Keeping Faith

Courage is found in unlikely places.

 - J. R. R. Tolkien

faith2Dogs are therapeutic, as we all know.  Some are trained to work in hospitals, or to read with kids.  Others have such a spark in them that they aren’t trained to do anything…merely existing can bring hope and courage to others.

That was the story of Faith, a Lab/Chow cross who was born deformed, without her front legs.  Whisked away by a caring human just as she was about to be smothered by her mother, she wasn’t expected to live very long.  Thank God the veterinarians were all wrong.

Faith did live.  And she thrived.  She inspired others to do the same.  She learned to walk on two legs and not only survive with her disability, but give courage and hope to humans who may be struggling accepting their disability.  She gave me hope as well.  I personally have no disabilities, but like all other humans in the world, I can get depressed, overwhelmed or just tired.  I’ll never forget the first time I saw her: trying to process the creature in front of me – a dog walking on two legs. At first it was disturbing, as my mind tried to categorize this creature in my head.  It’s a dog. That walks on two legs.  It doesn’t pace as dogs do, it was bi-pedal.  And ecstatic about life.  For some reason she brought tears to my eyes.  Just the way she would keep on keepin’ on .

We lost Faith this past week.  She lived to be almost 12 years old.  This saddens me deeply. She was a true role model and a hero for many who themselves were faced with a sudden disability, as she frequently visited our returning soldiers. She was also a hero for those who lead “normal” everyday lives.  She was a hero to me.  Her story may end, as all stories do, but the pages are filled with inspiration.  Goodbye Faith.  Thank you for the 12 years you gave to make this planet a better place.

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


Admitting There’s A Problem

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often – Winston Churchill

 - Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

There are many accomplishments I’m proud of as a dog owner. I’ve worked hard on Porter’s food aggression and the results are staggering. His dog reactivity has also extremely improved over the time that he’s been with us. However, the one thing I’m most proud of as a dog owner? The fact that I can admit when he’s being a total jerk.

The first step is admitting the problem right? Well, if I was never able to admit that Porter isn’t perfect then I’d never be able to work on his issues.

Hi, My name is Danika, I’m a dog trainer, and my dog can be a total jerk sometimes.

Imagine the first time that he tried to take my arm off while eating. Now, if I had just said “Oh, he’s just a stray, poor guy needs more food!” I would not only have a very fat dog, I would also have a very dangerous dog. Instead my thought process was, “Well, crap, we have to deal with some food aggression here” and I dealt with the situation little by little (if you’re having trouble with  any resource guarding/food aggression check out these articles and please give us a call).

Or how about the first time he lunged, growled and raised his hackles at another dog? If I had just said “Oh, he just wants to play and is just unsure of the situation” I’d have had a lot more trouble on my hands. My response, “Well, crap, now we have some dog reactivity. That’s unacceptable” and my Piloting kicked into full gear.

- He's not perfect, but I still can't imagine a day without him Brittany Graham Photography

– He’s not perfect, but I still can’t imagine a day without him
Brittany Graham Photography

My dog isn’t perfect. Sure, he has his moments of pure genius. Like the other day when we were able to place a bag of open chips on the floor next to him and he didn’t even think about making a dive for them. But, he also has his moments of pure assholery, like the other day when he would not calm down or stop jumping when I grabbed his leash. I praised the calm dog next to the chip bag, and gave the terror a negative and waited for him to calm down before we went anywhere. But, now I know we need to work more on pre-leash and door manners.

One of my pet peeves is owners that won’t admit that their dog might need some work and will only make excuses or stupid cooing noises. No dog is perfect. They’re not supposed to be! That would be just plain boring. It’s okay that they’re not perfect. It’s okay that they bark incessantly, they steal things off the counters, the pee on the carpet. But, it’s only okay if you acknowledge the fact that maybe there are some things (like the PAW method) that you can provide your dog to work on those behaviors and actually take steps to work on them.

If you admit your dog isn’t perfect you’ll feel better. I promise. And then, you get to work on those issues. It’ll be challenging of course, but it will also be so rewarding. It’ll be something you work on together and you’ll see the results. You can’t make your dog an even better dog unless you admit they’re not pure perfection to begin with.

