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

Dogma

Fanaticism comes from any form of chosen blindness accompanying the pursuit of a single dogma.  - John Berger

mollyI was with a friend and her friend the other day, and we (of course) started talking about dogs.  My friend’s friend, who we will call Donna, was talking about a dog she has.  Or rather, about the judgment she receives from many different sources about her even owning a dog.  I don’t know Donna well, and have only met her twice, so I instinctively braced myself for the barrage of atrocities she must be visiting upon said dog.  With anger already rising, I asked her why she shouldn’t own a dog.

“Because I work”, was her reply.

I thought I didn’t hear her correctly.  I verified this answer.  Yes, she was being judged for not being a stay-at-home dog mom.

Now, let’s get a little bit more in-depth.  Certainly that couldn’t be the end of it.  Perhaps she was in a position, say such as a nurse or fireman, who wasn’t home for extended hours during the day, and hadn’t made proper arrangements for the dog’s care during those hours.

Nope.  Bankers hours. She owns an older, very low energy dog, who she happens to leave home alone while she works during the day.

I see this type of judgment much more than I care to.  Someone isn’t able to give all the luxuries to their pet that others can.  Such as having a someone home most of the day.  Being able to afford a more expensive, premium brand of food.  Using a low-cost clinic rather than the up-town vet.  Perhaps we need to go over a few things here.  Some uncomfortable truths.

1. Your world can’t revolve around your dog.

Sure, it would be lovely if you were able to stay home and cater to your dog’s every whim.  I know I would have a blast with 4 walks a day, 2 sessions of agility and 1 marathon grooming session every day.

or Shepherd, or Akita...

or Shepherd, or Akita…

But the reality is I work.  Bigger reality is that part of the money I earn by working goes for the care of my dog.  In other words, if I am unable to work, my dog is unable to eat, go to the vet, etc.  I’m the first to admit that due to the hours I work, and my ability to make my own schedule, I have enormous flexibility with my pets’ care.  Other don’t. They are doing the best they can with what they have.  So when one of my clients nervously admits that their dog is crated for 8-9 hours a day while they work, I say “Good for you!”.  Not because of the length of time their dog is crated, but because that dog isn’t in a shelter, kennel, or worse.  They are patiently waiting to be spoiled rotten when their owner comes home after a long day of work, ready to give hugs and kisses to them to ease the stress of their human’s day.  Dogs still love their owner, and aren’t angry. Instead, they are grateful for what they have: a home, a human, food, shelter, and above all, love.

2. A good home isn’t about income, fenced in yard, or how clean your house is.

I am the proud parent of two human children, two cats, and two dogs.  My human children I was allowed to have and raise without any input from anyone.  As long as I didn’t neglect nor abuse them, people just roll their eyes when you do/don’t allow too much/too little screen time.  When you do/don’t feed organic food.  When you do/don’t have viola lessons 2x week per kid.

The reality is that we are much more judgment about who is allowed to have a pet.  Which is ridiculous.

According to the SPCA, “Each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats).”

Let me repeat that number for you:  2.7 million animals are euthanized 

And you’re worried that I don’t have a fenced-in yard?  That the dog will be home alone for too long during the day?  What that translates to is a dog is better off dead than in a home where he will be crated 8 hours a day.  Maybe not Rex that’s currently up for adoption, but Rex is taking up a spot that Cooper needs.  See, Cooper is scheduled to be euthanized tomorrow due to overcrowding at a local shelter.  You can neither create nor destroy matter, which means we can not just will another open kennel in a shelter.  There’s only so much room on the Ark, and not everyone is going to make it.  Cooper won’t make it because Rex still hasn’t found the perfect home.

Some disillusionment needs to happen.  There is no such thing as a perfect home.  Even if there were, we don’t have time to find the perfect home.  There are too many animals dying.  We can’t wait to adopt animals out to the perfect home; we are doing triage.  And the longer Rex sits waiting for that mythical “perfect home” the more dogs will die as a result.

In order for a home to be perfect, there has to be love, and an ability to care for an animal, which means food, shelter, water and exercise.  So Agatha, the potential adopter is 83 years old ad wants to adopt a 1-year old mixed breed named Finn.  Yes. Most likely Agatha will be dead before Finn is even 8 years old, but guess what?  Finn will be dead by this time next week if she doesn’t adopt him.  Even in the worst case scenario, where after Agatha has gone and nobody steps up to take Finn, who is subsequently euthanized, Finn will have had a great life.  Shorter than it should have been, but so much longer and fulfilling than one week at a shelter before being euthanized.  Agatha has also opened up a cage for another dog by adopting Finn.

And Finn helped Agatha live longer, more independently.  It’s a virtuous cycle.  Funny how love works.

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

3. That’s the wrong breed of dog for you.

Nobody has ever told me that my children are the wrong breed for me.  That my daughter has too much Viking-Finnish blood from her father for me to handle.  Or that since my son’s background is completely unknown (as he’s adopted), I shouldn’t take a risk on him.

Why do we do that with dogs?

I thought we had come to a point in our society where we stopped looking at what a person is, but rather who that person is.  We’re not perfect, but we’re getting there, I guess.  Slower than I like, but we’re picking up speed.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch, too.  From this:

ruby

Ruby Bridges, entering William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960 with armed guards.

