or trails won’t be as daunting as they once seemed.

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

That dog you see that walks perfectly on the path? Well, you can bet their owners have worked on that along with other nuances their dog might have.

No dog is perfect. But every dog is perfect for their owners. Try and take some time to notice the little things that you love about your dog when you start to compare. And take mental notes of those areas you wish your dog was better in. Then take some time to work on those issues. Don’t expect improvement immediately. It may be a slow process, but while you’re working on those items, you’ll find even more appreciation for your dog and the bond you have.

Remember, your dog is perfect for you. Just take some time to pay attention to the lessons that they’re teaching you.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

An Open Letter to Lakewood City Council

This post was originally published prior to our Pittie Parade in May 2015, where Dariwn Dogs took their stance, along with so many, against BSL.  In an interesting twist of fate, today I just had David Anderson, council member for the City of Lakewood knock on my door (it’s election season, after all).  I spoke with him briefly about the BSL in Lakewood, and how we can hopefully amend this egregious piece of legislation.  I mentioned the Pittie Parade from this spring, along with my open letter to city council, and asked what his thoughts were.  His answer was that he didn’t remember reading the letter (and that if a letter is sent with all the council members cc’d on it, it’s difficult to remember to read it).  I offered to have him read the letter, and mentioned it was on my blog, but he declined, as he stated he doesn’t read blogs.  He admitted that he isn’t a dog person (which doesn’t make anyone a bad person…let’s not muddle the issue), but that he’d look into it and find my email from months ago and read it.  The Pittie Parade alone had quite a bit of media coverage, support from many, many institutions, as well as so many dog owners who were on hand to lend their voices to the cause, I find it difficult to understand how anyone could not be aware of the growing outcry among pittie supporters against BSL in Lakewood.

I realize that BSL is not the only deciding factor in determining who you wish to have in office as your ward representative, but how individuals respond to their constituents is pretty important, regardless of their questions or concerns, is telling.  I was informed by Mr. Anderson that we could possibly bring this up again in January.  In other words, after elections.  I mentioned that perhaps we could bring this up before elections. His response was “Good luck.  That’s three weeks away”.  I thought I’d like to bring it up again, anyway.

In conclusion, thought this conversation may have seemed hostile, Mr. Anderson came across like a very reasonable individual, and hopefully one who will listen to what so many of us are asking: drop the ban.  I hope that at least in him we will have a dose of common sense when it comes to how our Lakewood dogs are labeled and treated.  I urge you to share this post, especially prior to elections, and perhaps we can have them take notice.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

To the Members of Lakewood City Council:

Ah… the Lakewood BSL. I realize this has been discussed at length already during city council meetings.  But rather than quoting statistics and information that you’ve already heard, which, while still very important, can only be heard so many times, I’d much rather offer solutions.

As our council members, your job is difficult.  You must weigh public opinion against the legality of certain issues, add a measure of your own different viewpoints, and combine it with a dash of funding issues.  I realize that can be a very difficult job – tedious at best. When you passed legislation in 2008 to enact a BSL, I realize that this was not done on a malicious basis, but rather, prior to when all  pertinent statistics and information were made available about pit bulls.  I do believe it was passed to try to protect our citizens, our law enforcement officers, and our domestic pets.

Unfortunately, the BSL solution was for the wrong problem.  As you’ve heard previously, pities are not the problem.  You all have heard where they rank in bites, and it’s pretty low. In my entire career of working with dogs, I’ve never been attacked by one.  I wish I could say the same for every breed.  Rather, the problem is in the ill-considered actions of owners.  Whether it be through negligence or ignorance, I put forth that we address the situation at the source: education.

Prohibition didn’t work, and therefore ended with the 21st Amendment.  However, it didn’t end without a plan: education about responsible use of alcohol.  In 1935, AA was founded.  Legal drinking age was established to make sure alcohol was used in a responsible manner.  Education became the weapon of choice, and it’s been working ever since.

I am asking that the same tact be taken with regard to the BSL.  Let’s educate our citizens of Lakewood, starting with issues revolving around issues such as retractable leashes.  Let’s educate about the body language that a dog can give before they are forced to attack.  Provide information on how to prevent dog aggression, (or what is actually happening - defensive reactions, - which can be addressed). Help our community fix the entire dog-bite issue, and not just ban one specific breed, leaving a gap of ignorance around the actual problem.

I work with and educate humans on how to be little more dog-responsible every day, and I see the results of education.  Therefore, I propose regular, free general-safety seminars to be offered to the citizens of Lakewood. I would be happy to present these seminars in conjunction with other professionals, if so chosen, as well as spearheading a general resource of safety etiquette and knowledge as it pertains to dogs.

Our Lakewood Police Department undergoes a rigorous amount of training with canine situations, and in speaking with Lt. Warner recently, I discovered what an amazing track record our police have with dogs, and using force as a last resort.  I firmly believe that stellar record comes from good cops being given good information.  Now I ask that our citizens be given the same opportunity for learning.

