Her Name is Wendy

Nurse. Just another word to describe someone strong enough to tolerate anything and soft enough to understand anyone. – Unknown

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a very, very long time, and last night’s session reminded me why I needed to do it.  I want to talk to you about nurses and teachers.  Oh, yeah… and dogs.  Believe it or not, these three things have a lot in common.  

Last night I hit the lottery with my clients.  Woman’s name was Elsa.  Man’s name was Jack.  And then there was this cute little guy, Rally:

Alias: Get Back Here

Alias: Get Back Here

Rally is your typical No No Bad Dog. Definitely not dangerous; just really really annoying.  No No Bad Dogs tend to be between 5-12 months of age.  They jump a lot, pull on a leash, and may even do a bit of counter surfing.  Technically, they aren’t “bad” dogs, they’re perfect….dogs.  They just really suck at being human.  That’s why we’re here, to help them with that by answering their questions.  Not bullying them. Not dominating them.  You are not their alpha, any more than they are yours.  You are their Pilot.

So back to Elsa and Jack.  Both are young professionals with a brand new No No Bad Dog.  Both are eager to work with Rally and help him be the best dog human he can be.  Neither were prone to losing their temper, nor getting frustrated with Rally no matter how obnoxious he got.   Both humans showed extreme amounts of patience.  Suspiciously so.  On top of that, neither of them ever gave up.  They just kept answering Rally’s questions until he accepted their answers, learning how he communicates, so as to be the best humans dogs they can be for him.

I had to ask what they did for a living.  Elsa told me that she was a teacher (2nd grade, I found out later).  I wasn’t too surprised.  Think for a moment about what she does all day for a living.  She’s a chaos director.

 Yes, Penelope, it's a bee. No, Johnny,  you aren't going to die.

Yes, Penelope, it’s a bee. No, Johnny, you aren’t going to die.

There really isn’t too much difference between Piloting a dog and Piloting a child of that age.  Each ask really stupid questions…or do they?

When my son Eric was 3, we had a very edifying conversation.  We were in the car, on our way back from a trip to the dentist, and Eric wanted to know why we brush our teeth.

“Well,” I explained, taking the imperious, condescending tone that parents sometimes accidentally take, “Right now you have practice teeth.  If you take good care of your practice teeth, and brush them and don’t eat too many sweets, they will eventually fall out, so you can get your grown-up teeth.”

Eric was quiet for a few moments. Then a tiny voice came from the backseat, “Do we get to keep our eyeballs?”

It seems like a stupid question, “Do I get to keep my eyeballs?”, until you realize where he’s coming from.  He literally has no point of reference upon which to draw. Just as he thinks he’s go this whole “being human” thing down, what do I tell him?

Yeah, kid…body parts start falling out of your mouth.  

Second graders may have a little bit of an easier time, as they’ve been around the block a time or two compared to a toddler, but it’s still so difficult for them.  Will I be able to make friends?  What if I forget what’s 2 + 2 on the test?  I don’t care what anyone says, being a child is terribly difficult.

So what does Elsa do all day?  Manage these little humans.  She is charged with not only educating them, but she has to Pilot them through various crisis situations.  Like when little Tommy loses a tooth during spelling.  There is a terrified child with blood dripping out of their mouth and a tooth in their hand.  What do you do?  Answer his questions and calmly be there for him.

Fortunately for Elsa, these children know and trust her.  She’s been their Pilot for a little while now.  They now welcome her answers and even though sometimes she can be The Meanest Teacher in the World (seriously?  Reading homework on a weekend?) they trust her to care for them and to protect them from things like, stray teeth and bumblebees.

On to Jack.  He’s a nurse.  Not only that, he’s an ER nurse.  My favorite.  Think about what an ER nurse does all day:  answers the questions you have on the most terrifying day of your life.  They Pilot you.  Only, unlike Elsa, they don’t even know you.  They have to earn your faith and trust in a very, very short amount of time, while taking care of you, remaining safe themselves, and working as part of a larger team.  Talk about organized chaos!

And sometimes, they have to stand up for you when things get scary. They speak for you when you can’t.

 

When my son went into the hospital at 3 years old for strep, I had a nurse named Laura skillfully Pilot a situation for us.  Eric was stretched out on a hospital bed, frail and weak from dehydration.  I was terrified, as just 10 hours prior he was fine.  Then Nurse Laura informs me that they need to get an IV in him immediately.  So I inform Eric that they are going to use a needle to poke his skin to put medicine in him.  I told him that no matter what, he mustn’t move.

Obviously it hurt. Truly heroic, Eric never moves, but starts sobbing, “Mom, she’s hurting me!”.

Actual footage of my heart breaking.  I was about to start sobbing myself, watching my son crying on a gurney, desperately trying to be brave, accepting that someone was hurting him, and I had to let them.  ”Mom, she’s hurting me!”

Until Nurse Laura walked over by us, leaned down by Eric, and whispered loudly, “Her name is Wendy”.

I started laughing, and Eric got through his little ordeal.  Nurse Wendy didn’t want to hurt Eric, but she knew what needed to be done, and shut out her own emotions to do it.  In other words, trying to comfort him by telling him it didn’t hurt (it did!), or that it would only be a moment (it wasn’t) wasn’t going to make anyone feel better except for herself. She quickly did her job.  Nurse Laura didn’t give us a pep talk.  She didn’t try to convince us that it didn’t hurt.  She gave us what we needed: a bit of levity.  There’s a difference between comforting someone and Piloting them.  Wendy and Laura Piloted all of us, and thus comforted us.

Where do dogs come into all of this?  Well, whenever I’m dealing with a dog who is scared, acting aggressively, or just simply a No No Bad Dog, I always think back to Nurse Wendy and Nurse Laura. I try to act how they need to act for 12 hours straight every day.  Not lying.  Not sugar-coating anything.  Calmly answering questions.  Calmly being there, and setting the tone by their example.

So when your dog is scared going to the vet, or is anxiously barking at another dog during a walk, remember, dogs suck at being human.  It’s not a situation they were meant to be in.  You have to Pilot your dog through the situation.  Not with saccharine words nor with phony falsetto words rapidly thrown at them.  Don’t mix your wanting to placate them with what they actually need. They need calm. They need rational.  They need you to act completely normal.  They need a Pilot.

They need Wendy.

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

 

Stranger Danger

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.

Shirley MacLaine

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

“My dog is aggressive towards strangers.

“My dog is fearful.”

“My dog is skittish.”

I hear these phrases constantly.  Some dogs are goofy, fun-loving balls of affection who have never met a stranger.  Then we have dogs who have what I call a healthy sense of self-preservation.  My Orion used to be like that.

No, Orion wasn’t abused, which is a common misconception with dogs such as these.  As humans we try to rationalize and explain behavior.  It must have a cause!  Something precise that has caused our dogs to be wary of the world.

But the world doesn’t work like that.  For example, my daughter, River, is the most fun-loving, outgoing creature I have ever met.  She explained to the pizza delivery guy a few days ago that if he ever encountered a monster, she’d protect him.  She then gave him a hug.  River is the equivalent of a pittie:  the life of the party who thrives on any type of human interaction.

My son Eric is completely different.  He’s more circumspect.  He has wonderful social manners, but it takes him a long time to warm up to someone and feel comfortable.  He needs to feel out a situation before he participates in it.

Neither of my kids have been abused.  Both have been raised exactly the same way.  We accept that kids can have different personalities, but we don’t allow much wiggle room for our canine companions.  They have to be exuberant balls of fun, just desperate for human interaction, regardless of with whom, in order for the to be healthy, happy dogs.  But just as not all humans are of that caliber (I certainly am not), not all dogs need to fit into the one-size-fits-all mould of “dog behavior”.

Orion, who took a few weeks to warm up to my husband, now thoroughly enjoys any attention he can get from him.

Orion, who took a few weeks to warm up to my husband, now thoroughly enjoys any attention he can get from him.

 

Orion, for instance, is a lot more wary and aloof than a lot of dogs. As a matter of fact, when I first met Orion, he bit me.  Completely not his fault:  he didn’t know me, and I had thrust my hand inside his carrier to retrieve him, as he had gotten caught in the back of it somehow.  Any creature with a lick of sense (especially one weighing 5 lbs.) would do the same thing!  It doesn’t mean he’s damaged, it means he has an healthy sense of self-preservation.

Gradually I built up Orion’s trust in me.  I started by not yelling, kicking, hitting or otherwise abusing the dog.  Common sense, right?  The longer I went without kicking Orion, he figured the more likely it was that I wasn’t going to start.  But then we moved beyond that.  There’s a difference between a friend and a protector.  I was to become both.  I needed to Pilot Orion.  In other words, I needed to not only answer all of his tough questions (such as, “Is that person a threat?” and, “Should I be afraid?”), but I had to get him to trust me enough to forgo his own determination of a situation and accept my answer.

Teaching a new trick can help build trust.  You're working together as a team with a common goal: communication. Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Teaching a new trick can help build trust. You’re working together as a team with a common goal: communication.
Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Look at it like this:  What if I told you to sell everything you own and invest a certain stock?  Your reaction would probably be, Why on earth should I listen to you and do something so potentially catastrophic?! You’d be crazy to just listen to me regarding such a decision.  However, what if I started off with small suggestions, such as putting $5 towards something.  You take a look at my situation, which seems financially comfortable, and decide to take the $5 plunge.  That $5 turns into $10.  Your faith in my decisions is boosted.  I give you another suggestion, you take it, and make more money, or, at the very least, don’t lose any.  Pretty soon you’re actively looking to me for suggestions.

That’s how it works with dogs.  You have to give them a reason why your answers to their questions are better than what they can come up with.  That’s what Piloting is all about.  Now obviously you can answer their questions with force, and with pain and anger, but that’s losing the most important part of the Piloting equation:  trust.  So how do you get a dog to trust you? Easy! Put them in very simple situations that require only a very small leap of faith, and then gradually up the ante.

I recently boarded the world’s most adorable Labradoodle, Cody, in my home due to his owner’s injury and anticipated long convalescence.  How did I get him accustomed to me, and used to my answering his questions?  I started with agility. Teaching him to jump over a yardstick placed directly on the floor.  Then adding stimulation: placing one end on a soup can, raising it just a bit.  Then the next side is raised.  Pretty soon Cody is trusting me enough to go bounding back and forth across the “jump”.  If I had started out with the jump raised all the way…well, that’s a bit of a stretch.  He didn’t know me very well, and that’s an awful lot to ask of a dog.  But by adding gradual amounts of stimulation to the situation, raising it slowly, I was able to expand his level of comfort with my decisions until eventually he trusts my answers more than he trusts his own.  That is what Piloting is all about.

So how do we put this in play with regard to stranger danger?  Well, we need to start with the fact that it is okay that your dog is wary of strangers.  We aren’t trying to change who your dog fundamentally is.  But we can indeed broaden their horizons a bit.  Get your dog to trust your answers with the small things, like walking by the man on the other side of the street.  Answer their questions as you are walking, and make sure you are Pilot during the walk.  Don’t just drag your dog along past the stranger – that’s forcing them past a point, not answering their questions.  It may take a bit of mental fortitude on your part to make it past the first person, but if you are Pilot, take your time, and keep your patience, you will do it.  Remember, this is difficult for your dog: this is the first time you are Piloting them past a perceived danger.  It is a huge leap of faith on their part and should be treated as such.  Just because you realize that the other person isn’t a threat doesn’t mean they do.  But if you get them past the first person, answering their questions all the while, the second person is easier to get by, then the third, and so on.  Pretty soon your dog is looking for your answers rather than coming up with their own.

Orion is still wary of strangers.  I allow him to be.  Unless I don’t.  That’s the beauty of Piloting.  If you don’t abuse the position, you can ask your dog to do marvelous things.  Orion and I worked on his stranger danger, gradually upping the ante each time.  First he had to walk calmly by strangers, which is difficult when you barley reach someone’s ankles – no wonder everything looked like a threat!  (You try walking among a herd of elephants without being apprehensive, and then you’ll understand what a small dog can feel like on the sidewalk.)

Next we worked on strangers approaching. They would ask to pet my dog, and I would let them…in a very controlled way.  I would pick him up and present him rear first.  If Orion would ask a question, such as “Can I make them stop petting me?”, I would answer his question by very gently tapping him on the derriere with all five fingers, similar to the way one taps out an email on a computer:  no harder.  It’s not about pain, it’s about getting him to refocus on me and the answer I was giving him.

Trust is integral.  If I’m asking Orion to trust my judgment about someone, it’s up to me to keep him safe and make wise judgments.  So if the individual who wants to pet Orion seems very hyper or is giving off a lot of negative energy, my answer is no.  My first duty is to my dog, not to social graces.  It’s up to me to put Orion in situations where he can thrive, not situations that test his faith in me to beyond capacity.  I also don’t force Orion to take affection without a good reason.  I don’t make him be pet just for the sake of being pet. Affection has to be mutual.  My goal was to make sure he was acclimated to being touched by anyone, just in case circumstances arose where he needed to be (vet, boarding, etc.).  I still make him accept being pet, but only for one of two reasons: he truly wants to be pet by that person, or I need to work on his accepting touch to keep him from backsliding into not accepting touch from a human.

As Orion accepted being pet by strangers, he was always given a reward.  For Orion, food doesn’t do much, but calm gentle praise certainly did.  He wanted to know he was on the right track, and I most definitely assured him of it.  Answer his questions, give positive when he chooses to accept the answer.  Wash rinse repeat.

Orion is still wary of strangers, but rather than immediately cowering in fear or lashing out when someone decides to pet him, he takes a different approach now.  He looks at me.  He expects me to answer his questions.  Sometimes he has to accept that he will be pet, but since I’ve always protected him during the petting, he isn’t afraid anymore.  Now he’s the dog who will warm up to a stranger after a bit, and actually “ask” to be pet – something that I never thought would happen.

Orion and Cody.  It took a little Piloting to get Orion to accept my answers and Cody, namely that Cody wasn't a threat.

Orion and Cody. It took a little Piloting to get Orion to accept my answers and Cody, namely that Cody wasn’t a threat.

Orion has come a long way from that frightened little creature he once was.  Yes, I have put a lot of effort into Piloting him and answering his questions, but it’s always easier to be the one answering questions than the one who has to take a leap of faith.  That’s why I’ll always strive to be worthy of the Pilot position and never shake his faith through ego or vanity or putting him in situations that we haven’t worked towards yet.  I’ve earned his trust, and it’s up to me to make sure I don’t abuse it.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog training in Cleveland, Ohio

When the Levee Breaks

Now, cryin’ won’t help you
Prayin’ won’t do you no good
When the levee breaks
Mama, you got to move
- Led Zepplin, When The Levee Breaks

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Orion peed on the floor last week.


I’m not going to say it’s my fault, because I let him out, I saw him go, and I let him back in.  Besides, I’m not a big fan of blame.  I’m surely not going to blame Orion.  He’s a dog. What happened was this:

I took Sparta for a walk.

I know what you’re thinking.  How on earth could taking Sparta for a walk result in a mess on the floor from Orion.  Was Orion trying to get back at me?  Answer: No.  Dogs don’t work that way.  Here’s the blow-by-blow.

1) I know Orion is a super-hyper dog with a lot of energy.  If I don’t help him get rid of that energy in productive ways, it turns into nervous energy.

monkeyboy-oklahoma-oThat’s a bad thing. Orion had a lot of energy that morning.  I’ve been pretty busy, and haven’t been giving him quite enough outlets during the day.  Yes, we still hiked, but he’s a dog who needs a LOT of physical activity to be at his best. And while each day he had enough exercise to skim the energy off the top, I didn’t empty his cup, if you will.  Unfortunately, that builds up over time.

2) Orion has a nervous temperament as well.  He’s like a skittish racehorse. And when he has some shock to his system (like my taking Sparta for a walk before him, which is our usual MO), he literally can’t hold it anymore  Like a 4 year old on Christmas morning.  Yes, the child has been potty trained, but if you add too much excitement, nothing is stopping the flood.

Or as I refer to it, The Fountain of Youth

Or as I refer to it, The Fountain of Youth

3) I forgot who my dog was.  Orion has a bit of separation anxiety, especially with Sparta.  I know Orion initially self-soothed by, uh, eliminating in a high stress situation.  Yes, we worked on that, and he’s been amazing these past few years.  But this is a behavior you manage, rather than cure.  Orion hasn’t eliminated in the house in a very, very long time. I just happened to create the perfect storm for him.

So what should I have done?

1) Paid more attention to his need for activity.  Yes, I was busy, but that’s a reason, not an excuse. If I blow the engine on my car because I was too busy to change the oil, I don’t get a pass from the mechanic who has to replace my engine.  I’m the one who got the car/dog.  It’s my responsibility to change the oil/exercise the car/dog.  No excuses. Figure something out, or, in my case, clean something up.

2) Control the situation. So the amount of activity in our house has been down, meaning I was already setting Orion up for failure.  So I added on top of it.  I know he’s used to going for the walk first, and was ready to go!  Except, I reneged on him.  And rocked his little world.  That merely added to the stress he already had from lack of activity.

giphy (12)

 

3) Know your dog. This is Orion, not Sparta, who hasn’t gone in the house since, like, ever!  I know his triggers, and as I work with him, they trigger him less and less, but still, he has them.

So this week I’ve been proactive.  His amount of activity per day has been increased.  I’ve gotten him accustomed to being along in the house first, while I take Sparta for very brief walks, (like out the front door, down the driveway and then back) so he gets used to the idea and isn’t traumatized by it.

So now when I’m presented with two dogs who are each waiting for their (separate) walks, each with a lot of energy, I’m able to manage the situation better.  I hold up a leash and let them know I’m ready for my first solo dog walk of the day with one of them.  And rather than this reaction from each of them:

giphy (13)I get this.

giphy (14)Orion knows now that just because he isn’t first doesn’t mean he isn’t skipping his walk.  And I know now that good enough is only good enough for so long.  Now I’m very careful to make sure I get rid of all of Orion’s energy.

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

 

 

 

No Other Option

When something scares us our first response is to run, very fast, in the opposite direction. The second response is actually much harder. It’s where you ignore every instinct and instead of running you stay and fight. – Dance Academy

Fight or flight?  Lady or the Tiger?  Both may be good choices…both may end the same way: badly.  It’s a choice your dog is always making.  For some dogs, the choice is difficult.  We label these dogs as “aggressive” or “dog reactive”.  Let’s take a look at what goes through the mind of a dog-reactive or aggressive dog.

Technically speaking, there is more than fight or flight. 

  • Ignore:  Right now, Sparta is ignoring the yarn I have on my coffee table.  It is of no interest to her.
  • Accept:  Orion was originally engaged with said yarn.  I answered his question (“Can I play with it?”), and he’s accepted the answer (“No.”) and is drifting off to the “Ignore” category, which is right where I want him in relation to my yarn stash.
  • Avoid:  Pixel, my kitten, thinks I’m stupid.  He thinks he can get at the yarn if he goes around the coffee table, where he thinks I can’t see him.  He doesn’t want a direct confrontation, but he’s not quite ready to give up.

Accept, followed closely by Ignore, are generally the places you want your dog to hang out.  The path to those places is sometimes paved with Avoid (sometimes you have to answer their questions more than once).  But where does it all start?  You guessed it:  Fight or Flight.

FLIGHT
‘Shall we fight or shall we fly? Good Sir Richard, tell us now, For to fight is but to die!’ – Tennyson

 

Flight is typically any animal’s first choice.  It’s the one that keeps them alive.  You may call it cowardly, but it’s actually rather rational:  live to procreate another day.  Pass along those flight genes, and you’ve got Natural Selection working in your favor.

Look at it like this:  a dog decides to kill a mouse, for no apparent reason.  The mouse, though losing the battle, manages to nip the dog on the muzzle, giving him a small wound.  Mouse is then promptly turned into lunch.  That wound festers, and the dog dies.   That’s a small case scenario.  Imagine the life span of a dog who decides to fight with everything.  Other dogs. Larger prey.  Just for the heck of it.  Pretty short.
FIGHT
Welcome to Fight Club. – Tyler Durden
20130419-080054-133-190
There are very few reasons why a dog would choose Fight over Flight.   Typically, those revolve around resources (they need to eat or you’re trying to take what they need to eat), breeding (Hey! That’s my potential mate!), or defending their young or pack (don’t get too close to my family!).  Typically, the need to eat and the need to defend their young/pack are the strongest motivators of Fight.
Imagine what it would take for you to become aggressive and decide to Fight.  What if someone broke in your house, would you shoot them?  What if they were taking family heirlooms? What if they started up the steps towards where your children were sleeping?  What is your breaking point, in other words.  We all have it.  Some would have pulled the trigger with the first provocation.  Others would only wait until they were certain they or their loved ones were in mortal danger.  Dogs are the same way:  we all perceive the same scenario as a different threat level, and will respond with violence when that level has been breached.
Fight Club.  Or as I refer to it, Some Movie Starring Brad Pitt's Abs, not to be confused with That Other Movie Starring Brad Pitt's Abs

Fight Club. Or as I refer to it, Some Movie Starring Brad Pitt’s Abs, not to be confused with That Other Movie Starring Brad Pitt’s Abs

REMOVING OPTIONS
“So if every healthy animal would choose flight over fight, why is my dog reacting to other dogs/people aggressively?”
- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

 Because you’ve removed options.  They no longer have the option for Flight; they’re only left with Fight!  You have them on a leash. You have them in a crate.  Heck, you have them surrounded by the walls of your house!  Their option to run away is gone!  Ever notice how some dogs are crazy-reactive to other dogs when you take them for a walk on a leash, but at the dog park they’re fine?
For some dogs, even if you take them to a field and have them off leash, they still may be aggressive.  Why?  Because now they have pack to defend.  Meaning you.  You’ve made it abundantly clear that you aren’t going anywhere.  They can’t move you.  Again, their only option is to defend you.  Their young/pack.
 Now take a look at your “aggressive” dog.  Are you seeing things a little differently now?  That other dog walking right towards you isn’t a cute little Golden Retriever.  It’s another predator.  Heading straight towards you.  Your dog starts to give “back off” body language.  The other dog doesn’t back off because they’re tethered to a leash as well.  Your dog realizes their warning is unheeded, and therefore decides to step up their game to all-out aggressive mode. A simple miscommunication between owners and their dogs has resulted in at least one dog being tagged as “aggressive”.
THE ANSWER
So, what is the answer? The answer is the answer!  Let me explain.
That scenario with the other dog coming towards you?  Your dog is actually asking a question:  “Is that other dog going to hurt us?”.  When that question isn’t answered, it can escalate to another question, “Should I back him off?”.  Obviously the answers are “No” and “No”.  To successfully work with dog-reactivity:
1) Control yourself.  If you are angry, tense, upset, yelling…basically anything other than bored and calm, your dog will pick up on it.  It’s okay to feel angry, upset, nervous.  Just don’t show it.  Take a deep breath, and release those clenched muscles (take a look at your arms…I guarantee they’re clenched with the leash as taunt as you can make it).
2) Control the situation.  You can not add stimulation to a situation you’ve already lost control of.  So, your dog regularly pulls you on a leash…how do you think it’s going to play out when you add the stimulation of another dog?!  Get control of the current situation.  Work with your dog on leash skills.  (If you need some help, read Danika’s 3-part post on leash walking 101.)  Gradually add stimulation as you can handle it.  Hint: Don’t try walking past the dog park on the first day you’re working with dog reactivity.  Remember, we’re looking for progress, not perfection!
2) Answer the question. “Is that other dog going to kill us?”
“No, Fido, it isn’t.”  The more often you answer these questions successfully, the easier it will be to answer the next question and the next.  You are building up trust.  To answer a dog’s question, read about the PAW Method here.  Remember, your dog will be asking questions with body language.  Answer as soon as you see them asking!
Stiff tail, alert expression, standing on their toes.  We refer to this as "Meerkating" or "Prairie Dogging It".  I don't know what the question is this dog is asking, but the answer is "no".

Stiff tail, alert expression, standing on their toes. We refer to this as “Meerkat-ing” or “Prairie Dogging It”. I don’t know what the question is this dog is asking, but the answer is “no”.

Again, stiff tail, "Meerkatting", body shaped like a letter "T", wrinkled or furrowed brow.  This dog is asking a question.

Again, stiff tail, “Meerkatting”, body shaped like a letter “T”, wrinkled or furrowed brow. This dog is asking a question.

More meerkatting by the inventors of the sport.

More meerkatting by the inventors of the sport.

Finally, you don’t always have to know what the question is to answer it.  Sometimes you won’t be able to identify what your dog is concerned about.  That’s fine – just answer “no”.

Congratulations!  You have successfully Piloted your dog.

Teach them to trust you.  Trust for a dog means trusting you not to do crazy things, like, oh, …get angry because they are legitimately frightened.  Remember, they aren’t doing it because they are bad.  They are doing it because they are scared.  Let them know that yes, you see that dog, too, but you will protect them.  You will answer their questions.  You will Pilot them so they don’t have to be afraid any more.

And remember:

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

 

The Reason for Calm

 

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Sometimes you can find peace of mind by transferring yourself to different situations. They’re just reminders to stay… calm – Yves Behar

We’re constantly asking you to exude calm energy here at Darwin Dogs. That’s the first step in Piloting: control yourself. Creating a calm and low key environment is key for your dog to succeed and lead a balanced life. But why is it important? Why are we asking you to stay calm?

Well, let’s give you a few examples. You know that family member you have that on your Easter get together in April is already talking about what the plans are for Thanksgiving? Or how about that friend that asks a million questions rapid fire, but as you’re answering the first one they’re already telling you about their next big vacation they’re planning? What about that person at work that can’t handle their workload no matter how small it is? They run around like everything is on fire and they have the entire weight of the world on their shoulders and can’t hold it up much longer.

How do you feel when you’re around those people? My guess is not great. Your blood pressure may rise some and you may find yourself getting frustrated. Honestly, you’re probably not able to think as rationally and clearly as you normally are. Your mind is working overtime on how to deal with the energy that the other person is putting out there. You’ll find your body is tense as well. All in all, you want to remove yourself from the situation because you don’t like how you feel around these people. You want calm and relaxation.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Think about this when you find yourself frustrated, anxious or upset when you’re working with your dog. Creating an atmosphere with lots of energy and stress will cause your dog to have all the same reactions you would in that situation. They’ll all of a sudden have more anxiety, frustration and tense body language. This creates a situation where your dog is not in a state to learn, trust or understand easily. There’s confusion which leads to more frustration for both you and your dog.

This is why we keep insisting on calm. Think about how you feel after spending some quiet time by the lake, or a walk through the Metroparks, or as you’re taking a moment to look up at the stars. That calm. That’s what you want to portray. In those moments, you feel like you can take on the world. In those moments, you can figure out a solution to problems you’ve been facing throughout the week. Everything seems like it’s okay. That’s the environment you want to create for you and your dog. That’s when your Piloting will be at its best and the bonding that will occur between you and your dog will be more than you could ever imagine.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Calm. You can do it. Think about the last time you were truly relaxed before you work with your dog and bring that energy to the table. You’ll be surprised at the results.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

5 Suggestions to Make Boarding Easy

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

The scariest thing about distance is that you don’t know whether they’ll miss you or forget you - Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

 

For some owners, leaving your dog’s care in someone else’s hands can be nerve racking. I mean you spend most of your day caring for your pup and now you’re expecting someone else to do just as good of a job. But hey! We all need to go on vacations. It doesn’t make you a bad owner! Here are a few steps to making your dog’s boarding experience a little bit easier for the both of you.

1. Vaccines!

To avoid any extra stress, make sure your dog is up to date on all of his vaccines and fecal samples. Wherever you are leaving your dog SHOULD have guidelines on what vaccines are needed and how recent they should have had a fecal sample tested. If you’re planning on boarding your dog in the future, most places require a Bordatella shot. Have all this taken care of ahead of time so there’s no surprises the day of.

2. Pack the Necessities

Talk to your boarding place and see what items you can bring for your dog. Now, remember you don’t need to bring the whole house in order for him to feel comfortable. If you’re allowed, bring 1 or 2 of his favorite toys and a blanket or towel that smells like him or you. The smell will make him feel more comfortable immediately and the toys will make him feel like he’s at home as well. Keep it simple. You don’t need to bring anything. And make sure you’re not giving Fido you’re $200 blanket from your bed. Any cheap blanket that smells like your household will be just fine.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

 3. Get some Exercise

Before leaving for “sleep away camp”, take your dog for a walk. Make it a little bit longer than it usually is if you can. When your dog gets to his new home for the week, he will be a little excited and anxious as it is a new place. Any extra energy you can get out of him before hand is helpful. Even when you get to your destination if you feel like Fido is a little too wound up, take him for a walk. Never underestimate the power of getting out any excess energy.

 4. Don’t Make it a Production

When you’re leaving your dog, don’t make it this dramatic affair. The more normal you act, the more normal your dog will act. If you make a huge scene, your dog is going to feed off of that energy and become very anxious. We don’t want that. We want this to be a seamless transition. To just a quick pat goodbye and you’re out the door. Your dog knows you love him. It’s going to be okay.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

 5. Don’t Make it a Production

Nope, not a typo. I just mean don’t make it a production when you come back for your dog either. When you pick your dog up, if you act like you just got back from climbing Everest or your dog just survived months of hiking the Appalachian Trail, your dog is going to start to become anxious, hyper and worried again. We want the boarding place to be a place where your dog has fun and enjoys going. So don’t make it a huge deal. It’s not. Your dog had fun, you had fun just in separate places.

Make sure you do your research on boarding places. Ask for suggestions from friends, other dog owners or your vet. Read reviews and even take some time to visit the place before you send your dog. But trust me, most of these places keep your dog so busy they won’t even notice you’re gone. And when you’re dog comes back, he’ll be so exhausted he’ll sleep for days straight.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

 

 

Admiration to Owners of Anxious Dogs

 

Ms. Lump Space Princess (Yes, that's her name. It's a character from Adventure Time. She's cool with it, don't worry)

Ms. Lump Space Princess (Yes, that’s her name. It’s a character from Adventure Time. She’s cool with it, don’t worry)

 

The pursuit, even of the best things, ought to be calm and tranquil – Marcus Tullius Cicero

“OMG, what is that noise? A leaf? Is it going to kill us? No?

Should I run away? No?

What the heck was that!? A Car? Will that kill me? No?

WHAT ABOUT WHEN IT DRIVES OVER THE MANHOLE COVER?!?!? Let’s run!! No?

Okay, but those people talking 30 feet away from us are a threat right? No?

What about those dogs?? All a no?

Hey, have you checked behind us 20 times in the last 30 seconds? No? Well, I have. Nothing back there.

What’s that smell on the sidewalk? I’m going to keep my nose glued to it, okay? No? I should pay attention to the walk? Okay.

I’ll sit, but I need to face you so I can see the direction you aren’t looking to make sure we aren’t going to get killed”

 

**Some 4 letter words were left out of this message**

 

This is a text I received from my friend who has an anxious dog. This is what she perceived her dog’s inner monologue to be stating. The first thing I did was laugh really hard. The next thing I did was admire her for how much work she’s done with her dog. Even in her monologue she provided me, she showed when her pup was accepting her answer of no.