To this:

I don't care if you do/don't like him personally.  Our first black president was born 1 year after six-year old Ruby bravely stood up to end segregation.

I really don’t care if you want him impeached or if you want him for a third term; our first black president was born 1 year after little Ruby bravely stood up to end segregation.

We are growing as a society to look past ethnicity…to even embrace our differences in culture, religion and gender.  But somehow that ends when it comes to adopting out a dog.

We look at what a dog is (boxer, pittie/chihuahua) rather than who a dog is (friendly/shy/in-between).  When we judge a dog by its breed, rather than its character, we all lose.  Dogs languish in cages because Akitas are hard to handle (maybe… if you’re talking about handling all that fur…).  Pitties are aggressive (about as aggressive as a human…meaning they are each unique but vastly non-hostile).  Mastiffs drool (okay, got me there *shudder*).

If I can handle my little Viking child, let’s at least give the family of four a chance to pick out their own dog regardless of breed, and respect that they probably know more about their situation in life and ability to care for a dog than you do. By all means, give any facts or information you have on the individual dog to the family, or perhaps known health issues (prevalence of hip dysplasia, etc) but let them process the information and make a decision.

Boots and Bee Photography

Boots and Bee Photography

So back to my acquaintance, Donna, and the horrible, wretched life she is imposing by leaving her dog home alone for 8-9 hours per day, as well as all of you who actually work for a living:  You’re doing just fine.  You’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got, and you should never apologize for it, nor should you be made to feel like a villain.  Donna, you are an incredible mother to your dog.  The best dog mom or “dog-ma” there is, just like all of us who are working with what we’ve been given.  And nailing it.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Depth Perception

 “We are all animals of this planet. We are all creatures. And nonhuman animals experience pain sensations just like we do. They too are strong, intelligent, industrious, mobile, and evolutional[...]And like us, they are surviving. Like us they also seek their own comfort rather than discomfort. And like us they express degrees of emotion. In short like us, they are alive.” – Joaquin Phoenix

Pic courtesy of The Mandarin Duck

Pic courtesy of The Mandarin Duck

My mom hated cats when I was growing up.  She would never harm one, but she claimed they were creepy and sneaky.  And it totally grossed her out the way they would come slinking up around your legs, like a snake coiling around a tree branch, eyeing its prize. My mom was never raised around cats.  Dogs, sure.  But there was never a cat in her house when she was a child.

One day, when I was 15, my mom accompanied me to the stables where we boarded our horses so I could work on some horsemanship skills.  She usually didn’t come with me, but today she did.  Inside one of the empty stalls was one of the many barn cats.  And in the corner of that stall, was a mewling mess of adorableness – she had given birth to her kittens!  I showed mom, and she mumbled something about them being cute.

The next time she accompanied me to the stables, the kittens were about 6 weeks old and a patchwork quilt of tabby, calico and gray fun.  I watched them and laughed as they scampered about the stall.  My mom stopped to look, too, staying for a few minutes before moving on.  I noticed that one of the kittens hung back under the feed bin, and every once in a while, one of the larger kittens would come and terrorize the little calico, who happened to be a runt.  My protective nature took over.  I rushed inside and seized the tiny little calico and brought her outside to spend time with me while the horses were in paddock.  I showed her to my mom, and mentioned how the other cats were picking on her.  My mom gave her a little rub on the head.  The kitten sat down on the picnic table we were sitting at, and looked up.  With those eyes.  You know the look I’m talking about.

The Look

The Look

“But mom”, I wailed, “If we leave her here she could die!”  The little kitten played along gamely, vogue her best pathetic “If You Leave Me Here I Could Die” look.  My mother caved. I named her Belle, and she lived with me for the next 15 years of her life, until the day I had to let her go. She went with dignity, as she had gone through her life.  My mom sobbed the day I had to had say goodbye to Belle.  For something had happened.  Belle had charmed her.  About a week after I brought her home, Belle started winding herself around my mother’s legs in hope of some canned food, or at least a cuddle.  And my mother would respond!  My mom mentioned she never realized cats could be actual loving, sweet companions.  Who could blame her?  She’d never been around one.

I’m proud of my mother because she was able to open her mind that something could be more than what it was perceived to be.  She entertained the notion that she may be wrong about a preconception she had, and more importantly, was willing to change.  Since I moved out with Belle, she has had 7 cats, all of whom have lived to a ripe old age.  Two are still with her.

So what am I doing writing about cats on a dog post?  Animals are animals.  All are able to feel pain, fear and abandonment.  Those feelings were the reason my mother took Belle in to begin with: not because she liked Belle, or even liked cats.  It was because my mother was capable of understanding an animal’s need for safety, and my mother was able to reach past her distaste to help an animal in need, even one she didn’t particularly care for.  In the process, she found a new trove of love and companionship she didn’t realize existed before:  cats.

This doesn’t happen to cats alone.  In some societies where dogs are considered vermin, people are changing.  My friend, Jocelyn, writes a blog a blog about love, family and relationships in China, including AMWF (Asian male/Western female) love called Speaking of China. 洋媳妇谈中国.  Obviously there are going to be some cultural differences in a marriage such as Jocelyn’s.  Finding common ground and understanding can be difficult.  But “if you open up your mind, maybe I can open up mine” is the only way to go about it.  This includes the concept of what deserves compassion.

Jocelyn recently referenced a story a peer had written:  The Day I Changed my Chinese Parents-in-law. Minds can be changed, even in a small village in China.  A family who once looked at dogs as vermin can accept that maybe they were wrong.  And look at the rewards they get:  love, kisses and the companionship that only a dog can give you.  A true, loyal friend.

Jocelyn herself even mentions a similar situation with her in-laws:

“They weren’t always kind to dogs either, but now that John and I helped raise their newest dog Snoopy (who we’ve socialized to be a very loving and affectionate dog), I think everyone in the house has fallen in love with Snoopy!”

 

 

Jocelyn's husband, Jun, and their dog Snoopy.  Where Jocelyn is living in rural China, most people keep dogs to protect their property.  Having a dog as a companion is unusual, but gaining popularity.  Photo courtesy of Speaking of China

Jocelyn’s husband, Jun, and their dog Snoopy. Where Jocelyn is living in rural China, most people keep dogs to protect their property. Having a dog as a companion is unusual, but gaining popularity. Photo courtesy of Speaking of China

I’m not asking you to change your mind about an entire species, as these people all did.  This blog is (supposed) to be about dogs.  If you’re here, you already love dogs.  Spread the word about what humanity means.  Be an example of education, the same way Belle educated my mom about what a cat can really mean to a human. Don’t assume that because you love animals and care about their welfare that everyone does.  Some people have never been around a dog or a cat, and therefore have no commonality with them.  Without shared experiences and memories to draw from, it’s hard to make a connection, and without a connection, there is no empathy.  Help share that empathy.   After all, that’s the greatest gift of all:  finding love and companionship where you never realized it could exist before.

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

Horsing Around

I’ve often said there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse. Ronald Reagan

cowboy-dog-horse

I’ve been working with dogs for many, many, years at this point.  I’ve trained thousands of owners dogs, and my work load is pretty full, so I’m constantly able to re-evaluate my techniques and refine my approach, as well as fine-tune The PAW Method. While I will never be able to learn and know everything about dogs and their behaviors and interactions with humans, I will never stop adding to my cache of information, and will continue to learn until I’m gone from this world.  But I recently realized that there was on crucial element I was missing.

I haven’t learned how to learn in a long, long time.  

Look at it like riding a bike.  I’ve been able to ride one since I was 6.  Now everything I do on a bike is merely adding to information that I’ve already learned, but I’m not learning how to “bike” all over again, if you will.  The same has held true with working with dogs.  I’ve been “dogging” for so long, it’s second nature to me.  But I forget sometimes that the methods I use are foreign to most people (hint: that’s why they work).  I don’t do click and treat, nor do I feel the need to physically correct or punish a dog.  I essentially teach people how to “dog” from the beginning, in a whole new way.  Like learning how to ride a bike again, only in a fashion completely different from how you originally learned.

I need to learn how to learn again.

So I decided to do something about that.  Meet Bounce.

Why the long face?

Why the long face?

Bounce is a beautiful, sweet Thoroughbred owned by Jessica Cardillo, who runs Foundations Equestrian out of Olmsted Falls, Ohio.  Jessica has been working with horses for as long as I’ve been working with dogs.  I decided that it was about time for me to put myself in my clients’ shoes, and take instruction on a completely foreign concept.  Namely, learning how to “horse”.

I’ve learned a few things. More than a few things, actually (such as the best way to shovel manure).  But here are what I feel are the most important, especially how they apply to working with dogs.

1) Horses are huge.

No, that's not me, but that's how big I feel on top of Bounce, who is 16 hands high at the withers (base of her neck).  That translates to 64".

No, that’s not me, but that’s how big I feel on top of Bounce, who is 16 hands high at the withers (base of her neck). That translates to 64″ high…not including her neck and head.

Bite your head off, man.

I am conveniently terrified of heights.

Aggressive dog with a bite history?  No problem.  Need to get onto the second step of a ladder to paint a wall?

dean 1

How does that help me work better with my clients and their dogs?  Well, I work with a lot of people who own dog-reactive dogs.  These people are typically shell-shocked from trying to walk their dogs.  They are constantly scanning the area around them for a threat another dog, and live in perpetual fear of a dog running up to them, or some idiot with a dog on a retractable leash who wants to let the dogs “just say ‘hi’ to each other”.  They are literally terrified of their own dog, and how their dog reacts to other dogs.

I am literally terrified of getting on Bounce.  I will be sitting over 5′ up in the air.  That isn’t exactly what I’d classify as My Happy Place.  But funny enough, just as sometimes I have to Pilot my clients, Jessica ends up Piloting me with Bounce.

“Put your foot in the stirrup, swing your leg over, and climb up there”, she says in a bored yet amused voice, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

But wait, maybe it is.

I’m no stranger to Piloting my clients through a scary situation, such as walking their dog-reactive dog past another dog on the other side of the street.  ”Come on, let’s go.  You’ve got this”, I say, as if it’s no big deal.  And my clients do it, and do it well!  But I’ve never been in the situation of being told it’s No Big Deal.  But guess what….it wasn’t.

Well then.

