Restraining Order

Freedom is not the absence of obligation or restraint, but the freedom of movement within healthy, chosen parameters.

Kristin Armstrong

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Last week I had a rather full schedule training, including a couple of dogs who were, for lack of a better term, “aggressive”.  And this is how my week ended.

image1-8I really wish I could say I got it doing something exciting. It didn’t happen while I was training dogs.  It happened while I was painting. I’m officially middle aged.

Anyway, I’m supposed to rest it for at least a week, but as far as sprains go, it’s not too bad.  Now that brings to light a few questions, though:  how am I supposed to do this week’s training sessions, which includes one aggressive dog, as well as 3 super-hyper dogs, whom will undoubtedly need work on leash walking. Danika is currently in Costa Rica, so she can’t cover my sessions.

The answer is that if I can’t walk dogs with a mildly sprained wrist, then I can’t walk dogs.

The secret to working with dogs is to never make them feel restrained.  In other words, I shouldn’t need muscle to walk a dog.  If I am able to drive a car (which I am), then I am okay to walk a dog.

The biggest complaint I hear about people walking their dog is that the dog is pulling the whole time, causing the owner’s arms to become tired very quickly.  But let’s think about it  rationally:  the dog physically can not be pulling you unless you are pulling back.  In other words, you are pulling backwards just as much as they are pulling forward.  You are trying to muscle your way through the walk.  Even worse, the reason why your dog is pulling is because you’ve restrained them…no, not with the leash, but with the tension attached to the leash.  You’ve engaged their fight or flight response, causing them to pull forward, which in turn engaged your flight or fight response, causing you to automatically pull backwards.

Number5

But what if you didn’t fall into that vicious cycle?  What if you didn’t sink your feet into the ground, and pull back with all your force?  No, I’m not stating you should let your dog run amok while you follow meekly behind.  But rather than using brute force, have you tried answering your dog’s question instead?

Dogs ask a lot of question, all the time.   Answering your dog’s questions is called “Piloting” them.  Some questions you can ignore (“Is it okay if I scratch my ear now?” or “Mind if I take a nap?”).  Others you want to give a profound, hearty “yes” to, (“Should I potty outside?” or “Should I sit politely to get that treat?”).  But the most important ones sometimes require a “no”, such as, “Can I jump on your guest?”, or, in this case, “Can I lead our walk?”.  The answer must be “no“. So how do you “answer” your dog with a negative?

Easy.

Stand up as straight as you can, pretend your dog is a lot taller, and simply invade their personal space.  Keep your feel like a letter “V” so you don’t accidentally step on their paws.  The moment they are no longer “asking” the question, you are done.  So, for instance, if my Sparta were barking at something outside the window, I would simply stand up straight and get between her and the window she’s barking at, and back her off the window using strong, confident body language. I’m “claiming” the window, or, as we put it, answering her question, “Should I be worried about that dog outside?”.  The answer is “no”.

How can I tell when she’s accepted the answer?  She will stop barking for a moment,perhaps look at me, sit down, turn her head away, or even just walk away.  She is no longer actively interested in the window, or what’s outside, therefore, I no longer have to answer her question.  I’m done.  No force involved.  I didn’t drag her away from the window, I merely crowded her out from it, using my body.

So how does this work on a walk?  Well, let’s start with the three most important steps:
1) Control yourself. No anger, no yelling. Good, confident body language. Fake it if you have to.

2) Control the situation.  Did you just walk out that door with the dog dragging you, and then continue walking? Control each and every moment.  If you lost control, that’s okay, just reboot to regain control.  Don’t just follow the momentum. Create calm.  It’s okay to stop and start over.

3) Answer questions as they come up, using the body language.

Okay, now you’re ready.

Go to the front door.  Put Fido’s leash on.  Now I want you to “claim” the door.  In other words, Fido’s first question is going to be, “Do you want me to lead you out the door?”  Your answer is “No”, so simply pivot on your foot that’s closest to your dog, and now you should be facing Fido, with your back to the door. You yourself should look like you are a door that just slammed in Fido’s face.  Using your body language, gently back him away from the door, using an occasional tug, tug, tug on the leash if necessary, but never holding him back physically. Now he’s calm?  Okay then, you’re ready to walk outside.

Take each step slowly.  If he tries to drag you down the front steps, stop, give a series of gentle tugs until he is close by you again.  His ears should never be past your knees – if they are, he’s leading you.  Simply answer his question; the moment his ears get past your leg, give a gentle tug on the leash, and/or pivot on your foot so you are now facing him, again, looking like you are a door that just closed on him.

3

 

When Fido backs up to where he belongs, and/or looks away, you’re good to “unslam” the door and move on.  No pulling, no yanking, and now restraining.  Merely answering questions.

At first, Fido is going to have a lot of questions that need answering, because let’s face it, he’s always lead you on the walks before.  Stick with it.  Answer his question each and every time he asks if he should lead.  The first 10 minutes are going to be very frustrating for you.  The next 10 minutes will be less so.  The final 10 minutes are going to be like a whole new, positive experience.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Little Things

  “Judge me by my size, do you?”
Yoda – The Empire Strikes Back

10385367_10204184623834452_9168845168471881616_nConfession:  I’ve always been afraid of small dogs.  Not necessarily afraid of them…more like afraid to be around them.  Or more importantly, on top of them.  I’m about as graceful as a giraffe on roller skates, so the little ones always put me on edge a bit.  I knew deep down that they were just like every other dog, and I could see how they responded just as quickly to a bit of Piloting as the large dogs did, but still, they looked so…delicate.  Even if I were working with a dog deemed “aggressive“, if it was a Chihuahua running up to me Cujo-style, it instantly put me on edge, more so than even a Rottie or other large dog.

Then a couple of years ago it became more and more apparent that I needed a “bait” dog.  A dog that could help me out with the dog-reactive dogs.  It had to be a dog that was friendly, but aloof unless given permission to be pet.  A dog who wasn’t dog reactive, and would trust me completely.  The dog needed to be intelligent, healthy, and above all, non-threatening in looks.  Enter all 5 lbs. of Orion.

I hear you have a job opening?

I hear you have a job opening?

Growing up I did indeed have a small-ish dog named Pebbles.  She was a 20-ish lb Aussie mix we got from a shelter when I was in preschool.  But there’s a difference between a small-ish dog and a tiny dog.  Or is there? And so I present:

The Little Things That Make Little Dogs Great.

1) They can go anywhere with you.  Easily.

Sparta desperately trying to fit into the mudroom she loves so much.

Sparta desperately trying to fit into the mudroom she loves so much.

As I discovered after trading in a minivan for an Elantra, size can indeed matter…and bigger is not necessarily better.  While all 100 lbs. of Sparta fit nicely in my van, the same doesn’t hold true for my new car.  Not so much now.  Actually, Sparta doesn’t fit anywhere nicely.  A small dog doesn’t have the space problems that a larger dog can. Yes, I know what you’re going to say: a Great Dane is a better apartment dog than a Jack Russel (and you’re right), but if your floor plan only has 700 square feet, you’re taking a pretty big chunk out that with a Dane.  Any dog who is given the appropriate amount of exercise is good in an apartment.  Unfortunately, you can’t exercise the size out of a large dog.

2) They aren’t big eaters.

They're really only about a mouthful.  Wait....that's not what I mean.

They’re really only about a mouthful. Wait….that’s not what I mean.

The cost of feeding a small dog is drastically less than a larger dog.  For example, Orion eats between 1/4 – 1/2 cup of food per day, depending on how hard we hike.  Sparta, on the other hand, eats anywhere between 5-7 cups per day.  A Mastiff can eat up to 10 cups per day.  The cost of keeping a smaller dog is significantly less.

3) People aren’t as easily spooked by a small dog.

Awwwww....he's so cute!

Awwwww….he’s so cute!

Now, if you’ve been around dogs enough, you know very well that the little Yorkie is just as likely to bite you as the German Shepherd, but a lot of people don’t see it that way.  They see small dog, they automatically think of it as a friendly happy puppy.  So much that landlords typically don’t discriminate against any small dogs.  Ergo, it’s easier to get an apartment that allows dogs.

4) It’s easy(ish) to travel with a small dog.

I'll bet I could fit him in there....easily

I’ll bet I could fit him in there….easily

On a recent flight to Austin, someone brought a small schnauzer on board the plane in a carry-on.  The little darling easily fit on is owner’s lap for the entire duration of the flight instead of being regulated to the cargo hold.

5) Life span. 

photo 4(2)Smaller dogs live longer than larger dogs.  Orion’s projected life expectancy is 13-15 years.  Sparta’s is about 10-12.  Sad but true.

6) No counter surfing.

Brittany Graham Photography

Guess which one of us can reach the counter? Brittany Graham Photography

I’m all about training your dogs, but isn’t it nice when an issue isn’t even on your radar?  Sparta had to be trained to leave things on the counter alone.  Orion thinks the counter is Mt. Everest.

7) Eliminating the negative.

Eric, age 8, on poop patrol

Eric, age 8, on poop patrol

Ever clean up after a 100 lb dog?  Exactly.

8) Easier to manage.

Size never takes the place of training, but when dealing with difficult dogs, obviously a smaller dog is easier from a safety standpoint.

Size never takes the place of training, but when dealing with difficult dogs, obviously a smaller dog is easier from a safety standpoint.

Okay, a dog who is behaving aggressively needs to have the situation addressed, no matter the size.  But let’s face it: if tiny little Fifi the toy poodle decides she wants a piece of the mailman walking by, odds are she isn’t strong enough to literally drag you across oncoming traffic to get to him.

9)  Portable.

This is where Orion hangs out in the car. Passenger side on the floor.  His little den.

This is where Orion hangs out in the car. Passenger side on the floor. His little den.

When Darwin was a senior, I had a tremendously difficult time transporting him. Getting him into the car turned into an ordeal simply because of his size.  Smaller dogs are so much easier to care for as they age, requiring less muscle.  Similarly, on a hike, if Sparta gets tired, we have to stop and rest.  Orion, on the other hand, is easily portable.  Not that I’ve ever seen Orion get tired.

10) They’re dogs.

My ,majestic Papillon.

My ,majestic Papillon.

I mean, isn’t that what it all boils down to?  Dog is a dog is a dog is a dog.  They’re just like every other dog.

Sure I’ve stepped on Orion and tripped over him, but not very often.  Orion is a lot tougher than he looks: he has chased deer away from us, he has caught many a chipmunk in my yard, and he has remained courageous when helping me rehabilitate a dog-reactive dog who outweighs him by 90+ lbs.  I do indeed wrestle with him.  He hikes with me for miles and miles, never tiring. He has mettle. He truly is a mascot for Darwin Dogs.

Treating a dog like a dog.  What a novel concept! I treat Orion just like Sparta, and guess what:  both are well-adjusted, wonderful, polite dogs.  Small dog syndrome is indeed a real thing, but it’s something that we humans have created in our small dogs by treating them differently.   We don’t cipher out humans based on size. Danika is roughly 12 inches shorter than me (I’m 6ft tall)… but if you test our mettle, it’s neck-and-neck.  She and I are capable of doing the same things. Our clients don’t say they prefer me because I’m bigger than Danika.  I see people in shelters a lot looking for a new dog, but eliminating a certain dog from the running because they’re “too small” or a “sissy dog”.  Usually it’s a man, and usually I stand right next to them, look down towards them, and ask if that makes them a sissy man in comparison to me.  They usually turn red and walk away.

Small dogs, big dogs…  let’s just remember the best part: dog.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Stay

Stay just a little bit longer
Please please please please please tell me that you’re gonna
- The Four Seasons

 

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

So you’ve worked hard at recall with your dog.  Now what?  How about the “stay” command?

If you go about it like most people do, you’ll put your dog into a sit, slowly back off of them, saying “stay, stay, stay”, then crouch down, and call them, giving them a treat when they get to you. Um, yeah…

bush_doing_it_wrong_1

 

Remember, you’re trying to catch a behavior and reward it with positive reinforcement.  So let’s start at the very beginning.  A very good place to start.

indeed

Remember the three steps to working with a dog:

  1. Control Yourself.  Don’t be angry, don’t be frustrated.  Be calm.  If you can’t be calm, be gone and try again later.
  2. Control the Situation.  Don’t add energy to a situation you don’t already have control of.
  3. Add Stimulation and Answer Questions.  “Can I get up yet?”. Not yet, Fido.

Okay, now, you’re ready to go.  Or stay.  Whatever.

We will be using positive reinforcement in this situation because we are asking a dog to do something human: learn a new language.  Of course your dog already knows how to stay.  So does an elephant, or any other animal. What we are teaching Fido how to do is link a word with a behavior.  Any word will do, be it “stay” or “Bananarama”.  The trick is to link it to the precise behavior you want.

So let’s take another look at what you did. You started off well, putting your dog in a sitting, calm position.  You then calmly repeated the word “stay, stay, stay”, as you slowly backed off your dog, adding as little energy as you could, making sure you “nailed” your dog to that spot with your eyes and your finger as you back away from your dog.

Listen to your Uncle Sam.  He's got it right.

Listen to your Uncle Sam. He’s got it right.

And then you derailed the whole thing by calling your dog and rewarding him when he came to you, telling him he was “Good stay!  You’re such a good boy…good stay Fido, good stay”.  Um,

521e4-whatitmeans

You’re trying to catch the behavior of “stay”, not “come”.  Now your dog is confused.  Stay and come have become entwined.  Remember, one word for one action.  ”Come” means moving towards you.  ”Stay” means not moving at all.  But you just mixed them up for your dog.

Great.  Total protonic reversal. Nice one.

Great. Total protonic reversal. Nice one.

So instead of calling them, after you’ve taken a few steps away from them, as you’re repeating “stay, stay, stay” ad nauseum, simply start moving towards them again, finger out Uncle Sam-style.  When you get to them, calmly give them a reward.  Your dog should not have moved a single muscle, staying glued to the floor the entire time.  That’s how you catch a behavior.

So, you did it once or twice, merely taking a few steps away from your dog, and remaining in eyesight the entire time.  You’ve controlled the present situation (as in Step 2 outlined above).  Now you’re ready to add more stimulation:  stay command out of sight.

So you put your dog in a sit, Uncle Sam him, and then leave the room, go outside, and take a jog around the block and, yeah…

youre-doing-it-wrong

Of course your dog didn’t stay!  You added too much stimulation.  Take baby steps…progress, not perfection.  The first time you go out of the line of vision of your dog (maybe around a corner for just an instant), you will still be repeating the word “stay”, calmly, over and over again.  You will only pop out of sight for just a brief moment.  Your dog stays as you walk back. You reward.  All is right with the universe.

Gradually add more and more to the amount of time you disappear from sight.  Gradually repeat “stay” less and less.  If the first time you repeated it 15 times during the exercise, the next time, try for 14.  If Fido gets up, go back to 15 times for the next round, and then try 14 again.  And then 12.  And pretty soon you’re down to once or twice.

So how long does it take until your dog “gets” it?

Well, look at it like this.  I’m currently learning Spanish.  Ten minutes after I do one of my language exercises, I can remember almost 100% of the vocabulary words  Two hours later, maybe 90%.  The next day, 50%.  That’s why I practice a lot  Your dog is learning not only a new language, but a new way of communicating.  Dogs aren’t based on vocal communications like we are.  They don’t understand inflection or tonality.

No, but you're learning now!

They are based on body language.  So cut them some slack, and don’t get angry when they’re being “stubborn”.  They’re doing the best they can learning an entirely different form of communication.  Give them some help:  frequent micro-training sessions of less than a minute.  Praise and rewards for getting it right.  And the well-earned gift of your patience.  Because that’s were true staying power comes from.

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

 

Just Because

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” 
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I’ll never forget a conversation I had several years ago with a friend who happens to be a (great) vet.  She was asking me about the “come” command, and what my thoughts were about having a special “come” command, or an emergency recall.  A special word that means “come”, no matter what? Did I have a command like that?

“Yes”, I replied.  ”The word is “come”‘.

I have a lot of people who ask me why their dogs won’t come when they’re called.  My usual reply?  ”Why should they?”, which is always followed with some type of justification on the owner’s part.

  • Because I called them.
  • Because I’m their owner.
  • Because I’m their pack leader.

Just “because” isn’t an answer.  It’s a polka.

Hey, I'm Slovak.  What did you expect?

Your dog needs a reason to come when called, and there’s only one reason a dog will come when you call them.  That reason is you have more money is your Piloting Piggy Bank.  You simply must have more money in your piggy bank than your dog does.  Claiming to be Pilot or Leader doesn’t mean much unless you actually are.  I can claim to be Queen of the Scots, but unless I have something to back up that claim, well…Here, I’ll let Bruce explain.

So, to that end, I present to you How To Attain (Near) Total Recall.  Notice the caveat in there?  ”Near” Total Recall.  Because we are dealing with living, breathing animals, not machines who are programmed to respond a specific way to specific sets of stimuli.  No dog will ever have 100% recall.  So let’s do this.  Let’s get Fido to (Near) Total Recall.

 Oh, "Rekall, Rekall, Rekall." You thinking of going there?

Oh, “Recall, Recall, Recall.” You thinking of going there?

A few simple rules about (Near) Total Recall.

1. Remember the three steps to working with your dog:

  • Control Yourself.  Are you angry? Rushed?  Annoyed?  If so, it’s not going to work.  Calm is the only way to get what you want, and that goes for the “come” command, too.  Take a break and listen to the polka music again.  Nobody can be in a bad mood while listening to a polka!
  •  Control the Situation.  In other words, don’t start working on recall when your dog is chasing the mailman down the street.  Start in a controlled environment, say….your living room!
  • Add Stimulation (“Come”).  Let’s get ready to rumble!

2. You MUST use positive reinforcement.  In other words, “COME HERE!!!!” will never work.

Yeah, I always preferred Liu Kang anyway.  He was the only one who didn't seem to be on a roid rage.

Yeah, I always preferred Liu Kang anyway. He was the only one who didn’t seem to be on a roid rage.

Start in your living room, with your dog not too far from you. Make your body into slight letter “S”.  The object is that you don’t look intimidating, but rather, inviting.   Call them.  Remember you are teaching your dog a new language, so repetition is integral.  One word only.  In our house, it’s “come”.  In your house it could be “Pajammas” for all I care, just so long as you are repeating it over and over again. Pat your leg consistently to give them something to focus on,.   Hopefully, they will start walking to you.  The moment they get to you, they get high value positive reinforcement.  If your dog is food motivated, give them a treat.  If they are praise motivated, praise them heartily.  If they are love-bugs, give them a thorough belly/back scratch.  In a perfect world, you will be doing all three.  This is called Touch, Talk, Treat.  You are creating a Pavlovian response by linking these three things.  Pretty soon, you don’t need all three!  The Touch and Talk can take the place of the Treat.  That way you don’t need to rely on treats all the time to get your dog to come when you call.

Now that your dog came when you called, try it again, from farther away.  Pat your leg, move into an “S” shape, and start calling them.  Uh oh.  This time they’ve decided to ignore you. What do you do?

1) If you are home alone, quietly stand up, walk towards your dog, take them by the collar and start gently tugging (not dragging!) them to where you called them, repeating “come, come, come” the entire time.  Once you get to where you originally called them, they still get Touch,Talk,Treat.  There is absolutely no punishment, ever.

2) If someone is with you, have them retrieve the dog to where you are.  The person bringing you the dog should merely act as a disembodied hand that is bringing your dog to you. You will still be saying “come, come, come” over and over, and yes, they still get Touch, Talk, Treat when they get to you.

Practice this a few times. Pretty soon your dog will come bounding over to you to get their treat.  Now it’s time to start weaning them from the treats.  Now it’s 9/10 times they get the treat.  Then 7/10 times.  Soon it’s 1/30 times.  No matter what, they still get lavish praise and affection when they get to you.  Call them from all areas of the house so they actually have to find where you are.  Get them accustomed to actively looking for you when they hear they are being called.

Now you’re ready for outside.  But there’s a trick to it.  Yes, it’s easy to get your dog to come in the house, but outside they’re, well, loose!  Even in an enclosed back yard it can be difficult to catch a dog who won’t come.  That’s why I use a cotton clothesline initially.  About 20 feet will do.  Tie a big knot about every 2-3 feet along the line, and then attach it to your dog’s collar.  Now let them outside. When you call them, and they won’t come, remember, they’re dragging 20 feet of rope behind them.  Simply step on the rope (the knot will catch on your foot), and you can tug them along two towards you, calling them the entire time. And yes, they still get Touch, Talk, Treat when they get t you.

So you’ve been working at it outside, and your dog has (Near) Total Recall outside. Now you’re ready to lose the clothesline, but if you just instantly take it off, your dog may figure out that they’re completely free again.  Instead, gradually start cutting the clothesline smaller and smaller until there’s nothing left.  Your dog will never know the instant where you can’t catch them anymore.

What does it take?  Effort.  I loathe the people who tell me this doesn’t work, and when I ask them how long they’ve been at it, “Oh, at least 2 days now!”  You are training a dog to be human.  To respond to human speech, and to trust that you make a better Pilot than they do.  To this day, I still work at the come command with my dogs, even thought they attained (Near) Total Recall a long time ago. Work at it, because the first time you call your dog and this happens:

 

…it will all be worth it.

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

 

Tips for Successful New Adventures

 

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered – Gilbert K. Chesterton

This weekend we met with potential landlords. And, as can be expected, they asked to meet Porter as well. Now, Porter is a great dog. I will not deny that, but he’s also still a dog. Which means I can’t expect him to act perfectly in every situation, especially when new locations and people are involved. Which means I have to set him up for as much success as possible. When we put our dogs into new situations and are hoping for the best behavior from our dogs, it’s our responsibility to put them into a position that makes it possible. Here are some steps I took to ensure Porter was able to show off his best self.

1. Getting Used to the New Location

If you’re going to be somewhere new, this automatically means that it will be more exciting for your dog. New smells and new areas to check out. If you can get to the new location a little early and let your dog settle in you’ll be amazed at the difference. It’s unrealistic to expect your dog to act the same in a new place as he would at home. He’s used to home. He knows the rules and what to expect there. New locations have a lot of unknowns attached to them. If you’re able to get their earlier to let your dog settle in the better. Bring an item or two that would be at their favorite familiar location as well. A toy or a blanket. Bringing something that smells familiar will make them more comfortable.

2. Pilot Right Away

When you get to the new location, don’t short on your Piloting. Just because it’s a new location doesn’t mean your dog should have no guidance on what is acceptable or not. The faster you can start Piloting in a new location the sooner your dog will settle in. He’ll realize that not everything in this marvelous new place is a threat and that you have everything under control so he can settle in. And maybe sniff a few more new things.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

3. Activity

Make sure your dog can get out some excess energy with some activity. It can be a walk with you and if you’re in a place where your dog can run safely, let him go get some energy out after a walk without you. Play some fetch or let them run. Anything to get out some of that anxious energy. If you’re going to let your dog get some energy out on his own though, make sure that once they’re done, you go back into a short walk. Something to let them regroup into a calm state and finish up with some Piloting.

4. Expect the Unexpected

No situation is going to go as exactly as planned. Our little curve ball was that there would be a 2 year old meeting Porter as well. Porter does not have much contact with children. I can count on one hand how many times he’s met a kid. But, there was no point in panicking. That was the situation, so we could only react to it and answer Porter’s questions: Is this small little being that’s my size a threat? Nope, not at all. There’s no reason to worry about why they asked the question as long as you answer it!

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

5. Trust Your Skills

You know how to Pilot your dog and you’ve done a lot of work so far. So, trust your skills. If you start to get nervous, realize that your dog will pick up on the energy that you are exuding. Remember: Fake it until you make it. If you’re not feeling confident, take some deep breaths and think about all of the times you’ve Piloted your dog through new situations before. Making sure your energy is confident and calm is key. If you don’t seem concerned or worried your dog won’t either. I know, it’s hard. There may be times where your dog doesn’t act perfect, but don’t get frustrated. Just deal with the situation at hand. Don’t worry about what anyone else is thinking. Quite honestly, if you’re able to handle a situation quickly and calmly everyone will be impressed.

If you keep this tips in mind you’ll set you and your dog up for a great new adventure. Don’t stress new situations because you have the tools to make them successful! And just to let you know, Porter did great and made a new friend that’s about his height.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

 

The Human Victims of Breed Specific Legislation

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.

Helen Keller

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About a week ago I received a voicemail from a thoroughly exhausted woman named Liz, asking me for help.  I listened to her story with growing outrage at the situation they had all been placed into.

Liz’s granddaughter, 4-year old Aleeah, has cystic fibrosis, and Liz’s son, who had just gained full custody of his daughter, was forced to move in with Liz so as to facilitate Aleeah’s constant medical care.  Part of Aleeah’s care includes wearing a compression vest for fifteen minute treatments, twice a day.  The vest is designed to help break up the mucous that is constricting her breathing, and it shakes her, starting with moderate vibration and ending with violent shakes. Needless to say, it can be traumatic for the child, and they had difficulties getting her to sit calmly through the twice-daily ordeal.

That’s where this little guy came into play.

Meet Scrappy, the

Meet Scrappy

The thought was that a puppy might be able to keep Aleeah’s mind off of the treatments.  And guess what?  It worked.  Aleeah was sitting still for the treatments, and Scrappy was right by her side, comforting her throughout the ordeal.

A hero to Aleeah

A hero to Aleeah

He hears the machine go on, and he’s right by her, ready to do his job. No, he wasn’t trained to do this.  He’s not a service dog, nor even a therapy dog.  He’s a dog who knows he has a job.  Unfortunately, according to a few, he’s something else.  A pit bull.  At least that’s what the City of Lakewood believes.  And since Aleeah and best friend moved into Lakewood, a city that still has outdated Breed Specific Legislation (“BSL”), this dynamic duo is about to be broken up.

Scrappy was forced to do a blood test to prove whether or not he actually is actually “pit bull”.  According to the City of Lakewood’s 2008 legislation, a “pit bull” is:

“any Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier breed of dog, any dog of mixed breed which has the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of such breeds, any dog commonly known as a pit bull, pit bull dog or pit bull terrier; or a combination of any of these breeds.”

Scrappy’s blood test is still pending. He has a hearing on February 23 pending the outcome of his blood test. If he proves to be “pit bull” by DNA, the hearing will go forward, most likely resulting in his being seized by the city.

Meanwhile, a little girl sits at her breathing machine, wondering if this will be the last time Scrappy will be there with her though it all.

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I, personally, refuse to allow Scrappy to be taken away purely because of misguided and outdated legislation.  Aleeah needs Scrappy, and Scrappy needs Aleeah.  But even more so, we need to examine the nature of legislation such as this.  With so many cities overturning their breed specific legislation and welcoming all dogs into their cities, why do we still have such antiquated legislation in effect in such an otherwise tolerant city as Lakewood, Ohio?  Even Lakewood City Council is divided on the issue, which was decided eight years ago, with different members on the council at the time.  Council President Sam O’Leary had this to say to reporter Bruce Geiselman in a recent Cleveland.com article:

“I don’t speak for all of council, but I have heard from other council members they would be open to revisiting the topic this year,” O’Leary said. “Personally, I don’t think this is a policy that has support in science, and I think there have been a number of reports, studies and other information provided from groups ranging from the American Bar Association to the ASPCA that show from a public policy and public safety standpoint there are more effective and comprehensive ways to address this issue than breed-specific language.”

Aleeah’s grandmother and I attended Lakewood City Council’s meeting this past week, along with many supporters, to plead with council to revisit the archaic legislation.  Let’s hope that our words do not fall on deaf ears.  We ask that you join with our voices, not only with regard to Aleeah and Scrappy, but also in support of those dogs who didn’t garner as much attention as Scrappy has. For those victims of BSL who never make it out of a shelters.  Only 1 in 600 pit bulls will make it out of a shelter alive. Most are euthanized through no fault of their own.   Be a voice for those families who are unable to keep their beloved pets because of misguided notions about who pit bulls really are. Be a voice for Aleeah and Scrappy.

I’ve already added my voice, and will continue to do so.  Please consider adding yours.

As of publication, we are just shy of 40,000 signatures in support of Aleeah and Scrappy.  Please click here to add your name and allow your voice to be heard.  We are also asking that you directly contact City of Lakewood, Ohio - Municipal Government, either on their Facebook page or via snail mail:
City of Lakewood, Ohio
Attn:  Mayor Mike Summers
12650 Detroit Ave
Lakewood, Ohio
Keep calm and pilot on
Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Lakewood, Ohio

Personally Speaking

I am a great believer in found families and I’m not a great believer in blood.

Joss Whedon

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A few weeks ago I was chatting online with a friend of mine.  He wanted to know what I thought about a certain “breed”of designer dog.  His wife wanted one for the family, and she had fallen in love with a friend’s new puppy, and they wanted one, too.  He told me that the puppy was from a well-respected “breeder”.  They got the information on a breeder website….as in, “We breed schoodles, morkies and shih-poos…”.  As soon as I saw that, flags went up.  This wasn’t a breeder – this was a puppy mill.

I tried to explain to him that respectable breeders didn’t advertise online.  Nor did they specialize in more than one breed, let alone claim to be breeders of dogs that aren’t even a breed.  Unfortunately, it all fell on deaf ears.  They proceeded to purchase a puppy.  I don’t believe they even set foot in a shelter.  Rather than rescuing a new family member, they attempted to purchase a designer label.  But at what cost?

Puppy Mills

We all know the horror behind-the-scenes of a puppy mill.  We’ve seen the numerous dogs who were rescued.  I’ve worked with dogs who were saved from years spent in a tiny 2′x2′ crate, giving birth to litter after litter in squalid conditions.  These dogs are no more than livestock, there as a commodity, conditions be damned.  Each one of those viable puppies is worth between $800-$1000.  Unfortunately, those chasing after the supposed prestige that comes with having a purebred dog usually don’t want to pay purebred prices.  So they buy a knockoff.  Unfortunately, just like knockoff Prada, someone always pays the price, usually behind the scenes.  Child labor in sweatshops or abused and neglected animals. Both victims of the “designer” label.

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If you buy from a real breeder, you should feel as if you are applying for the CIA.  Background checks may be involved.  These are their lives’ work!  A breeder’s dogs are more like a family dog/work of art/live’s mission all rolled into one.  They will never let ou pick a dog from their litter – they interview you to find out which one of their puppies’ personalities will fit best in your household.  In other words, they have dogs, not investments. They aren’t a money making device!  Breeders typically don’t breed their dogs more than a handful of times in the dogs entire life!  According to Animal Rescue Corps., dogs in a mill have a much different schedule:

“Females are bred repeatedly, usually twice a year, every year, until they can no longer produce puppies. This is incredibly stressful on their bodies but they are viewed as moneymaking machines, as disposable property, not as individuals with inherent worth. Female dogs are commonly bred before it is safe to do so because the earlier they start, the more puppies they will produce in a lifetime. Puppy mill breeding dogs are often given hormones and steroids to try and increase the number of puppies they produce. These drugs can cause extreme pain and serious side effects – all in an attempt to increase the number of puppies for profit.”

But at least you got your cute puppy.

Designer Puppies

I just got a new niece. Her mother is Chinese, and her father is a mix of Finnish and Irish.  The baby is beautiful.  However, I am intelligent enough to know that she is one of a kind. I can’t recreate her, no matter how hard I try, even with parents of the same ancestry.  She will always be unique, from her looks to her personality.  My own children don’t even look like they’re related to each other, and their personalities are about as polar as they can be.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

River and Eric.  Or as my husband and I call them, Machete and The Professor.

So why are you trying to recreate your neighbor’s adorable puppy, who happens to be a something-poo?  Your inability to realize that you can’t recreate a living being is disturbing to me.  I can understand having a type…. I personally prefer Am-Staffs (or pitties). I also love Shepherds.

Yes, Orion.  Papillons too.

Yes, Orion. Papillons too.

But here’s the thing:  I can rattle off why I love those breeds:  I love how fun-loving and goofy pitties are.  How they are desperate to have a rollicking good time and want nothing more than a good snuggle, followed by more fun.  I love how Shepherds are always so desperate to learn something new, and how absurdly stoic they can be.  I love how Papillions are such lively little creatures who are really too big on the inside for those tiny little bodies.  I love how they are just as rugged of a dog as a Coonhound or a Lab.  I understand that each dog in a specific breed will always have its own personality, it generally falls within a certain area.  If you’re going with a purebred, finding out breed standard for that specific breed is a very good start to having a wonderful companion rather than a chore, or even worse, an owner surrender to the local shelter.

In other words, I love these dogs based on more than how I think they look. When I asked my friend why they were heading towards the designer “breed” they had in mind, the response was, “he’s cute”.  Seriously, they’re basing living the next 10-15 years with a dog on nothing more than “he’s cute”.  Temperament is merely an afterthought.  As is exercise requirements and how much Piloting the dog will need.  It is imperative to come up with a list of wants vs. needs when choosing a new dog, whether it be from a shelter or a breeder!

Remember that a mutt (which is what your designer dog is) is a dog that can not be reliably bred to have a certain standard.  In other words, if I were breeding Golden Retrievers, I can with a high degree of certainty state that the next litter will contain pups who will grow to be a certain size, with a very predictable temperament (fun, easy going, eager to please, and friendly).  Same with Poodles:  I can reliably breed very intelligent and active dogs of a certain “look” who, while easy to train, want to know why they should be listening to you and not following their own orders.  (For that reason, I generally steer families with small children away from poodles.)  Now, let’s breed a Golden and a Poodle together.  What do you get?  Just about any mix of all these traits.  Anywhere from a dog who looks exactly like a Golden but acts just like a Poodle (and vice versa), to a complete blending of the two looks and temperaments.  In other words, a mutt.

Mutts are awesome, but just like every other dog, they must be judged on an individual basis before you decide to buy/adopt. Judge the dog on who they are, not what they appear to be.

You Blew Your Chance to Save A Life

Seriously, Robin.  Don't be a douche.

Seriously, Robin. Don’t be a douche.

Let’s not forget the biggest reason to adopt rather than shop. Or rather the 2.7 million reasons to adopt.  That’s the number of dogs and cats euthanized each year.  Yeah, sure, you can argue that you can only rescue one,and what’s “one” in the face of such a large number?

"Just one" is the most important number Boise can think of.  He only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.  Check out Boise, who's up for adoption, at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.
“Just one” is the most important number this little guy can think of. He hopes it’s his, because as a pittie, he only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.

To be truthful, I had high hopes of convincing my friend not to shop for a puppy, especially not from a place that hit every single hallmark for being a puppy mill. I’d like to say this hasn’t changed how I view my friend, but there are only so many matted, filthy dogs I can help rehabilitate before it becomes personal.  Only so many dogs I can work with who are afraid of everything, who’ve never been outside their breeding box in the 2, 3 or even 8 years they’ve been on this planet, before I become judgmental and angry, even with longtime friends.  There’s a finite number to the dogs I can say goodbye to, and take them for their last long walk and few moments of fetch, before their time is up before it gets personal.

Yes.  It is personal.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Winter Road Tripping Tips

 

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination – Earl Nightingale

Road tripping with your dog can be a little stressful sometimes. However, road tripping during the winter can be even more stressful! Snow and cold temperatures make it more difficult than in the summer months. However, it shouldn’t stop you and your pup from getting out there and going on new adventures! So here are some tips on how to make Winter Road Tripping a little easier.

Plan Out Your Stops

It’s cold out these days, which can make rest stops a little tricky. If you have more than one of you in the car, alternate who gets to go into the rest stop. This ensures someone is always with the dog. If you can’t guarantee that, go quickly and make sure you keep the heat on in the car for your dog.

Get Creative with Activity

Each time you stop, you should allow your dog some time to let out some energy. Now, your normal rest stop isn’t going to have a dog park so you’ll need to get creative with it. Find some park benches he can jump up and over or take a few laps around the outside of the parking lot. Now, if there’s snow that’s even better! The plows will have made some nice and tall snow piles. So make your dog climb up them! He’ll have lots of fun and get out a lot of energy. Keep an eye out for signs that your dog is too cold like shivering or lifting of the paws. But you don’t need to do this for very long. You’ve got places to be! Just a few up and downs on the snow piles will be enough to get out a little more energy.

Loving the blankets

Loving the blankets

Blankets, Blankets, Blankets

Make sure you have some blankets in the back seat for your pup. Now, using blankets that smell like you or your dog are even better. It makes them a little more comfortable because it smells familiar and safe. It will help them settle into the drive a little easier. Also, in case of an emergency, you will have blankets for you and your dog to keep warm with. Now, no one wants that to happen, but it’s always good to be prepared.

Bundle Up

Along the lines of emergencies, just in case anything should happen or if the temperature should drop drastically, it’s not a bad idea to have a sweater or coat on hand for your pup. Any extra warmth will be appreciated by your four legged friend. It’s always good to be prepared!

Preferably you would bundle your dog in a coat and not this mummy type blanket style Porter is trying to pull off here

Preferably you would bundle your dog in a coat and not this mummy type blanket style Porter is trying to pull off here

A Few of Their Favorite Things

On any road trip, make sure you have a few toys that your dog loves that they can entertain themselves with while you’re driving. Anything to help them not be quite as bored is helpful. Remember, you’re trying to make this drive as comfortable and enjoyable as possible for everyone.

If you have any more winter road trip advice for you and your dog please feel free to share!

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew

“Some people care too much.  I think it’s called love.”
- Winnie the Pooh

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

We all try our best.  I know I do.  We try to give our dogs a good life, make them happy, and help them feel safe and secure. We work through behavioral issues as best we can.  We read books.  We watch videos and tv shows about dog trainers and behaviorists, each vilifying the others, everyone contradicting each other.  So who’s right?

Your dog.

Orion and Sparta.  Brittany Graham Photography

Orion and Sparta. Brittany Graham Photography

Your dog is constantly communicating with you. You need only to be sensitive enough to notice what they are trying to tell you, and suddenly it becomes crystal clear.  Take away the background noise, turn off the tv, put down the book, and pay attention to who has the best information on what your dog needs:  your dog.  

Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew

1) We are simple.  We don’t apologize for being simple, just as we don’t apologize for being dogs.  We will never understand your human need to over-complicate the most simplest issues.  We are not stupid, but we do prefer being in the moment.  We don’t worry about what may happen tomorrow.  We are your best friend.  We mean you best friend…you know, the kind that will tell your that the outfit your wearing does indeed make your butt look big.  We don’t worry about giving offense because we never take offense.  We love you enough to never be anything but sincere. Now please go change your outfit.

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2)  We are always trying our hardest.   I know I sometimes get anxious and nervous when I see another predator dog while we’re out on a walk.  I don’t mean to be a jerk, I’m really just afraid that vicious creauture puppy might try to kill you.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that you’ll protect both of us.  I’m not trying to be bad, I’m actually trying my hardest to be the best body guard friend I can be.

Brittany Graham Photography

3) I ask a lot of questions.  Please answer them.  You may think they’re stupid, but they mean the world to me.  So seriously, now, is the mailman trying to kill us?  If you’d just answer the question, I could stop barking.

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4) We don’t understand punishment.  We understand “yes” and “no”.  When I understand that the answer to my question about chewing on your shoes was “no”, please let it go.  We don’t understand punishment or discipline.  If it makes you feel better to punish me, though, then I love you enough to let you.  But it confuses and frightens me. I’d feel much better if you’d just answer my questions and move on.

My Sparta

5) Give me what I need, and I’ll do anything you want.  All I need from you is the basics for life, and some Piloting, Activity and Work.  Don’t pick and choose when giving me what I need.  Give me all those things I need,and I’ll do anything you want, like, stop chewing on your shoes, for instance. If nobody Pilots me, then I guess I have to do the job myself.  I really don’t want to be a leader and Pilot everyone, though. Please don’t make me.

Brittany Graham Photography

6)  Keep me forever.  I’ve only got a short time to live compared to you, please let me live it with you.  I can’t help that I shed, or that the new apartment you want won’t let me in.   It frightens me not to have a home, and it takes a toll on me each time I’m bounced from home to home.  I would give me life for you. I ask only that you never turn me away, and keep me always by you.

IMG_55297) And then let me go.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  I tried not to get old, but it’s hard for me to walk well, and it’s too much for me to come bounding up to greet you like I used to when I was younger.  I know you tried your hardest as well.  You took me to the vet’s office regularly, and made sure I had a good diet and exercise, but now it’s time for me to go.  Who thought we’d have this long together? I’ll be okay. I promise you.

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Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Enjoying the Imperfections

 

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

The other day, I was talking to my cousin who shows horses. He trains horses as well and is very much part of the equestrian community in New England. I was discussing how sometimes I don’t mention I’m a dog trainer because Porter is a goofball and I feel as though there is this stigma that my dog should be perfectly well behaved. He, in pretty blunt terms, said that was a ridiculous thing to think because animals are always an unknown.

The idea of having the most perfectly well behaved dog is, quite honestly, boring. Think about some of the greatest stories you have of your dog. I bet that at least a few of them involve some mischievous endeavors.

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

We can’t be perfect owners. No one can. That goes for us trainers too. Why? Because we’re working with dogs. They’re an animal and they can’t be made into robots. Which is the greatest part about them.

Maybe we’re too quick to judge each other as owner’s as well. I am completely okay with your dog misbehaving on a walk, heck I’m even okay if your dog lunges at my dog, as long as you do something about it. Does it look like you’re putting effort into your dog? Are you trying to step in front and gain control of the situation? If so, then kudos to you. I’ve been there. I’ve had the dog that isn’t acting perfectly. It’s okay. You’ll get there.

It’s when nothing is done. This idea of passiveness. This idea that everything my dog does is okay. That’s when I have a problem. Effort is needed in order for me to respect you as an owner. Not perfection. Just some effort into making sure your dog is leading a balanced life.

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

So throughout this week, try and not focus on the level of perfection you need to hit for you and your dog. Instead take advantage of creating a balanced week with piloting, activity and work as well as some laughs. Take some time to notice the goofy things your dog does because he’s not perfect. Maybe you find him in the warm laundry, or sneaking into the kitchen where he’s not allowed. Correct the behaviors you don’t want, but realize that they’re occurring because your dog is still a dog and is not a robot designed to follow your every move. Focus less on perfection and more on the quality of life for you and your dog.

The relationship between a dog and their owner is one of the most pure relationships out there. So don’t take it for granted and enjoy every moment. The rainbow bridge comes too soon.

Keep calm and pilot on

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