A Little Less Ego – How our Egos Destroy our Bonds with our Dogs

-Brittany Graham Photography

-Brittany Graham Photography

The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it – Criss Jami

Dog’s have no ego. Which is a big reason why we love them so much.

The dog that saves his family from a fire, doesn’t go up to the news crews wagging his tail saying “I did it! That was me!”

Balto didn’t make sure he sent out a press release before he made his journey. Nope, he just did it.

The dog that puts himself in between his owner and harm doesn’t post it on Facebook after to see how many likes he can get.

Dogs don’t look to feed their ego. They do what they do because their hearts are made of gold and it’s the right thing to do.

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

Wouldn’t it be nice if people worked that way too? Yes, of course we all like a little positive reinforcement.

We like to hear someone say “good job” and that they appreciate what we’ve done for them. But, do we necessarily need to have our name attached to it if it’s for the betterment of the community?

So, in human terms, let’s make a larger analogy here. We know there’s multiple universities and research labs that are looking for a cure for cancer. No one can argue that a cure for cancer wouldn’t be an amazing feat for mankind. Let’s say University X discovers a piece of information that could help the other researchers get one step closer to a cure. What would you expect University X to do? Share it right? Ok perfect. University X shares this groundbreaking knowledge. And let’s say University Y says “ummm… thanks but no thanks. We’re working on that as well, so don’t need your help”.

Now, you’re scratching your head right? Because, let’s be honest, if this piece of information could help us get that much closer to a cure wouldn’t you want to use it? Wouldn’t you want to discuss this information with University X and see what further developments you can make? After all, it’s all the same end goal correct?

But see, this is where we as humans are sometimes flawed and dogs are, well, quite perfect. We have egos. And unfortunately some people need their name attached to the feat. They need the press release stating that they’re the ones that accomplished something great. They’re the ones that need the Facebook likes and the shares. And sometimes, this can cause our community not to improve as quickly or rapidly as one would hope.

Dogs don’t need their name attached to anything. They do the right thing and they move on. If there’s more than one of them doing the right thing? They’re perfectly content with that.

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

Ego. Try letting it go. Do good just to do good. That’s what dogs do. They give you affection, not because they expect anything in return, but because they are emotionally attached to you. If we’re all working towards a common goal, let’s be more like our canine friends and be supportive. After all, who cares whose name is attached to anything? How about just putting our pack name on there – The Community. We all have a stake in the changes that are made each day. So, let’s take away the credit by giving us all the credit. And let’s live a little bit more like dogs. Because, what a wonderful fulfilling life that would be.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Positive Influence – The Need for Positive Methods

Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.

- Sam Walton


Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

As you may know from previous posts regarding The Paw Method, here at Darwin Dogs, we are all about answering a dog’s questions.  Dogs are full of questions: Can I eat that? Is that person a threat?  Can we play ball?  And as with any healthy relationship, communication is key.  In other words, you must answer your dog’s questions, or they will come up with an answer for themselves, and odds are you won’t like it.

c7f1ac0ebacf13a9c116f588aeac4356 Dogs are binary creatures: every question they ask is a yes/no question.  Every answer you give them will be a yes or a no.  It’s like a giant game of hot/cold.  Remember, “no” doesn’t mean your dog is bad.  Your dog is incapable of being bad…they do everything perfectly, for a dog.  Unfortunately, they need some guidance in our human world.  That’s why we answer their questions.  But how can you tell when it’s appropriate to use positive reinforcement with your dog?  Simple:  it fits into one or more of these  categories:

You are calling your dog (“come” command).    No matter what, the “come” command must end in a positive.  Give them a reason to come to you, not a reason to run away.  For hints on how to work the “come” command, read this.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

You are asking them to be human(ish).  Dogs will tell each other to back off; not to mess with each other’s toys.  They will ask each other to play, and will give an appropriate answer to each other.  Dog do not teach each other agility, nor do they teach each other English (as in “sit”, “stay”, etc.).  So any time you are asking them to be more than a dog, fun it up with positive reinforcement.  You are both trying to discover a behavior together…make it fun for both of you.

Agility - it's like an exorcism for your animal.  Okay, for you, too.  Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

When they are calm.  I know….Fido is super happy to see you after you’ve been gone all day (or in human terms, 1/2 hour).  It’s tempting to return their enthusiasm upon coming home, but you’re setting yourself up for a hyper dog – one who uses energy to get what they want.  Instead, wait until they’re calmed to give them positive.  As a matter of fact, any time you catch your dog calm is a great time to give them some positive reinforcement.  We want them to understand the calm is the key to a great treasure: what they want.  No matter if it’s a walk, a treat or just a pat on the head, calmly asking is the only way they will ever get it. Not jumping.  Not barking. Not slapping you with their paw.  Calm.

Go ahead.  Just try to ignore this sweet, calm face!  Guess what?  You don't have to!  Slather on that affection - this calm boy deserves it!

Go ahead. Just try to ignore this sweet, calm face! Guess what? You don’t have to! Slather on that affection – this calm boy deserves it!

Sometimes you want to create a behavior out of nowhere.  Teaching your dog a new trick or command.  For instance, I decided to train Sparta to hold random objects in her mouth so I could take a picture each day (you can view the hilarious results here).  I obviously used positive reinforcement for that behavior, but exactly how does one give their dog a positive?

Playing bathroom attendant

Playing bathroom attendant should definitely earn Sparta a positive!

Simple:  We use Touch, Talk, Treat.  We created a Pavlovian response.  Any time I gave Sparta a treat, or even her food, I gently pet her head and in a soft, calm, voice tell her she’s a good girl.  That’s it.  We are linking Touch, Talk, Treat so closely together that when we gradually drop off the treats, they’re implied by the Touch and Talk.  Just like if I said I was going to to make myself a peanut butter sandwich, what’s implied?  Jelly, right?  Because peanut butter and jelly always go together.  Once you get your dog to understand that Touch, Talk and Treat are linked, you can easily remove one (or more) of the components.  After all, who really wants to walk around with a pocketful of treats all the time?  Not very convenient!

So when I was working with Sparta to get her to hold things in her mouth, it was quite obviously impossible for me to reward her with a treat while she had the item in her mouth.  Of course I could just give her the reward when she finally dropped the item, but dropping the item was exactly what I didn’t want.  I wanted her to hold it.  That’s why Touch, Talk, Treat is so important.  While she held it in her mouth, I could give her all the positives she wanted, telling her she was a good girl and petting her.  I could catch the precise moment  she gave me the behavior I wanted.  As she held the item in her mouth, the Touch and Talk were both cues that the treat was (eventually) forthcoming, and that holding the item was the correct behavior to earn the reward.

 Same goes for agility.  Some dogs (*cough* Border Collies *cough*) over think everything.  Suppose the behavior I’m trying to catch is merely jumping through a hoop (“hmmm… last time I went through the hoop, turned counterclockwise towards mom and sat down after blinking twice whereupon mom gave me a treat. She must want me to blink twice!”).  I can’t get food down their gullet while they’re jumping through the hoop, but I sure can yell out that positive word while they’re going through!  That’s catching a behavior. So much miscommunication between humans and their canine companions arises through not catching the precise moment of behavior we wish to see repeated.

This form of verbal positive can come in very handy when you don’t or can’t have treats readily available.  For example, when I am on a walk with Sparta and she sees another dog.  Sparta is very dog reactive, and it takes a lot of trust in me for her to calmly pass that other dog.  I want to reward that trust she has placed in me.  Once we pass by that other dog, I give her that calm praise and a gentle pet on the head.  We just had an entire conversation using only body language.  Translation:

“Mom, that other dog was scary.  Did I do alright?”


“You did beautifully, Sparta.  I’m proud of you.”


“Thanks for getting us through that, mom.”

Note:  I will not bribe her past that other dog.  I will Pilot her, answer her questions, and then reward her for being calm through the whole “ordeal” (and yes, sometimes a Chihuahua can be an ordeal).

Remember to use your positive reinforcement as much as you possibly can.  There are plenty of opportunities to use positive reinforcement with even the most ill-behaved dog.  Catch those moments.  I tell my clients that in order to know where you are in this world, you need latitude and longitude.  That’s it!  In order for your dog to understand what you wish from them, they must get both “yes” and “no”.  Don’t skip the positives!  If your dog is calm, for any reason slather those positives on them.  Teach them a new trick just for the sake of giving them some positives, (which is why I taught my cat agility).  The positives are what bind you together as pack.  It’s the glue that makes your dog want to learn.  Use it generously.


Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio