The Virtuous Cycle

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Photos courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography

“You can say any fool thing to a dog and the dog will just give you this look that says, ‘My GOSH, you’re RIGHT! I NEVER would’ve thought of that!”  - Dave Barry

I get bored easily.  I definitely always need to be doing “something”.  When I get sick, life is miserable.  Oh, not for me; for everyone in my house.  I get twitchy.  If I’m sick, I can’t work with my clients.  If I can’t work, then all I have is this great big day in front of me with cavernous nothingness.

Why Dogs Exist

See, the thing about dogs is that they’re ready when you are. Every idea you have is great!  Hey we should really try to tackle that plan!  Let’s do it!  Imagine if your humans friends were like that.  Margaritas and at-home ombre hair dye?!  AWESOME!   Live in yurt and herd sheep in Somethingakhstan for a vacation? Wonderful idea!!!!  

Are we in Somethingakshtan yet?

Unlike humans who are a bit more more discerning about what constitutes “wonderful”, dogs think your every plan is great.  If you’ve been giving them the PAW they need, they are ready and attentive, wanting to help you achieve goals.

So, back to sick days.  When I’m bored, I take it out on my dogs.  Sparta will learn a new trick, such as playing dead, complete with “death throes” here.  The thing is, I’m not only teaching them new things, (and giving them mental Work while I’m at it), I’m nurturing our bond as well.  Presented with a problem to solve, such as how to get Sparta to hold an object in her mouth like here  (yes, that’s a raw steak she’s holding and dropping on command) while only using yes/no to communicate.  Remember, dogs are binary – there are no other answers to their questions).

With each new problem that’s been solved, there’s a fresh wave of feel-good endorphin.  Not “I” did it….“we” did it.  Team Sparta & Kerry.  Or Team Orion & Kerry.  Sometimes it’s Team Kerry, Sparta & Orion.  Everyone on the team has to give it their all, or it doesn’t work. (Click here to check out the walk-through of my teaching Sparta to jump through a hula hoop when I had bronchitis! Better than antibiotics!)

Effective Uses

The other day I decided to paint my living room…for the second time…in six days (don’t judge me – the first color was abusive to the eyes).  After having just put my body through all that work merely six days before, I was not “feeling” it when I woke up in the morning.  I had no gumption.  I decided I needed some endorphin-fueled positives.

Sparta has long known how to hold an object in her mouth, but I never got around to training her to bring a specific item to a person without her dropping it.  So she and I spent 15 minutes working at it.  It was slow going, but it’s like a new dance you slowly learn.  My partner and I trust each other, and we know quite a few of the steps already.  We just added a few new moves.  Was she perfect within that 15 minutes?  Absolutely not!  But she went from dropping the object the second I gave her the come command to understanding she was to bring whatever she was holding to me.  More importantly, I was able to give her positive reinforcement when she was on the right track, which makes her feel good about me, which in turn makes ME feel good about me.

I was now sufficiently energized and able to tackle that paint job. Again.  (Please don’t judge me).



Almost Home

Dogs have boundless enthusiasm but no sense of shame. I should have a dog as a life coach.



I’ve been a longtime fan of Moby. I’ve also been a longtime fan of animals.  The two collided in a beautiful and touching way.  Check out the link to see the results. I dare you to watch without tears in your eyes.  I know I can’t do it. I broke at 17 seconds.

“One of the goals to make this video was to bring attention to Best Friends and support adoption, but I did also have a selfish tangential agenda,” says Moby. “Almost nothing makes me happier than rolling around on the floor with a bunch of rambunctious dogs and spending time with cats.”

Tell us what you think about the video in the comments below.


Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Portrait of a Dog Person

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Who are these crazy dog people, anyway?

The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
- Mahatma Gandhi

“Hi, my name is _______, and I’m calling about my dog…we’re having some behavior problems.”

That’s how most of my client’s calls start out.  They give me a brief description of the problem that they are having with their dog, set a date and a time for me to come out, and wait for their appointment.  At that point, they are just a name and a date/time.  Until I walk through their door.

What types of people hire a dog trainer?

A lovely lady who was restricted to a wheelchair, whose dog felt the need to aggressively defend her.

The dog who wouldn’t stop attacking the oven (the ultimate in women’s lib?) – she would even attack the oven mitts if her owner tried to put them on, connecting them with the oven.

An 83-year old retired priest who was finally “allowed” to adopt a dog (no rescues would allow him to because of his age), who needed a refresher on dog training.

Once I walk through your doors, we bond.  Animals are indeed the quickest, most effective way to form that bond. Therapy dog have proven that for years.  So have young men playing frisbee in the park with their new buddy from the local pound – I’ve seen more than one eventual trip down the aisle start with a “Oh what a cute dog! Can I pet him?!”

“Hi!  My name is Cupid! Wanna play fetch with me and  with my young, handsome, single owner?”