The other day Porter and I were lucky enough to have a photo session with Brittany of Brittany Graham Photography. She is great with animals and is a level of sweet and nice that really makes me question if I’m a terrible person on a daily basis. Porter was up to his old tricks, beyond excited, super hyper, generally just a terrible dog. My Piloting went into gear immediately, however grass is super exciting apparently and when it’s taller than you are, all you want to do is stick your head in it and smell everything.

 - Porter eating the tall grass Brittany Graham Photography

– Porter eating the tall grass
Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany’s response to all of these general jerk dogness antics was “Oh! This is such good practice for me when I work with active dogs!”

My response: “Nope, this is good practice when you just work with jerks. Dog or not.”

I’ll always admit when he’s being a jerk. And then, I will work on why he’s being a jerk so that he can just be a goofy dog again.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

New Normal

“It always is harder to be left behind than to be the one to go…”
― Brock Thoene, Shiloh Autumn

Dog-Sad-Depressed-SickThere’s a reason why “Fido” is a popular name for dogs:  it means “Faithful” in Latin.  I’d be hard-pressed to find anything more faithful than a dog.  Their definition of loyalty is beyond the scope of most humans, which is why losing a pack member can be particularly difficult for them.

When my Darwin was about 11, I adopted a very young dog, Sparta.  Sparta grew up pulling on Darwin’s ears while he patiently tolerated her puppy antics.  Sparta was the annoying little sister, best friend, pack member and mutual protector of the house for Darwin, and in Sparta’s eyes, Darwin could do no wrong.  He was her confidant, her ally, her security blanket. Yes, I was the pack’s Pilot, but Darwin was definitely next in line.

When Sparta was a bit over a year, Darwin finally succumbed to his age.  He had lived a happy life, but now it was time to say goodbye.  I still miss him, and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, walking into the vets office him following me like the good dog he was.  I walked in with my best friend and walked out alone.  But at least I understood why Darwin’s bed was empty that night.  Sparta knew something was wrong the moment I came home without Darwin – my body language told it all.  Sparta was spiralled into a deep grief right beside me.  She wouldn’t eat for close to a week.  My normally very active young dog would go outside only to relieve herself, and then come back inside and bury herself with her grief in her little corner.  She was grieving hard.

A dog feels the loss of a pack member in a much more profound way than we do.  We miss our friend. Sparta missed the security of one of her Pilots.  The pack was smaller now, meaning less secure in her mind.  She lost a hunting partner.  For a dog, it’s more than about the love and friendship: it’s about survival.  In a dog’s mind, the pack is less likely to thrive with the loss of a member.  The only comparison I can possibly give is the grief a blind person must feel if their seeing eye dog dies suddenly.  Of course they miss their best friend, but it is so much more than that. It is a bond very few of us will ever understand, myself included.  I am not dependent upon my dogs for my day-to-day lifestyle.  Of course they enrich my life, but I could easily get along without them.  Dogs require each other just to survive.  The loss of a member is catastrophic on so many levels, and even more so if the pack member was a Pilot.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

You can help your dog get through this grief, though.  Resist the urge to act any differently than you usually would around them.  Don’t baby them.  Don’t talk to them in a whiney voice, telling them everything will be all right.  They don’t need baby talk; they need a Pilot.  Calmly hang out with them wherever they are grieving (I frequently hung out in Sparta’s little corner with her).  Take them for walks.  Exercise does indeed boost moods, for both of you.  You don’t have to pretend that you didn’t lose a pack member, but you do have to move on.  Slowly is fine.

Sparta worried me profusely when she wouldn’t eat for several days, but gradually she started eating again.  While I did give her a few treats during that time, which she refused, I did not offer her any different food.  We are trying to normalize a new situation, not change everything she was accustomed to. Sparta slowly picked up her regular meals.  Pretty soon she was bugging me to go for a walk instead of my having to retrieve her from her corner to take her.  In other words, we found a new normal.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Of course I still miss Darwin. Sparta does, too.  But our Pack has changed now, and includes Orion and two cats, Pixel and Echo.  Our Pack would be stronger with Darwin’s calm nature helping to lead it, but he’s gone.  Our Pack would be enhanced by his presence, but that won’t happen.  We find a new normal, and we make it work. And it works well.

