2014 Darwin Dogs’ Awards!

Winning is only half of it. Having fun is the other half.

 - Bum Phillips

Brittany Graham Photogrphy

Brittany Graham Photography

Yup, it’s that time of year.  All of the egg nog has been drunk (as well as some of us as a result of that egg nog!).  Presents wrapped only to be unwrapped.  Family and friends share their meticulously prepared feast.  What’s left?

The Darwin Dogs’ Awards!

This year our winners will  be receiving a gift certificate from Brittany Graham Photography for a photo session with their beloved pooch.  So, on to the winners!

Cutest Dog – LUCA


Hard to go wrong with a puppy, but when it’s this puppy, things turn ridiculously adorable.  While I have the pleasure of quite a few puppies throughout the year, Luca was definitely blessed in the charm and looks department.

Biggest Challenge – TUCKER


What do you get when you cross a 100 lb dog, puppy adolescence, a huge amount of energy and having gone an entire life never being told “no”?  Well, if you add in a copious amount of charm and sweetness, along with a big heart, you get Tucker, one of the largest Doodles I’ve ever come across.  His owner realized that things had gotten out of hand with this handsome fellow, and called me in to help her unravel him back down to his good, sweet nature.  It took a lot of patience, effort and determination, but we did it.  He now gets negatives when necessary, and his owner realizes that negatives doesn’t mean he’s a bad dog, it’s just an answer to a question (Such as, “Can I jump on you?”).  His owner did a remarkable job in a very brief amount of time (during that 2 hours, she walked him on a leash for the first time without his dragging her!). Both are well on their way to successful bond anchored in mutual respect.  I’m looking forward to hearing more from them as they continue to strengthen their bond.

Owner Dedication (tie) – FARGO


Fargo is not a particularly difficult dog, but he’s different than most.  It’s hard to quite identify what’s different about him; perhaps it’s his super-high intellect, or maybe it’s that he’s so street savy, having been a stray for quite a while before finding his forever home.  And when I say forever, I mean forever.  Whatever the reason for his uniqueness, his owners didn’t let that stop them.  We did our training session, and then they got to work: Pack Walks (almost every single one of them!), training sessions, questions, emails, phone calls – Fargo’s family were determined to make this work.  And they succeeded. Great job!

Owner Dedication (tie) – Cody


Cody’s owner suffer a serious injury mere weeks after she adopted him as a puppy.  While she’s normal a very vigorous, healthy and active individual, she was suddenly bedridden.  Cody had to be boarded so she could recuperate.  Realizing that this was not the optimal way for him to grow up, she enlisted my help to train him in her absence in a more typical home-like setting.  Phone calls, text, and emails poured in from her almost daily.  She truly missed her dog, but realized given her present condition, she couldn’t care for him.  Rather than risking her health, his welfare, or both of their sanity, she made a tough call and spent several weeks away from him.  She has since fully recovered, and Cody is back at home with his beloved owner, who has taken on the Pilot role with great determination.  Cody is happy, safe, and home where he belongs.  That’s dedication!

Surprise Turnaround – CINNAMON


I met Cinnamon during a training session back in March.  It was the first “aggressive” session Danika ever went to (you can read her take on the session, and what it’s like to work with aggressive dogs here).  Cinnamon was a tough little girl with a very strong protective streak towards her owner.  She had bitten quite a few people.  She tried to take a chunk out of me when I first met her.  Her owner turner her around.  I had thought about nominating Cinnamon for Owner Dedication, but a three-way tie is a bit much, plus, Cinnamon was truly a surprise turn around.  Now that she’s being Piloted by her owner, she is a much, much calmer dog who doesn’t feel threatened in every new situation.

Honorable Mentions 

I really wish I could give out more prizes.  There were so many of you this year who were amazing (we had well over 250 dogs this year), so there were quite a bit to choose from.

Owner Dedication

Sunni, Max and Dakota.  Sometimes it’s the hard choices, when you realize that it’s time to say goodbye, that make you the most dedicated owner.  Gone but not forgotten.

Surprise Turnaround

Mitzi, Gunner and Sebastian.  All came from different families.  All had difference circumstance.  All could have ended differently. I’m thankful for how far these guys have come today.

Biggest Challenge

Well, right now a training session I had today with Dakota comes to mind, as does Finnegan (a dog who was big, scared, and protective.  Oh, and had never been on a leash in his life).  I’m looking forward to seeing how Piloting works for these dogs, and looking forward to their being nominated for Surprise Turnaround in 2015!

Cutest Dog


I can’t tell you how many times I wake up in the morning, not in the mood to go train 2-3 dogs that day.  I drag myself into the car.  Grumble the whole way to your house.  Ring your doorbell, and then….

Oh my God!  You have a dog!!!! How awesome is that!  Look at those cute little/big ears.  That fluffy/smooth coat!  What a handsome/pretty boy/girl! What’s his/her name?  What a wonderful dog!