I’ve been on hikes with them together, and this particular Border Collie asks so many questions. Yet, this doesn’t stop by her owner from answering them. That’s the key, your dog has the right to ask as many questions and as many times as they need. Some dogs just need to be really really sure that the road up ahead is safe.

Ms. LSP with her brother James Franco. I'm not kidding here.

Ms. LSP with her brother James Franco. I’m not kidding here.

Here’s why I admire this owner:

1. She stays calm. Sure, she might use some choice words towards her dog, but she says it in a calm even toned voice and adds no energy to the situation. She treats walks as very matter of fact. They’re not exciting, they’re not life changing, they are just walks.

2. She doesn’t let these questions stop her from giving her dog the activity that she needs. Sure, maybe some days she’ll go on a shorter walk if she’s feeling extra frustrated, but she provides her dog the activity she needs no matter what. Maybe the day they go for a shorter walk they play Frisbee for a little longer. But, she doesn’t let her dog’s fearfulness get in the way of what her dog needs.

3. She doesn’t baby her. There’s no coddling. No cooing. Nothing is scary so she doesn’t act like it is. Moving on.

4. She answers every question. Hands down. She just keeps answering. It can be exhausting, but she does it. This is what her dog needs, so she will provide it.

5. She focuses on the victories, even the small ones. If she’s able to walk her dog past a car without having to answer a question, then she’s happy. If she’s able to not have a scared pup when a train rolls by a mile away then she’s ecstatic. She never expects perfection. Only improvement. We all could learn from that.

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So for all of you who have fearful dogs out there, keep up the good work. It’s a long road and it can be bumpy at times, but your work will pay off. And don’t think it goes unnoticed.

Stay calm and answer their questions. And remember, get inventive and celebrate the little victories. You both deserve that.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Calm

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.

Saint Francis de Sales

Calm.   It always seems you’re just shy of hitting the right spot, like that itch you can’t quite reach. That elusive place you know exists, but you never can seem to find.  Like Comcast’s Customer Service department.

Picard would have been calm...just sayin'

Picard would have been calm…just sayin’

The PAW Method we developed here at Darwin Dogs is very simple.  The three steps to working with your dog:

1. Control yourself

2. Control the situation

3. Answer your dog’s question(s)

There’s a reason controlling yourself is at the top of the list:  it’s the most important.   Your dog may be out of control, the world may seem out of control, but you will be adding calm to the situation.  To make sense of chaos, you need a fixed point. That’s going to be you – and you will be feeding calmness to the situation. Sprinkle calm all over the situation like Tinkerbell sprinkling Pixie Dust.

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Easy to say, sometimes not so easy to do.

I find many of my clients at their wits’ ends.  They have no idea how to even start working with their dogs’ behaviors.  What they don’t understand is that those behaviors start with the human.  So how do  you start? By pulling an Elsa.  

Let it go.

  • Let go of the tension.  A tense situation doesn’t need more tension.
  • Let go of the anxiety.  Don’t react until you need to answer the question.
  • Let go of the anger.  You are answering a question, not punishing a dog for asking.
  • Let go of perfection.  Your dog is a mirror of you.  Are you perfect?  Of course not, and nobody expects you to be.

So start at the beginning.  Calm.  It helps you better to work with your dog and guide them in this human world.  And I’m not the only one who firmly believes this.

Science Daily wrote this article about the findings of a Duke University study recently published.  Specifically of interest in the Science Daily Article:

“In a series of experiments, the researchers challenged dogs to retrieve a meat jerky treat from a person standing behind a clear plastic barrier that was six feet wide and three feet tall. To get it right, the dogs had to resist the impulse to try to take the shortest path to reach the treat — which would only cause them to whack into the barrier and bump their heads against the plastic — and instead walk around the barrier to one of the open sides.

In one set of trials, an experimenter stood behind the barrier holding a treat and called the dog’s name in a calm, flat voice. In another set of trials, the experimenter enthusiastically waved the treat in the air and used an urgent, excited voice.”

You can guess what happened.  You know that high-pitched, squeaky, baby-talk voice that makes human’s ears bleed? The flapping of your hands, like a fledgling bird desperate for it’s parent’s attention? Yeah, it doesn’t do much for dogs either. Especially the excitable or nervous ones.   Or as Science Daily put it:

“For the dogs that were naturally calm and laid-back — measured by how quickly they tended to wag their tails — increasing the level of excitement and urgency boosted their ability to stay on task and get the treat.

But for excitable dogs the pattern was reversed. Increasing the level of stimulation only made them take longer.

In one high-arousal trial, a two-year-old spaniel named Charlie Brown lost it and shut down, barking and zipping around crazily until she almost ran out of time.”

In other words, some dogs can take pressure and stress, and not only work through those situations, but thrive in them, just like some humans.  However, those are not the dogs most of us are typically dealing with. Let’s face it – most of us have some trouble with our dogs.  Some of us may have a dog who might nervously and anxiously be asking us a question, and rather than being the voice of calm reason, we’re dousing them with more anxious, nervous (or worse, angry) energy.

So start with yourself.  Check your body language – are you tense? Strained? Anxious-looking?  Take a deep breath and reboot yourself.  Take charge of your inner-calm, and you will be able to Pilot your dog through any storm.

For the full video of the trials see below:

And always remember, there’s a reason we end our blog posts with this motto:

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

 

A Workaround

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise – Sigmund Freud

A few weeks ago, Porter and I had a few days that were highly out of our routine. We were staying with friends, around lots of people during the day, and our regular schedules of exercise and relaxation were disrupted. None of this was bad, just different.

I knew this was coming ahead of time so had time to prepare. And by prepare, I mean worry. I was concerned how he would do in a brand new place without our normal routine. I was concerned his anxiety would come out through his behavior. I couldn’t blame him, I was anxious too and my behavior would be different. I knew my piloting skills might not be up to par like the usually are. I would have to try and fake that I wasn’t anxious. Sure, I could do that, but it wouldn’t be enough.

So, we walked. Everywhere. And a lot.

I would get up earlier than normal to take him on his walks. I made the walks longer to get out any excess energy.

On top of that, when we had the option of driving or walking, we walked. It may have taken us longer, but we both needed that time. Not only did it help both of us get rid of some anxious energy, but it also put more Piloting money in my bank with little effort. I don’t have to fake my confidence on a walk. We’ve done that 1,000 times. It’s a good way for me to get some more Piloting in with little effort.

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

I also had Porter have a play date or two. That is one of the best ways to tire out a dog with little effort on your end. So, Porter had a blast wrestling, running and playing tug of war with his Pittie friend Sadie.

By the end of the weekend we were both exhausted. It had been strenuous emotionally and physically on both of us, but we made it through! And he acted like a champ the entire time.

Boots and Bee Photography - Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – Brittany Graham

If you know your Piloting skills may not be up their usual standards, look for ways that you can help yourself succeed. Exercising your dog and getting rid of any excess energy is a great place to start. It will make things easier for you to handle. You’re not expected to be perfect all the time. That’s not the way things work. But, make sure you’re setting yourself and your dog up for success. Supplement activity and work if you need to and then get back to full time Piloting as soon as you can.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

The Most Terrifying Day of the Year – Happy 4th of July!

 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

- Benjamin Franklin

flag-dog_650x366

When I was a kid, my grandma had a dog named Patches.  He was the sweetest beagle ever.  A bit stoic for a beagle, he wasn’t really into playing much, but he was a solid companion.  He was one of those dogs who never did anything wrong – he was trustworthy both in and out of the house.  He never needed a leash, and he didn’t have a fenced-in yard.  Didn’t matter; he never even thought about leaving the yard.

I’ll never forget Fourth of July when I was 11 years old.  Patches would have been roughly 13 at that point.  A senior most definitely, but a healthy, sprightly old man.  Most of my  mom’s side of the family was spending the holiday at my grandma’s house:  at least 18 of my 22 cousins, plus aunts uncles – it was a kid heaven.  At dusk the adults started to light some fireworks.  We had a great time.  We headed home around 10:00.  Traffic was unusually heavy on the street where my grandma lived.  It took us a while to navigate.  When we got home, we found out why.

Patches had been hit and killed by a car.

The dog who had always been so stoic, truly a Pilot of a dog, had been frightened by the fireworks and run into the street.  Nobody had bothered to check to see where he was because the dog had never left his boundary in his entire life!  Not to chase squirrels (he stopped at the perimeter), not when guests came (he met them at the driveway).  Never.  Of course if we had realized he was terrified, we would have taken measures to ensure his comfort and safety.

Sparta and Orion have a fenced-in yard.  They will be spending the 4th in their crate, with soft music playing (I almost always have music on in my house, so this will seem normal, if not a bit louder, to them).  My pets’ safety is all on me.  It’s my job to make sure they are happy and healthy.  Things that may not seem scary to me may be terrifying to them, so even though they’ve never shown any signs of fear in the past from fireworks or thunderstorms, I’m still going to make sure they are contained.  It’s my job as Pilot.

Fourth of July is the busiest day for animal wardens.  Dogs (and cats) become scared and run off.  Some never return.  Take some precautions to avoid tragedy:

  • Exhaust your dog before nightfall.  Exercise creates a natural state that make your dog want to sleep.  Help them to sleep through the scary parts.
  • Secure your dog in their crate.  For added security, a blanket can be placed over the crate (it will insulate some of the noise).  Just make sure that the dog is comfortable, and not overheated if you add a blanket, and always leave a few inches of the crate uncovered for ventilation.
  • Make sure your dog has their tags on, and consider microchipping. It could be their ticket home.
  • If your dog is terrified, Pilot them.  You can’t soothe them.  They are legitimately frightened, and speaking to them in a high, whiney, “soothing” voice is counterproductive.  They need a Pilot, not another source of stress.  Read how to accomplish this here.
  • If your dog needs to eliminate, take them outside on a leash.
  • Ask your vet about medication if your dog has a history of reacting badly.  I’m against casual medication of dogs because they are “too hyper” or “anxious” during normal situations.  Those dogs need Piloting.  This is not a normal situation.  Before I get on an airplane, I have drink.  A strong one (or two).  I’m terrified of heights, and it takes the edge off.  That’s all you’re looking to do:  take the edge off of a truly terrifying and abnormal situation.  Again, consult your vet.  Do not self-medicate.

I do miss Patches, though it’s 25 years later.  He was a good dog.  Perhaps he would have lived only a few more months before succumbing to old age.  Perhaps he would have lived a few more years.  Regardless, his life was cut short due to ignorance.  I now know better.  I will Pilot my dogs through the Fourth of July.

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