Things You Spell Instead of Say: V-E-T

My dear doctor, I am surprised to hear you say that I am coughing very badly, as I have been practicing all night – John Philpot Curran

No one actually looks forward to going to the doctor. There’s that sterile smell (you hope), the bright fluorescent lights reflecting off of the tile floor, and the magazines that you can only guess how many sick people have flipped through already. So now, take that, and imagine you have no idea why you’re there, your doctor is about 4-5 feet taller than you, no one speaks the same language, and you can smell every one that has walked through that door before. Welcome to the vet’s office!


The other day Porter had his yearly checkup. Now, when I take Porter to the vet there are a few things I always do. I try and tire him out before by going for a walk. Once we arrive at the vet’s office we walk around the parking lot for a little bit. This gets him used to where we are, he can already smell the other animals around, so it provides a constructive way to get rid of some energy.

As we were about to walk into the vet’s office, I see an SUV pull up with 2 kids under the age of 12, their mother, and 2 adorable yet very hyperactive bulldogs (yes, totally possible) pile out of the car. I decided I would let them walk into the office first. I stayed a good distance away from them and made sure I had control over Porter. Not only did I want Porter to calm down and get a hint of their scent before we were thrown into the office together, but I also wanted to see how the 2 over excited dogs would be handled. This way I could know what kind of dragon’s lair I would be stepping into.

To my frustration, the 2 kids were handling the dogs on retractable leashes with the dogs pulling about 6 feet ahead. This is in no way the kids fault. This is obviously a situation where the adult needed to step up and, well, be an adult.

Before I let Porter walk into any new building, especially the vet’s office, he must sit. This allows him to get rid of a few more of the jitters and recognize that he’s not allowed to run in and do whatever he wants.

I surveyed the situation immediately and just as I expected the 2 bulldogs were still loose on their leashes taking up the entire waiting room. I’m aware that Porter is dog reactive, so now all of my attention was on him. We sat in the corner, the seat closest to the door. I positioned my body so that Porter was behind my leg. He could look out and see, but it was obvious to the other dogs that he was mine and it was obvious to him that I was going to protect him. Porter waited and sat there patiently. Whenever he got a little too interested in the dogs running around he would get a quick correction and he would go back into relaxing mode, eventually putting his head on my lap.

This is what we're trying to avoid!

This is what we’re trying to avoid!

The vet tech told us it was time for our appointment and asked the bulldog’s owner to please make room for Porter and us to walk through. The mother, again, said nothing to her kids. The kids decided that the best course of action was to go to either side of the waiting room (not their fault, they were given no direction by their Pilot… or lack thereof). Porter and I now had a 2 inch clearance on either side from these dogs that were already dog reactive. And now, I had to walk my dog reactive dog through the middle. .

Here’s where the saying “Fake it until you make it” comes in. I had to portray to Porter that this was no big deal and we were going to make it out fine.  I took a deep breath, made sure I had control over my own dog, and walked through the middle of the room like it was the most boring thing I had ever done. There was barking, lunging and drooling from either side of me and Porter, but we calmly walked through like it was no big deal (cue explosions behind us).


Dog Confidence!

When you walk into a vet’s office you’ll meet dogs there without Pilots. And you’ll meet people there that need their own Pilot quite honestly. The key is to use the tools you’ve been working on and know that you’ll get through it and you and your dog will be stronger for it.

-          Take them for a walk before hand

-          Make sure your dog is calm before walking into the office

-          When you’re waiting for your appointment, take a wide stance and let your dog sit behind or in between your legs. This offers them a sense of comfort

-          Act like going to the vet is the most ordinary and boring thing you’ve ever done. If you act like you’re apprehensive, your dog will pick up on that.

-          Fake it until you make it. If you’re faced with a situation that makes you uneasy, fake that confidence until you can get both you and your dog out of the situation

And then after all that happens? Fido can totally get an extra treat or two.

Keep calm and pilot on

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


Ain’t Misbehavin’

Ain’t misbehavin’
Savin’ all my love for you

- Louis Armstrong

Ain't misbehavin'

Ain’t misbehavin’

I like to follow through with Piloting with my dogs for two very good reasons:

1) I don’t have to deal with unacceptable behavior.  My dogs don’t jump.  They don’t counter-surf.  They don’t pull on walks.  They are the most thoroughly enjoyable dogs to be around because, like children, manners make them more than tolerable: it makes them charming.  Hang around an unruly child or dog for a bit.  You’ll agree.

2) When they do misbehave, it’s so blatantly obvious and out-of-character, that it tends to be a warning sign of something else.

Example.  A few weeks ago Orion woke up in the middle of the night barking.  That is completely out of character for him.  He is a very good watchdog, though, and the times he does bark are completely legitimate:  someone’s at the door, a car pulled into our drive, etc.  So I went racing downstairs to see what had set him off.  When I got downstairs, he was merely standing in front of the baby-gated mudroom, where he and Sparta are crated at night, staring at me.  Okay then.  Maybe he just needed to go out. So I unlatched the baby gate to let him out.  Sparta wasn’t in the mudroom, which was odd.  If figured that maybe my husband had forgotten to lock her up before bed.  So I let Orion out.  I snapped my fingers for Sparta….who didn’t come.  That is NOT like her.  Now I was getting panicky.  I couldn’t find Sparta!  I looked all around the house, and she wasn’t there.  I ran  back to the door to watch Orion (who isn’t allowed outside without Sparta at night for fear of coyotes, and that’s when I found her:  wandering along the fence in the back yard.  She had been left out all night!

I noticed immediately that she wasn’t acting right.  She was grazing heavily on grass, and was pacing like a caged animal.  I went outside in my pj’s and stayed outside with her for about an hour, until she calmed down again.  Every time I’d try to call her inside, she would ignore me(!) and continue to pace.  Again, not like her.  Most of the commands I give her are followed by a “Sir, yes sir!” from her.  Obviously she was till not doing too well. Finally she came inside when I asked and went to sleep in her mudroom, looking a lot better (and a lot, er….lighter).

Now, about her being left outside all night.  I was furious.  My husband’s routine is to let the dogs outside and then lock them up for the night before coming to bed.  How could he have left poor Sparta outside all night?!  My little girl, outside by herself in the dark.  I tried to control my temper, but this was my baby, and this was a huge mistake!  I woke him up and told him he left Sparta outside and she had been sick.  He swore up and down that he didn’t. What, did she magically transport herself over the baby gate and open the front door to let herself out?  Right.

The next morning I went downstairs to let the dogs out.  Both dogs were where they belonged, and Sparta looked a lot better, giving me her usual “Good morning!” dance.  I let them out, and things were back to normal.  I sat on my couch in the living room to keep an eye on them while enjoying a cup of coffee.  That’s when I noticed it.  A huge tear in the screen of the window, roughly large enough to let a dog through.  I stuck my head out the window and noticed that the flowers beneath had been crushed as if something heavy had landed on them.

Sparta had gotten sick in the middle of the night.  She’s not a barker for no reason (as if this wasn’t a good reason, though!), so she didn’t alert us.  Unfortunately, she had some…shall we say intestinal distress going on.  She also knew she wasn’t supposed to go to the bathroom in the house.  So she did what she thought was right: she jumped over the baby gate and let herself out the only way she knew how – through the screen.

I was floored.  Poor Sparta!  She had never done anything like that in the past!  Obviously it wasn’t her fault; she was only trying to solve a problem without doing something “bad”.  I showed my husband the next morning.  “My God….that’s the most well-behaved dog I’ve ever seen”, he said.  I agreed.

Who's a good girl?!

Who’s a good girl?!

Think of all the “bad” things that my dogs did that evening:  Orion barking (trying to alert us of Sparta’s problem), Sparta not coming when she was called (still sick), my discovering that she had hopped the baby gate and jumped through the screen (trying to make the best choice out of bad options).  All of these things had a very good reason.  There was a problem, and these dogs were only trying to solve it, and or get help, in the only ways they knew how.

So the next time your dog is “misbehaving”, ask yourself, is this out of character for my dog?  Could there actually be a problem rather than Fido just being obnoxious and unruly?  I see it happen all the time during training sessions:  people getting frustrated because their dogs won’t listen.  Maybe they’re listening perfectly, maybe you’re “speaking” in ways you didn’t mean to.