I’ve left countless numbers of training sessions with gifts in tow: from interesting stouts to homemade pierogi.  I’ve come home with rare cheese from someone’s farm and first-edition signed copies of someone’s new book they’ve written.  Mostly, I’ve been gifted with connecting with another kindred soul – the one who is “all in” for their animals.  The kind of people who, as children, explained to their mothers that they “found him on the street and he followed them home” while clutching a dirty stray dog.  The kind of people who hate breed restrictions and love to tell you how wonderful their dogs are.

The bulldog no longer feels the need to defend her owner, who has proven that size and strength do not make a leader.

I still smile when I think of the email from the client with “oven-hating dog” the day after we trained, telling me she’s can now bake brownies, muffins and a meatloaf without issue!  I smile when I think of the dog.

Three years later and the retired priest and his dog are still going strong (age is truly just a number).

So who are dog people?  They are the people who realize that humans aren’t the only ones who should be treated humanely.

Gunner and Fam
 All photos courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography.  Find out more about her here!

“Stop or I’ll Say Stop Again!”

Kerry and Abraham at a local shelter event

He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak. -Michel de Montaigne

Why won’t my dog listen to me?  I am asked this question frequently.  Usually from a fed-up-to-here dog owner whose dog is merrily running down the street while the owner is frantically yelling and screaming for Fido to come back.  Or worse, by the owner who can’t break up the dog fights that are happening withing their own pack.  I yell at them to stop, but they just keep going!”  


Most humans are only making noise at their dogs.  That’s not dog training! They don’t understand what you’re trying to tell them.  That’s not how they communicate!

Dogs don’t communicate using noise, except for in some certain instances:  If I accidentally step on Orion, he screeches, and I immediately jump off of him.  If I’m playing ball with Sparta, she’s bouncing around and barking.  If a dog growls at me, he’s telling me to back off.  If a pup is trapped, they will start yipping and howling (“get me outta here!”). What do all of these things have in common?  Every time a dog makes noise, they are trying to increase the kinetic activity of the pack.    Noise = movement.  Come, get off me, let’s play, go away…all of these things require movement, and all are initiated and intensified with noise.

Most people start working with their dogs in the same way you would start to teach a human: communication through conversation.  Your dog doesn’t understand verbal commands (yet).  Their first language is body language.  They have no second language.  So by talking incessantly to your dog, and gradually increasing the volume, all you are doing is feeding them energy.  Of course it backfires.

Look at it like this: if you are at a sporting event, say, a basketball game, what music is playing?  Probably at some point Queen’s We Will Rock You comes on to amp up the crowd.  Noise equals energy.  If calm is what you’re seeking, stop adding energy to the situation!


Step 1: Control yourself.

If you are angry, hyper, agitated, etc., it will not work.  Take a step back. Sometimes this means quarantining the dog (especially if they’ve just chewed your new iPhone and even looking at them right now poses a safety issue for them).  It’s okay to remove them from your sight if you need to calm down.  Work with your dog when you are able to control your emotions.  I’m not saying don’t get angry – anger is a perfectly normal human emotion, but dogs don’t understand anger.  It’s okay to get angry, it’s not okay to give in to anger and let it rule a situation.  Acknowledge your are angry, frustrated, etc., and then move on.

Controlling yourself also means controlling your body language. I have a lot of people call me and tell me that their dog hates men.  But only towards men.  But then I knock on their door, and the dog hates me (and invariably, people ask , “Are you a transv-?” No, I’m not.  Thanks for asking).  So, why would a dog be aggressive to me but never any other woman?  Because of body language.

(Human) men tend to hold themselves like a letter “T”.  This says I’m in charge, if you need protection, I’ll protect you. It says I have the answers to your questions. It also says that while I’m not necessarily aggressive, if you come at me or what I’m protecting, I will come back at you. Remember, dominant doesn’t mean aggressive.  It just means in confident.

Dominant Dog Body Lanuage
Dog with dominant body language: ears up, tail up, straight lines or “T” shaped

Women on the other hand, tend to sit “like a lady”, like a letter “S”.  A letter “S” reads as nurturing, but it also reads as submissive, scared maybe, definitely not trying to take charge, fine to do whatever everyone else wants to do.  Remember, submissive can indeed mean fearful and scared, but usually it just means they are in Not Trying To Take Control mode.  The more closed off your body language is, the less confidence you appear to have.

A calm submissive dog.  She doesn’t want to lead, but she’s not scared or frightened

Scared submissive, probably insecure dog. Ears down, tail down, head down, body “S” shaped   

I always sit and stand like a letter “T”.  It portrays self-confidence.  Think of it as a uniform.  In a crisis situation a dog doesn’t look around to see if there is a uniformed police officer or fireman nearby to tell them what to do.  They look around to see who is wearing “T” body language. Don’t turn yourself into a pretzel!

This image from the BBC shows human body language. Who is a letter “T” and who is a letter “S”.  Who do you think is calm-confident vs. unsure of themselves?  Who would you ask directions from if you were lost?

Whew! That was a lot.  So to recap, Step 1 is controlling yourself, emotions and body language.

Step 2: Control your current situation

Don’t add any stimulation until you have control of the present situation. Example: front doorbell rings.  Your dogs go screaming over to the door, acting like jumping beans, freaking out, and what do you do….you open the door.  You never had control of the situation, you just added more stimulation.  It’s like yelling at your kids to calm down and giving them some sugar and an espresso to help them calm down. It’s not going to work.  And no, holding your dog back doesn’t count as controlling the situation.  Control of a situation means you don’t need to use brute force.

The right way to do it:

Doorbell rings.  Dogs go crazy at the door.  Your dog’s question is, “Is that person at the door a threat?” or “Can I maul Grandma with uncontrollable jumping and love when she comes in the door?”  Obviously, you answer the question with a “no”, but calmly, and using the body language described.  You calmly approach the door, and using the PAW method outlined here, facing your dogs and backing them off the door, thereby controlling the moment. Then gradually add more and more stimulation, moving towards the door, hand on the knob, opening the door (all done while facing your dogs as much as possible).  If you loose control of the current situation at any time (you’ve got them calm, and given yourself some personal space to answer the door, and suddenly all hell breaks loose again!), simply reboot.  Answer their question again (“Can I be hyper?” No).  Reboot as many times as you need to.  Remember, up until this moment, they were the ones answering the door.  They were the ones who were checking to see if that person is a threat.  Technically, this will be the first time you’v ever answered the door without their help.  You can do it.  Answer that door when the pizza guy rings the bell.

Pizza delivery

My Bad Dog

“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”
― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

Ross_0313 (2)Photo courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography

I  hear a lot of odd thoughts on how people train their dogs.  Sometimes it involves a squirt bottle of water, or as I refer to it, “water-boarding technique”.  Some people shake a newspaper at their dogs… as if threatening them with the New York Times crossword puzzle is the answer.  Even if it is in ink.  Others think that 100% positive reinforcement is the answer.  I ask you this:  has 100% positive reinforcement ever worked on children?  I don’t know…I’d ask the Menendez brothers’ parents, but they’re both dead.  Let’s face it, not everything your dog does is lovely, glorious and in need of praise.  Sometimes you want to discourage the behavior.  Other times you want to get your dog to repeat a wanted behavior (such as when housebreaking).   But HOW? Start by getting rid of the biggest misconception about your dog:

 My dog is bad.

Well, um, no he isn’t.  You can’t get angry at a dog for being a dog.  Odds are you aren’t angry because Fido was a bad dog – you’re angry because Fido was a bad human.  And that doesn’t make sense, does it?  You didn’t get a cat, or a chimpanzee. You didn’t go to the local shelter and adopt a llama.  You got a DOG.  Who you then want to be a human.

Almost done with chores!

Almost done with chores!

Let’s switch things around a little.  Fido has a toy in his mouth (say…the pair of undies he stole out of your hamper) and you want it back.  You go to take it from him, and he darts around and runs away from you.  Finally, you corner him, and go to take it out of his mouth, and he snaps at you.  Why?  Because you were, in his mind at least, a bad dog, and he was merely trying to correct your inappropriate behavior.  After all, he had it first, fair and square.

Therein lies the problem. He’s correcting you for being a bad dog, and you’re trying to punish him for being a bad human.  If we can’t get Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything, how can we find commonality between two different species?  After all, Democrats and Republicans are at least both (usually) human!  Accept that your dog is a dog, and you are a human, and that is perfectly fine.  Now accept that someone is going to have to cross the line into the other species’ Accepted Way Of Doing Things.  You’re the one with the opposable thumbs, so it’s up to you.  Don’t judge him for being a dog.

Don’t Punish Your Dog for Being  a Dog

There’s nothing I hate more than people punishing their dogs.  There is no point to it. Punishment is merely a method of retribution, and that concept would never occur to a dog.  Dog’s mostly live in the here and now.  They don’t dwell on what wrong has been done to them, or the need for retaliation. So time out’s are pointless (unless you just need to have the dog who just chewed your new couch away from you so you can cool down – in that case, you have my blessing).  But if you’re using time outs as a punishment, well, dogs don’t do that to each other.  Behaviors can be changed, (as I describe here, and here and most importantly, here), but just remember, dogs don’t beat each other. They don’t “rub their noses in it”.    Dogs will address a misstep with a nip, a nudge, and/or a bark (which would be translated to “no” in English), and then move on, which is the reason we love them.  They live in the moment as we only wish we could. They really and truly don’t chew on your new Jimmy Choos because they are angry at you – they do it because they are a dog, and at the moment you weren’t using them.  Only humans are punitive and petty like that.  A dog will always do what is right and natural for a dog.

Try love them for that.  Those shoes were murder on your toes anyway.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

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