Apartment Dogs


Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united – Wilhelm von Humboldt

Having a dog and living in an apartment can be challenging. Notice I didn’t say impossible. I’ve never understood rescues that won’t adopt out to individuals who don’t live in a house with a fenced in yard. There are so many individuals who can provide a dog everything they need without those two requirements.

Porter has only lived in an apartment. There are challenges that come with it and different ways to do things, however, I do not feel as though he’s missing anything. Today, I’m going to share some tips on how to make living in an apartment with your dog successful when it comes to providing them activity.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

1. Walks

I know, you’re not surprised. But this is so important. Walks are the key to holding everything together. This is a mental exercise as well as a physical exercise. You don’t always have the ability to let your dog out the backyard and run himself tired. So you need to get out there and give them some great physical activity by going on walks. Do what you can. If you only have time for a 15 minute walk, throw that backpack on your dog and get out there! The past few weeks, I’ve been trying to re-frame my outlook. If I’m about to turn on the television, do I have time to take Porter for another 15-20 minute walk? It’s healthier for him and for me. And will get your dog even more activity which is so key to having a balanced dog.

2. Dog Parks

Utilize the dog park as much as you can. If you are worried about it being crowded go early in the morning or on days where the weather isn’t so great. That will thin out the crowd a little. This is a great way to let your dog run lose, play with other dogs and get some pent up energy out. Nothing tires out a dog like another dog. Make it fun and try different dog parks around you so you’re not always going to the same one.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

3. Phone a Friend

Dog people attract dog people. So, I’m sure you have a friend or a coworker or a neighbor who has a dog as well. Plan a walk together! That way someone else is relying on you and your dog gets to practice walking with another dog. A perfect way to working on your Piloting skills while still having fun and staying motivated.

4. Doggy Daycare

There are days where you can see that your dog just needs to run. They’re antsy and even on the walks they’re struggling to stay with you and pay attention to your corrections. You can tell in their body language they just need to get out! So, take them to doggy day care for a day! It can even be on a day that you’re normally around the house. It doesn’t only have to be when you’re away for the night or the day. Drop them off for the day, let them run around like crazy while you run errands, clean the house, take a day trip and then pick them up! You won’t feel guilty about leaving the house and your pup will be so excited that he got to run around and play with dogs all day. It’s a win win for everyone!

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

5. Use What You Have

Even though you may be residing in a smaller space, you still probably have, well, space. So use it! Play fetch with your dog, work on commands, play the find it game. Use the space you have to keep them stimulated. Get creative with it!

Living in an apartment doesn’t mean you can’t give your dog what they need. It merely means you have to use different tools in your belt. They’ll still have as much fun and love you all the same. Have fun and get out there! Your dog will be just as happy as the next dog.

Keep calm and pilot on

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


Turning Down the Noise


Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it – Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

These past few months I’ve been faced with the problem of a running mind. Thoughts everywhere. Some about the past, questions about what I could have done better, worrying about the future and figuring out where I want to be in my life. I’ve been feeling a little uneasy and have found myself questioning and question and questioning. As you know, this can wreak havoc on your mind.

So, last week I made an intention for the day. I told myself, “today you will have an adventure with Porter”. Now, I didn’t put any stipulations on this adventure. We didn’t have to try something brand new, we didn’t have to travel multiple hours to get there and we didn’t have to complete some amazing feat. The adventure could be anything. We just needed to do it together.

We set out for the Metroparks, because let’s be honest, you can always have an adventure there! We started off on our walk and I noticed how the ground covering was coming in. Bright green with yellow flowers everywhere. It was absolutely stunning. And then I saw a little path.

Our view during our walk through the Metroparks

Our view during our walk through the Metroparks

Normally if it’s just Porter and I, I will only stay on paths where other people are. Just a habit I picked up to stay on the side of caution. But that day I looked at Porter and remembered my intention. Adventure. We needed to go on an adventure together. So, we took the path.