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

How To Get Out of The Trouble Urine

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

funny_dog_pictures_housebroken_soon-s500x375-220006Last week I did a post about identifying the different causes of improper elimination in the house (I would strongly suggest reading the post on how to identify the problem before reading how to fix it – cart and horse, ya know). Knowing why your dog is acting the way they are can be important in deciphering  how to address the situation.  Again, sometimes there can be a combination of reasons why a dog does their business inside instead of outside perhaps they were never housebroken and they are trying to dominate.  Let’s take a look at how to address each of these issues.  Just remember the three steps to working with a dog in any situation:

Control Yourself.  Anger gets you nowhere.  When you are dealing with housebreaking, it actually tends to put you backwards.  Get a grip, grab some paper towels and cleaner and realize you are dealing with an animal who is trying their hardest.  My kids weren’t potty trained until they were 2-3 years old.  Now remind me, you’re expecting what from a 10 week old animal?
Control the Situation.  You can’t add stimulation to a situation to gain control of the situation.  As it applies here:  if your dog isn’t trustworthy yet to go to the bathroom outside, why are you giving them free reign of the house?  Control what you can, and remove the rest until you are at a point where you can manage a bit more.
Answer the Question.  
Dogs are always asking questions, such as, “Can I go here?” or “Am I going to die if I try to poop outside?”.  Answer their questions.  Read how here.

So, now that you’ve got the groundwork laid, let’s start unravelling this problem.

images3421Your Dog/Puppy Isn’t Housebroken. 

As I stated last week, this one is pretty obvious, but frequently overlooked.  Just because you adopted an adult dog doesn’t mean they have been properly housebroken.  Housebreaking a dog should be done with almost 100% positive reinforcement, (again, read about when to give positives vs. negatives here). You are trying to catch and encourage a positive behavior, and, ahem, eliminate the negative behavior which you don’t want.  So we need to contrive as many positive behaviors as we can get.  Again, remember the steps:  Control yourself; control the situation; answer the question.  We need to catch the behavior of “going” outside as many times as we can, so we are going to make sure that’s the only time they can relieve themselves.  To achieve this follow these simple rules:

No more reign of the house.  They should be either in their crate (or in a small room), outside going to the bathroom, or attached to you with a leash.  I loop the leash around my waist and allow the dog to follow me, freeing my hands.  Yes, the first 20 minutes of this is pure hell as you constantly trip each other, but like all other things, pretty soon you get good at it. Now, I know what you’re going to say.  I can’t go my entire day with my dog attached to me!  But here’s the thing:  nobody said you had to .  If you can’t take it any more, put them in their crate.  Don’t be a martyr over this.  It’s okay to give yourself a break, even for a couple hours.  The key things we’re trying to do it catch when they’re eliminating.  If you can’t see it, you can’t control it.  A lot of dogs will sneak away to do their business, and you never know about it until you stumble upon it hours later.  Give your dog plenty of opportunity to relieve themselves, but keep in mind certain key times:  first thing in the morning and 20 minutes after they eat.

Okay, so now you’ve prevented them from going in the house.  How do you get them to understand that outside is preferable? Every time you take them outside, while they are eliminating, repeat the same word over and over, like a drumbeat, “potty, potty, potty”, or whatever word you choose.  The moment they are finished, start praising them and offer a high value food reward along with a big dose of love.  Congratulations:  you are now on your way to training your dog to go on command.

Gradually you can start to widen your dog’s area inside the house.  Leave them off the leash for 20 minutes while you are keeping a close eye on them.  If you catch them starting to lift a leg or to squat, immediately scoop them up, take them outside.  There is no punishment for miscommunication.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Your dog is stressed.

This is overlooked for by a lot people.  Orion is one of these dogs.  He’s completely housebroken, but if he gets extremely stressed, his first reaction is to eliminate.  How to work with this issue?  Pilot them.  Calmly.  Excess energy is what’s causing the problem.  You can’t add more energy to the situation to control it.  (Re-read the steps to working with a dog at the top of the page).  Think about the stressful situations you may be putting your dog in:  separation anxiety is stress driven.  With Orion, even positive energy can do it, such as excitement over going for a walk.  This is where maintaining calm is crucial.  Positive things happen when your dog is calm.  I will never put the leash on Orion when he’s anything other than calmly sitting and waiting.  I won’t wrestle the leash on a hyper mess of dog.