Lakewood has a wonderful library.  We have the Beck Center!  I first handedly know about our schools, including our special education department, which has made my children thrive!  Rather than deviating from Lakewood’s path of education, tolerance and non-discrimination by retaining the BSL, let’s be a shining example to other cities, not only by removing BSL, but offering a plan in its place to keep our citizens and their dogs safe.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

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

In The End

Pleasure and action make the hours seem short.
-William Shakespeare

Ben’s owners called me to help with some food reactivity.  They were both desperate, a young couple about to be married.  Sam had adopted Ben as a young dog, and brought him into the relationship.  Susie accepted Ben as her own, and did her best to help care for him.  He’d been in their house about two weeks when things started to change.

He started resource guarding.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with resource guarding, or in this case, food reactivity, it is a very difficult thing.  A very scary thing.  You never know when your dog will react.  In Ben’s case, he was extremely unpredictable.  He had bitten at least 4 people that I know of, not including Susie, who he had actually punctured though her finger with his teeth.  A couple of his victims had actually been seasoned dog professionals. At least on one occasion, he had guarded his own vomit in an effort to make sure nobody else could get at it.  It was an extreme case to say the least.

Susie was distraught, as was Sam.  The difference was, Sam was a little bit more confident around Ben, which made Ben a little less reactive around Sam.  Oh, Sam had still gotten bitten (fairly regularly), but the focal point of Ben’s ferocity was directed at Susie.  Susie happened to have a very nurturing demeanor about her.  Tall, beautiful, and looking just as at home in a Titian painting as she would on a fashion runway, she had a proclivity towards being a caretaker.  Sam wasn’t too far behind her.  They were perhaps the most emotionally healthy couple I’ve ever met.  Now Susie was before me, sitting on the couch, sobbing because she was (rightfully) terrified of her own dog.

So I explained the situation to them.  I helped Susie understand that her lack of confidence around Ben was making his reactivity even worse.  I showed her how to act more confident around him while still maintaining her personal safety.  I had her walk him on a leash, guiding her at first, until she became more comfortable.  I showed them both the merits of The PAW Method (Piloting, Activity and Work) as well as the three steps to working with a dog:

1) Control yourself;

2) Control the situation;

3) Answer your dog’s questions.

Most important in a situation like this was step 2: Controlling the situation.  In other words, in a stressful or high energy situation (food) the worst thing you can do is add more stimulation.  Calm was mandatory, and if the dog wasn’t calm (i.e., lunging at you and snapping), one must go against their nature and remain calm.

It's okay to fake calm.  Just make sure you win the Academy Award for best actor.

It’s okay to fake calm. Just make sure you win the Academy Award for best actor.

I walked them step by step, how to react when Ben was attacking.  I put food on the floor, far from Ben, and immediately Ben lunged and snarled, trying to attack me.  I showed them how to maintain control, as outlined here, and most importantly, remain safe.  Susie seemed to relax more and more.

But Susie was never quite comfortable, and who could blame her.  Sam and Susie asked me how long it would take to cure him of this behavior.  I gave them the brutal truth.

“Never.  You will never cure him of this behavior.  It’s like asthma…you don’t cure it, you manage it.  And just like asthma, sometimes you take all the precautions in the world, and you still have a flair-up.  This is about managing the situation, not curing it.”

They both looked crestfallen.  They admitted to me that they were going through training as not even a last-ditch effort, but more as a way to bring into light the truth they already knew: Ben wasn’t safe. Ben was downright dangerous.

They asked what I thought about rehoming a dog like this.  I gave them my honest opinion, that it’s akin to lighting the fuse on a stick of dynamite and passing it around like a game of Hot Potato.  You never knew when that fuse would run out.  Human safety must come first.  I wasn’t ready to give up yet, though. I offered a compromise.

“Keep him.  Work with him.  Remain safe, but you two are young, and you’re most likely thinking of children.  Just promise me that if you ever get pregnant, you need to take Ben to the Rainbow Bridge.  Don’t rehome him, because you know one day you’ll see a child with a scarred up face and wonder if his family adopted Ben and he did that.  Because you’ve seen the damage Ben can inflict.”

Both Sam and Susie started tearing up.  We finished up the session, and I saw Susie going from being terrified of the dog to slowly…very slowly, building up more confidence.  She would never feel safe without Ben on a leash, even in the house, and she was right not to.  She would never trust him if she accidentally dropped food on the floor, and she was wise to trust her instincts.  In other words, she would be relegating herself to the role of wary victim the rest of her time with him, because, while her self confidence was improving, and her recourse of action in these situations were being spelled out, she could never trust her own dog.

As I was leaving, I asked Sam and Susie to keep me updated on his progress, and to call me immediately with any questions.  Sam got quiet, and Susie turned away.

“We already made the decision”, Sam said. “We’re taking Ben to be put down tonight.”

I was floored.  It was so in-my-face.  I know not every family can have a happily ever after, but this family!  Susie worked so hard.  I have never seen someone struggle to overcome their fear so desperately, and finally succeed.  She was the ultimate Pilot!  She mentally gave her all to Ben, steeling herself even when she was scared!  How could they give up so quickly?!

But those thoughts quickly fled as I realized what that would be relegating her life to:  constantly being vigilant.  Constantly Piloting, lest she be attacked and injured.  I was still amazed by their decision, but immediately (somehow) respected them even more that they came to it. They both loved the dog (it was obvious).  Both wanted the happily ever after, but they both knew it could not be safely attained.