Because each of your dogs makes me smile in some way.  Each of them brings me joy, from the puppy who I get to roll around with on the floor for two hours to the dog who took over an hour to convince I wasn’t going to hurt her before she finally came out of her back yard for her first walk ever.  All of them take steps towards working on a viable bond with their humans.  They don’t give up, and they keep all of us with the opposable thumbs going.  From puppy mills, to shelters, from retired dog fighting survivors to the adorable shelter dog and yes, even the purebreds from good breeders: you all make it worthwhile, and I always end my day with a smile because of you.  Thank you for that!  Here’s to a wonderful, dog-filed 2014!

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Most of all, to the dog that started it all for me: Pebbles.  I met her when I was six.  I lost her when I was 21.  Thanks for everything you taught me, Pebs!


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

Cure that Boredom!

As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen – Winnie the Pooh


I’m sure we’ve all had that feeling once or twice of:

“Fido, let’s do something super awesome today!”

And then, you have no idea what to do and you end up doing the same walk you’ve done for the past few weeks.

Sometimes, we just need a little inspiration to get our dogs out and about with us! New adventures can be a great bonding experience and a great way to get some PAW into your pups life.

Let’s be honest, the same walk and routine can be boring for both you and your pup. There are times where we need more excitement! Something that after we tell someone what we did this weekend they say “that’s awesome! Sounds like a fun weekend!”

Adventures, adventures, adventures. They shouldn’t stop just because we have a dog. They should only just be beginning!


So, here are 50 adventures to take advantage of with your pup in the Northern Ohio area. Some things are seasonal, so you may have to wait to do all 50 until the summer! But get a head start on it now!

Heck, this might be a good New Year’s Resolution. Set a goal!

I will do 25 things off this list with my dog in the New Year.

Sounds like fun for everyone to me. If you do end up doing any of these activities send us pictures! Post them on our FB page! We’d love to be part of your adventures.

Ready… set… GO!

Keep calm and pilot on

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

My Dog, the Yogi

We are what we think. All that we are, arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world – Buddha

I had just returned home from a yoga class and Porter greeted me at the door. He was calm, yet happy to see me and then all of a sudden he went into a play bow stretch, or for you yoga people, a downward dog. I watched him and suddenly held a hint of jealousy towards him. He did that stretch perfectly! Yet, I’m constantly trying to reposition and make sure I’m holding my body correctly.

As I watched him the rest of the night more epiphanies started to occur and the final conclusion was: My dog is a yogi.

The Stretching

Blog Post Yogi

So there’s the stretching. He’s amazing at it. He really stretches every party of his body out. And as I started to watch his stretches, I started to realize when he was doing them.

He always stretches first thing in the morning. He starts his day off by making sure every muscle is engaged. You should always stretch in the morning as it sets your body and mind up for a new adventure.

He stretches before we go outside. He resets his body and mind before going outdoors. He’s calming himself down, making sure he’s attuned to his body and then moving forward with the outdoor world.

He stretches when he’s stressed. He uses it as a stress relief.

He stretches when… well he pretty much stretches all the time. He’s constantly resetting his body and energy to focus on another matter close to a yogi’s heart:

The Now


He lives in the present.

Dogs, all of them, especially Porter, live for each moment in that moment. Dogs don’t consume themselves with the past. They live for each moment. They live fully. They live with vibrancy and pure bliss. They are absolutely and completely invoked in each moment in each day. Their happiness is the fact that they are present. All the time.

When I’m with Porter, I do tend to stay in the moment. He brings me complete joy and sometimes frustration, but he’s always so good at making sure my mindset is set in the present moment.

The Breath


Porter breathes. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, we all breathe. But, Porter pays attention to his breaths. When he’s about to go to bed, or if he’s just relaxed, Porter takes big cleansing breaths. He sucks in as much oxygen as he can and he lets it go, loudly. He cleanses any anxiety, uncertainty or worries he has with those breaths. It’s all about the breath.

What’s wonderful is, when he starts doing this, it’s a reminder to me to breathe as well. I mimic his breathing until I’m relaxed and finding myself more present and aware of my body.

The Gratitude


Everyday Porter wakes up grateful. Every night when I come home he’s grateful. Every time he climbs into his bed, he’s grateful. He’s grateful for his bones, he’s grateful for his bed, he’s grateful for pets and he’s grateful for a home.

You can see it in his actions, in his eyes, in the way he greets all of these things when he’s been away for a few days.

Seeing his gratitude reminds me of all the things that I take for granted and puts me in the mindset to be thankful for each day, each experience, each person that has shaped my life. After all, if my dog can be grateful for it all, I should be too.

My dog is a yogi. He’s never been to a class (although dog yoga, doga, is a thing), he’s never read a book, he’s never talked to another yogi. But he gets it all instinctively. Watching him changes my perspective on things and makes me realize there are some things that I should be doing differently.

Ok, so his reaction to squirrels isn’t the most yogi type reaction, but we can’t be perfect right?

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Pure Devotion

 True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it. – Daniel Goleman


- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

Sometimes, I’m amazed by the pure perfection of our four legged friends. Everyone has their story of how their dog has showed unconditional love, bravery and compassion. I’ve been able to be a part of my own stories. Yet, it seems that every time a dog shows compassion towards me I’m still amazed. And I hope that’s something that never goes away. I never want to take that for granted.

The other day, I was having a difficult day. A family member passed and it was one of those times where it hit me like a wave. There are 3 things I know that help me reset my emotions and regroup my energy. Those things are water, nature and my dog. So, I went to the lake and took Porter with me.


Porter had been cooped up in his crate all day, so I knew there would be a ton of energy that he needed to get rid of. However, when we got in the car he was calm. He would occasionally give me gentle kisses and I could feel him just staring. He knew something was not normal so kept looking to me for direction. As you know, the direction doesn’t always have to be verbal. And he was able to pick up on the energy I was exuding and knew something was different with me.

You know the saying it’s the little things? Well, that’s what Porter did for me that night. A bunch of little things. And maybe to some, they wouldn’t have noticed it, but to me, they made a world of difference.

As we sat by the water he didn’t go around and sniff at the grass or find a stick to chew like he usually does. No, he chose to sit right next to me and lean in so that we were both holding each other up. He chose to not whine when he was bored. Instead he would occasionally give me a lick or a touch with his nose.


When we got home, he didn’t ask to be fed. Instead he pulled his blanket closer to me on and curled up. He made sure he was in reaching distance so I could pet him.

When he laid down, he didn’t just go to sleep. Instead, he positioned himself so he could watch me. His brown eyes watched my every move to make sure he didn’t need to be on comfort patrol.

When I found myself laughing at something, instead of looking up annoyed because I was interrupting his resting time (yes, this does happen), he would let out a big sigh as if it was relieving to hear me make a normal sound.

When I went to bed, instead of curling up by my feet, he chose to sleep right by chest so that his nose was facing mine. Instead of going to bed right away, he stayed awake and would intermittently give me a kiss.


Brittany Graham Photography

Porter made small choices to show me that he cared. He did what he could, and that’s more than I could ever expect. And that’s the amazing thing about dogs. They read us look a book. Then they do what they can. There’s such pure devotion from an animal that if it doesn’t make you have a feeling of awe I’m not sure what can.

Your dog doesn’t have to pull you from a burning building to show you the amount of love and esteem they have for you. They can simply choose to move that blanket a little closer. Time to be a little more present and notice the little things our dogs are doing for us.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

A Simple Matter


  Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

 - Leonardo da Vinci

Dogs are simple.  Not stupid…definitely not stupid.  But they keep things very simple and streamlined in their world.  Their communication is based upon a binary system of “yes” and “no”.  They don’t complicate their emotions.  Have you ever heard of a dog questioning why they love you?  They accept their emotions, be it love or fear, completely, without judgment or reason.  They feel a certain way because they do.  No need to siphon out a reason.

That’s why it makes my eyes itch when I see people overcomplicating their dogs.  No, your skittish dog probably wasn’t abused before coming to a the shelter.  No, your food-aggressive dog wasn’t starved before you got him.  Behavior doesn’t necessarily need a reason.  It just is.  And that is completely wonderful.  As I’ve stated countless times, dogs are incapable of doing anything wrong.  They are absolutely perfect…for dogs.

Now, unfortunately, not all behaviors are appropriate in our human world.  Take food-aggression for instance.  In the not-so-long-ago days when dogs lived in the wild, food-aggression was merely a way for a dog to keep whatever nutrients might stumble its way.  Dogs didn’t necessarily live in the land of milk and honey.  Sometimes each calorie was hard won, and therefore vigorously guarded.  In the wild, we call that survival.  (Regrettably, in the human world, I call this one of the very few good reasons to rehome a dog in certain situations.  Yes, this behavior can indeed be managed, but it is like keeping a loaded gun in the house.  With a family of children.)

Back to simplicity.  The simple, wonderfully brilliant thing about dog is that you don’t have to know why they are evidencing a certain behavior to help them modify that behavior to be suitable in a human world.

Example:  I had a client named Claire, and her beautiful Rottie named Bubbles (I kid you not).  Bubbles was a lovely, happy, drooling bubbly ball of fun with one pretty big issue.  On the walk, Bubbles would be going along just fine, with his head right by his owner’s leg, and the leash slack.  Suddenly, Bubbles would rear up like a dinosaur, desperate to get away from his owner, the leash, everything.  He turned into a snarling, writhing mess.  It was all the Claire could do to keep Bubbles under control during one of these “episodes”.  Medical issues were ruled out.  She couldn’t figure out what set Bubbles off.  Some days would be fine, others, she could barely make it around the block.  When Claire called me, she was at the end of her rope.  “I’ve tried everything.  I can’t figure out what’s making him react like this!”

“Who cares why he’s reacting like that.  All we need to do is answer his questions. Obviously, something is scaring him, but we don’t need to know what that “something” is to answer a question, do we?  And the answer is definitely ‘no, Bubbles, nothing is going to hurt you.”  I calmly stated back.

So we went to work.  Bubbles tried to react with me on the leash, but here’s the thing… I could read his intentions early.  Dogs are wonderful at projecting their thoughts.  Bubbles was no exception.  His ear pricked forward, a series of wrinkles developed along his forehead between his ears.  He stood on his toes and leaned forward as his tail (undocked!) when straight up. All of these signals of his intentions happened in less than 5 seconds, but I was ready for him.  I didn’t blink.  Just was quickly as he started to ask the question, I answered it.   I didn’t wait until Bubbles was in a full on tantrum of terror, lunging and growling.  I answered his questions the second I saw he was asking it. I honestly didn’t know what the question was, aside from a general, “Will that hurt us?”.  I didn’t need to know what that was.

I do that to my kids a lot.  “Mom, can we-”   “NO.”  End of discussion.

Bubbles and I went around the neighborhood with no instances of lunging, but quite a few questions answered.  Then I handed the leash to Claire, who also started to answer Bubbles’ questions.  Everything went beautifully.  Bubbles’ now had his questions answered.  Claire realized that she didn’t have to know what Bubbles was reacting to in order to give him a “no”, making him feels safe.  I didn’t get Rottie drool on me (by some sort of divine intervention).  The whole situation ended with a “happily ever after”.

A Piloted dog is a happy dog

A Piloted dog is a happy dog


Claire called me about 6 months later.  She was excited on the phone. “I think I finally figured out what originally set Bubbles off!  I think I finally figured out the exact question he was asking me!!!!”   Of course I was dying to hear this.  “Well, as you know, I live in a rural area.  Mailboxes are at the end of the driveways.  I knew it wasn’t the mailboxes that were setting him off.  However, I finally discovered that if the red flag on the mailbox was up, he’d flip out. He was terrified of the little red flags!”

And that’s a Rottie for you.

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

Creating Calm

Just do it.
- Nike

Sparta, Orion and Cody.  Three energetic dogs.  Calm moments like this don't just happen, I work to make sure they happen.

Sparta, Orion and Cody. Three energetic dogs. Calm moments like this don’t just happen, I work to make sure they happen.

Okay, I get it.  The holidays are here.  It’s cold outside, and you’re just so busy. That doesn’t leave a lot of extra time for giving your dog the Activity that they require. Getting your dog’s daily quota of Work in shouldn’t be that difficult.  You are feeding them with an enrichment toy, right?  (If not, read this article to find out why Work is so important.) But just because you’re busy doesn’t mean that your dog’s need for Activity is suddenly gone.

Now, I want to go outside as much as the next person in this weather (Cleveland weather can be very unforgiving).  But there are more ways to give your dog exercise than just with a walk.  I currently have a pack of three, Sparta (100 lb. rottie/shep mix), Orion (7 lb. papillon) and Cody (a Labradoodle that I’m boarding).  That’s a lot of dog and I don’t necessarily have the time nor the inclination to take each of them for a long hike every day.  That’s why I cheat.  There are plenty of ways to exercise a dog that don’t involve freezing outside.


Yeah, I know.  I treadmill is definitely an investment in both space and money.  But you can pick up a treadmill from Goodwill, Craigslist or Salvation Army for under $100.  Do the math: how much damage has your dog done to say, your couch, because they had too much energy?  That $100 you spend on a treadmill is actually an insurance policy to prevent your dog from destroying perhaps thousands of dollars worth of items in your home, including your sanity.  Here’s a video on how to get your dog started on the treadmill.

Play Dates

When Sparta was 6 months old, my husband and I practically lived at the dog park.  Sparta is a huge dog who had a huge appetite for Activity when she was younger.  In the winter, that can be problem.  So every night my husband and I would take turns with who would take her to the dog park.  She would run and gambol among a pack of huskies who showed up every night, come home tired, and not destroy things.  If you don’t have a dog park near you, what about just setting up a play date for your dog?  Pick another dog of a similar age and similar playing style. Sparta, and my boarder, Cody, both love to wrestle together.  Orion is a runner.  That leaves him odd-man out, so sometimes I take Orion to my mother’s house to play with her dog, Kiwi, another runner.


No, agility doesn’t have to involve classes or joining a group.  In my house, agility is two soup cans with a yardstick balanced across them.  All the dogs in my house learn quickly how to jump over and go under on command.