Think about what might be stressful for your dog, and remove the energy from those situations.  Also, look at your body language.  Sternly standing over a very submissive dog can trigger these kinds of reactions. In these situations, approach your dog calmly.  No yelling.  No high-pitched whiney praise.  Just good old calm, boring body language and calm, gentle praise.  And never discipline them for their accident.  The issue in these situation isn’t their improper elimination – it’s the lack of Piloting.

They are claiming something. 

This one is a bit tricky.  It’s usually done because your dog has more money in their Piloting Piggy Bank than you do.  If they are Pilot, they rightfully own everything, or are allowed right of first refusal.  They are doing what is normal and natural for a pack leader to do: put their scent everywhere.  Favorite places include children’s rooms, couches, your laundry that’s on the floor or even your bed.  This is the one situation you will use very mild negative.

But let’s look at the impetus for this problem:  you aren’t Pilot.  Start Piloting your dog, and usually the problem with naturally abate.  If your dog is no longer Pilot, and you’ve taken all their money out of their Piloting Piggy Bank, a lot of times you won’t even need to address this problem directly!

However, that doesn’t mean that when your dog lifts their leg on your new couch you just sit idly by.  Typically they aren’t doing it because they have to go…they are using their urine to mark their territory.  To claim something.  Well guess what – as Pilot, you don’t have to sit idly by.  Claim it right back!  Use calm, but firm, body language to back the dog off the item they are claiming.   And work on your Piloting in other areas!  If you Pilot your dog on a walk, when company comes over, etc., that transfers over to this issue as well.  Round-about approach and all.  It works.

They know that going outside is good, but they don’t realize that going inside is completely undesired.

Follow the steps to housebreaking a puppy. Again, gentle negatives can be used on dogs like this, gently backing them off from where they just went and removing them to where it’s preferred they eliminate.  You are answering a legitimate question, “Is it ok to go here?”.  The answer is “no”, not the verbal and physical equivalent of an interrogation.

They’re scared to go outside.

Again, this is a Piloting issue closely linked with a dog who’s problem is over-excitement.  A dog can indeed be afraid to go to the bathroom outside, as they are extremely vulnerable at that moment.  So Pilot them through the situation! Initially you may have to go outside with your dog with them on a leash.  Follow the same steps for housebreaking a dog, but remember, this is also at heart a Piloting issue.  If you can’t even answer your own door without your dog going berserk and interfering, then you can’t possibly expect them to trust you that hey, it’s okay to go to the bathroom outside where everyone can see you, including those big scary dogs next door.  Pilot them in other areas, and this will fall in line.

As you can see, Piloting is integral to almost all areas of a dog’s life, including housebreaking.  Work with your dog.  Earn their respect and trust, not your fear and your wrath.  Also remember, you are trying to communicate a very tricky concept to an animal.  Lay the positives down thick every time you get your desired result: elimination outside.

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

A Little Dose of Happy

While we never know the struggles or pain a rescue dog has gone through, the happiness of going home can always be seen – Unknown

 - Brittany Graham Photography

- Brittany Graham Photography

If you have a rescue dog or have been around any rescue dogs, you know that there’s a certain amount of gratitude in their eyes. Maybe not all the time, but there are these glimpses.

Porter has his days where he can’t get close enough to us. He leans in and looks at you with those eyes that seem to be saying thanks. It can be a look, it can be eyes closed as their head is out the window in pure bliss, or it can be just a deep sigh as they lay down in their bed. They’ve seen what it can be like without a home, without unconditional love, and they appreciate what they have now.

Many of you out there are rescuers (yes, even if you’ve just adopted a dog you’re a rescuer) and many of you volunteer. You take time out of your lives to care and offer love and kindness to these animals that haven’t seen any before. You choose to share a little piece of yourself with them every time you care for them.

Sometimes we focus on the negative too much. We’re inundated with how many dogs are in the shelters, no kill vs kill, how many dogs are being put down and the conditions that these dogs are coming from and we harp. We obsess. We forget. We forget that there are a thousand happy endings still.

So thank you to all of those who have rescued and volunteer your time. I wanted to share with you this link of some lucky dogs on their Freedom Rides to forever homes and foster homes. Thank you. Somewhere you’ve made a dog smile, relax and feel loved like this. Enjoy.