I had a couple clients last night with three dogs, two large and one only 10 lbs dripping wet.  Apparently, feeding time could be pretty chaotic with them, with barking, jumping, etc.  I showed the humans how to mandate calm during these times, feeding one dog at a time while the rest waited patiently a few feet away.  The mom, who we’ll call Mindy, tried it.  Mindy got the two larger dogs to calmly sit side-by-side away from the area she where she wanted to feed them.  Now for the smaller dog.  No matter what she did, the dog wouldn’t join her canine companions.  She kept avoiding the area.  Mindy started getting frustrated.  I stopped her.  “Your little one is trapped”, I told her.  “She has no place to go because you keep pushing her away from where you want to feed, but the other two dogs are occupying all the space of where you want her.”  A simple rearrangement of the dogs’ positions, and the little one went right where we wanted her.  All three dogs were fed separately, with the others calmly waiting their turn a few feet away.  Success.

Yes, sometimes your dog can be a brat. Sometimes they are actually trying to take money out of your Piloting Piggy Bank. But take a look at the situation from their perspective.  Your dog isn’t coming when you call?  How does your body language look?  Try squatting down, stop facing them, and give them your profile rather than staring them down.  Call them in a voice that doesn’t say “Mom is angry!”.  Ah… there you go.  That was the problem.

Maybe your dog ain’t misbehavin’ after all.

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

No Conditions – Just a Bond

A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won’t be too bad – Robert Wagner

There’s this underlying bond that we have with our dogs. If you’ve been able to gain both their love and respect then you know what I’m talking about. There’s this energy, this connection that you have. It’s hard to explain. It’s not something you can describe with words. It’s felt and it’s seen. There’s something so pure about this relationship. In a world where lots of relationships are built out of what can you do for me?, there’s your four legged best friend saying what can we do together?. There’s no wondering if they actually like you, there’s no waiting for a fault to show up in the relationship, it simply is what it is. And the best part? There’s no grudges held.


Porter and I have had our fair share of battles. He has some major resource guarding issues. This can make some days challenging. And when I feel myself losing my cool, I make sure I walk away. He has brought me to tears before with the amount of frustration I’ve felt. These “battles” as I call them, they’re not violent. They’re simply me waiting out the animal instinct in him. Waiting patiently for him to calm down and not backing up. He knows when he’s screwed up. You can see it, but his instincts are still there and even though he fights against them, they win out sometimes.

After the battle is over there’s still a war going on. This isn’t a violent war, it’s more of a chess game. How do I get even more money in my Piloting bank? There’s no love and affection, no treats, he must work for everything (sit to come in, spin to get a toy thrown for him) and there’s no talking to him. It’s a working relationship initially after. The greatest thing about dogs though? He’s okay with it. He doesn’t get mad at me for taking away his toy, he doesn’t get mad that he is not getting pet. He rolls with the punches. He’s already moved on from the situation.

The other day we had an incident with some resource guarding. We dealt with it and moved on. A few moments later a huge crack of lightning lit up the apartment. Porter instantly came over and sat by me. He looked to me for comfort still. No harbored feelings, just love and respect. Nothing I had done had hurt our relationship.


A different day, in the park, my mind was running a little too much. I could feel my stress level rising. I took a breather and buried my face into Porter’s back while giving him a quick hug. I felt him lean into me. When I got up, he looked at me with those big brown eyes and we continued on our walk. As we walked by another walker, she was kind enough to say “boy, that dog loves you”. I smiled and kept walking. If I had held on to those feelings of frustration that I’ve felt with him before, I wouldn’t be able to bond with him in a way that other people could see.

Our relationships, filled with love and respect with our dog, build these bonds that are indescribable and yet so evident. They’re relationships that we crave from our peers and even our friends. If all of our relationships were like the ones we have with our dogs, imagine how much more enjoyable life would be. The openness to not be judged, the ability to move forward from a situation without hanging on to unresolved feelings, the unconditional love. Maybe, just maybe, we should start living more like our dogs.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Work Like A Dog

  “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”  Bill Gates


Sparta getting some work done

Sparta getting some work done

Dogs are hard-working animals.  They all work towards the same goal: the hunt.  Dogs are either hunting, practicing for the hunt, or resting from the hunt.  (Kinda like humans, who are either making money, trying to make money, or resting from making money.)  Most of the jobs we have dogs doing somehow tap into this.  We take a segment from the hunt (the long hike to the hunting grounds, scenting out the prey, segregating the sick/young/old herd member and running/wrestling it to the ground) to  benefit our own lives and get a job done.  Border collies segregate and manage a herd – the same way the pack isolates its prey.  Bloodhounds follow a scent to a missing child instead of scenting their prey. Humans have taken specific parts of a dog’s natural work day and molded it into something useful for themselves.  And it was all good.

Until it wasn’t.  It’s fine to make a dog work.  But then we molded them outside of their job descriptions, and suddenly forgot that these animals are still predators, and use a great amount of mental and physical muscle to get the job done.  Most dog owners realize that their dog needs exercise (to mimic the act of hunting and release of endorphins – the natural drugs that create happiness and contentment.)  Most dog owners miss out on the mental work involved in the hunt, though.  We have a bunch of bored predators in our house, who then turn their boredom towards inappropriate channels: chewing, barking, nervous pacing.  The mental effort that should have been put towards the hunt is now directed inappropriately.  There’s a saying, “A tired dog is a happy dog”.  That goes for mental exhaustion as well.

In other words, I want your dog to lead a stressful life.  My dogs do.  And when they overcome their own stress, they have that “I did it ” moment.  That leads to self-confidence.  It’s the same as finishing a jigsaw puzzle.  I little bit of stress + effort = success/self-confidence.  You had that “I did it!” moment.  Now why are you denying that to your dog?

So how does one mentally exhaust their dog?  There are a myriad of ways to achieve this.  I’m lazy, though. I don’t want to spend hours a day trying to entertain my dog. That’s why I utilize enrichment feeders.  My dogs have not had a morsel of food pass their lips that they have not worked for.  Sparta’s two favorite toys are the Omega ball and the Busy Buddies Kibble Nibble (although some surgery was needed on this one – cut the plastic retainers from the opening so food can flow more freely out of it).  Orion uses the Busy Buddies Twist n Feed.

Even Orion has to use an enrichment feeder.  Brittany Graham Photography

Even Orion has to use an enrichment feeder. Brittany Graham Photography

Essentially, I’m doing what they were programmed to do by nature:  hunt.  They are now hunting their food.  Using their brains to achieve their goal: food!  In the process, they are wearing themselves out mentally and gaining self-esteem.  (Look what I can do!)

There are plenty of other ways to do mental work with your dog, including this or this.  The act of learning is obviously mental work, so learning new tricks is a great way to get your dog the mental work they require. Rapid-firing commands you’ve taught them (think agility) is another great way.  You don’t need a lot of commands or a lot of space.  Teach them over and under for starters.  Now get a broomstick and two soup cans and get your dog to do some agility!

Sparta's favorite enrichment feeder

Sparta’s favorite enrichment feeder

However, as previously stated, I’m lazy.  I don’t always have time (or inclination) to get interesting with my dogs’ mental work, so there’s always old reliable.  My enrichment feeders.  Yes, my dogs can do some pretty amazing things, but some days I don’t feel like doing anything amazing.  That’s why I always have a fall back for their mental work.  If I’m not up to teaching a new trick or doing agility, they don’t suffer from my laziness (to that end, that’s also why I have a treadmill – for days I’m just not “feeling” a morning jog).

The PAW Method isn’t a buffet.  You don’t get to pick which aspects you like and which you’re not int he mood for.  Piloting, Activity and Work are all mandatory.  That doesn’t mean they have to be a huge chore.  Be lazy, like me.

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

Die Another Day: 007 Style

I’m giving you the opportunity to walk out with your life – James Bond

Here’s the thing: Dogs watch too much CSI and NCIS. Every time you step out of your house together, their immediate reaction is to think that there will be a ridiculous amount of murders occurring on your daily jaunt. The world is a scary place for them! They can’t read signs, they don’t know how safe your neighborhood is, and quite frankly, that garbage can is obviously housing a green grouchy animal. So, here’s your chance to be the secret agent you’ve always wanted to be. You get to let your dog know that you’re not going to let anything happen to either of you.