I can see my house from here…

First time sucked.  Second time…sucked.  Third time…still sucking.  Actually, it always sucks.  I’m still terrified of heights.  Only now, I’m more accepting of the situation, at least on top of Bounce.  I’m never going to like mounting up, just as my clients with dog-reactive dogs are never going to enjoy passing another dog, but at least I’m comfortable with my fear, and I have the tools to manage the situation (sit up straight, heels down, and relax), just as I give my clients the tools to work with their dog-reactive dogs.

2) Muscle is worthless.

Bounce is in beautiful condition.  Me?  I pulled a muscle in my ass just crossing my legs.

Bounce is in beautiful condition. Me? I pulled a muscle in my ass just crossing my legs.

I have always loved working with dog owners who also have horses for one major reason: they already know they can’t muscle their way through a horse.  If a horse doesn’t want to do something, you ain’t gonna physically make ‘em!  So horse people don’t even try.  They understand that might doesn’t make right…if it did, your horse would always be right.  That translates onto their dogs.  Horse people don’t force an issue.  They rely on the horse trusting them.  They do what’s called ground work, which is essentially Piloting a horse on a very long leash called a longe line, basically getting the horse to work with you and trust that you have the answers before you climb up on their back.

Fortunately, Jessica and Bounce are a team.  Jessica has worked with Bounce, done the ground work, and Piloted Bounce so much that anything I do on Bounce’s back that’s wrong doesn’t freak Bounce out.  They have an unspoken communication between them.

Bounce: Mom, Tall Lady is sitting all wrong and she’s posting off diagonal.
Jessica:  I know, sweetie. She’s screwing it up.  It’s okay, though.  I’m watching her.  She’ll be fine.
Bounce:  Okay.  Just checking.

In other words, Jessica has Piloted Bounce so much that she trusts whatever Jessica does.  Because it’s always been okay, it always will be okay.  Jessica didn’t have to beat Bounce to achieve this, nor did she beg Bounce to trust her.  Jessica simply took the Pilot position, answering questions for Bounce when she asked them, (“Can I refuse this jump?”) by calmly, but firmly restating her answers (“No, sweetie, you can’t”) using her body language, and correctly reading her horse’s body language.  The more questions Jessica answers for Bounce, the easier it becomes to answer questions.

Not much different for dogs of any size.  Muscle is what distances you from your dog rather than bonding with them. Makes you Master instead of Pilot.  Dictator instead of Protector.  Feared Alpha instead of trusted Leader.  Just because you can (maybe) physically manhandle your dog into submission doesn’t mean you should.  Trust is the means that enables you to work with your dog.

3) Your head will spin.

image2 (1)

“Heels down! No chicken arms! Hold the reigns tightly! Heels down! Make her move, squeeze with your calves…she’s slowing down!  Coffee cups – your hands are falling down!!! Heels down!”  - Jessica Cardillo

All of this is said without a breath in between.  And I’m scrambling to try to keep it all together, while actively not falling off Bounce.

1234

Back to the bicycle again.  I can ride a bike easily, and I’m sure most of you can as well.  However, think back to when you were first learning to ride a bike.

"...back in my day"

“…back in my day”

There were so many things to remember!  How to brake.  How to steer.  Balance!  And there were plenty of scraped knees and roughed-up elbows.  But more and more you were able to put pieces together.  Maybe not all at once…but more and more pieces started to feel comfortable.   You could pedal without thinking of it anymore.  Braking became more natural.  Steering got better…pretty soon, you were “biking”!  You got it!

Sometimes my clients get a bit overwhelmed. I have faith that they will get it, but they are convinced they are failing miserably, simply because they need some reminders.

Stand up straight. Stop talking to Fido. Relax your arms.  Stand up straight. Fido’s meerkatting…answer his question! Stand up straight. – Kerry Stack

 

I see my clients’ heads spinning, especially when learning leash skills.  They’re thinking they’ll never get this right.  So much to remember…but then I watch them. I’m not telling them to stop talking anymore; they’ve stopped on their own.  They’re standing up straight.  Their arms are a bit stiff, but this about progress, not perfection.  And next thing you know, they’re “dogging”, and suddenly a beautiful grin comes across their face.  They’re doing it!

bounce 2

 

There's that grin.

There’s that grin.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

If you live in Northeast Ohio and are interested in learning to “horse”, Jessica can be reached at 440-821-4887 and foundationseq@gmail.com.  Bounce can be reached through feeding of carrots, brushing of her face, and a bit of spoiling and love.

“Mine” Craft – Working with Food Aggressive Dogs

“People aren’t against you; they are for themselves.” – Anon

A shelter dog undergoes the SAFTER test.  Food reactivity is guaged when the fake hand tries to take away the food.

A shelter dog undergoes the SAFTER test. Food reactivity is guaged when the fake hand tries to take away the food.

A few days ago I had a very difficult situation to work with.  The dog in question, a Shar Pei mix, I’ll call Lisbon, was food aggressive (had actually bitten people and other dogs in the house) as well as resource guarding (resource guarding is the same as food aggression, only in place of the food, she was aggressively guarding areas in the house she deemed as her own).