Keep calm and pilot on

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


Urine Trouble – Part 1

No matter what life brings you, always take a lesson from your dog:  kick some dirt over that s**t and walk away.   – Anon

705d9b596a39e4f1092b1e694bdb3504So many phone calls I receive start out with, “HEEEEEEELP!!!!!”.  Then a series of problems repeated quickly, like the small print of a lease option on a car being read by a radio announcer.  Somewhere in the explosion of problems, I hear “not even housebroken!”.

Most people assume that if their dog is going to the bathroom in the house, their dog isn’t housebroken.  But going to the bathroom in the house is a symptom of the problem, not the problem.

Ahhh....but there's a reason for that!

Ahhh….but there’s a reason for that!

Look at it like this:  imagine you have a headache, so you go to the doctor.  The headache is the symptom of the problem, not the problem.  You could have a sinus infection, head injury, or cancer.  Or did you drink too much last night?  Do you have allergies?  So many reasons for the same problem – a headache.  Sometimes it could be more than one of these issues.  Maybe you have a cold and drank too much last night.  Same thing with housebreaking.  So what causes a dog to do “it” in the house?  Let’s take a look at common problems:

The dog isn’t housebroken.  This is rather obvious, but sometimes overlooked, especially in shelter dogs.  Most dogs will naturally refuse to eliminate in their cage, crate, den, etc.  Most shelters dogs are either in their cage or taken outside for breaks.  That doesn’t mean they are necessarily housebroken simply because they never go in their cage – it means that they were never given an opportunity to do otherwise.

The dog is stressed.  Scent is a very important thing for humans.  We bond through scent.  We cradle babies by our armpits so they can smell us and be relaxed.  We hug for the same reason – sharing scent.  How often has a crying baby been brought in to snuggle with mom, and then, without nursing or anything, instantly falls alseep?  They smell mom and feel soothed.

For a dog, nothing smells safer than pack.  Pack is like a security blanket, and the bigger that blanket is, the better it smells.  A dog’s own scent is mingled into the pack scent.  In times of stress (read: separation from pack) they may try to self-soothe.  That’s why you frequently see dogs urinating in their crate.  It’s the equivalent of an infant sucking their thumb – they need to be soothed, and their doing it the best way they know how.

They are claiming something.  Yesterday I had a training session with two gorgeous whippet mixes, Wyatt and Willow.  About five minutes after I walked into the house, Wyatt (the dominant being in the house) lifted his leg and peed on a chair nearby.  His owners were horrified!  He had never done anything like that before.  What happened?

Well, Wyatt was in charge of his pack, humans included.  I walked in with strong, confident body language which he (correctly) read as my taking over the pack.  This was his last ditch effort to claim something from me.  It was, in essence a pissing contest (no, I did not participate).  It was the same reaction a guy will give if he sees another guy across the bar eyeing his girlfriend – what does he do?  Calmly places his arm around his girlfriend, stating to the world:  she’s mine.

They know that going outside is good, but they don’t realize that going inside is completely undesired.  It’s a simple mistake.  They think that outside is merely preferred to inside.

They’re scared to go outside. So many of my clients tell me that their dogs will go No. 1 outside, but No. 2 is done in the basement or some unused corner of the house, almost exclusively.   Why?  Well, let me ask you this:  why do you close the door when you go to the bathroom?  “Privacy” is the answer I usually get.  But what is privacy?  Privacy is when you are doing something that leaves you slightly vulnerable.  That’s why (ahem) certain activities typically take place at night with the lights off.  That’s why we close the door when we shower or, even more likely, go to the bathroom.  We’re vulnerable.  A dog is so much more vulnerable when they are going No. 2 rather than No. 1.  Think about what they do the whole time they are going No. 2:  scouting for threats.  Looking all around to make sure there’s nothing about to pounce them while they are indisposed.  Typically dogs who are not very self confident, or small dogs who are so much more vulnerable than their larger counterparts, have this problem.  Orion 7 lbs. of nightmare to housebreak for this very reason.  Sparta (all 100 lbs of her) was a dream to housebreak).