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

Here are some tips to calm down your anxious dog so that he feels like he’s in an episode of “Frasier” as opposed to “CSI”:

-          Keep your dog by your side. He should never be ahead of your knee. This causes him not to face anything head on without you answering his question. If your pup is in front of you, he has to decide if there really is a grouchy monster in that garbage can. If he’s not in front of you, you get to answer that question for him.

-          Go slow if you need to. There’s no need to rush through a walk. The slower you go, the more your dog has to pay attention to you. It also means things aren’t coming at you quite as quickly. There’s more time to react to any situations that may occur and more time to answer your pups questions.

-          If you need to correct your pup or answer a question, just do a quick tug on the leash moving your arm straight up and down. It’s important to make sure you release any tension to ensure there is no pain inflicted. We’re aiming to gain your dog’s attention and let him know that “no, that bed of day lilies is not housing an evil cat”. Remember, nothing is about pain here.

-          If your dog is becoming over excited, you can “slam the door” on him. What that means is you pivot on one foot to face your dog and stop any forward motion. This should be done quickly. Pretend as if someone has spilled a drink down your back. Keep your position in front of your dog until he has calmed down and refocused. This means he can be looking at you or avoiding whatever has had him amped up. Again, do not keep any tension on the leash when you stop your dog’s forward motion.

-          Refrain from talking to your dog and telling him that “the squirrel is not out to hurt you”. James Bond does very little talking. The more you talk, the more your dog will think something is actually wrong. Using a high pitched voice to tell them that no one’s going to hurt them is not going to help. Use your body language and your calm demeanor to let them know. 007 is confident. Always. So start acting like him.

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

Being a good Pilot is like being your dog’s personal James Bond. Remember, that although walks aren’t scary for you, they can feel like walking into a war zone for your dog. The calmer and more confident you are the calmer your dog will be. The more you work on this the more your dog will start to fade out the voice over of “The most brutal murder Miami’s ever seen” and replace it with “wishing you all good mental health”.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

I Died Today

  Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.

 - Hermann Hesse

Photo courtesy of Robyn Arouty Photography

Photo courtesy of Robyn Arouty Photography

Recently I had to help a client make a very difficult, painful decision.  She had a adopted a pit bull a few years ago, and though the dog was very active, her family had been doing quite well with the dog.  Then a year ago, they adopted a Benji-style dog.  Things went downhill.

It wasn’t lack of effort that was the problem – they were working well with the PAW Method.  There was plenty of Activity and Work going on in that house.  They were giving it all with Piloting as well.  The problem?  This dog, who we’ll call Colby, had an infinite well of money in his Piloting Piggy Bank.  I would get frequent reports of Colby testing them (he was), and they needed to get more money out of his bank (they did).  But some minor occurrence would shake them. He growled.  He resource guarded.  He “protected” the children in the house from their own friends.

As far as Colby goes, there was nothing wrong with him.  He was the perfect dog, just like almost every dog out there.  His problem was that he really sucked at being a human.  The human world was confusing to him.  He had his little pack to protect, and come hell or high water, he was going to force his little 30 lb body into action to do it!  He saw threats to his pack everywhere:  even within his pack.  He didn’t growl or snap at them because he hated them.  He did it for the same reason I would smack my daughter’s hand as a toddler if she reached out for a boiling pot of water on the stove:  I needed her instant attention to stop her from doing something incredibly dangerous.  That’s exactly what Colby was doing.  Keeping the family from doing “stupid” and “dangerous things, like, say, going for a walk where he wasn’t in charge.  Didn’t they know all the threats that are out there?!

Colby’s family was struggling with him  They seemed to love him infinitely, but it was extremely hard to like him.  I found out that the shelter he had been at had seen him returned 3 times.  They wouldn’t say for what reason.  It was rapidly becoming apparent.

Things culminated in an almost tragic way.  One of the daughter’s in the family had a friend over.  As the friend was leaving, she leaned over to tie her shoe, and Colby attacked, biting her on the arm.  Not a bad bite, but a definite bite.  Now choices needed to be made.