If a dog is reacting with aggression over anything other than their safety (i,e., they’re scared of you), or the safety of their pack, that’s trouble.  That’s the sign of a dog who is in the Pilot position, and who is frequently more than happy to try to take money out of your Piloting Piggy Bank.  Remember, whomever has the most money wins, so frequently these dogs are indeed the Pilot in the house simply because snapping and growing over a resource works.  Essentially, they tell you “no”, and it works because, well, teeth can be scary!  The more often they tell you “no”, and the more often you accept that as an answer, the more money the dog has taken out of your Piloting Piggy Bank.

Most other things aren’t quite so dangerous to work with because we are working with questions that the dog actually hopes end in a “no”.

Will that other dog kill me?

No, Fido.

Have any dogs ever died in a thunderstorm before?

No Fido, and I doubt you’ll be the first.

Resource guarding is different.  A dog has decided that something is theirs, and no matter what, they are keeping it.  Sometimes when I come into a house a dog is resource guarding, but their heart really isn’t into it.  They’ve accidentally become Pilot in the house because the owner has never properly communicated with the dog, letting them know that they don’t have to be Pilot.  Hint:  most dogs don’t even want the job!

These dogs aren’t resource guarding so much as taking all the perks that come with the Piloting position.  For a dog, being Pilot can be scary, terrifying, and generally sucks.  Just like not every human feels comfortable leading, the same is true for dogs.  If they’re going to be Pilot, there had better be some perks that come along with it!  These include the right to eat first, the right to sleep where they want to…basically, the right of first refusal for anything.  For the dogs who aren’t even really into the Pilot position, and didn’t want the damn job to begin with, merely Piloting them and taking the money out of their bank is sufficient.  They aren’t true resource guarders.

As Danika mentioned in her blog post On Food Reactivity….Nothing Personal.  Really.,   they aren’t doing it because they hate you.  Or because they want to hurt you.  In their minds, you are asking a question:  Can I have that back? They are answering your question (No), but you aren’t listening, apparently, so they have to answer it with more force, until you finally back down.

Dogs and wolves are a pack. They are a single entity driven towards one thing, survival and continuation of the pack.  In the pack, only alpha male and alpha female breed.  They are the Pilots.  They have (for the moment) the best shot of perpetuating the pack because they are the best dogs/wolves in the pack.  Obviously this can change.  Dogs and wolves don’t vote in who they think is the best for Pilot.  There’s no bribes.  Either you are or you aren’t and accepting another dog’s “no” to a question you asked can take enough money out of your Piloting bank to no longer make you Pilot.

Wolves deciding who's eating first. The wolf on the left is giving typical "back off, it's mine" body language. The wolf on the right is submitting.

Wolves deciding who’s eating first. The wolf on the left is giving typical “back off, it’s mine” body language. The wolf on the right is submitting.

So back to resource guarding.  It isn’t a bad behavior.  Remember, nothing a dog does is bad; it’s always perfectly correct.  For a dog.  However, as humans, we can not safely tolerate resource guarding.  It’s dangerous, and for kids, it’s the second biggest reason I see them get bit, (first is teasing or torturing the dog).  The difference is, a bite because a child is manhandling a dog is usually a sudden nip.  Yes, it may cause blood even (remember, you’re supposed to be covered in hair and loose skin, like a dog, not soft vulnerable flesh), but it’s typically not that bad unless the dog hit a lucky spot.  With resource guarding, it can be a lot, lot worse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  resource guarding is one of the few things (the only?) that I will tell a client to put a dog down for.  Yes, they can be worked with, and you can indeed take the Piloting position back, but you will have to defend it the rest of your dog’s life.  They may challenge you at any moment.  You may absent-mindedly drop food on the floor, lean over to pick it up, and the dog decides at that moment to claim it, meaning a bite.

These dogs can be the sweetest, kindest dogs on the planet, as Lisbon is.  Wonderful, loving family pets.  But once the food comes out, they are like a vampire who hasn’t fed being led through a blood bank.  Yucky, ugly things ensue.

So back to Lisbon:  how did things end?  Well, they haven’t yet.  They never will.  Some dogs you can slack with on the Piloting and still be fine.  Lisbon’s owner will always be on alert for any sign Lisbon is trying to take money out of his bank.  Lisbon’s owner is single with no kids, so he doesn’t have to worry about a child being bit.  He also understood the severity of the issue.  He is dedicated to the training regime, which includes:

- Feeding Lisbon after a successfully Piloted walk.  A walk done correctly (read: you are leading, not your dog) takes money out of their Piloting Piggy Bank.  We want to empty Lisbon’s account out as much as possible before feeding.

- Lisbon will always be on a leash during feeding times, just like you always wear a seat belt in the car.  You may never truly need it, but there’s nothing like feeling safe to help bring out the Pilot inside of you.

- Hand feeding Lisbon.  Food only comes from him, and no other source.  We want to remove everything as a possible option for Lisbon to acquire food.  She need to be dependent upon her owner for all food. Food is placed on the counter, and Lisbon will be seated and fed one handful at a time, and only if she is calmly waiting.

- Removing signals that may increase energy during feeding time.  For example, when Lisbon sees her owner grab her food dish on the counter, she knows her owner is about to feed her.  Her energy level goes way up, and she can be difficult to manage.  Lisbon will never be fed out of a bowl again.  Even the vessel used to contain the food while she is being hand fed will be switched out frequently so she never knows if food is coming or if her owner is merely grabbing a cup for some coffee.

- Dropping food on the ground doesn’t mean it’s yours!!!  Lisbon’s owner, while hand feeding Lisbon, will occasionally gently place food on the ground behind him, moving very slowly.  If she lunges for the food, he can redirect her with the leash, wait until she’s calm, and then slowly pick the food up and throw it away.  Lisbon will never have the right to food on the floor.  Ever.  If she remains calm during that little exercise, she will get another handful of food.

- Never toss food at Lisbon.  The very act of snatching food in the air is aggressive.  In some dogs it’s not a big deal, and is even amusing (Darwin could catch food out of a dead sleep!), but those dogs aren’t really jockeying for Pilot position.  We are driving the point home that calm is the only thing that gets Lisbon food, and lunging towards food won’t be accepted any more.

- Getting her used to disappointment.  A lot of resource guarding dogs get upset and retaliate if they think they were about to get food but don’t.  For example, the now-defunct food bowl.  If Lisbon’s owner simply picked up the food bowl to move it without feeding her, Lisbon might retaliate.  You were supposed to feed me, remember?  Touching the food bowl is a visual marker that is supposed to end a certain way, and if it doesn’t…bad things happen.  So he’s going to get her used to disappointment.  Dropping the food on the floor is a good start, but sometimes putting food in a cup on the counter, creating calm with Lisbon, and then dumping the food back into the bin, all in a controlled manner.  Calm doesn’t always get Lisbon food.  It’s merely the only way she might get food.  It’s like the lottery:  you don’t always win, but unless you play, you aren’t going to win.

Hand feeding... in the good way

Hand feeding… in the good way

I have great hopes for Lisbon and her owner.  Lisbon is a great dog, and they made wonderful strides in the two hours I was with them.  Lisbon’s owner is dedicated, and he understood the severity of the problem.  If anyone has a chance at a safe, wonderful bond with a resource guarding dog, it’s him.

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

Ctrl + Alt + Del

There is more to life than increasing its speed.

Mahatma Gandhi

I just spent the day at a local elementary school with one of my favorite dogs, Stan, who is a registered therapy dog.  I love going into the school, the enthusiasm the children show, how “Stan Time” can be earned by good behavior, and how Stan Time can also be used for helping children with stress or anxiety.  Stan Time includes children who have special needs.  He gives sensory therapy to those dealing with sensory issues, or encourages behaviors, such as using verbal communication to get a reward (getting to play fetch).  He also helps a typical child who may be doing very well in school and therefore earns a reward of Stan Time (children are able to save up points for good behavior, and then spend them like money on various rewards, such as lunch with the principal, or Stan Time).  Other children just need some time to reboot, and the mundane pleasure of throwing a ball for a big, goofy Golden Retriever can help melt stress prior to taking a test.

So in almost every sense of the word, Stan is a therapy dog. He gives all he can to these children (as well as their teachers).  It’s my job to make sure he is set up to be utilized to his full potential.  For example a child with sensory issues may not want to touch that slobbery tennis ball, and definitely does not want to have added stimuli of Stan running back and forth to fetch it, but they break out in smiles when simply allowed to lay their head on Stan’s side and snuggle with him.  Other children need an outlet, and would be far too energetic for snuggle time.  I took those children and showed them the basics of agility, which they then taught Stan to do.

A student working with Stan on agility.  Problem solving together...

A student working with Stan on agility. Problem solving together…

...helps with self confidence for both Stan and the children.

…helps with self confidence for both Stan and the children.

It’s always a wonderful experience for me when I’m at the school, and it’s nice to feel as if we’re making a difference, but let’s face it. It can be grueling for Stan sometimes. It’s exhausting for me, too.

Me walking through the school halls without Stan.

Me walking through the school halls without Stan.

OMG! It’s Stan!

That’s why every hour I give him a little bit of a break. Are we done? Not necessarily.  Just a bit of time to take breather.  To reboot, if you will.

The three-finger salute, as I refer to it.  Control + Alt + Delete.  Time to reboot.

The Three Finger Salute, as I refer to it. Control + Alt + Delete. Time to reboot.

No matter what he’s been doing, when he needs a reboot, he needs a reboot.  There’s only so much he has to give, and sometimes he needs some time to regain his composure.  The steps to working with a dog are:

1) Control yourself;

2) Control the situation;

3) Answer your dog’s questions, or as we refer to it, Piloting your dog.

By pushing forward when Stan’s mentally exhausted, I’m not adhering to Step 2.  I’m not controlling the situation, I’m merely adding more stimulation.  That never ends well.  So rather than pushing forward, I’ll take a step back and let him both of us relax for a moment.

I apply this concept to every aspect of my life.  I apply it during a walk with Sparta, who is notoriously dog-reactive.  She does very well with being Piloted past another dog, but two in a row?  On retractable leashes?  I’ll Pilot her, and then give her the Three Finger Salute, and let her reboot a bit after that one.  I simply answer her questions about the other dogs, get her past the situation in a calm manner, and since I know it was a mental struggle for her, I give her a moment to compose herself again.  Sit her down, scratch her gently behind her ears, and calmly praise her.  She literally shakes the incident off after a few seconds, and then is ready to go again, ready for the next dog I may need to Pilot her past.  In other words, I never run my dog down to empty. I always let them refuel mentally.

Rebooting the dogs has become a natural and normal part of my life over the years.  I automatically do it because I know I get better results from the dogs, and not pushing them to their limits earns more trust between us, allowing us to accomplish greater and greater feats.  Sparta now only requires very minimal Piloting when going past another dog.  Orion hasn’t had any stress-elimination in a very long time.

There is one aspect I keep neglecting, though.  Me.  So, while I had fun with Stan today, I came home exhausted.  I sat in my chair with my phone in one hand, a coffee in the other, and my computer on my lap, all ready to return the days phone calls and set up next week’s training sessions.

But I was tired.  I needed a Three Finger Salute.  I needed a reboot.  Sometimes I forget to give myself the same considerations I give to my dogs.  The same considerations that the students give themselves. They recognize when they need to cuddle Stan and just decompress.  I could learn a lot from those kids.

sdfdsfsdfsd

Control + Alt + Del

So for once, phone calls weren’t returned immediately.  For once, I didn’t set up appointments as soon as I came home.  For once, I immediately took care of myself.  Took a leisurely cup of coffee with a dog on my lap instead of a computer.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

676

 

It’s a beautiful day; don’t let it get away.
-U2

Orion and Sparta.  Brittany Graham Photography

Orion and Sparta. Brittany Graham Photography

This time of year can kinda suck if you have asthma.  Which I do.  I’ve got an upper respiratory infection on top of it.  I’m miserable. I feel like death warmed over.  In the history of sickness, I don’t think anyone has ever been as sick as I am right now.

giphy

Then I realized that I was being stupid.  The temperature is 53 degrees – warm for Cleveland (or the Arctic Tundra, but I repeat myself).  The sun is shining.  It’s an okay day for hiking, or at least going for a short walk with my best friend.  And here I was squandering it feeling sorry for myself, which is what I’ve been doing or the past 2 days.  Yes I’m legitimately sick.  But that doesn’t negate my dogs’ need for activity.  I’ve been cutting corners, using the treadmill for Orion, and a backpack plus some minor agility for Sparta, as outlined here and here, but nothing really beats a good walk.  Sunshine only adds to the benefit.  It was time for me to suck it up and go outside.  But I still don’t want to.

The lights...it hurts

The lights…it hurts

Then I saw an update in the mail from my dog’s vet, reminding me that Sparta was due for her rabies shot.  I looked through her medical records to verify, and stumbled across something that I’d forgotten: Sparta is  7 years old.

Now, that’s not such a big deal.  She’s not old (yet), but it did make me stop and reflect.  Most dogs live to be roughly 13 years old.  That equals only 676 weekends.   So far she’s almost exactly halfway through that allotment.  Technically speaking, she only has 338 weekends left with me.  That means, at the very most, we are down to 169 weekends to drive that hour down to Bow Wow Beach, so I can watch her swim.  We only have so many hikes left together.  Only so many more times she can jump into the backseat of my car without help.  And there I was, squandering this time because I have a cold.

Sometimes we think of dogs in human terms, including how much time we’re given together.  At 39 years my young(ish) age, I still have a lot of time left.  We tend to include our dogs in that time because we assume that they’ll always be there.   But there is a set amount of time with them.  Perhaps 676 seems like a lot of weekends to romp with with your dogs.  Enough time to do do anything  you want.  But I’ve already used up half of those with Sparta.

It made me think.  It made me, well…

Damn, I hate when that happens

So I took my dogs for a walk.  Not far.  Just far enough to change my perspective. Which was far enough to make me want to hike even farther.  I’m not going to waste today anymore.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Enjoying the Imperfections

 

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

The other day, I was talking to my cousin who shows horses. He trains horses as well and is very much part of the equestrian community in New England. I was discussing how sometimes I don’t mention I’m a dog trainer because Porter is a goofball and I feel as though there is this stigma that my dog should be perfectly well behaved. He, in pretty blunt terms, said that was a ridiculous thing to think because animals are always an unknown.

The idea of having the most perfectly well behaved dog is, quite honestly, boring. Think about some of the greatest stories you have of your dog. I bet that at least a few of them involve some mischievous endeavors.

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

We can’t be perfect owners. No one can. That goes for us trainers too. Why? Because we’re working with dogs. They’re an animal and they can’t be made into robots. Which is the greatest part about them.

Maybe we’re too quick to judge each other as owner’s as well. I am completely okay with your dog misbehaving on a walk, heck I’m even okay if your dog lunges at my dog, as long as you do something about it. Does it look like you’re putting effort into your dog? Are you trying to step in front and gain control of the situation? If so, then kudos to you. I’ve been there. I’ve had the dog that isn’t acting perfectly. It’s okay. You’ll get there.

It’s when nothing is done. This idea of passiveness. This idea that everything my dog does is okay. That’s when I have a problem. Effort is needed in order for me to respect you as an owner. Not perfection. Just some effort into making sure your dog is leading a balanced life.