The path put us in between beautiful ground covering, trees and the river. As we walked, it was silent except for the birds calling out to each other. I looked at Porter and he was smiling. And I noticed both of our energies immediately come down.

Lots of times we can learn things from our dogs. But sometimes, we need to learn things together. We both walked through the woods silently. You could barely hear either of us moving along the earth and stepping over logs. We were quiet. Silent. Just like I needed my mind to be.

Porter doing some agility in nature!

Porter doing some agility in nature!

We walked and we climbed and we sat by the river. And we were both soundless. Yet, I feel like I’ve never bonded more with Porter on a walk before.

Playtime is great. Playing fetch, throwing the Frisbee, running around the yard. That’s all amazing. But sometimes, it’s necessary to take some time for some quiet adventures with your dog.


There doesn’t need to be mountains of stimulation and noise for your dog to have fun. Your dog will have fun as long as you’re on those adventures together. Sometimes, to calm both of you down it’s necessary to go somewhere quiet where you can get your Activity in.

So put out an intention for the day for you and your dog. And know that your dog is always reacting to your energy. Try a quiet path early in the morning and start your day off calm with your pup. It will help both of you mentally and physically.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Slimming Down


But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks – John Muir

Here’s your challenge: Take a good look at your dog. Pretend that you haven’t seen him in 6 months and look him over. Probably 2 ears, 4 paws, a tail, and possibly some puppy dog eyes. But how about that mid-section. Does your dog possibly look a little thicker around the middle than he did 6 months ago? It’s possible and quite honestly, it’s probable.

Winter creates so many issues when it comes to ensuring we’re giving our dogs the amount of Activity they need. One of those issues is that your dog may have gained a few extra lbs over the winter. I mean, who hasn’t? However, having an overweight dog is a serious issue. It can be hazardous to their health and eventually affect life spans. So, guess what… it’s time to get out there and help your dog lose that extra winter weight!

Here are 3 ways you can help your dog get lean again:

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

#1. Find some adventurous trails!

We live in the land of the CLE, which means we have the most amazing tool to help our pups lose that weight right in our backyard. The Metroparks are a great destination to get out there and get some walks in. The options are endless as to what park to go to and the scenery is gorgeous. Especially this time of year, as spring has begun and new flowers and buds are popping up everywhere.

Take some time and find a new park to visit! This will keep you and your pup interested and have an extra spring in your step. The key is to stay motivated to get out there. So new adventures can help keep the boredom at bay.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

#2. Substitute for some Veggies

Another option to help trim your pup down is to substitute his usual treats with healthy ones. Instead of handing out the bones, take some time to figure out what else motivates and interests your dog. Use veggies as a treat. Try giving your dog carrots, radishes or frozen green beans. You can always see if your dog likes ice cubes as well! It’s a good treat that they’ll love with no calories.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

#3. Change your routine!

Start a new routine! In addition to your daily walks, how about in the morning or when you get back from work you work on the “over” command with your dog. If you have that down, have your dog jump over a broomstick, yardstick, or a box 10 times. Start a small change in your routine that will help your dog’s activity level increase and help your bonding time!

Any steps that you can take to help your dog burn a few more calories will not only help his weight but also will help your dog feel more balanced and take care of the Activity part of the PAW method that your dog needs.

So, get outside and get creative! And get your four legged friend back to the lean and happy dog that they should be.

Keep calm and pilot on
Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs, LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH

Your Superhero Powers

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

With great power, comes great responsibility – Uncle Ben

We talk about Piloting a lot here at Darwin Dogs. It’s so important. It’s necessary to make sure you have as much money in your Piloting bank as you can. You can earn Piloting money by going on walks and showing your dog that you can make sure you both stay alive, by teaching your pup new commands, working on agility and answering your dog’s questions. Each time you do one of these items, you add to your Piloting Bank. This is an awesome power you have. You’re gaining your dog’s trust. But like with all powers, Piloting powers comes with great responsibility.

Last weekend, Porter joined us for a hike. He loves hiking and seeing as it was the first hike of the season he was extra excited. There was a lot of pent up energy and I needed to exhaust him of it quickly. The easiest way to do that with Porter is to find some fallen logs and make him jump over and climb up them. (This is where working with your dog on agility and the “over” and “up” commands comes in handy! Remember: you don’t need an official agility course. Use what’s around you!) I found a large tree that had succumbed to the harsh winter we had and had Porter jump over the lower part of the log a few times. He still had a lot of energy so I figured I would have him jump to the part of the log that was off the ground.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

My thought process was, if I give him the command he’ll adjust his position to where he could jump safely to the top of the tree. Well, yes that was my assumption but we all know what you turn into when you assume.

Porter jumped immediately. He heard me say the command “up” and he went “Whatever you say Mom” and jumped right away hitting his head on the bottom of the trunk causing himself to fall and have to shake off the minor concussion. (No dogs were harmed in the making of this blog post)

Now, this was my fault. I forgot that with the amount of Piloting money I have in my bank, Porter will listen to me know matter what, even if it might seem a little against his self-preservation instincts. Porter shook it off like a champ though and we tried one more time, from a place that I knew would be a little bit safer for him to jump on to.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

It was a good lesson for me to remember. Once you get enough money in your Piloting bank, you have to be cognizant of the fact that your dog trusts you implicitly. A lot of responsibility comes with that power. And if you forget that every once in a while, and maybe your dog hits his head on a tree, just laugh it off. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We’re only human! Our dogs know that. And they’re okay with that.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Time Out

All punishment is mischief; all punishment in itself is evil.

Jeremy Bentham

Brittany Graham Photography
Brittany Graham Photography

So you’ve just caught your new puppy chewing on something in appropriate.  Or perhaps you’ve just cleaned up yet another mess on the floor that your Dachshund has left for you.  Maybe your Beagle won’t stop barking.  Whatever the behavior, I’m noticing a trend among how to handle the situation, and I hate it.

Put the dog in a time out.

You are punishing your dog by putting them “jail”.  For a crime they don’t even realize they committed!  Remember, you are asking your dog to be a human.  To insinuate themselves in a human world with human things and behaviors.  And you are punishing them for failing to be human.  

Is it symbolic?
Is it symbolic?

Ask yourself why you’re putting your dog in a time-out.  Is it so they know what they did was bad?  But was it?

Dogs are incapable of being bad.  There is no such thing.  They know love, devotion and happiness.  They know fear, hunger and pain.  However, they have no concept of bad.  Something is either accepted or it isn’t. It’s an unemotional answer to an unemotional question.  So rather than punish your dog for asking a question, such as “Can I chew on this?”, why not just answer their question?  And then be done with it.

For example, the puppy who is chewing on something inappropriate, simply use your body language to “claim” whatever it is they are engaged with, (as in, “No, you may not have that”).  Once they accept the answer, you are done  Now, in the case of a puppy, they will probably go right back to the thing that is verboten.  Puppies have the attention span of a Bartlett pear – that’s why they’re called “puppies” instead of “adult dogs”.  Answer their question again using the body language. Once they accept the answer, immediately remove the item.  Take your G.I. Joes and go home, in other words. You’ve now removed their opportunity to ask the question again, which would force you to answer the question.  Again.  Ad nauseam.

Your puppy is still going to want to have something to do, so let’s give them something appropriate.  This is a great opportunity to show them exactly what will earn them some positive attention.  Pick a toy and engage them with it for a bit (ie, play with it), and then let them have it.  If they start chewing on it, reward them with some positive attention.

Engage with your pup
Engage with your pup to get them interest in a more appropriate item
Allow them to play on their own
Give them a chance to go it alone.


Now for some positive
Give positive reinforcement for their ability to occupy themselves with an appropriate toy.

Tip: when I have a dog under 12 months in the house, I only keep 1/3 of all toys out for them.  The rest are kept away.  I then rotate the toys every 3-4 hours.  Result – everything old is new again, and nothing inappropriate gets chewed. 

Now, that’s not to say I have never locked my dogs up.  Sparta gets sent to her mudroom.  But it’s not to punish her.  It’s so I don’t punish her.  Remember that part where you take your G.I. Joes and go home?  Well, if Sparta is barking out the window (let’s face it, the weather has warmed up and there is a lot of activity outside for the first time in a while), then I will answer her question (“Can I bark?”) using my body language.  Once she accepts the answer, I take my G.I. Joes and go home.  In this instance, I know Sparta’s limitations – that’s why I’m her Pilot.  Rather than giving her negative body language for every threat person who walks by our house, I simply remove her from the situation. I let her calm down a bit so I don’t have to give her negatives.

That’s different than simply sending her there because she’s barking. I answered her question before putting her in her mudroom, rather than avoiding the question she’s asking.  In a little bit, I’m going to let her back out.  When I’m prepared to answer her questions again.  I’ve controlled the situation before adding more stimulation, as outlined here. If I simply try to blunder my way through it, continuously answering her questions without a break, I’m going to lose my temper.

Yeah...you realize nobody likes you when you're angry.
Yeah…you realize nobody likes you when you’re angry.

So instead of Hulking it out, I’m going to give myself a time out by removing Sparta from the situation.

...and that it's okay to take a break!
…and that it’s okay to take a break!

While we’re both chilling in separate areas from the house, I’ll give her something to do. Maybe a bone.  Maybe a Kong.  After a bit, I’m calmed down, and she isn’t as focused on the people outside.  She may eventually ask again about the people outside, but I’m in a better frame of mind to answer her questions unemotionally, which leads to a better experience for all of us.

Which is more my cup of  tea
Which is more my cup of tea

So before you send your dog to time-out, ask yourself a few questions:

1) Am I doing it to punish?  If so, rethink.  Dogs don’t need punishment.  They need answers.

2) Have I answered my dog’s question?  If you’ve already answered your dog’s question, and are removing them from the situation to prevent Hulking out on them, you have my blessing.

Bear in mind the more often you answer your dog’s questions unemotionally, the less likely they are to ask them again. We Pilot our dogs by infusing them with our own calm.   Now when someone is walking in front of our house, Sparta merely whines a little.  That’s it.  No, it didn’t happen overnight, but it definitely didn’t take a Hulk to make it happen.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

10 Ways to Help Your Local Shelter

Porter, adopted from Multiple Breed Rescue in Elyria, OH Brittany Graham Photography

Porter, adopted from Multiple Breed Rescue in Elyria, OH
Brittany Graham Photography

 The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’re all animal lovers. Really, why would you be reading this blog if you weren’t? So, I’m guessing we all want to do our part to help. Here’s a list of 10 things you can do to help out your local rescue or shelter. Not all require a lot of time or money. So, take a look, pick a rescue/shelter and get helping!

 1.Volunteer Your Time

So, we’ll start with the obvious ones. You know how it’s a new year and we all made some of those resolution things? Well, maybe one of yours was to volunteer more. So, GO OUT AND DO IT! Visit your local shelter or rescue’s website and see what requirements they have for volunteers. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to foster, it could just mean you get to go in and walk and play with pups and cats. Which, in my book, is pretty fantastic.

2. Adopt!

Another obvious option. If you have thought about adopting and have made your list on what you’re looking for in a new family member and have come to the conclusion that right now is a good time for a new addition, make sure you’re adopting! This doesn’t mean you have to go to the first shelter you find on an internet search. There are a ton of options in the Cleveland area alone as well as some great rescues out there. Take some time to look around and find what feels right for you and your family.

Sadie, adopted from the Cleveland APL

Sadie, adopted from the Cleveland APL

3. Spread the Word

Talk your local shelters and rescues up! If you have a friend that mentions that they’re looking into adding a dog or cat to their family, make sure you mention the adoption option! Talk about all the great best friends that come out of shelters and rescues.

You can also spread the word without ever leaving your house or getting dressed! Seriously! Follow your local shelters and rescues on Facebook and share those dogs that are looking for new homes. You never know who is going to see a dog and fall in love instantly. It could be a friend of a friend of a cousin, or it could be your next door neighbor. But share away! This is so helpful for shelters and gets those dogs’ and cats’ faces out there to be seen by their potential new family.

4. Amazon Wish List

Many times shelters and rescues have Amazon Wish Lists. It’s this great little place on Amazon where local shelters and rescues can add the items that they need to run a great temporary home for these dogs and cats. Items can range from toys and treats, to GPS’s. It’s a great way to have the items sent straight to the shelter and they’re getting exactly what they want. Again, this option is great if you don’t want to leave the house or get dressed. Click here to see The Cuyahoga County’s Amazon Wish List.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Pete and Tank, adopted from the Cleveland APLBrittany Graham Photography 

5. Amazon Smile

This is a great little tool as well and doesn’t cost you any money! Seriously! So, you know how you end up ordering a bunch of things from Amazon? Some needed, some not so much, but all seemed so necessary at the time of purchase? Well, if you join Amazon Smile, 0.5% of your purchase total can go towards a charity of your choice! I’m serious! Next time you sign into Amazon, go ahead and do a search for Amazon Smile. All you have to do is sign up and pick which charity you want to donate to! A lot of local rescues and shelters are on the list. It’s a great way for them to get some extra donations and you to feel better about those impulse buys!

6. WoofTrax

This is a great little App for your phone. Since you’re all giving your dogs the PAW that they need, that means that you’re also going for lots of walks with your dog. Well, this little handy app will actually donate to a rescue or shelter of your choice for every mile you walk with your dog! Just start the app on the beginning of your walk and it will record the distance that you and your pup have covered. Now, the amount they donate changes as the money that they donate comes from sponsors, advertisers and investors, however, anything will help!

Don’t have a dog? Guess what- you can still walk and help your shelter/rescue of choice! There is as Walk for Cassie option which allows you to walk on your own and still counts your mileage towards a donation. It’s a great idea and the more people walking for your shelter/rescue the better. So spread the word!

You can download the app by visiting their site here.

Bowie, adopted from Berea Animal Rescue Friends Brittany Graham Photography

Bowie, adopted from Berea Animal Rescue Friends
Brittany Graham Photography

7. Start a Donation Drive

This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. Set up a box at work or with your friends and ask people to donate some pet items. Treats, toys, collars, leashes, blankets…. Quite honestly the list is endless. Then, take a trip out to your local rescue or shelter and donate all the items you’ve collected. They’ll be beyond grateful and you’ll feel good about the situation as well.

8. Show Your Gratitude

Quite simply – say thank you. If you see a volunteer say thank you. Tell them how much you appreciate the work they do. This can be in person, a letter or a Facebook review. Let them know the community is behind them and what they do touches all of our lives.

Molly, adopted from Muttley Crew Brittany Graham Photography

Molly, adopted from Muttley Crew
Brittany Graham Photography

9. Throw a Benefit Party

This doesn’t have to be as crazy as you might think. Seriously. You know that Super Bowl party you just had? What if you asked everyone to donate $5 when they walked in the door for your favorite local rescue or shelter. So, invite everyone over for a get together and tell your friends you’ll provide some food and that you’re collecting donations and why. At the end of the night, tally the money up and write out a check to the rescue/shelter you’ve chosen. You had a great time, your friends had a great time, and the shelter will be so thankful.

10. Show off your own Rescue Dog

Have a rescue dog? Show him off! Whenever someone says how cute he is or how well behaved she is tell them about where you adopted them from! They can be an ambassador just like you can!

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Cure that Boredom!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Ready… set… GO!

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Creating Calm

Just do it.
- Nike

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

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

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

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


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

Play Dates

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

All work and no play...

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

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

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




Dog Training and Cat Agility

Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination.

 - Ralph Marston

I’ve finally become one of you…in the trenches.  Dealing with unwanted behavior.  The constantly on the table grabbing for food.  Acting out of control and breaking a lot of things.  Just acting like a terror in general.  The difference is, this is my kitten, Pixel.

This is what karma looks like

This is what karma looks like

Yes, I’ve had these problems with dogs in the past, but I tend to buckle down quickly and focus on addressing these problems.  They subside, if not disappear, entirely within a few days.  Granted, I’ve been training dogs since before I was born, but still, I’ll admit I’ve had it easy when it comes to the general “livability” of my dogs.  Yes, Orion has a nervous bent to him, which I frequently need to Pilot him through, but it’s like night and day compared to how he was when he first joined our herd (I’ve decided since we have 2 cats and 2 kids, it’s not a pack anymore…it’s a herd.  I’m certain Pixel has something to do with my change of mind.)  Yes, Sparta is very dog-reactive, but we manage that very well.  In the house, my pack was a dream to live with.  No destruction, barking only at legitimate (in their mind at least) things, and then immediately ceasing and looking to me for the next step.  Even Echo, my beautiful white cat, was more like a well-behaved dog: coming when I called him, never scratching anything, even tempered.

Then came Pixel.  For those of you who don’t know, Pixel and his sister were both found in the woods by me during one of our Pack Walks.  We decided to keep one.  Some days I wonder if I made the wrong decision.  His sister was so sweet and docile!

Now I’m stuck with this kitten who is becoming a cat.  Yesterday was the last straw.  He had been up on the mantel systematically knocking off all of my plants, killing them and breaking their pots.  I wanted to kill him.

I realized I needed to take a step back.  Deep breaths.  Afterall, he’s just a kitten (although soon to be a cat).  I needed to take my anger and frustration out on him, but decided to do it in a positive way rather than a negative way.  (Note: I still answered his question about the mantel, “No, you can not go up there”, but I still had a LOT of residual anger left over.)  I decided to teach my cat agility.

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

Agility (or any tricks in general) with dogs is awesome because you are asking them to let you Pilot them through a situation for which there is a reward at the end for doing so.  I’ve done it a lot of times all the time with dogs, and when they finally “get” it, it’s a huge burst of positive for both of us.  We are working together as a team.

It works with dogs.  What about cats?  I knew I needed to do something with this little beast other than constantly getting after him.  We started off simply, with a yard stick on the ground, and me literally dragging him over it with his favorite treat, repeating the words “over, over, over” until he made it completely across.  He did it!!! And he loved it!!!!!  I was so proud of him.  After about 5 minutes of this, I was able to start giving him the command without using the treat as bait, only giving it to him when he made it across on his own.

This was awesome!  I was finally able to give this damn sweet kitten some positive reinforcement, even if it was contrived. Who cares! I was psyched and pumped.  I’ve never been able to do agility with a cat before (the thought never, fortunately, crossed my mind).

How many of you out there have dogs who you are at wits end with?  Who when you come home to a new mess, a new bout of barking, new dog reactivity, have had it up to <here> with your dog?  You’ve forgotten that there are indeed positives.  And guess what, if there aren’t, you can create them. Give them a reason for you to be happy and praise them.  If I can wring a positive response from Pixel, you can get one from your dog as well.

So what have I learned about cats vs. dogs? Cats can be trained to tricks much easier than I anticipated. I guess the major differences is that after you get a dog to do the jump, they immediately look at you as if to say, “What’s next?”. A cat looks around and may walk away to find out what’s next. Cats are on autopilot. It can be difficult to keep their attention.  So we worked at it.  Even Echo got into the fun.

Eric (9) teaching Echo the basics of agility.

Eric (9) teaching Echo the basics of agility.

So instead of stewing in my anger and frustration, I’ve decided to boil it off.  Or as I look at it, give me a reason not to kill this kitten.  Today.  But it’s okay…I’ve got enough treats to last through the week.  Then things get iffy.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio
Cat Training in Times of Desperation



Blood(less) Sport

Did perpetual happiness in the Garden of Eden maybe get so boring that eating the apple was justified?

  – Chuck Palahniuk

I think this bored dog is making me sympathetically bored!

I think this bored dog is making me sympathetically bored!

I’ve frequently stated the importance of all three components of the PAW Method (Piloting, Activity and Work).  Keep answering their questions, keep ‘em moving, and keep ‘em thinking.    Pretty simple, yet some people completely gloss of Work.  Your dog needs to think, or, more accurately, your dog needs stress.  Yes, stress!  You add stress to your own life every day!  Stress isn’t a bad thing – when you eliminate it yourself, you create self confidence.  When a child puts together a puzzle.  When you beat a video game.  When my husband beats me at Scrabble (okay…let’s not get unrealistic here).  Basically, any stressful situation you put yourself in that you are able to manage and control, or beat, yourself = self confidence.

Now I want you to think about what a dog’s life is meant to be like.  Hunting their own food.  Those teeth aren’t there for looks, you know.  For that matter, neither is their sense of smell, their powerful chest, their keen hearing…you get the drift.  Like the famous Jurassic Park quote:  T-Rex doesn’t want to be fed, he wants to hunt!  So does your dog.  It’s about time you let them.

Obviously the most perfect way for a dog to get the mental work they need is to let them live in the wild.  It’s also the easiest way for Natural Selection to take over and get your dog killed. So, on to the second easiest way:  enrichment feeding.

I personally work for every meal I consume: I train dogs!  That Guy works (he’s a professional Geek).  Even my kids have to work (setting the table, doing dishes, going to school, etc.).  We all contribute to the basic survival of this house.  It’s about time your dogs do as well.  Contributing is what makes us family.  It’s what makes dogs Pack.

I’ve gathered a list of some of my favorite enrichment toys.  There is no such thing as a free meal for my dogs; I expect them to hunt their own food…in a cruel-free, bloodless sort of homogenized way.   (Note: enrichment feeding is not a good choice for dogs with severe food aggression.)

Northmate Interactive Slow Pet Feeder

Northmate Interactive Slow Pet FeederDisclaimer:  I have never personally used this toy.  One of my clients brought it out during a training session.  I had never seen or heard of it before.  Initially I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever seen.  I mean, it’s just a mat!  I stopped rolling my eyes when she fed her dog with it, though.  Her dog (French Bulldog named Mimi) absolutely adored the thing!  She rooted around through the cones searching for where the food was hiding. I immediately changed my opinion.  I loved it!  Definitely wonderful for slowing your dog down (looking at you, the bloat-prone Labs) and provided quite a bit of mental stimulation. You can buy it here.  Do yourself a favor…buy the large size, regardless of the size of your dog.  PROS:  it’s immobile.  No searching for where your dog left their toy.  . CONS: Though it looked exceptionally promising, I haven’t thoroughly tested it out yet with my own critters.

Kong Wobbler

Kong Wobbler Small2If I’ve trained with you, you’ve seen this before.  It’s durable (I bring it to countless sessions with Rotties, Pitties, etc.) and relatively cheap.  The largest size holds over 3 cups of food, and while it doesn’t require a lot of brains to use, it does require persistence, which is good for all dogs from laid back Mastiffs to hyper JRT’s.  Some dogs don’t like it brand new (let’s face it, it smells like plastic, not food!).  I simply wipe the inside only with peanut butter, and then wipe it all back out.  It leave a PB scent without the risk of mold.  Bon appetit!  You can get your own here.  PROS:  While it can travel, it doesn’t lend itself to rolling very far.  It’s also the easiest to fill/set up.  Most importantly, it’s one of the few toys that’s durable enough for the heavy hitters: Pitties, Rotties, Mastiffs, etc.  CONS:  Some dogs are initially terrified of it.  Okay, maybe it was only my dog.  She tapped it with her paw, it swung backwards, and then swung forward at her, or in Sparta’s words, “It freaking attacked me – I barely made it out with my life!!!!!”   We worked through her fear of the small plastic toy, and it’s now part of Sparta’s regular feeding regime, and she likes it.

Busy Buddies Twist ‘n Feed

busy buddies twist n feedAh…the Busy Buddies Twist ‘n Feed.  Again, if you’ve trained with me, you’ve seen this.  It’s basically two pieces that can be unscrewed or tightened to make it as easy or difficult as you decide.  This is Orion’s favorite toy, as it is small enough for him to manipulate without overwhelming him. It’s also pretty durable.  It comes in many different sizes, the largest of which holds about a cup or more of food.  Get it here.   PROS: It can be used with wet food or a raw diet as well. Simply smear the food on one of the halves, screw the top down as far as you want, and have at.  It’s also dishwasher safe (top shelf).  CONS: Some dogs find this tremendously easy (JRT’s and Border Collies). Doesn’t hold a tremendous amount of food (it takes three fill-ups per meal for Sparta).

Busy Buddies Kibble Nibble

eastereggPaws down, Sparta’s favorite choice. Mine as well.  The bottom half hold 3 cups of food, the perfect amount for my behemoth of a dog.  It doesn’t roll too far, and is easily managed by my timid dog.  Also, it doesn’t spray food everywhere like some enrichment toys can.  It comes in different sizes, and is dishwasher safe. Safe for most dogs.  PROS: Perfect for larger breed dogs who require larger servings per meal. Get yours here. CONS: The toy is extremely difficult as-is.  We snip the plastic “claws” from the top and bottom holes, making it easier for the food to come out. The top can also be a bit difficult to thread to the bottom.  Of course I’m talking at 5:30 a.m. when I wake up, so, uh…it could be me.

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

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

One toy is good.  Two is better.  Three is awesome.  You get the idea.  But if your dog only works one of these toys, that’s fine.  Just get them thinking. Let them hunt.  NOTE: Do not leave these toys out at all times.  Feeding time is feeding time.  It’s not an hours-long Roman feast.  Eat now or forever hold your peace (or at least until the next meal).  Sparta gets 20 minutes to eat.  I put the food down, go do something else, come back and pick up the toy.  Usually she’s done.  However, if she’s still trying to bat it around, I’ll give her more time with it.  If she’s ignoring it, I pick it up and we’re done with that meal.  She doesn’t always finish all of the food, but she has plenty of time to eat as much as she wants.

I hope I don’t need to state this, but water should be available 24/7.  A dog can go three days without water.  They can go 3+/- weeks without food.  I don’t mess with water.

Now, some of you may state that your dog won’t work the toys.  Um, yes they will.  Given proper incentive (hunger), they will.  There’s nothing wrong with hunger…it drives us.  Offer the enrichment toys during the regular feeding times.  If they won’t work with the toy, pick it up after 20 minutes.  No, you aren’t starving your dog.  Now, if they can’t work the toy, that’s different.  For example, Sparta being afraid of the Kong Wobbler.  There’s no way I was going to force her to work with something she was terrified of.  So we worked through it together.  If your dog can’t figure it out, or is afraid of it, help them, make it easier, or get another toy.  If they won’t work it, oh well.  Try again next feeding.  Don’t cave in and give them their food in the bowl.

Remember, the object is to make them think.  Work is a natural part of any animal’s life, including yours!  Mental workouts keep us sharp and able to handle real problems.  Give your dog the opportunity to flex their mental muscle.  You may be surprised at your dog’s adeptness with the feeders.

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