They asked me if they could rehome him…,maybe to someone without kids.  Problem was, this wasn’t only happening to kids.  He was bullying everyone, and it did include nips and bites.  We talked about priorities, and what home could possibly be safe for him.  The answer was none. They talked about putting him down.  Then at the last minute a friend of a co-worker stepped up and said she’d like to take Colby.  She loved him….for three days, until he bit her daughter who was visiting.  Colby was returned to his family.

The family made the very, very difficult decision to let him go. They said goodbye to him yesterday.  He was surrounded by people he loves, instead of in some scary shelter.  He had a good life, which was extended beyond what was expected because of this family.  He was loved.  At his very last breath, he was still loved.  How wonderful to live a complete life like that.

The family received a lot of pressure from a family friend to do anything but end Colby’s life.  Their suggestions included putting him on Facebook, and at least trying to find him a home.  A dog who has proven over and over that he is a dangerous dog. Who was unpredictable.  Hawking him out on Facebook would be one of the most irresponsible things ever.  At that point, it’s no longer about Colby’s well-being.  It’s about getting him a home, feeling good about a dog not dying, and then washing your hands of the situation.  Well, there’s another one I saved!  If this individual was hell-bent on posting a dog on Facebook to save, then how about this one:

Cienna, currently available at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.

Cienna, currently available at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.

Cienna has been available since February.  She’s a great dog!  Well-behaved and sweet.  Or what about Little Bubba?

Little Bubba, a truly wonderful, easygoing dog who is scared to be in the shelter.

Little Bubba, a truly wonderful, easygoing dog who is scared to be in the shelter.

These are safe dogs.  Dogs with no bite history, let alone multiple incidents.  Post them!  The only difference between these dogs and Colby is that the friend had an emotional attachment to Colby.  In a world where there is an overpopulation of dogs, emotional attachment is only detrimental to rescue.  Love them all, but realize who can be helped and who can’t.

Colby’s owners did a very brave and selfless thing:  they chose Colby’s well being over their own emotions.  Colby needed to go home.  His forever home.  They finally let him go, with dignity and love.  They actively chose to let him cross the rainbow bridge instead of having their hand forced through terrible circumstances.

I sent them a link.  A different set of circumstances, but the same outcome:  a difficult choice had to be made.  I Died Today follows a dog named Duke through is last day on the planet.  You’ll cry, but you’ll also realize that no matter how a dog is let go, it’s always with love and tears.  Circumstances are just that:  circumstances.  How we act, through self-interest or through real, true compassion is entirely up to us.

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



I’m a true believer in karma. You get what you give, whether it’s bad or good.

Sandra Bullock

This is what karma looks like

This is what karma looks like

You know what they say about karma?  I’m currently living it.  Not even a month after I write a blog describing how as a child I coerced my mom into adopting a kitten, I find two kittens during a Pack Walk.  I couldn’t just leave them, so I brought them home, segregating them in my son’s bedroom until I could figure out what to do with them.  We found a home for the gray one, and decided to keep the black one. Now comes the tricky part.   How to integrate a small kitten into a pack that contains a dog with high prey drive and a definite desire to “secure the perimeter”:  namely Sparta.

Sparta is not a difficult dog.  She’s sweet, kind, loyal, obedient…all wrapped up in a big ball of protectiveness and questions.  My husband says she reads too much Guns ‘n Ammo, and laughs at how you can almost hear her answer my every command with “Sir, yes Sir!”.  She wasn’t trained to be so…military, it’s just her nature.  There’s a joke about German Shepherds:

Q: How many German Shepherds does it take to change a lightbulb?

So how to add a kitten to this pack?  Slowly, and with a lot of Piloting.  Sparta will be asking many questions along the way, from “What the hell is this thing?” to “Should we kill it?”.  I will be answering all of her questions, one at a time, and not immersing her in a whirlpool of over-stimulation.  In other words, taking it very slowly.

The first thing I did was to rub my hands all over the kitten and then immediately go to where Sparta was and let her smell my hands. If she started to get a little hyper over the new scent, I simply gave her a gentle negative, letting her know that this scent is not to be linked with energy:

Hmmm….interesting scent, Mom.  That’s a new odor.  What do you call it? 

I call it mine, Sparta.

Sir, yes Sir!

Good girl, Sparta. *eye roll*

This step took me about a day.  Meanwhile, the kitten’s scent naturally started to permeate the house, becoming a normal background scent, the same way people living near train tracks eventually don’t notice trains going by any more.  It’s normal now.  This is very important to acclimating your dog to a new pack member (such as say, a kitten, new pet, or a baby). Since dogs answer most of their questions through scent, (similar to how we use our eyes), integrating strange scents as normal is very important.  The first time Sparta meets the kitten (who has now been named Princess Catwalker, Kitty Purry, Pixel), I wanted her to process the scent as something that’s already familiar.

Ever patient Sparta, wondering what on earth I've brought into the house now.

Ever patient Sparta, wondering what on earth I’ve brought into the house now.

Now that Sparta is used to Pixel’s scent, we can move to the next step:  controlled visual acceptance.  We are gradually adding to her senses of Pixel, without allowing sense of taste.  Sight comes next.  We don’t want to put Sparta into sensory overload, so we take it a bit at a time.

I put Sparta in her mudroom and put up a baby gate.  I would walk into the kitchen frequently holding the kitten, giving her a brief visual, but also giving her the cue through my body language that this was mine.  If she asked any questions, I would answer them.

Mom, you’ve got some fur on your clothes…..wait a minute, that’s not fur…  WHAT IS THAT?!!!!

It’s mine, Sparta.  That’s what it is.

Sir, yes Sir!

The more causal I was about a kitten being in the kitchen, the more Sparta took my attitude as her cue.  She was still very interested, but trying to act calm.  Her calmness was rewarded with a green bean (no, not as punishment – she loves them. No, really).  After about 20 minutes of this, she got bored and decided to take a nap, at which point I walked up to the baby gate, and did a controlled first-meet.  I let her sniff the kitten’s rear end first.  Sparta did some heavy sniffs to get as much info as possible.  As soon as her body language became too stiff or agitated, I would simply give her a negative using my body language, reminding her that this was my kitten, not hers.  She accepted this.  I continued with this behavior for roughly two days, finally allowing occasional front-end sniffs (after realizing the kitten was beyond bored and calm), to allowing a meeting through the baby gate.  Sparta was again rewarded with green beans for calm behavior.  After a bit, she started to look for green beans when the kitten was around.  Sometimes she’d get them, but most of the time it was calm praise and a gentle pat, simply punctuated with a treat occasionally.

Finally, after 4 days, the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  Face to face. I kept Sparta’s leash on her, but didn’t hold it. To accomplish this safely, I started after Sparta had quite a bit of exercise.  We went for a 3 mile walk, which is a lot for Sparta (she’s more of a wrestler than a runner).  She was calm and happily exhausted when we got home – a good way to start what could be a high energy situation.  I sent Sparta to her room, gave her a stay command, but didn’t put up the baby gate this time, relying on her self-control to obey the command in the face of added stimulation (Sir, yes Sir!).  I walked in holding Pixel.  Sparta wasn’t restrained this time, but she didn’t try to leave her room, although she was very interested.  I gave her a green bean for remaining calm.  I then allowed Sparta to come up to me, who was still standing holding the kitten.  She gave a hard sniff and then looked for a green bean, which I gave her.  I walked around with the kitten until Sparta was bored and looked for something else to do.  I then put the kitten on the counter (not behavior I want to encourage, but for the moment, the perfect place for them to meet).  I wanted the kitten to have an easy escape route, and to not feel overwhelmed by the (100lb+) dog.  The kitten needed to be on higher ground.  Sparta sniffed, whined (I gave her a negative), and then continued with some heavy sniffing.  After five minutes, Sparta was bored.

It was still another day before I allowed the kitten to meet Sparta on the ground, but by this point, Sparta was bored, and had already accepted the kitten as Pack.  As you have read, there was a lot of Piloting through this.  I can not decided who belongs in the Pack unless I am Pilot.  I did not start with a dog who does not obey my basic commands, and who I couldn’t Pilot into calm easily.  I applied the basic steps of Piloting:

  1. Control yourself (I was calm, and using confident body language);
  2. Control the situation (I very slowly added the stimulation a bit at a time, controlling each situation);
  3. Answer any questions that arise. (Can I eat that?  No, Sparta, that’s my kitten.  Sir, yes Sir!).

Since integrating the kitten into the Pack, I’ve discovered that kittens are very annoying. Pixel is constantly pestering Orion (who simply snaps and backs the kitten off, teaching Pixel appropriate behaviors under my watchful eye).  Sometimes they play, sometimes they don’t.  My other cat, Echo, tries to be indulgent with the kitten, but yeah, same thing.  It usually ends with Echo smacking Pixel, and Pixel realizing he needs to tone down his behavior. Everyone in the house is Piloting Pixel.

Sparta and Pixel hanging out in Sparta's room

Sparta and Pixel hanging out in Sparta’s room. 

Except Sparta. One time she put her nose a little to rudely into the kitten’s derriere, and Pixel didn’t like it.  He turned around and smacked Sparta.  Sparta is now cowed by Pixel, and gives him plenty of room.  My 100 lb. rottie/shep has been Piloted by a 3 lb kitten.

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

Comedy of Errors

Let ’s go hand in hand, not one before another – William Shakespeare

There’s no such thing as the perfect dog owner.  A consistent dog owner? Absolutely! But perfect? Nope. Because, guess what? We’re human! Have you also noticed how even if your dog is perfectly trained (don’t kid yourself though) they’ll still do a few things just to push the limits? Dogs provide our lives with adventure, mischief and attitude. Why would we ever want to take that completely away?

We all strive for a well behaved dog. And sometimes, when we don’t answer a question properly or don’t have enough money in our Piloting Piggy Bank, our dogs make decisions that we had hoped they wouldn’t. Sometimes this can be as frustrating as reacting to another dog, but sometimes, sometimes, it can be just darn hilarious. I’m guilty! I don’t always answer Porter’s questions. But, the key here is, occasionally you just have to laugh and not take things so seriously. I’m not giving you permission to take time off from Piloting, I’m just saying that sometimes, when you forget to Pilot, don’t get mad at yourself or your four legged friend. Try and let it go.

The other day I was reminded of the lesson: The absence of no means yes. With any dog, if they ask a question (Is that dog a threat? Can I take up all the room on the bed? Can I try and cuddle with the cat?) and you forget to answer, they’ll always assume the answer is yes.


The other night I decided to multi task and feed Porter as I was cooking dinner. It takes him a while to finish his food (thank you Busy Buddy Twist N Feed), so I kind of zoned out.

Now, Porter is not allowed in the kitchen. Our kitchen is way too small to have him in there with us, so he knows he has to stay on the carpet. In my multi-tasking hurry I had left the pantry door open along with his food bin. As I was stirring dinner, I realized Porter should probably be done with his food by now. I turned to exit the kitchen and there he was. He had one paw still on the carpet and was completely stretched out with his head just barely in the food bin. He was eating gingerly and hesitantly. Did he know that this was wrong? Of course he did. But did anyone tell him no? Yeah, that was my bad.

I couldn’t help but laugh. Yes, Porter knows better, but he’s also a dog, and has the mentality of a 10 year old boy. He’s going to push the limits and get into trouble every once in a while. And quite honestly, he had probably been asking me for a while if this was allowed, and I didn’t answer no. But you never said I couldn’t!

I didn’t yell, I didn’t scream or get mad at him. I just laughed and said his name. The ears went straight up and off he scurried into his crate. Yup, he gave himself a time out. It’s such a minor thing. In the grand scheme of things, is this going to set back his food aggression? Nope, he left a whole big free pile of food on his own accord! Will I pay more attention next time? You bet. But, it’s not worth the energy to get mad or upset over him pushing the limits every once in a while. I’m the one that’s supposed to be making sure he understands those limits are here to stay. And I’m not going to get mad at myself, I’m just going to take the situation, realize I should have answered his questions, laugh at it and move on.


We put so much pressure on ourselves as dog owners to be the perfect. But, having a dog should also be something that’s enjoyable. Remember, it’s okay to laugh at yourself and your dog. Not every situation is comical, but take advantage of the ones that are. Even if it’s because they’re being little imps. Take a lesson away from it each time, but don’t forget to enjoy the small moments. It’s those stories that you’ll be telling over and over for years.

Keep calm and pilot on

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