These are just a few of the many reasons why dogs will eliminate in the house.  Your dog may have more than one reason for going in the house.  Just remember, your dog is a dog – perfect!  They are trying to live, as a dog, in a human world.

Part 2 – How To Get Out of the Trouble Urine.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Hack Job

Many of the qualities that come so effortlessly to dogs – loyalty, devotion, selflessness, unflagging optimism, unqualified love – can be elusive to humans.

John Grogan

Who is better looking?

Who is better looking?

I don’t like my daughter’s ears.  They stick out at a weird angle.  Plus, she doesn’t look like other girls her age, and I want to maintain the standard.  So she’s going in for surgery.  They’re just going to cut a little bit off the top and around the sides. She’s young, so she doesn’t need any anesthetic.  She’ll recover quickly and then be happy that she looks like every other little girl now.

I seriously hope that most of you are considering reporting me to Child Services for those comments.  Now, I want you to take the words “daughter” and “girl” and substitute it with “dog” and “puppy”. Where’s the difference?

I have long maintained that tail docking and ear docking were among the more cruel and inhumane practices we subject our animals to, and that’s saying something.  The background for cropping and docking is solid, though.  Dogs were used for fighting, war, and protection:  we didn’t want to give their adversary anything to hold on to or get a grip on.  Fair enough.  Dogs were used for herding or hunting in scrubby, brushy areas: tails were docked to prevent the tails from getting caught in briers and brambles and sometimes literally getting ripped off.  Um, again, fair enough.  A couple hundred years ago, people thought that removing a dog’s tail would prevent rabies.  Wrong, but okay, at least you’re trying.

So, tell me, why is your dog’s tail missing?  Hopefully because your dog was born that way.  Sometimes trauma, like my own Darwin, who got his tail caught in a door when he was about 10 (one of the most horrific injuries I’ve ever seen, and requiring a massive amount of Piloting from me during the emergency vet trip (see here for how to act during such a trip).  There’s always my “favorite” reason: happy tail syndrome.  Dogs with long, bony tails who, through their exuberance for life, keep breaking their tails over and over again against walls and corners.  Yes, please dock those tails – those dogs are causing themselves injuries.

Other than that, though, I’m very hard pressed to come up with a good reason to dock a dog’s tail.  Even more hard pressed to find a good reason to crop ears.  England has banned the practice for more than 20 years.  Maybe for good reason.  People who have their dogs cropped typically point out that it’s AKC standard.  Funny, that’s the same excuse my children try to use for their bad behavior:  someone else gets to do it.  You’re really going to site the AKC as a bastion of putting pet health over “showiness”?  That’s like asking the folks at Project Runway to sponsor a project on helping girls cope with their body image.

When did THIS become fashion?

When did THIS become fashion?

Let me put it plain and simple:  docking isn’t for the health of the dog.  Docking isn’t to make the dog feel more comfortable.  Docking is putting your dog through painful surgery to remove their flesh and bone merely so you can have, what is in your mind, a better looking dog.  End of story.  Pure bred or not.  The excuse of “it’s breed standard” is thin at best.  If you wouldn’t subject your child to a similar surgery, why would you do it to your pet?

I see plenty of AKC dogs in my profession.  Most of them have been chopped up.  Whenever I see a Dane with scars on their ears, or a Boxer who is missing pieces, my hear immediately goes out to them.  I’m sorry we’ve done this to you.  We make a promise to these pets to love and care for them for the rest of their lives, and the first thing we do is go make them look better?  We love dogs for their ability to see through what we may look like, what disabilities we may have, and love us for what we are.  Isn’t it about time we give them the same level of dedication?

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry StackDarwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OHio

Saving Graces

Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another – Immanuel Kant 

 - Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

So, your dog needs a Pilot. He needs a Pilot to make him feel safe. But, more importantly by providing your dog with a Pilot, you’re allowing your dog to be himself:  a dog. With that comes bringing out the best in him. Pushing him to learn new commands, listen better, work on recall, teach him new games, your Piloting him into being an even better dog.

Well, that’s great and all, but have you ever thought about who Pilots you?

Sometimes, in situations where I can get a little (okay, a lot) upset, I’m extremely quick with a snarky comment. These aren’t always at appropriate times, just keep that in mind.