“That is the best example of Piloting I’ve ever seen, ” I told them.  I hated their decision, but realized there really wasn’t a safer option.  After all, what if Ben were human and treating Susie like that?  I asked her that very question.  She chuckled, because she said Sam had essentially asked her the same thing.

“I’d do with any victim of domestic violence would do….I’d try to change to make him happy so I’d be safe.”  And that was what her life would become with Ben. That’s why the decision had to be made.

So I left them, amazed by their ability to do the difficult thing. Both were faking that they were okay, but both were inwardly grieving already.

Sam found Ben in an animal shelter as a young dog.  Sam rescued him, and took care of him.  Fed him, walked him, played with him, and loved him, until it was no longer safe to do so.  He gave Ben the best one and a half years that any dog could wish for.  He didn’t merely extend his life, prolonging the inevitable, while Ben languished in some wretched state of limbo in a shelter or kennel.  He enhanced his life for that time.  But humans come first, no matter what, and Ben’s behavior was amazingly severe.

Ben died that night.  Surrounded by those who (tried their hardest) to love him.  I received a very tearful voicemail the next day from Sam, thanking me for what I had done for them, and helping them to see clearly the nature of what they were up against.

There are those of you who will be angry regarding this outcome. Who believe that under no circumstances should a dog ever be put down due to behavior, even aggressive dogs who have severely injured people before.  But whose circumstances are those?  Not theirs to live in.  Yes, perhaps they can claim that they’ve “been there” and never gave up on their dog  And they have the wounds and scars to prove it.  I applaud them…I truly do!  But no two situations are exactly alike.  I’ve worked with many people who have resource guarding dogs, like Lisbon and her owner, and most of them are able to understand the severity of the issue, and yet are still able to take on the challenge responsibly, and live with their dogs in a safe, Piloted atmosphere.  However, each situation is different, and each human is different.  It was time to say goodbye to Ben.  Was he a bad dog?  Absolutely not!  He wasn’t a safe dog, and that’s what made their decision so difficult.

Dogs work in mysterious ways, though.  One can imagine the scenario as they were saying goodbye to their pet.  Crying, the dog softly licking them, as if to say, “It’s all right, I’ll be okay. We all did the best we could”, and then Ben quietly slipping off to run along the Rainbow Bridge.

Only our pets don’t work like that.  Sometimes they don’t give us what we want, but what we need.

Ben bit the vet.  Badly.  Part of me thinks it’s because that helped to drive the reality of the situation home for poor Susie and Sam.  Perhaps he was trying to help them to help him across the Bridge, because that’s how dogs work.  Giving until the very end.

I needed a drink after writing this post. Or two.  It was an incredibly painful ending, especially with two people as wonderful as Sam and Susie.  Pilots to the end.

 - For Ben


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

Game Time


Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail – Kinky Friedman

Looking for a fun game with your dog?

How about “Find it”? Let’s get started.

What you’ll need:

1. Your dog in a calm state (take them for a walk before if there’s any concern)

2. A toy that your dog likes

Yup, that’s it.


Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham


Put your dog in a sit. While your dog is sitting show him the toy and let him sniff it a little.

Keep your dog in the sit and put the toy about 3 to 5 feet away in plain view.

Walk back to your dog and give them their release command (Porter’s is “okay”) and then repeat the phrase “Find it” over and over until your dog makes contact with the toy you had just placed 3-5 feet in front of him. When contact is made give them tons of praise. Lots of “good dog” and pets to go with it.

Practice this a few more times with the same distance. Each time your dog should see you put the toy down. As your dog becomes consistent in finding the toy, go ahead and make the distance longer.

Let your dog watch where you’re putting the toy, but make the distance more substantial. Again, praise each time your dog finds the toy.

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Once you feel like your dog has a handle over what you’ve been doing so far, make it a little harder. Hide the toy behind something. Let your dog see where you’re walking, but then hide the toy behind the couch or a chair, somewhere they can’t see it from where they’re sitting. Repeat the “Find it” phrase until your dog reaches the toy and then praise again.

So now, you get to make it even more challenging! Don’t let your dog see where you hide it. Go in a different room or around a corner.  When you release them repeat the phrase “Find it” until they come across the toy and then praise, praise, praise!

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

You can always help your dog find the toy by leading them over to the area if you find that they’re having trouble. But give them some time to figure it out! They can do it!

This is a great game to play when the weather is not so great outside or if you think your dog needs some more mental work than you’ve been able to give them recently. Make sure to have fun with it! It will be hard not to. Trust me!

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Not Quite Ready

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.

Havelock Ellis


For some reason I keep thinking that Sparta and Orion are going to live forever.  It’s so stupid, but because it feels as if they’ve always been there, that they’ll always be there.  It’s not like this is my first rodeo, either.  Darwin was a Lab, T-rex mix that I got when I was about 19.  I had him for roughly 12 years before I had to say goodbye to him.  He was very old (he was full grown when I got him), his arthritis was no longer manageable with meds, and we all knew it was time past time to say goodbye.  My childhood dog, Pebbles, a Border Collie mix, was with my family from the time we got her when I was 4 until she left us 16 years later. But just because you’ve done something before doesn’t mean you’re good at it.

Last week I trained with a wonderful dog by the name of Tank.  He is an amazing example of what an Akita can be when given proper exercise and a wonderful home.   Tank is a certified therapy dog. (Hint: Google “Akita disposition” and you’ll see why this is quite the feat.)  Yet I was actually called to Tank’s home to work with his new foster-brother, Red, a deaf, half-blind Chow with some neurological issues to boot.  I’m happy to say that Red is well on his way to feeling safe and comfortable in his new home.

I usually get a pic of the dogs I work with, just for myself.  I’d say only 1/4 of all the pics I take are ever posted.  I happened to get a picture of Tank in all his majestic Akita-ness, but it was dark, fuzzy, and not a wonderful picture.  I didn’t think anything of it, because I knew that Boots and Bee Photography (who does all the pics for the Darwin Dog’s blog) was going to be out in a few days to get pictures, and I figured I’d have plenty of professional pictures of handsome Tank.

Yesterday I got an email.  Tank’s owners had noticed that he was acting a little tired over the past few days.  They mentioned that they were taking him to the vet the following day.  Tank was immediately taken into intensive care.  His diagnosis: leukemia. His prognosis? 3-6 months.  His owners are hoping he can make it to his next birthday.  As Tank’s mom wrote:

“Remember when I complained about how he won’t go to the bathroom in the yard and I get cold walking him in the winter?  Well, I’d like to take it all back!

I originally read your post about 676 weekends back in April.  Even then, I really took to heart your message and we’ve always tried to make the most of our time with Tank, knowing that as a large breed dog, we really weren’t going to get probably much more than 10 years with him.  I read it again today (it took a while because I kept starting to cry).  If he makes it to his 3rdbirthday in December, that means we’ll have had roughly 150 weekends with him. It doesn’t seem like enough and I feel like I’m being cheated out of hundreds of weekends we should get with him.  Nonetheless, we still have for today.  We are putting together a doggy bucket list for him so hopefully we can have some adventures before it’s too late.”

There’s so much that I love about those words.  These are owners who didn’t realize the value of their dog once they had an end-time in sight; these are owners who always knew each day was precious, even when he was a pup.  They understand that they still have a dog (for now), and are being given a chance to slowly say good-bye.  They will make the most of their time together, and that’s what counts.

So yeah, maybe some people have all 676 weekends with their dogs, but only use a fraction of those weekends.  Most are too busy.  Some only see their dog as a burden, just another thing I have to take care of. And then there are those owners like Tank’s, who know that nothing is permanent, and that being given a diagnosis changes nothing. You’re born.  You die.   All that matters is what you did between those two points.  How did you use that time.

I’d also like to say one more thing.  Fuck you, Rainbow Bridge.  You may be the end destination, but I will never take my dogs to you in a funeral procession style.  I will bring my dogs to you with their bucket lists in my hand.  We will laugh at the times we had together, the stupid things they did.  The stupid things I did.  They will be exhausted from living life to the fullest, having been loved and cherished the entire time.  They will go out in a fanfare, starting at the time they become mine, we will start our bucket lists, because we never know how soon that Rainbow Bridge will turn up on a horizon.  Sometimes you can see it in the distance, and sometimes it sneaks up on you.  But one thing is for certain: my dogs won’t be crossing that bridge alone, because they will be taking huge part of me with them, just as part of them will be with me forever.

Tank, the Wonder Akita.

Tank, the Wonder Akita.

This post was originally written on Tuesday, Sept. 29th.  Prior to the posting, I contacted Tank’s owners for permission to utilize the message they conveyed to me in their email.  Their response broke my heart:

“That is fine. We just actually left the vet, he is in peace now.  We piloted him to the end. I just hope he knows how much we loved him.”

Tank,  you will always be the standard to which I compare any other Akita.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland Ohio

Comfort Smells


Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived – Helen Keller

Tall Guy has been working some long hours lately. And by long hours I mean, he’s home long after Porter and I go to bed and leaves the house the same time I do in the morning. Our normal routine hasn’t been put into action lately.

So, the other day when I found some of Tall Guy’s clothing in the middle of the living room, I just chalked it up to him being exhausted. Maybe he had tried to do laundry and it was a stranded member of the group. No big deal.

Then, a few hours later I found his towel by Porter’s bed. Now, the towel was not there when I got home and it wasn’t there 20 minutes prior, and I hadn’t put it there. I Nancy Drew’ed the situation and came to the conclusion it was either Porter or Scooter (the turtle). Now, seeing that Scooter is about 1 lb and not a Mutant Ninja Turtle (that I know of), I looked at Porter.

At first I was annoyed. He knows not to touch items that aren’t his. He can play with his toys and his own blankets, but our items are off limits. However, I hadn’t actually caught him in the act, so I just put the towel in the laundry hamper.

After about 30 minutes had passed, I looked up to find Porter gingerly dragging Tall Guy’s towel back towards his bed. I was about to Pilot him out of the situation, when I stopped to think about why he would be doing this.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

As I watched him so gently bring this towel towards where he’s most comfortable, he then curled up on it and just looked at me. And then I knew. He missed Tall Guy.

Smells that are familiar or associated with a certain place they love, or person they like, can be comforting. Tall Guy’s clothes smell like him naturally. So, when Porter missed him and wanted to feel like he was close to him again, he tried to find something that smelled just like Tall Guy.

This is why we always suggest you bring a blanket or towel that smells like you and your home when you go somewhere new with your dog. Allowing for familiar smells helps your dog feel less anxious.

You tend to do this yourself too. How about when you get the occasional smell of your grandmother’s cooking, or the smell of a pile of leaves in fall, or how about the smell of your grandfather’s pipe? They’re comforting smells. Familiar.

Never underestimate the small things you can do to make your dog comfortable:

If you’re trying to crate train your dog, sleep with a blanket for a few nights so it smells like you and add that to their crate.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Adopting a new puppy? Bring in a toy that they can all play with so that it smells like their litter mates. This will make them feel a little more comfortable in their brand new home.

Your dog is going to go to sleep away camp? Make sure they have one of their favorite blankets with them.

This is a small step you can take to help cut down on anxious energy in new situations. Small steps help. You can’t be a super hero every day, so set yourself up for success with little items.

Keep calm and pilot on

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


In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.

Edward Hoagland

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

There’s nothing I hate more than people punishing their dogs.  There is no point to it. Punishment is merely a method of retribution, and that concept would never occur to a dog.  Dog’s mostly live in the here and now.  They don’t dwell on what wrong has been done to them, or the need for retaliation.  Dog’s will address a misstep, and then move on.

Some people believe that dogs are mute - they aren’t.  They just happen to communicate in a way we sometimes overlook:  body language.  However, dogs ask questions all the time!  Usually when your dog does something “bad”, it’s because you didn’t answer their question.  ”Can I have that piece of steak on the table?”  ”Is that mailman gonna eat us?” You MUST answer their question.  Now, here’s the easy part:  dogs are binary creatures.  They ask “yes” and “no” questions.  They don’t have another option.  “Fido, wanna go for a walk?”  YesyesyesYES!  “OK Fido, where do you want to go?”  Blank stare.  *crickets chirping*   Fido can’t answer a questions that isn’t yes or no.


Answer their questions before really bad things happen – photo Twigg Studios

Communication is the key.  Reward the behaviors you want with praise, treat or just a gentle pat on the head.  Answer “no” to the unsavory behaviors want using their form of communication: body language.

So let’s put it all together.

There are only 3 things your dog needs: Piloting, Activity and Work. Or, as we like to call it, the PAW method. Notice I did not say, coddling, kissing and affection. To work with your dog’s behavior, give your dog what they need: Piloting, Activity and Work.  After you have given your dog what they need, then you can give them what you want: love, affection, praise,…namely, the good stuff.

Love and affection:  the only reason you should have a dog.  Piloting, Activity and Work: how you manage your dog.   Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Love and affection: the only reason you should have a dog. Piloting, Activity and Work: how you manage your dog.
Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham


Why do we call it Piloting?  Well, imagine you are on a plane.  It’s just you and the pilot, and all of a sudden the pilot suddenly becomes unconscious and you have to fly the plane.  How do you feel? Terrified? Anxious? Overwhelmed? That’s how your dog feels without a “pilot” of his own. The world is a scary place, and not everything makes sense to them.

Quit frankly, my dog is scared of her own farts, and most dogs (including yours) are still trying to figure out peanut butter

Quit frankly, my dog is scared of her own farts, and most dogs (including yours) are still trying to figure out peanut butter

So, let’s say the pilot wakes up while you’re still trying to fly the plane. What do you do? You’d probably let him fly the plane again right? Same thing with your pup. If you show that you can be Pilot, and that they can trust you, they will gladly hand over the controls and let you take care of them.

Piloting starts with confidence and body language. Make sure you are holding yourself in a tall and confident manner when answering questions for your dog. If you look confident, your dog will believe you are confident.  Women tend to sit and stand in an “S” shape. We tend to cross our arms and legs, which makes us seem less intimidating more nurturing. Men tend to sit and stand in a “T” shape. They take up lots of room and spread out. Make your body more of a “T” shape to help with your confident body language. Think of it as a uniform you are putting on when you need to Pilot your dog.  Make sure to stay calm as well. Adding tension and anger to the situation will not help. If you need to, step away for a few minutes. Then come back when you are calm and ready to interact with your dog.

Confident body language helps answer those questions your dog has been asking you constantly. Your pup is always asking you “yes” and “no” questions. Can I have this treat? Can I sit on the couch? Can I have some of your dinner? And more importantly: Is the person at the door a threat? Is that garbage can a threat? Is that other dog a threat?

The absence of “no” is “yes”. If you’re not answering your dog’s questions, then you are essentially telling them “yes”. (If you’ve ever raised teenagers, you know what I’m talking about.  “You never said I couldn’t!”)

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 yet, answer his question by walking in between him and the treat, facing him.  Imagine your dog is a lot taller, and you are trying to push him back from the treat using your stomach.  Remember, you are only answering one question, “Can I have the treat?”.  The body language you are using is telling him “no”.  As soon as he’s no longer engaged with the treat (i.e., staring at it or moving towards it),  remove your strong body language.  Take a step back.  He may ask the same question again immediately:  give him the same answer, (“no”) using your body language again, always removing your body language when he is no longer engaged with the treat, and adding it back when he does become engaged again.  Think of it as a giant game of Hot & Cold.

Now, if you want him to have the treat, just don’t say no. If you decide you want him to have it, you can just remove your body language from the situation.  You are no longer telling him “no”.   Remember, the absence of “no” is “yes”.

This is the same method you would use when answering the door. The question is “Is the person at the door a threat?”  Let your pup know that the answer is “no”, by making sure you are answering the door and not your dog. Pretend the door is the treat you had on the floor previously.  You are answering your dog’s question: “Need help with the door?”.  The answer is “no”.  Simply back them away from the door to give yourself some personal space (hint: you don’t need to back them up across the house, a few feet away from the door should do it!).  Now, nail them to that spot with your finger and your eyeballs (aka, the “Mom Look”), and back towards the door.  If they follow you, simply back them up again.  Wash, rinse, repeat, until you have a calmer situation to answer the door.

Calm can take a few tries.  Don't worry - you'll get there.

Calm can take a few tries. Don’t worry – you’ll get there.

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.


The second thing that is needed is Activity. Dogs, like wolves, need activity daily. Walking on a daily basis gives them their sense of roaming that they would get if they were in a wolf pack. Each day a wolf pack hikes miles to and from a hunt. Your pup has this same instinct. It’s important that they get activity every day, and the amount they often require is a lot more than you think.

Some ways to enhance your Activity time is to invest in a backpack for your pup. You can find them on Amazon and it’s a great way to make your dog feel like they have a “job”. Don’t place any more than 3% of their body weight (at max! – start very small) in the pack and make sure it’s something that won’t hurt them.  For example, water bottles tend to slap them in the ribs with every step.  I prefer bags of beans, rice or coffee grounds.

Although you’ll be going the same distance, it will feel a little longer to your pup, which is always a good thing!

Fetch and playtime outside and at a dog park are great additional ways to get in activity. But the walk is so very important because it gives you an opportunity to work on your Piloting and it helps them with their roaming instinct, even if it is just in your neighborhood.


The third part of the PAW Method is Work. Your pup needs mental work daily. Think of it this way, if you drive the same route home every day it becomes monotonous and easy for you. However, if there is a ton of traffic on that same route, you’re a lot more tired when you get home because there was a lot more mental work that went into that drive home. Your pup needs to feel that mentally tired. Otherwise, they’re bored. And boredom leads to finding things to keep them busy. And that leads to your grandmother’s quilt being torn up.

Stress is a good thing.  I want them to have a lot of stress in their life, because when you eliminate that stress, you get confidence.  Think of the confidence boost you get when you complete a project, or finish a crossword.  Benevolent stress = self-confidence.

An easy way to get some mental work in for your pup is to use an enrichment feeder. Such as a Kong Wobbler or Busy Buddy Twist N Feed. These feeders make your dog think about how to get the food out as opposed to just waiting for you to poor it out of a bag, which is dull, boring and EASY. By making them work for their food, it adds some mental work into their day and doesn’t add anytime to yours as you are going to feed them anyways.

Other things you can do for some mental work are playing “find it” games. To start, show your dog a treat, then put it down on the other end of the room in plain sight. When you release your dog repeat the phrase “find it” over and over until they get to the treat and then praise like crazy. Then move on to hiding the treat so it’s behind something, repeat “find it” and praise again. Then move on to using one of their favorite toys.  This is a good way to get some more mental work in.

Remember, your dog is family.  Sometimes family really sucks.

Okay, hopefully not THIS bad

Okay, hopefully not THIS bad

…but we can’t expect our relationships with our pets to be all sunshine and lollipops.  Sometimes we need to answer questions.  Sometimes it feels like they will never be housebroken (the dog, not the family).  But that’s why we Pilot our dogs.  That’s why we set them up for success with plenty of Activity and Work.  To make those moments less and less frequent.  And no, your dog isn’t perfect (mine sure aren’t), but we work together perfectly, understanding each others’ flaws, and not just loving each other in spite of them, but embracing them as part of who they are.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Wait for It

Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.

Joyce Meyer

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

I hate the “wait” command that some people teach their dogs.  In a world full of useless commands, this has to be the most useless.  I see it play out all the time while I’m training.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Perhaps some background is necessary. Let’s set this story up properly, perhaps using the typical training session as an example.  So I present to you, Wait For It, an original play written by Kerry Stack.


Kerry Stack:  Dog Trainer  Beautiful, graceful, always well-dressed with a witty comment on the tip of her tongue (hey, it’s my  play….I can be whomever I want to in it).

Angelina Jolie can play me in the movie adaption of my play.  Our resemblance is uncanny.

Angelina Jolie can play me in the movie adaption of my play. Our resemblance is uncanny.

SophieDog Owner.  Super-wonderful owner, but having some issues with her dog knocking people over at the door, as well as some mild dog reactivity.

Ajax: Handsome mix roughly a year old.  Big boy, weighing in at roughly 100 lbs. Typical No No Bad Dog.