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

So throughout this week, try and not focus on the level of perfection you need to hit for you and your dog. Instead take advantage of creating a balanced week with piloting, activity and work as well as some laughs. Take some time to notice the goofy things your dog does because he’s not perfect. Maybe you find him in the warm laundry, or sneaking into the kitchen where he’s not allowed. Correct the behaviors you don’t want, but realize that they’re occurring because your dog is still a dog and is not a robot designed to follow your every move. Focus less on perfection and more on the quality of life for you and your dog.

The relationship between a dog and their owner is one of the most pure relationships out there. So don’t take it for granted and enjoy every moment. The rainbow bridge comes too soon.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions for You and Your Dog

 

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals. – Melody Beattie

As the new year starts, we all take some time to reflect on items we want to work on throughout the next 365 days. It’s a blank book really. We can take on big or small challenges to improve ourselves. So why not take on a resolution or two for you and your dog? It doesn’t have to be anything big. Something small, so you can see progress in your relationship with your dog as well as your dog’s behavior and happiness.

Here are three New Year’s Resolutions that you can take up that correlate to the PAW Method.

Erdman_0082-1

Your Piloting New Year’s Resolution:

Work on a behavior once a week that you may sometimes avoid. So, if your dog has an issue with the squirrels outside the front window, instead of closing the shades, take some time to work with that behavior. Cut out 15 minutes of your day to specifically work on the issue using the 3 steps to piloting: Control yourself, Control the Situation and Answer the Yes or No question.

If your dog is dog reactive, why not choose a day that your dog seems to be behaving well and take your dog on a walk. Instead of turning around or avoiding that trouble dog in your neighborhood, take some time to work on the reaction your dog may have.

This doesn’t have to be an every day type thing. Just consciously make a decision to work on your dog’s little behavior hiccups that you’ve been avoiding once a week. You’ll see the improvement, slower than if you worked on it every day, but it’s important to know your limitations and set yourself up for success.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Your Activity New Year’s Resolution:

You’re going to hate me when I say this, but here it is: More walking.

If you are an overachieving owner and take your dog for a walk every day already, try adding 10 more minutes to your walk a few days a week. This doesn’t seem like much, but is a good stepping stone to getting even more activity in!

If you’re an owner like me (I will admit to my weaknesses) and don’t get out every day for a walk, increase it by one day a week. So, if you normally go 4 times a week, try 5. Once that seems normal, maybe try adding another additional day. This will not only help your dog, but it might even help you with any other resolutions you’ve made this year. Walking is healthy for both of you!

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Your Work New Year’s Resolution:

You don’t need to train your dog to seek out rare flowers or mushrooms. How about a new trick each month? Spend a few days each day working on a new trick. If you work on one trick a month you’ll make sure your dog has it down and is successful with it. New tricks work your dog’s brain (as well as get some extra Piloting in) and helps you bond with your dog as well. And by the end of the year your dog will know 12 new tricks!

Get creative with it! These are just some suggestions. But take some time to think about how you can improve your relationship with your dog and how you can create a happy and balanced life for your pup.

Here’s to a great 2016!

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Support Systems

 

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

We come in many different shapes and sizes, and we need to support each other and our differences. Our beautiy is in our differences – Carre Otis

We learn early on that it’s important to surround ourselves with people that offer support and positive energy to our lives. Of course, we learn that, but aren’t always good at picking out those individuals that may actually make us question ourselves and how valuable we are. It’s a tough balance throughout our whole life. Some of us get very good at picking out those individuals that need to be kept in our lives and some of us still have some trouble figuring that out.

It’s a life lesson that comes into play even when you have a dog. For those of you who have a reactive dog, a difficult dog, a dog that doesn’t act like Lassie, it can get frustrating. There’s a lot of work involved with creating a dog that is balanced and happy. There are days when you feel like you haven’t made any progress and there are days where you’re pretty sure you have the best dog in the entire world. However, through it all you need a support system to keep you going.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

The problem is, those of us with dog reactive dogs are sensitive. We take our dog’s behavior on personally. We look at it as a relfection of ourselves as owners. Which means, if you have individuals around you that are quick to point out your dog’s flaws, their regressions, their lack of improvement we feel as though they’re saying that about us as owners.

These negative comments ultimately affects how we work with our dogs if we take it too personally. It’s important to feel as though you are making progress and acknolwedge the work that you’re putting into your dog in helping them lead a balanced life. Sometimes, we can’t always cut out every negative person in our life. Which means we as dog owners, need to learn how to ignore the negative and embrace the individuals that support our work.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Tall Guy is Porter and my’s biggest supporter. Yes, he has helped with Porter as well, but when there’s a bad day he’s always quick to point out the progress we have made so far. These comments are the ones I take to heart. The support system is so important. We all have our rough days where we feel like we’re moving backwards with our dogs instead of forward. But, I promise you, if you have been doing the work there’s someone in your life who is willing to point out the progress and acknowledge the effort that you’ve put in so far. Look for those individuals and keep them around.

The stars of Dogs in the CLE  courtesy of Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

The stars of Dogs in the CLE courtesy of Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

So, it’s time to look at who the negative is in you and your dog’s life. You can’t always just cut them out, but you can remember to let the comments roll off of you. It’s not worth it. They’re not the ones helping you move forward with your dog so they have no say in what progress has been made. Listen to the individual’s who offer you and your dog the support you need. Those individuals will keep you grounded and working hard. And that’s the most important part when working with a dog.

Keep calm and pilot on

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