While Kerry and I were raising awareness for the Pittie Parade we had back in March, a woman approached me and Louie (our pit mix ambassador). She took her time petting him and telling him what a great dog he is (which he is, I’m slightly obsessed with him). After a few minutes of oohing and ahhing over him, she asked us what we were representing. We explained that we were bringing awareness to the ban on bully breeds in Lakewood.

Her response: “Oh I agree with that law. Those are terrible dogs. Just terrible. They should keep that law in place”

Kerry’s response: “Well, Louie over there, that you were just petting, is a pit mix”

Silly  Lady’s (I’m cleaning it up for the kids here) Response: “No, he’s not. He’s much too sweet. They need to ban the pitbulls”

My response was garbled by the tea that I made sure I was drinking as the snarkiness started to ooze out of me.

Now, why did I choose to take a drink at the same moment I wanted to add my delightful response to the conversation? Because I was Piloted out of the situation.

As this exchange started, Tall Guy was standing next to me. As my temper started rising, he took a small but firm step towards me and darted me a look, which quite honestly, is the equivalent of me snapping at Porter. That’s when I decided to take a sip of my tea before I unfurled a string of unkind words and ill spirited sentences towards this woman.

Tall Guy gave me a negative. With his look he said “not this fight, not this time”. I understood and controlled myself the best I could. Tall Guy Pilots me through a lot of things. I have to admit, most of the time it’s making sure I don’t say something I regret.

 - Brittany Graham Photography

- Brittany Graham Photography

Pilots in your life can change between different people. The way your Piloted can change as well. Tall Guy usually does it with looks. Kerry, however, is very good at Piloting me and will do it straight up with words and most of the time ends with “So just stop it. Now.”

Dogs aren’t the only ones in the world that need Piloting. Take a second to look at who helps Pilot you and realize you might be a Pilot for someone else besides your four legged friends. It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s people like you who not only keep smart mouths in check, but push people to be better and better each and every day.  So, thank you.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Dog Training and Cat Agility

Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination.

 - Ralph Marston

I’ve finally become one of you…in the trenches.  Dealing with unwanted behavior.  The constantly on the table grabbing for food.  Acting out of control and breaking a lot of things.  Just acting like a terror in general.  The difference is, this is my kitten, Pixel.

This is what karma looks like

This is what karma looks like

Yes, I’ve had these problems with dogs in the past, but I tend to buckle down quickly and focus on addressing these problems.  They subside, if not disappear, entirely within a few days.  Granted, I’ve been training dogs since before I was born, but still, I’ll admit I’ve had it easy when it comes to the general “livability” of my dogs.  Yes, Orion has a nervous bent to him, which I frequently need to Pilot him through, but it’s like night and day compared to how he was when he first joined our herd (I’ve decided since we have 2 cats and 2 kids, it’s not a pack anymore…it’s a herd.  I’m certain Pixel has something to do with my change of mind.)  Yes, Sparta is very dog-reactive, but we manage that very well.  In the house, my pack was a dream to live with.  No destruction, barking only at legitimate (in their mind at least) things, and then immediately ceasing and looking to me for the next step.  Even Echo, my beautiful white cat, was more like a well-behaved dog: coming when I called him, never scratching anything, even tempered.

Then came Pixel.  For those of you who don’t know, Pixel and his sister were both found in the woods by me during one of our Pack Walks.  We decided to keep one.  Some days I wonder if I made the wrong decision.  His sister was so sweet and docile!

Now I’m stuck with this kitten who is becoming a cat.  Yesterday was the last straw.  He had been up on the mantel systematically knocking off all of my plants, killing them and breaking their pots.  I wanted to kill him.

I realized I needed to take a step back.  Deep breaths.  Afterall, he’s just a kitten (although soon to be a cat).  I needed to take my anger and frustration out on him, but decided to do it in a positive way rather than a negative way.  (Note: I still answered his question about the mantel, “No, you can not go up there”, but I still had a LOT of residual anger left over.)  I decided to teach my cat agility.

Agility - it's like an exorcism for your animal.  Okay, for you, too.  Brittany Graham Photography
Agility – it’s like an exorcism for your animal. Okay, for you, too.
Brittany Graham Photography

Agility (or any tricks in general) with dogs is awesome because you are asking them to let you Pilot them through a situation for which there is a reward at the end for doing so.  I’ve done it a lot of times all the time with dogs, and when they finally “get” it, it’s a huge burst of positive for both of us.  We are working together as a team.