ACT I, Scene I
Sophie’s House

Kerry has been called to meet with and work with Ajax.  Upon meeting Ajax, he immediately rushes up to Kerry, jumping on her before she’s even through the entranceway.  Kerry, knowing full well she can’t Pilot a dog who doesn’t know her yet, simply pushes him off of her, stands up straight, and allows the dog to smell her until he’s a bit more comfortable with her presence.  Now they are ready to begin the training session. 

Kerry begins to describe the things a dog needs:  Piloting, Activity and Work, stressing the importance of each. They discuss Activity, and various ways to make sure Ajax is getting enough (hint: it doesn’t have to be walking non-stop), Kerry also addresses issues with Ajax being bored, meaning he needs more Work.  Now they are ready to tackle the big problem:  Piloting.  

Kerry:  Piloting is the big issue you are having here.  The reason I refer to it as Piloting is this – imagine you are on an airplane, and there’s only one Pilot.  Mid-flight the Pilot dies.  What are you going to do?

Sophie:  Panic?  I don’t know…try to fly the plane!

Kerry:  Exactly.  And how do you feel flying that plane?  Nervous, excited, desperate, overwhelmed and overstimulated.  All because you’ve been put in charge of a crisis situation that you don’t understand and you can’t control.  Who does that sound like?  Ajax.  Each and every time someone rings your doorbell, that’s a potential crisis situation for Ajax.  Is it a threat?  Is it a friend?  By the time he gets to the door, he’s so worked up over the situation he literally can’t control himself, nor the situation.

Sophie:  So how do I handle it, and let him know it’s not a threat?  That I can answer the door without his help?

Kerry:  By answering his questions.  Dogs have a lot of questions.  Most of them are pretty stupid…”Can I eat this?”  ”Can I eat this after the cat ate it?”  Regardless of how stupid you think the questions are, you still have to answer them.  And some of his questions are pretty important.  ”Is the person at the door a threat?”  ”Do you need help?”  Those questions need to be answered, and in a way that Ajax understands.  Dogs are not based upon vocality or language.  Dog’s first language is body language. They have no second language.  Sure, you can spoon-feed them a few words in English….sit, come, etc., but the most precise way to communicate with your dog is with their native language.  So we’re going to respect them enough to use their language in their presence: body language.

Dogs happen to be binary creatures, though. This means that every question they ever ask you will be a “yes” “no” question, and every answer you give them will be a “yes” or “no”.  It’s like a giant game of “Hot or Cold”.  The questions Ajax asks (“Do you need me to answer the door?”) are answered with a “no”.  Just remember, Ajax isn’t bad, he’s merely asking a question, and the answer happens to be “no”.   So let’s practice the body language involved first.

I’m going to take these treats in my hand, put them on the floor, and tell Ajax (using body language) that he’s not allowed to have them.  What do you think Ajax is going to do?

Sophie:  Well, we have been working on the “wait” command.  He’s not allowed to have his food, any treats, etc., until we release him from that command.



Kerry:  But remember, I’m not telling him “wait”, I’m telling him “no”.  There’s a huge difference.

(Kerry puts the food on the floor, and answers Ajax’s question, “Can I have the treat?” by using body language.  Ajax sits on the floor and looks to Kerry stop see what to do next)

Kerry:  So he’s no longer engaged with the food.  Here’s my question: when does he get the treat?

Sophie: When he’s good?

Kerry:  My answer is “never”.  This isn’t a trick. I’m not teaching him “wait” and you can have what you want.  The problem is that you’re teaching him “wait”, which then ends with his getting whatever it is he wants.  Yes, he has to be a little patient, but he always gets what he wants in the end.  So when you’re trying to tell him “wait” at the door, what you really mean is “no”.  As in never.  You never need his help at the door.  Unfortunately, up until now, he’s never been taught to understand that some things are “no”…he’s been learning to wait to get what he wants.  But what if that was a baby wrapped in bacon on the floor?  If he’s polite and patiently waited for a few moments, does he then get the baby?   Or even better, have you ever tipped a waitress for not stealing your purse?  No, because that’s yours.  You don’t reward someone for not taking what’s yours.  The same concept applies to Ajax. The door is yours.  Whomever is behind the door is yours.  

(Kerry works a little bit with Sophie to make sure she understands the body language involved. Within a few minutes, Sophie is able to answer the door without drama, a first for her and Ajax.  For a more detailed description on how to answer “no” for you dog, check out this blog post)


As you can see, “wait” means nothing to a dog, because it’s difficult for a dog to understand that concept appropriately.  In dog world, either they can have something (human, food, door, etc.) or they can’t.

When feeding my dogs, I don’t use the “wait” command.  I get their food ready, and they “ask” if they can have it yet.  My answer is “no”.

Boot and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boot and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

When I’m ready, I call them to their enrichment toys so they can eat.

When someone rings the doorbell, they ask if I need help at the door.  My answer is no.

Sometimes I put food on the ground, and they ask if they can have it.  Sometimes my answer is no, and they never get it.  Sometimes my answer is yes.

“Wait” involves a mindset that I think we need to change as humans.  We use that word as a place filler, for when we don’t want to come across as “mean”.  But since when is claiming what is yours “mean”?  My job as a Pilot/dog owner isn’t to make sure my dogs get everything they want, it’s to make sure they get what the need.  In some instances, that’s a definite “no”.

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

Sleeping Arrangements

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

There is one question I get a lot from clients: Is it okay if my dog sleeps in my bed?

My reply is: I don’t know, is it?

Frustrating answer I know. But let’s be honest, we’re a little sassy here at Darwin Dogs. What I’m really asking the client is: Do you want your dog sleeping in your bed?

You can let your dog sleep wherever you would like. That’s a personal preference. There’s nothing wrong with your dog sleeping in your bed. The problem comes in when your dog doesn’t listen if you want him off the bed or if he starts claiming the bed from you.

Porter doesn’t always get to sleep in the bed with me. He has an extremely comfy bed of his own in the bedroom and the living room and he has a cozy crate. There’s no shortage of options for him. However, my bed is not always a given option.

Porter is not allowed on the bed unless he is invited. It’s a privilege, not a right, for him to be on the bed. This means, that if he jumps on the bed without being invited, he is immediately instructed to get off. The bed, clearly is mine. I’m the number one priority when it comes to my own sleep. As you should be as well. So, if your dog is hindering your sleep it may be time to reclaim your bed.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

So, how do you reclaim your bed? Use your body language!

Imagine your bed as a giant treat. Put your body in between your dog and the bed. Make sure your body language is strong: stand up straight, take up lots of space, and have lots of confidence.

If your dog tries to get past you and towards the bed move towards them and into their personal space until they accept your answer by relaxing their body language and are no longer fixated on the bed. Then slowly remove yourself from being in between your dog and the bed. If they go towards the bed again, repeat the strong body language. You are telling your dog that he is not allowed on the bed. You may have to repeat this answer many times, so stay patient.

Try and work on this new term and condition with your dog before bed time. Work on it during the day so that you’re not saying “no” for the first time when you’re tired and about to go to bed.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

And remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Porter can sleep in the bed, but only when I invite him. He knows this now, so each night he’ll ask politely if he an sleep in the bed by sitting down on the floor and looking up at the bed. I will always give him an answer. I will say no, and point to his bed if he is supposed to sleep on his own. If he is allowed that night, I will pat the bed and say “okay”. He is perfectly content either way, he just wants to know what that night will bring.

Don’t feel guilty about having your dog sleep in the bed or not sleep in the bed. Bedtime is your time. Do what will ensure you have the best night’s sleep.

Keep calm and pilot on

Danika Migliore

Darwin Dogs, LLC

Dog Training in Cleveland, OH

5 Suggestions to Make Boarding Easy

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

The scariest thing about distance is that you don’t know whether they’ll miss you or forget you - Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook


For some owners, leaving your dog’s care in someone else’s hands can be nerve racking. I mean you spend most of your day caring for your pup and now you’re expecting someone else to do just as good of a job. But hey! We all need to go on vacations. It doesn’t make you a bad owner! Here are a few steps to making your dog’s boarding experience a little bit easier for the both of you.

1. Vaccines!

To avoid any extra stress, make sure your dog is up to date on all of his vaccines and fecal samples. Wherever you are leaving your dog SHOULD have guidelines on what vaccines are needed and how recent they should have had a fecal sample tested. If you’re planning on boarding your dog in the future, most places require a Bordatella shot. Have all this taken care of ahead of time so there’s no surprises the day of.

2. Pack the Necessities

Talk to your boarding place and see what items you can bring for your dog. Now, remember you don’t need to bring the whole house in order for him to feel comfortable. If you’re allowed, bring 1 or 2 of his favorite toys and a blanket or towel that smells like him or you. The smell will make him feel more comfortable immediately and the toys will make him feel like he’s at home as well. Keep it simple. You don’t need to bring anything. And make sure you’re not giving Fido you’re $200 blanket from your bed. Any cheap blanket that smells like your household will be just fine.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

 3. Get some Exercise

Before leaving for “sleep away camp”, take your dog for a walk. Make it a little bit longer than it usually is if you can. When your dog gets to his new home for the week, he will be a little excited and anxious as it is a new place. Any extra energy you can get out of him before hand is helpful. Even when you get to your destination if you feel like Fido is a little too wound up, take him for a walk. Never underestimate the power of getting out any excess energy.

 4. Don’t Make it a Production

When you’re leaving your dog, don’t make it this dramatic affair. The more normal you act, the more normal your dog will act. If you make a huge scene, your dog is going to feed off of that energy and become very anxious. We don’t want that. We want this to be a seamless transition. To just a quick pat goodbye and you’re out the door. Your dog knows you love him. It’s going to be okay.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

 5. Don’t Make it a Production

Nope, not a typo. I just mean don’t make it a production when you come back for your dog either. When you pick your dog up, if you act like you just got back from climbing Everest or your dog just survived months of hiking the Appalachian Trail, your dog is going to start to become anxious, hyper and worried again. We want the boarding place to be a place where your dog has fun and enjoys going. So don’t make it a huge deal. It’s not. Your dog had fun, you had fun just in separate places.

Make sure you do your research on boarding places. Ask for suggestions from friends, other dog owners or your vet. Read reviews and even take some time to visit the place before you send your dog. But trust me, most of these places keep your dog so busy they won’t even notice you’re gone. And when you’re dog comes back, he’ll be so exhausted he’ll sleep for days straight.

Keep calm and pilot on

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