“Over, under, under, over, under, over, over.  Good girl, Sparta!  Again! Over, under, over, over, under…”

Five minutes of this, and Sparta has had her energy levels at least topped off.  When she and Orion were both younger, it could sometimes be difficult to manage their energy while trying to get rid of their energy.  In other words, they needed to get exercise prior to going for a walk so the walk wasn’t unbearable.  We would do agility for roughly 5 minutes before our walk, and that did the trick.  It brought their energy levels down to bearable amounts so I could take them for a walk with more ease.

Another benefit to agility is that it gives  you an opportunity for positive reinforcement, which helps you bond with your dog.  You’re both working towards the same goal, and each time your dog hit that goal, you create the pack mentality of “we did it together”.  Sometimes you really need that positive.

The video below shows how to train a dog to jump through a hoop.  The concept is no different when training a dog to jump over a yardstick balanced on two soup cans.


I’ve been touting the benefits of backpacks for dogs for years.  It’s a cheap, easy way to top off their energy levels.  Sparta below is kindly modeling her backpack.  She wears it on walks, but she also wears it inside the house.

Sparta BackpackWhen she was younger, Sparta would wear the backpack all day while I was home (never leave a backpack on a dog unsupervised).  I would put about 1/4-1/2 pound of weight on each side, and the very act of carrying around that extra bulk all day would take the edge off her.  When we would go for a hike, I would add another pound of weight to each side.

A good rule of thumb for a dog is to start out with 1/2% of their body weight total in the backpack.  Work up from there, but never more than 5% max.  Sparta currently has one package of coffee on each side of her backpack, for a total of 2 lbs.  She’s getting older, and I don’t want so much stress on her back and her joints.  At 100 lbs., that’s only 2% of her total body weight.  I use things like dried beans, rice, coffee…things that disseminate evenly across the backpack (no water bottles, and nothing too interesting, like, say…dog food).  No water bottles; they bang against the dog’s ribs as they walk, and are typically too heavy and bulky.  Here is a link to the brand that I usually use.



Yes, your dog may love fetch, and it may take a while for them to get worn out playing fetch indoors, so why not make it more difficult?  Sparta is not a fetch dog.  I wish she were, but as I discussed in this article, you can’t make fetch happen.  However, if you have a dog who loves fetch, go for it, but tweak it a little for inside the house.

I put utilize the soup cans and yard stick again from agility.  Place it in a threshold through which you throw the toy.  The dog has to jump over it to retrieve the ball, thus burning more energy.  I’ll also throw the ball up and down the steps.  What about putting the backpack on your dog (with a small amount of weight) while playing fetch.  Think outside the, er…ball, and see how you can make fetch more of a workout for your dog.

I sometime wonder about the dogs in shelters, the owner surrenders.  How many of them surrendered their dogs because the dog was unmanageable in the house, when what really happened was the house became unmanageable for the dog, like in this scenario.  Riley never stood a chance against boredom and energy.  He was starving for activity, and took his “meals” wherever he could find them…usually in an inappropriate way involving destruction and mayhem.

All work and no play...

All work and no play…we all know how this ends.

Piloting, Activity and Work.  That’s the PAW Method.  It’s a tripod – remove one of those three things and everything topples over.  It’s not a smorgasbord or a buffet where you pick which items you want.  Yes, getting your dog’s energy levels under control can feel like an insurmountable obstacle, especially if your dog is young.  But utilize some of (all of!) these tricks, and you’ll find that good dog buried deep, deep down inside of your beloved canine.

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




Holiday Vacations

“Did you know that there are over three hundred words for love in canine?” – Gabrielle Zevin, Elsewhere


Porter sporting his holiday bandana… about as dressed up as he gets.


All of my family lives in CT. Holiday season is always crazy for me. There’s a lot of traveling and not much sleep. It’s crazy and hectic, but worth it, so I can spend the holidays with the people I love. Which, brings me to why I feel so guilty a few days before I leave: Porter doesn’t come with me.

As you can tell by now, I’m pretty no nonsense with my dog. Sure, he wears a bandana every once in a while, and he’ll also wear a coat if it’s too cold out, but I’m not the type to dress him up because “he’s my little boy”.

If he gets hurt, I don’t baby him.

I don’t cry when I leave him somewhere.

I don’t rearrange my day for him.

However, leaving him on the holidays makes me feel like the biggest jerk and the worst dog owner there is.


Okay, so he has his days where he likes to dress up like a Russian Grandmother…. it’s totally normal

I brought him home one holiday season. It was a 9 hour drive both ways. Although he was amazing on both legs of the trip, he wasn’t happy. It was stressful to be in one place that long without the option of getting some activity.

We then found our preferred boarding place. He loves it. He can’t get out of the car fast enough.

(Here’s some tips on how to say goodbye properly)

Every time there’s a holiday I start to feel guilty again. We spend the holidays with the people we love, and well, I love Porter, so shouldn’t he come with me?

I looked into if he could fit on my flight this time. Not because I actually thought bringing him on a flight would be a good idea, but because I just needed to know my options. If I could somehow shrink his legs, make him less anxious, and suddenly make him okay being cramped in a small place for hours we’d be all set!

Ok, so not the greatest option. Then I started thinking about how the holidays can get stressful. What would make Porter’s holiday the least stressful? What would be his ideal holiday?

-          Room to run

-          Hours and hours of outside time

-          Other dogs to play with (although dog reactive, he’s mostly dog reactive in the Mom, can I play with him now?? Pleeeasssseeee??? way now. See, Piloting does work!)

-          Food

-          People to give him tons of pets and attention

The easiest way to make his holiday come true is to make sure he’s not at mine. I can’t offer him those options when I’m running to visit relative after relative.

A picture that was sent to me from Porter's sleep away camp! He loves it there!

A picture that was sent to me from Porter’s sleep away camp! He loves it there!

We need to start reevaluating how we measure our love for our dogs. Some people measure it by how much time you spend with them, sacrificing lots of things to make sure you’re together. But guess what, sometimes loving your dog is making the decision that’s best for them in a logical and rational way. We need to let the judgments of other people stop clouding our mind. We have to learn to think with our hearts and minds instead of thinking just with our heads.

Same goes for Piloting. We learn to say no to our dogs because we think with our hearts and our minds. Sure, we’d love to give our dogs nothing but happiness…. But although they think that chocolate would make them happy, we know better.

Porter beyond tired after a week of playing with new friends

Porter beyond tired after a week of playing with new friends

Never feel guilty for making the decision that your dog must stay somewhere else for the holiday. Whether it be at a boarding setting, a friend’s house, or through rover.com. Make the decision that will make the holidays the least stressful for you and your four legged friend. Start thinking with your heart and your mind.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

A Simple Solution

If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

Abraham Maslow


Pure-Bred-Pitbull-Puppies-In-ShelterI’ve done many blog posts regarding my thoughts on different types of shelters, how to adopt from a shelter, and even what to do with your new companion after adoption.  We all know that saving a life and adopting can be a very rewarding experience.  Shelter dogs can easily become beloved family members.

But wouldn’t it be great if you couldn’t adopt from a shelter because, well, there weren’t enough dogs to warrant shelters?

I think we all know that the number one cause of all the homeless pets is overpopulation.  Dogs do not experience reproductive limitations like humans do.  Female dogs can give birth well into old age, as they do not go through menopause. Male dogs are capable of impregnating a female dog in estrus at any time after puberty.  Obviously, with each litter ranging from 4-8 puppies (or more!) this is a serious problem.

 Overpopulation of dogs isn’t just an American problem:  it is estimated that there are 375 million stray dogs in the world.  We got a glimpse of this through the Sochi Olympics.  Who can forget the images of all those dogs wandering through the street?

Stray dogs in Sochi

Stray dogs in Sochi

India is even worse.  Conditions in India are ripe for supporting a feral and stray dog population, resulting in India having the highest number of human rabies deaths in the world (estimated at 35,000 per year) due to stray dog bites.  Massive amounts of trash remain uncollected in streets, providing these dogs with food, if sub-adequate at best.  Further, in 2001, a law went into effect making it illegal to kill these dogs.

So how is this problem solved?

Obviously spaying and neutering a dog is expensive and time consuming.  Trap and release efforts can cause funding issues, especially with female dogs, for whom surgery is far more difficult, expensive and invasive.

But there’s a new technique of sterilization that may revolutionize how we approach the animal overpopulation crisis, at least with male dogs.  It’s cheap, painless, and costs less than $1 per dog:  calcium chloride.  A simple solution.  After a light sedative, an injection is given to a male dog, which renders them sterile.  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article,

“In three studies published in October in a Scandinavian veterinary journal, researchers in Bari, Italy, tested a variety of doses and solutions in 80 dogs over one year and concluded that a 20% solution of calcium chloride in ethyl alcohol was optimal, rendering dogs “azoospermic” (without sperm) and reducing testosterone levels by 70%, with no adverse effects.”

Seems like a no-brainer!  Cheaper, safer for the dogs (no general sedative is needed and no incision).  Well, there’s a problem. Calcium chloride can’t be patented (kind of like how salt can’t be patented – it’s a common chemical).  Therefore, there is no money to be made by drug companies on this form of sterilization, which means nobody wants to go through the time and expense of shuttling this through the FDA for approval.  Without FDA approval, it’s difficult to convince shelters and vets that the method is safe and reliable.

Further muddling the issue is that animal testing would be required for FDA approval.  Now, I’m against animal testing.  Usually.  But logic dictates that testing a group of dogs by sterilizing them to prevent perhaps millions of other dogs from needlessly dying due to over population is quite obviously the much lesser of two evils. According to the ASPCA, roughly 2.7 million shelter animals are euthanized each year.

Think of the benefits that are being wasted by not utilizing chemical sterilization: medical costs for shelters would drop, both with the cost of neutering and after-care issues.  This method is insanely quick to administer, so just the sheer number of dogs who could be sterilized is staggering.  Dogs who are neutered using this method have a decreased amount of testosterone (similar to dogs who have been surgically neutered), leading to less wandering, marking and dominant behavior that is associated with un-altered males.

Quite obviously this isn’t the entire solution to the epic catastrophe that is over population, but it is a possible lifeline.  Break the cycle.  End the euthanasia at shelters, not because it’s a good or bad way to deal with unwanted pets, but because it isn’t needed anymore.

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

Reality Bites

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

 -Winston Churchill


Clockwise from the munchkin: Orion, Sparta and Cody

Clockwise from the munchkin: Orion, Sparta and Cody

Orion bit Cody (the dog I’m boarding) today.  Orion started with a low growl, worked up to baring of teeth, and then, for the grand finale, bit Cody square on the nose.  And what did I do during this entire engagement?

I watched.  It wasn’t my place to intervene at that moment.  Cody was actually being a twerp, and totally deserved that bite.  Orion had a Kong and was engaged with the peanut butter inside.  Cody came bounding up to Orion, stuck his nose right between the Kong and Orion, and proceeded to just be an absolute pest.  Orion gave him ample warning before finally resorting to “violence”, if that’s the correct word for a 7 lb dog defending his toy from 40 lbs. of annoying, 8-month old, Labradoodle.


Now that’s not to say that in my pack my dogs are allowed to just “have at”, snarling and fighting over anything they think belongs to them.  I will have peace in my house.  But just like any other family, frequently there are misunderstandings.  And let’s face it: it does take a village, and Cody had not been part of a healthy village when I met him. He would invade your personal space, jump on you, grab other dog’s toys from under them, etc.  He’s a wonderfully sweet dog, but he was like a child who had never heard the word “no” before: in other words, a total brat.  His owner had a serious injury just a few months after she got him, and he had been boarded at a regular doggie daycare for weeks before he met me, as she was essentially bedridden and unable to care for her beloved puppy.  Daycare is fine and wonderful for exercise, but not so good for Piloting your dog, as she realized, which was why she called me.   So, how do you un-brat an 8-month old puppy?

Well, if it were indeed just me, that would require my having to answer every one of his questions, which is the basis of Piloting.  Any behavior that was unacceptable, well, that was up to me to address. That can be a bit of an overwhelming job.  So I farmed out some of the work to Orion, and eventually to Sparta.

To make these types of situations work safely,  I need to be Pilot over both Sparta and Orion completely. In other words, they need to check with me frequently to make sure that whatever type of “answer” they are offering Cody is acceptable to me.  So when Orion first growled at Cody over the Kong, Orion frequently looked at me to make sure this was acceptable for him to do this.

Mom, can I handle this problem?

I neglected to answer Orion’s question (and remember, the absence of “no” is “yes”), so Orion continued.  Unfortunately, Cody didn’t catch the drift, so Orion had to escalate to a snarl (Cody is kinda dense sometimes).  Yes, Orion continued to keep an eye on me in case I had an answer different than the one I had previously given.  Nope. I didn’t.  Cody still didn’t get the idea that this behavior was unsavory.  So Orion leaped 1.5 feet in the air and nipped Cody squarely on the nose.  Cody caught on.  Finally. No blood, no mark, not even a scratch.  Problem handled – safely.

Now, letting Orion help me “raise” Cody for a few weeks is a lot different than letting Sparta do the same thing.  I work with Orion in a work setting very frequently.  I know how far Orion is willing to go to make his point, and exactly what means he will utilize to get that point across.  Orion is tremendously professional.  He never overdoes it, but he is willing to get his point across.  Sparta, on the other hand, is a bit totalitarian.  It also took a lot longer for her to accept Cody as Pack. She required frequent reminders.  That’s not to say she isn’t well behaved.  My girl will accept an answer to one of her questions instantly.  She’s freakishly well-behaved in that regard.  One just needs to bear in mind that, as a Shepherd, she was bred to protect the Pack (be it humans, sheep, etc.) from other predators.  Meaning I needed to be on top of all of Sparta’s questions as soon as she asked them. It took about a week before she was able to instantly identify Cody as Pack rather than something to annihilate.  But finally she accepted him and stopped asking questions.  And, of course, Cody decided to test his bounds with her as well.

When Sparta were first allowed run of the house together, it was for short, heavily monitored amounts of time.  I watched them like a lion eyeing a wounded gazelle, my gaze never lifted from them, all the while appearing “normal”.  Sitting on the couch, reading a book.  On my computer, all the while stealthily running surveillance.  Cody decided to try to trample Sparta while Sparta was calmly resting in her favorite spot  Not a bright thing to do.

Now, thus far, Sparta had shown a remarkable amount of patience with Cody, putting up with him crashing into her, getting underfoot, and even jumping off the back steps and landing on her.  Honestly, she had more patience than I can muster sometimes.  But there’s an end to patience, and a time when questions need to be answered with a “no”.

And that’s just what she did.  Obviously the game dynamics change when the dog answering the question is 100 lbs. instead of 7 lbs., but the rules are still the same.  Sparta jumped up, nipped Cody, who immediately backed off. Sparta went right back to sleep.  Question answered.  No blood – not even a scratch.  Merely a question that has been answered, in a dog-appropriate fashion.

Now there are some situations where it would probably be safe to let Sparta answer Cody’s question, but I’m not going to chance it. Instances where both dogs are exhibiting energy (even positive) or if it involves food.  There’s no reason to take a chance, as minute as it may be.  I’m a perfectionist: I’ll only allow my dogs to answer another dog’s question under perfect circumstances.  That’s why it’s always very anti-climatic when they finally get to answer.  That’s also why my pack is calm.  If things ever escalate (which they did when I first added Orion to my pack), then I answer everyone’s question.

Dogs are like children in that you can rely on them to set up their own little social regime.  If they have a kind, benevolent leader who answers questions (such as a parent), then children’s social interactions will be handled in a healthy, appropriate manner among themselves.  I see this with my own children.  Yes, they have disagreements, but they understand the rules I have set forth for them to manage these disagreements on their own.  Occasionally they have difficulty, so I step in.

A lot of people are quick to blame a dog who bites or nips another dog, especially if they’re larger.  I see this a lot.  A typically normal “argument” among dogs blown way out of proportion.  Before deciding if your dog is being aggressive, ask yourself a few questions:

What was the fight about?

If the fight appeared completely unprovoked, or with very slight provocation (i.e., one dog just entered the room and the other dog attacked), then there is a problem.  But if, like in Cody’s case, the dog was being a dofus, well, then…perhaps it was justified.

How long did the fight last, and how severe was the fight?

A nip on the nose?  That is how one dog tells another dog “no”.  Stitches and medical treatment?  You have a problem.  Also, bear in mind how easily the fight was broken up.  A few days ago Sparta started to answer one of Cody’s questions, but I didn’t want her to. I gave her a negative and she instantly backed off.  In other words, she was still being Piloted by me, not answering her own questions.  I will never allow things to escalate to where my dogs are on auto-Pilot.  I won’t even toe the line and let them co-Pilot.

Was there a change in circumstances beyond your control?

Darwin bit Sparta once, and had escalated to a very dangerous point.  No, still no blood involved, but it took me a moment to Pilot him.  He went to the vet that same day.  Sparta had been acting normally (she was 6 mos old at the time, Darwin was about 12).  So she was being annoying as a young dog will be.  Darwin had never shown her anything but patience, and was smart enough to remove himself from a situation if it got out of control or to “ask” me for assistance by placing me between him and Sparta.  So the intensity of the disagreement merited a vet trip.  Yes, there was a problem. Darwin had been battling some health issues, and they had increased in size. That was the start of his declination, and it wasn’t too long afterwards that we had to say goodbye to him.  Any behavior that is out of the ordinary is grounds for a vet trip.  Because we went early, we were able to give him relative comfort for the last six months of his life.


 I’d like to continue this blog post, but Cody is asking Orion a question about who has rights to the bed Orion is currently occupying, and considering how much help the little guy has been to me today, I’ll let him take a pass on answering it.  Cody could use another walk after I answer the question, anyway.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

A Journey Through the Jungle

Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness – Euripides
 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Sometimes it takes years to build friendships. It can take a while for someone to warm up to you. Even dogs. It’s normal for us to have to work at gaining their trust and loyalty. And other times, all it takes is one Swedish meatball to gain the heart of an extraordinary and determined animal.

Deep in the jungle of Ecuador a Swedish team of extreme athletes were taking a rest in the Amazon jungle. They were participating in a 430 mile race that covered all terrains: mud, water, jungle, mountains. During their short rest, they opened a can of Swedish meatballs. And out came a four legged, ragged, wide eyed stray dog. They offered a meatball to the dog and expected him to cower back into the cover of the jungle. However, that’s not what happened.

They named the dog Arthur. Arthur means noble and courageous and he earned his name that journey. Through mud, water, jungle and mountains Arthur stayed with his team. Because that’s what they were. A team.

Here you can read the article about Arthur and his journey across Ecuador and the Amazon jungle. It will make you smile, it will warm your heart and it will make you run to the nearest Ikea, grab some meatballs and wait to see if you can find a new best friend. I’ll meet you there.

Keep calm and pilot on

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