I works with dogs.  What about cats?  I knew I needed to do something with this little beast other than constantly getting after him.  We started off simply, with a yard stick on the ground, and me literally dragging him over it with his favorite treat, repeating the words “over, over, over” until he made it completely across.  He did it!!! And he loved it!!!!!  I was so proud of him.  After about 5 minutes of this, I was able to start giving him the command without using the treat as bait, only giving it to him when he made it across on his own.

This was awesome!  I was finally able to give this damn sweet kitten some positive reinforcement, even if it was contrived. Who cares! I was psyched and pumped.  I’ve never been able to do agility with a cat before (the thought never, fortunately, crossed my mind).

How many of you out there have dogs who you are at wits end with?  Who when you come home to a new mess, a new bout of barking, new dog reactivity, have had it up to <here> with your dog?  You’ve forgotten that there are indeed positives.  And guess what, if there aren’t, you can create them. Give them a reason for you to be happy and praise them.  If I can wring a positive response from Pixel, you can get one from your dog as well.

So what have I learned about cats vs. dogs? Cats can be trained to tricks much easier than I anticipated. I guess the major differences is that after you get a dog to do the jump, they immediately look at you as if to say, “What’s next?”. A cat looks around and may walk away to find out what’s next. Cats are on autopilot It can be difficult to keep their attention.  So we worked at it.  Even Echo got into the fun.

Eric (9) teaching Echo the basics of agility.

Eric (9) teaching Echo the basics of agility.

So instead of stewing in my anger and frustration, I’ve decided to boil it off.  Or as I look at it, give me a reason not to kill this kitten.  Today.  But it’s okay…I’ve got enough treats to last through the week.  Then things get iffy.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio
Cat Training in Times of Desperation



The Cure for What Ails You

‘Tis healthy to be sick sometimes.

Henry David Thoreau

I give up.  I ignored the stiffness in my joints for a full day, figuring I overdid it working out (nevermind that I don’t work out).  I attributed my growing sniffles to allergies.  Even the lethargy I figured it was from not sleeping well.  But now I concede:  I have the flu.  From the way it feels, I think it’s Ebola.

Maybe I should call in sick.

Maybe I should call in sick.

So, here we go.  Rescheduled my training sessions for the next few days. Grab my box of tissues, my NyQuil and The Two Towers, and am ready to call it quits. I’m hibernating. My kids are at school.  My husband will handle them for me while I recuperate. It’s just me.  All alone in this big house.  Depressing.I toss and turn for a few minutes, trying to get comfortable.

But then the door starts moving.  I hear the clack of claws on the floor, and the jingle of a collar.  I can tell it’s Orion by the tiny sounds of his feet.  He’s up on the bed, snuggled next to me.  Now I hear a crash and a scamper downstairs, heading up the steps.  I know it’s Sparta.  She doesn’t usually come upstairs, as she’s scared of the steps.  She gracefully ascends the steps like a giraffe on rollerblades.  She comes into my room and lays on the floor right next to the bed.  I lay my hand down over the side of the bed to rest on her back.  I snuggle in closer to Orion.

Do you know why the name “Fido” is synonymous with dogs?  Because it means “faithful” in Latin.  I know what will happen with these two:  they will stick by me until I’m ready to awake.  If I’m in bed for an hour, or 16 (as happened last time I had the flu), they will stick by me the entire time.  Sparta doesn’t even like being upstairs, but she’s there because she knows I could use the company.  Orion knows I’ll only end up rolling over on him at some point.  He’ll merely get up and move to another spot, still keeping his vigil.

People ask me what is my favorite thing about dogs. Hiking with them?  Love it, but no.  Wresting around with them?  High up on the list, but no.  What about teaching them new tricks?  A definite plus, but not quite.

My favorite thing is the pack.  Yes, I’m Pilot, but what’s a Pilot without a pack?  My pack is tight.  We watch each other’s back.  No questions asked.  No time limit.  It truly is in sickness and in health.  My favorite thing is probably the feeling that being pack brings: Safety. Security. Acceptance.  Companionship.

Pack is home.

Finally, I drift off to sleep.


Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio