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.

Stay tuned for 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

Basic Instincts

When you catch a glimpse of your potential, that’s when passion is born – Zig Ziglar

I’m pretty good with dogs. I understand them. I can read their body language. I know how to communicate with them. That’s why I have a job with Darwin Dogs. But, it wasn’t instinctual for me from the beginning. Let me tell you about the first dog I had when I was growing up.

His name was Shadow. I obviously named him after Shadow from Homeward Bound. That’s what I thought he would be. My best friend. A rock. The best dog, EVER.


Shadow is the golden in the middle. Although, these days I think I’d prefer to have Chance, the American Bulldog on the left

My Shadow was a Corgi. Most Corgis you  meet are very friendly, easy going, don’t bark too much. Yeah, not Shadow. He was a very ornery dog. Extremely ornery. He barked all the time. He talked back. He wouldn’t listen. He would tear up clothing, steal tissues out, and go through the garbage. He wouldn’t even let you pet him. He’d pretend he’d wanted to be pet and then the minute you’d go to touch him he would just back away with this look like “sucker. I don’t need you”. Yeah, the dog was a jerk.

Shadow didn’t have a Pilot back then. He would have been a better dog if he had. I get that now. Sometimes, I wonder what he could’ve been like if we had just known how to handle him. We all did the best we could with what we had, but still, we could have done better.

I wasn’t a Pilot from the beginning. Dogs were just fluffy creatures to me. I wanted to hug them, love them and I just thought they were all good dogs. I don’t know why though. Quite honestly, Shadow should have turned me off to most dogs. But, there was a connection I had with our four legged friends.

This is not something I would've put past our Shadow

This is not something I would’ve put past our Shadow

However, the older I got, the more confident I became around these dogs. I found, through trial and error, they responded to the way I communicated with them through my body language. I learned what worked and what didn’t. At the time, I didn’t realize I was being a Pilot. I was just doing what worked.

I’ve had time to improve my skills (notice I didn’t say perfect) and become a better Pilot every day and each session. You don’t have to be born with an instinctual gift for communicating with your dog. It’s not necessary. It’s absolutely fine if you look back on your past dogs and think “well, crap, I could’ve done a lot of things differently”. But, focus on the here and now. Focus on the dog that you do have, the dogs that you do visit, and think, how can I make myself a better Pilot each day?

Being a good Pilot isn’t something you’re born with. It’s something that you work towards.  Keep up the good work and good rewards will follow.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Total Recall

“I’ll be back.”  – Schwarzenegger  

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

The other day, Danika and I both decided to do some work with our dog-reactive dogs.  We were in the Metroparks walking a lovely path, both our dogs on leashes.  Across the field I suddenly saw a black lab running towards us.  I shouted out to the owner (who was standing idly by with noting less than a bovine look on his face) that our dogs weren’t friendly.  He commenced trying to call his dog back, to no avail.  She charged us (obviously only wanting to play).  She headed straight towards Sparta, who was in no mood for her form of play.

Fortunately, I was able to control Sparta, although I literally had to kick the other dog away from her to maintain control.  Eventually I had enough control of the situation that I could pick up the errant dog’s leash, and walk both Sparta and the Lab over to the Lab’s owner.  I brusquely handed him his dog’s leash, stating firmly that that was the part one holds.

As the owner of a dog-reactive dog, I have no patience for for the ill-trained beasts running mindlessly around the Metroparks.  Their dogs are not much better.  Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to control my dog.  However, if Sparta is on a leash, walking nicely with me, and we are suddenly charged by even a friendly dog who is off-leash…there isn’t much to be done.  I Pilot as best I can in that situation, as described here.  Damage control is more like it.

Now, back to the Lab who charged us.  Her name was Abbie.  I know this because her owner was incessantly calling it to no avail.  Obviously there was quite a bit of recall issues going on.  The dog had no idea what the “come” command meant, or knew and realized that they were the Pilot, not the human, and therefore “come” was merely a suggestion.  Which was promptly ignored.

So what should have been done in this situation?  Prep work.  One doesn’t just let a dog off leash without working towards total recall first.  How to do it?

Start in a very boring, low-key situation.  The dog park is not the place to start working on the come command.  Your house works best, beginning with the dog a few feet from you. Squat down, and while patting your hand against your leg the entire time, simply repeat the word “come” over and over, in your normal voice.  Yes, this is a command, but barking “come” at your dog will have the opposite effect desired.  Utilize Touch, Talk, Treat (calm petting, gentle praise and a treat) when your dog arrives to you. The object is to look non-threatening when you call your dog, so save the strong, dominant body language for other uses.

If your dog doesn’t come to you, stop calling them, silently stand up and walk towards them, take them gently by the collar and tug, tug, tug them back to where you had initially called them, repeating the word come, come, come the entire time you are tugging them.  (NOTE:  tugging is essential.  Do not drag your dog.)  Practice over and over, gradually adding distance between you and the dog.

To work on recall outside, start with an enclosed area:  your backyard, if possible.  Repeat the steps above, but remember, we’ve not added more stimuli.  There are birds, squirrels, noises… you may lose your dog’s focus and they may not come at all.  Instead of getting angry, shouting or yelling, instead calmly stalk your dog.  Silently walk directly towards them.  They will dart in another direction.  Simply change your course and continue to stalk them from location to location.  This takes time and patience, but what you are doing is setting up the stage for future confrontations such as these.  Your dog’s question is: Can I ignore your request?  The answer is “no”.  You must follow through with this answer.

Eventually you will be able to catch your dog.  Resist the urge to punish: it is the worst thing you can do at this point.  Simply tug your dog back to where you first called them, and offer Touch Talk Treat.

An easy way to help with this is to attach a long, cotton rope (like a clothesline) to their collar.  At the other end, tie a huge knot.  Let your dog wander around, dragging the rope with the knot behind them.  When you call them, and they don’t come, you have an easy way to catch them: simply step on the rope (the knot will catch at your foot) and reel them in like a fish, repeating the word “come”.  Touch Talk Treat when they arrive. Once they get good at recall, gradually start cutting the rope into smaller and smaller pieces, until it’s no longer there.  That way your dog will never realize that suddenly they are no longer attached to it.

This is an important command; maybe even a life or death command.  Practice, practice, practice.

I still work on this command with Sparta and Orion.  I will work on it until the day they are no longer mobile.  Both have wonderful recall, but…

I will never let Sparta off leash.  She is a lovely, well-behaved, obedient girl, but she is still a dog; one who has dog reactivity.  She is not a machine.  She was bred to protect, and protect she does.  She isn’t perfect, and the one time she decides to ignore my command could end with tragedy.  So why do I do all this practice and prep work?  Because I’m not a machine either. I’m not perfect.  I may slip up, drop the leash, or fall down.  She may find a hole in our fence that never existed before.  I work on it because I love her and want her safe.  That’s what it means to be Pilot.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

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

Let It Go

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all  – Elsa

My Sparta

My Sparta

Dog reactivity.  If your dog has it, you know how it can rule your life.  You feel as if you can only go outside for a walk with your dog during “off” hours – basically between 11 pm and 5 am, when there’s nobody else around.  Every time you see a dog 3 blocks over, you clutch your pearls:  What will Fido do?  It can truly rule your life.

How did this start?  Your dog probably wasn’t abused, nor were they used for fighting or as a bait dog (though it isn’t unheard of).  There are quite a few dogs who are just naturally reactive.  Remember, that other dog isn’t just another dog to Fido:  it’s another predator who isn’t Pack.  Try to look at things through Fido’s eyes, and you’ll be amazed at how nonchalantly you’ve been brushing off what they’re thinking and only focusing on how they’ve been acting.  Your dog is most likely not aggressive: they’re scared.

A lot of dogs are fine with other dogs until the ages of 6-12 months.  Gradually your gregarious little fluffball turns into a wary and unsocial dog.  The first time your dog lunges or acts crazily towards another dog may take you by surprise.  Fido has never done that before!  You may blame yourself, and put Fido in more and more situations where he has to be with other dogs, trying to “socialize” him.  But remember, those aren’t Pack members!  Those are just other predators!  And on top of that, you aren’t answering Fido’s questions: Are those predators going to hurt me?  Should I protect you?  Fido has no Pilot! So all you’ve been doing is placing him in more and more situations where you are setting Fido up for failure.  The very cure you’re looking for is making his symptoms worse!

A few things to keep in mind:  dogs are dogs They aren’t human.  Dogs are still very survival based.  I truly don’t think they are domesticated – we haven’t dumbed survival out of them.  Survival includes being wary of other predators.

Things have probably snowballed by now.  Since that first time he barked at another dog during a walk, you felt the need to wrap the leash tightly whenever you see a dog in the distance.  Odds are you’re making the leash tight, and pulling Fido up close as you can with no slack on the leash.  You’re tense. You do all those things that inherently state you are stressed and you are preparing for fight or flight.  Of course Fido is going to pick up on your cues!

Relax.  I know this sounds like the silliest advice ever, but just do it.  If you can’t, fake it.  Win the Academy Award for best Actor/Actress.  Convince your dog that you’re bored.  Yes, you still need to answer their questions, but don’t start answering questions that haven’t even been asked yet!  You don’t ground your kids because you think they’re about to come home after curfew.

Sparta is very dog reactive.  There aren’t many people who are comfortable walking her.  I am, though.  Not because she never reacts, but because I’ve accepted that she will, and I’ve let go of the tension.  I don’t actively walk around anticipating her getting snotty with another dog, but I have made a profession out of acting calmly during high stress situations.  I fake it.  I have the knowledge I need to work through the situation (take a read here for the play-by-play on leash walking).  Of course I’m freaked out, but I’ll never show it.  Pretty soon I don’t even realize I’m faking calm:  I am calm.

So, let it go.

Let go of the tension.  A tense situation doesn’t need more tension.

Let go of the anxiety.  Don’t react until you need to answer the question.

Let go of the anger.  You are answering a question, not punishing a dog for asking.

Let go of perfection.  Your dog is a mirror of you.  Are you perfect?  Of course not, and nobody expects you to be.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

You can do this.  I know you can.  I’ve seen some amazing things in all my years training.  Like this.  Or this.  If they can do it, so can you.  Now go show your dog that you are more than capable of Piloting them past that ferocious Chihuahua.

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

Fostering Love

Last night I lost the world, and gained the universe – C. Joybell C.

It would be too expensive

I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye

I would cry too much

I’d get too attached

My own dogs would feel neglected

What do I really have to offer?

These are all reasons I’ve heard for not becoming a dog foster parent. Sure, it’s not for everyone. But, you may be selling yourself short. It may be exactly for you.


I would be heartbroken saying goodbye

Sure, you’d be heartbroken. But, at the same time you’re the reason why this dog has an amazing new home. He gets to live out the rest of his life getting pets, running happily, and not worrying about where his next meal is coming from. You made that happen. It’s okay to be sad and realize that you’d be sad. But, have you ever thought about the feeling of satisfaction and happiness you would get from seeing your foster dog with their forever family finally?

Sadness is not a weakness. It’s not something terrible. It means we are human and embrace our emotions. Sadness means we can feel happiness. And when your pup finds their forever home, you’ll feel both. But you helped create all the happiness that both your foster dog and their new family is feeling. That’s you. All you.

It would be too expensive

Not necessarily. Many rescue organizations will cover the cost of any and all necessities that the dog needs, including vet care. Sure, you may have to replace a shoe or two, but hey, in the big scheme of things, not that big of a deal.  Many organizations also have a great network of volunteers. This  means if you’re going on vacation or need help getting your foster dog to the vet, other volunteers are more than willing to step up and help out. You’ve now entered the amazing community of Animal Rescuers.

This is Mindy! She's located at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter! She's looking for a forever home, but a foster home would be nice too!

This is Mindy! She’s located at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter! She’s looking for a forever home, but a foster home would be nice too!

My own dogs would feel neglected

Nope. I doubt it. When choosing a foster dog for your home, it’s a careful process. Rescue organizations will make sure that both dogs are compatible. And then guess what – your dog has a new best friend that he gets to play with. And your dog is now more tired than he was before. Jackpot. It will help your own dog with socialization skills and their activity level.

You Are an Asset

Any time you can get any type of dog with individuals that know how to communicate with them (your Piloting at work) the dog will flourish. Homes that are using the PAW method are incredibly valuable for dogs that are looking for forever homes. You’re helping a dog worry only about being a dog. Which means your foster dog will have an even higher chance of being adopted.

Foster homes are a huge asset to rescues. They provide an opportunity to see what a dog’s personality is truly like. There are dogs in the shelters that shut down, cower in the corner, however, the minute you get them outside it’s as if they’re a completely different dog.

More foster homes means more dogs being saved. Whether you’re a foster for a small rescue, or a large shelter, you’re saving 2 lives the minute you foster one. You’re helping to save your own foster dog’s life as well as the next dog they’re able to pull in because you’ve freed up a space. It’s a pretty amazing cycle.

Dogs that are in foster homes get more exposure to potential adopters as well.  Between friends and family, as well as walks to the park, events and even just posting your foster’s pictures on social media, you’re creating more opportunities for this rescue dog to be adopted. There’s not as much exposure when dogs are in a shelter as there is when they can get out on the town and strut their stuff!

Here's ChooChoo! Also at the CCAS. Maybe a future foster?

Here’s ChooChoo! Also at the CCAS. Maybe a future foster?

Is it hard? You betcha. Is it worth it? More than you can imagine.

Here’s an article on whether fostering is right for you.

If you feel like this is something you’d want to do, reach out to local organizations like The Cuyahoga County Shelter. Heck, we might even have some opportunities for you soon, so keep an eye out….

Keep calm and pilot on

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