Her Name is Wendy

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

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

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

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

Alias: Get Back Here

Alias: Get Back Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They need Wendy.

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

 

Stranger Danger

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.

Shirley MacLaine

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

“My dog is aggressive towards strangers.

“My dog is fearful.”

“My dog is skittish.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog training in Cleveland, Ohio

Just a Bit Off the Top

  Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.

   – Thomas Merton

aggressive-dog

If you know anything about Darwin Dogs, you know that we don’t cotton much to extremes of any kind.  Extreme thinking is, well…rather extreme.  Not every behavior issue can be resolved with a click and a treat, and not every dog behavior requires a shock collar.  There is plenty of room for moderate, balanced training.

A few years ago I was presented with a very difficult dog named Chex to train.  Chex’s owner was very forthcoming with the issues.  He bit.  Everyone.  And not just a nip, it was all out aggression.  His owner, we’ll call her Annie, was concerned because she had already had another trainer out there.  I assured Annie that it was a situation that could be worked with.

I walked in the door and met Annie’s partner, Susan.  Susan was being followed by a very docile looking Border Collie mix.  This looked so much easier than what I had been preparing for!

“Oh, this isn’t Chex!  This is Sadie, my dog”, Susan informed me.  “Annie is in back with Chex.  She wanted to make sure you were safely here before she brought him out.”  Great.   I asked her to bring out Chex.

Out came a writhing 35 pound mass of dog, dragging his owner at the end of a harness.  Chex was out for blood. There was an intruder in the house (me!) and Chex felt the need to let everyone know that this wasn’t okay, and the situation was dire!

This is what Chex looked like to me.  Only a little less stable.

This is what Chex looked like to me. Only a little less stable.

Chex was in full-out panic mode.  His choices of flight or fight having been reduced by the fact he was restrained by a leash, he went all out on fight.  I knew I had to get him under control as quickly as possible.  That’s where I made a mistake.  See, Chex was on a harness.

Harness. n
1. an arrangement of leather straps buckled or looped together, fitted to an animal in order that the animal can be attached to and pull an item more easily and efficiently, such as a cart, or a human.

A harness offers no control (read: safety) for a human.  The dog is able to go teeth first towards whatever item they want.  That’s one of the reasons we use collars, so when held at arm’s length, a dog can’t put teeth to flesh quite as easily.  Unfortunately, Chex was looking for any place to put teeth, making this a very dangerous situation.  My choices:  ask them to take him into the back room again and put a collar on him that I had, or simply take the dog and work with him immediately, knowing full well I’d probably take a bite.

Of course I chose the latter.

As Annie tried to hand Chex over, he jumped up and bit me on the thigh.  It took some effort, but I managed to disengage him from my leg and kept him at arm’s length while using my body language to keep him from connecting.  After “dancing” with him for about 5 minutes, he calmed down enough for me to have his owners place the safety collar around his neck, and then we went for a walk.

The aftermath.  I called this bite The Eye of Sauron because of how it bruised.  Yes, I name any bites I receive. Hobby needed - pronto.

The aftermath. I called this bite The Eye of Sauron because of how it bruised. Yes, I name any bites I receive. Hobby needed – pronto.

Chex tried to attack me at least 5 more times during our walk.  I maintained calm boredom in between attacks, but when he did attack, I gave him a negative answer.  You simply can’t put a positive spin on, “Can I attack you now?”.  The answer must be a negative, and it must be given clearly.  The first attack inside the house was the worst, and resulted in an impressive bite.  By the time he attacked for the 5th time, it was a half-hearted attempt on his part…at best.  After our 10 minute walk, Chex and I went back into the house to meet with his astonished owners.  I explained to them that Chex was trying to protect them from everything.  He was actually a very frightened dog.  Nobody made him that way. Dogs have personalities, too, and they run from Hippie to Rambo, just like we all do.  Let’s just say that Chex wouldn’t have been caught dead at Woodstock.

Rambo_DogAnnie and Susan were amazing.  They understood how important it was for them to get this right.  Their dog wasn’t attacking people because he was a jerk – he was frightened!  After explaining the need for positive and negative reinforcement, and the proper times to give each, I took Annie on a walk.  We passed by a crazy old woman with her dog  off-leash lunging at us – a situation that would have set Chex to nuke-mode.  Chex merely eyeballed the other dog, eyeballed the old woman (who yelled at us for walking our dog on the sidewalk in front of her house and thereby making her dog go ballistic).  It was extremely anti-climatic from Chex’s and Annie’s point of reference.

After our session, they mentioned the other trainer they had gone through.  It was a click-n-treater.  Positive only.  They said she came in for 1/2 hour and was greeted with the same reaction from Chex that I had been treated to.  She refused to go near Chex, and proceeded to diagnose him from a distance.  Her expert opinion?

He’s bi-polar.  Oh, and probably had a bad past life.  That’ll be $75 for the visit, please and thank you.

I’ve heard from Annie since our session.  She said he’s a different dog now.  She answers his questions, and he doesn’t seem fearful any more.  He’s a dog now, instead of a mess of teeth and hate.

I train dogs.  I don’t train puddles of pudding with no personality.  Each dog I work with has a definite personality, from the “No-No Bad Dogs” to the heavy hitters like Chex.  The object is to retain the dog’s personality, but moderate it to accommodate a human world.  The “No-No Bad Dogs” need to have their questions answered (“Can I jump? Can I race around the house knocking things over?”) just as much as the Chex dogs do (“Should I attack that person before they attack us?”).  The nuance is not to create a robot in the process.  Chex is still Chex.  He hasn’t been turned in to a perfect little machine covered in fur.  He has his personality intact.  We’ve just skimmed the unsavory stuff from the top, and left the happy, mischievous dog in place.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs

Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

No Other Option

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

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

Technically speaking, there is more than fight or flight. 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

– Brittany Graham Photography

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

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

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

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

More meerkatting by the inventors of the sport.

More meerkatting by the inventors of the sport.

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

Congratulations!  You have successfully Piloted your dog.

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

And remember:

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

 

Admiration to Owners of Anxious Dogs

 

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

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

 

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

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

Should I run away? No?

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

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

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

What about those dogs?? All a no?

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Here’s why I admire this owner:

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2648

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

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

Keep calm and pilot on

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

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

 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

- Benjamin Franklin

flag-dog_650x366

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

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

Patches had been hit and killed by a car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow

There’s always tomorrow, right?  And tomorrow has a tomorrow, too! – My Cousin Becky

Sparta and I had a huge challenge this morning.  I took Orion for his usual hike separately because he can go for about 5 miles.  Sparta’s good for about two and that’s it.  (I’ve lost a lot of weight since getting two dogs, needless to say.)  Today I had a late start, and Sparta and I didn’t hit the trail until close to 11:00 this morning.  So Sparta and I went to the Metroparks where there is a 1/4 mile track at the top of a hill.  One of my favorite places, actually.  Peaceful, quiet, and nobody around.  Just as Sparta and I got started, a car pulls up.  Out pops a German Shepherd (offl-leash) and her two owners. They headed right for the center of the track.

Now, if this had been Orion with me, I’d have been annoyed, but not concerned.  Sparta, though, is extremely dog-reactive.  Sparta went on red alert immediately, but I was able to Pilot her right back down to calm.  The Shepherd and her owners may have had their dog off-leash, but I don’t think the dog realized it. The dog was focused on everything the owners said and did.  It soon became obvious that they were training heavily with her, because they immediately went into practice mode: calling the Shepherd (Amber) and then having Amber stop and sit halfway to the human calling her.  I’d like to say it was fun to watch them work with her.  I’d like to say I could have shared in the exhilaration of watching Amber succeed.

Unfortunately, I had to be ultra-focused on Sparta.  She was rapid firing questions at me, and if I missed answering one, she would enter her panic mode, which some people refer to as “red zone”.  You know it.  I’m sure you’ve seen dogs do it before.  On two legs, lunging, snapping, growling at what they deem a threat.  Not a big deal if you have a Chihuahua, but Sparta is 100 lbs of muscle.  I had just finished a death march with Orion.  I was tired!

I focused on Sparta and answered her most pressing question:  Is that other dog a threat?

Some people get angry or frustrated when their dog asks the same question more than once, but I want you to look at it through your dog’s eyes.  Sparta is a Rottie/Shep.  Her parents both came from prime European stock (and both owners were ignorant enough not to have their dogs fixed, or at least under lock and key when the female went into heat).  Thus I have Sparta.  Each of her parents were worth thousands of dollars because of their pedigree.  She was worth an adoption fee because she’s a mutt.  But I digress.  Stupid dog owners have that effect on me.

Sparta’s parents were both bred for protection (*eye roll*).  That was it.  Sparta, being true to her nature, sees a potential threat (another predator).  That’s like a Border Collie seeing sheep but being told it’s never supposed to herd them.  A Lab being told it’s never ever supposed to go in the water.  In other words, I’m asking her to travel outside of who she is.  What she was meant to do.  What every fiber in her body is telling her: that the other dog is a potential threat that must be investigated.

To put it in human terms, imagine being thrust into a haunted house.  You know, the kind you pay a lot of money for so you can prove to your friends that you didn’t wet your pants. Now imagine nobody told you it was a charade.  You just suddenly ended up in one, and you’d never even heard of such a thing as a haunted house before!  You would be terrified.  Your friend who came with you keeps trying to tell you that’s it’s okay.  You’re trying to calm down, and listen to what they have to say, but OMG WHAT THE #$&!#&@!!! IS THAT THING OVER THERE?!!!!!!

Would you stop asking if you were safe after you were answered the first time?  Probably not.  What about the second?  How many times would you need to be reassured while going through the house?  Some of us may take quite a little while (*raising my hand*).  I would need constant reassurance from whomever I deemed the human “pilot” of this encounter.  I’d have to have a lot of faith in my friend that they were right.

That’s what your dog is going through if they’re dog-reactive.  It isn’t just another dog to them…it’s a potential threat.  Another predator.  They are truly terrified, for your safety, for theirs…it’s a stressful situation.  They aren’t trying to be bad, just as you weren’t trying to be difficult through the haunted house.

I’m not saying that you can’t get frustrated.  I sure get frustrated with Sparta.  I call her some very impressive names (I had inmates in the prison dog program keeping track of my swear words, as they were deemed “excessively creative”).  But here’s the thing: yes, I’ll call her names, but in a calm, bored voice.  I feel a release of stress, and she just sees me as speaking in my normal voice.  My body language doesn’t look stressed or angry.  I fake calm if I have to, but I will be Sparta’s Pilot.  If in order to fake calm I need to take a step back, then fine.  Rather than continuing to walk the track, I could have walked the parking lot.  I decided to go for the gold instead.

Today was trying at first.  But we did it.  We continued our walk.  It took us almost an hour to go 1 mile.  The first lap alone took us almost 30 minutes.  But I kept answering her questions.  I let her know that no matter what crazy things that dog was doing, it didn’t involve us.  The 4th and final lap took 6 minutes.

It can be hard to see outside of the present situation.  But compare.  Just because she isn’t perfect in a situation such as that doesn’t mean she isn’t making tremendous progress.  Yes, she’ll still be a $#&@*(!!!, but that’s a step down from what I was calling her 6 months ago.  And 2 years ago I could have been arrested in some countries for the names I was calling her.

Sparta is a work in progress, and always will be, just like me.  And every tomorrow is a chance to be better than yesterday.  Sparta and I will work on tomorrow together, because I love that little $#&#*!!!, despite her flaws.  The same way she loves me.

 Brittany Graham Photography


Brittany Graham Photography

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

Walking Terror

Terror made me cruel.
- Emily Brontë Wuthering Heights

As I’ve mentioned previously, dogs are binary creatures:  everything is “yes” or “no” to them.  Just as I can give you a precise location on this planet using only latitude and longitude, “yes” and “no” help a dog safely navigate their surroundings.  It helps them identify threats (either you are a threat or you aren’t).  Unfortunately, this system can result in terrifying encounters.

For example, Sparta, (my crazy beloved shepherd/rottie mix) is very dog-reactive.   For instance, a walk for us might play out like this in her mind:

There’s something up there.  It looks like a dog.  Is it pack/safe?
No.
Is it a potential threat?
Yes.
Should I make it go away?
Yes.

And that right there is dog reactivity in a nutshell.  If I don’t answer her questions, she has to come up with her own answers which are always the wrong answer.  So I Pilot her. When she’s asking an important question (“Is it a threat?”) and trying to cipher it out for herself, her body language changes.  Her ears go stiff.  Her forehead wrinkles between her ears.  Tail goes straight up.  She’s about to answer a question for herself, and that’s bad.

Total protonic reversal.  Or in layman’s terms, she flips her lid.

So I Pilot her by answering her questions (learn how here), and we have a nice walk. I don’t always know what question she’s asking in specific, but that doesn’t preclude me from answering “no” anyway.  When I see her tail go straight up, and she stands almost on her toes, head up, that posture means something….she’s asking a question.

We call it "meerkat-ing" or "prairie dogging"

We call that posture “meerkat-ing” or “prairie dogging”

If I start craning my head around to see what she’s asking about, now I’m meerkatting, too!  I don’t care what question she’s asking about.  All of her senses are better than mine, so it could be anything from the man across the street to a butterfly flapping its wings in China.  I don’t need to know what the question is…the answer is “no”.

Now, if I catch Sparta’s questions early enough, the answer is easier for her to accept.  Rather than letting her energy build and build to unmanageable conditions before I answer her questions, I answer them the moment she asks them.  In other words, I’m giving her the respect she deserves by answering a (legitimate) question she’s asking, rather than ignoring her or punishing her for even asking a question.  I am Sparta’s Pilot.  She has every right to ask a question and not get punished.  Answering questions should involve body language, not pain.  Remember, your dog is not bad.  She’s merely asking a question.

Prong collar designed so people can't see you're using a prong collar.

In this case, I truly hope you are missing the point.

So now you’ve been putting these practices in use with your reactive dog.  Walks are so much easier now.  You still have to Pilot them a lot, but your dog’s questions are getting easier and easier to answer because your dog is starting to trust your answers.  Piloting is like a big piggy bank: whomever has the most money wins.  You take money out of your dog’s bank and put it into yours every time you answer one of your dog’s questions. The easy questions your dog asks (“Do I turn left here?”) are almost nothing to answer at all.  Even the harder questions (“Can I chase that squirrel?”) that require more “money” are not nearly the problem they were previously.  But then Something Big Happens.  A question that requires all the Piloting money you’ve been hoarding in your Piloting Piggy Bank.

An off-leash dog comes rushing at you.

Okay.  You can deal with this.   Those same three steps I’ve been going on and on about in previous posts?  Yeah, they’re going to come in handy right about now.  Let’s review:

1) Control yourself.  Yes, this is a terrifying situation.  Acknowledge it for what it is, and move on.  Don’t add energy by yelling, screaming, shouting or flailing your arms about like a windmill.  Calm, confident body language (stand up straight and square your shoulders).  Your dog needs you to be calm.  Now shut up and do it!

Listen to Liz.  She knows.  Except maybe skip the lipstick and drink until after it's all over.

Listen to Liz. She knows. Except maybe skip the lipstick and drink until after it’s all over.

2.) Control the situation.  Meaning, don’t bite off more than you can chew.  Um, yeah.  This one’s going to be a little tougher, but can still be done.  Controlling the situation means you have to respond to the rapid-fire questions your dog is asking, hopefully before the other dog gets to you.  If your dog hits Defcon 6 while the dog is still at a distance, well, you try your damnedest  to control the current situation, while the dog is still coming at you. Your dog WILL ask questions about that other dog.  In Sparta’s case, it’s:

“Permission to engage?  May I engage the enemy? Can I pursue offensive maneuvers?”

all done one after another, like dominoes falling.  She’s like a Klingon defending her honor at Warf speed.

Okay... a bit much, but you get the picture.

Okay… a bit much, but you get the picture.

3)  Add Stimulation.   In other words, what are you going to do? Well, you have a few options:

Look around for the owner. Tell them (don’t ask, tell them) to call their dog off.  A statement from them that their dog is friendly is not an acceptable response.  I’ve heard a lot of people say a lot of things in response when presented with the “my dog is friendly” routine, from “but my dog isn’t!” or “he’s in training”, etc., one of the responses I’ve always found that works is, “my dog is still contagious!”.  Yes, it works.  I found out a few weeks ago from my father-in-law that many years ago he and I were out walking Sparta (who is notoriously dog-reactive), and a person with a dog at the end of a retractable leash, fully extended, came rushing at us.  Apparently I shouted out to the person, “My dog isn’t friendly, and neither am I!”.  I have no memory of this incident, but quite honestly, it sounds like something I would indeed say. I asked my FIL if it worked, and he said they spun around and took their dog in another direction.

Gauge if it’s safe to let them meet.  If the owner isn’t around, or isn’t doing much to control their dog, sometimes it’s easier to just let the dogs meet.  Try to read the other dog’s body language. Does it seem more like a “No-No Bad Dog”, or is it a Cujo? Typically dogs merely want to get information from the other dog (as in a derriere sniff). Rarely is a dog out for your blood, especially if you not letting your dog boil over. If you choose to go ahead and let them meet, be aware that your dog will be taking cues from you as to how to react.  You WILL be calm.  Your dog is counting on you, remember?

Use your body language.  Get between your dog and the oncoming dog, essentially body-blocking the dog.  Your dog sees that you are protecting them.  The other dog sees you giving the universal body language for “mine”.  I’ve done this with much success in the past, but you must make sure you feel safe to do this.

Protect your dog by whatever means necessary.  I have had to kick a dog off my dog in the past, and I did it as hard as I could.  The leash laws are on your side.  No, I don’t get my jollies by injuring another animal, but if it means protecting mine, I’ll do whatever it takes.   If the dogs have engaged aggressively, it’s about making sure you’re safe first, and your dog second.  You have every right to protect your dog.  Let me repeat that: you have my permission to protect your dog.  Just make sure you can do it safely. Don’t reach between them with your hand.  Kick with your foot (sole first, like you’re stomping a bug, and then IMMEDIATELY remove your foot like it was burned) use whatever you have around  you, from garbage can lids to a fallen branch.  I’ve heard of someone taking off their jacket and “whipping” the other dog with it until the dog latched on to her jacket instead of her Pomeranian- it’s all about keeping your wits about you.

And remember, an ounce of prevention….

- Carry a stick, umbrella, anything that may help you fend off a dog.

- If you have a certain dog in your neighborhood that frequently roams, call the police. Have it logged somewhere that the dog has been at large in the past.  You may need that evidence in the future.

- Avoid the area if you know there’s a loose dog.  Common sense, yes, but I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “Well it’s my neighborhood and I should be able to walk where I want!”….and your little Fifi is going to be mauled just so you can prove your point.  Your dog comes first, your ego comes second.

 Remember, control yourself, control the situation, add stimulation. Pilot your dog. Answer their questions, and you will get through this ordeal.  And when you get home, pour yourself that drink.

Just don't eat the dates

Just don’t eat the dates

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

The Real Story

Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy. 

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Remayah, aged 5

Remayah, aged 5

A little girl was mauled over the weekend in Florida.  Little 5-year old Ramayah was outside riding her bike when the neighbor’s dog rushed up and attacked her.  Little girl would have been brutally ripped apart if it weren’t for one thing:  her own dog rescued her.  Does the breed of dog matter to you?  Okay, fine, it was a pit bull.  No…not the dog who attacked the girl – the dog who saved the little girl’s life.  The attacking dog was a lab mix.  Is it important?  No.  Here’s why:

A little girl was mauled.

That’s it.  That’s the most important story.  Not what great dog pit bulls are and look how it saved that little girl’s life.  A dog saved his little girl’s life.  Furthermore, the attacking dog that authorities are claiming was a Lab mix?  Well…does it matter?

Another child was mauled.

Obviously a great debt is owed to little Remayah’s family pet.  After all, Remayah might very well not be here today if it weren’t for the bravery that the dog showed in defending his little girl.  Am I glad that it was a pit bull who was defending his little girl against the other dog?  No.

Because a little girl’s face is now disfigured.

I think there is a bit of a problem if someone takes the fact that a pit bull was the defender, and a Lab was the aggressor, as the main rallying point in this story.  That’s inconsequential.  If it takes an attack from another like this to show that pit bulls are not vicious and are bravely loyal companions, well, we already knew that.  And it’s not always the case, as we read here.  Sometimes pit bulls can indeed maul.  They are, after all, dogs.  Just like the Lab who attacked in this situation.  Dog is a dog is a dog is a dog, as Gertrude Stein might say.  So instead of turning this story into the glory that is pit bull, let me distill this into what actually happened:

WPTV-labrador-bite-victim_1416181004701_9626788_ver1.0_640_480

A little girl was physically and emotionally traumatized when an unsecured dog attacked her.  Her own dog defended her, most likely preventing her from certain death. 

That is the take-away.  That is the real story.  The story is about a little girl whose name is Remayah, who will never be the same.  It is not  a story about glorifying pit bulls.  It’s about glorifying a little child’s dog, who bravely charged to her rescue.  More importantly, it’s about safety.  Why this never should have happened to begin with.

Who is at at fault?  Certainly not 5-year old Remayah, who was merely riding her bike.  What about the Lab?  Is it the Lab’s fault for trying to protect his own pack and family from what he obviously took as a threat?  You may automatically condemn the Lab for attacking the girl, but a child whirring up and down the street on a bike can indeed be a very scary thing for a dog.  No, I seriously doubt the Lab could have even been deemed “aggressive”, as you will read here.  It was most likely trying to protect his home, which is an intrinsic right for any living creature.

The fault belongs squarely on the shoulders of the Lab’s owner(s).  Any dog is can be a living weapon and must be secured at all times, including a Lab.  Also, in my experience (which isn’t minute), a dog does not just one day wake up and start exhibiting reactions to kids on bikes like this.  Questions had probably been asked by this dog for quite a while, giving the owners some indication that this was indeed a dog who needed to be more than adequately secured.  “I thought I had locked him up”, is not an acceptable answer, no more than “I thought I had put my car in ‘Park’”, just after it rolls down the driveway and crushes a child riding a bike.  It’s not the vehicle’s fault.  It’s not the dog’s fault.

So, at this point I’m sure some of you are angry that I didn’t make a bigger deal about the hero dog being a pit bull.  Honestly, I’m not surprised that it was a pittie doing the rescuing, and the amount of gratitude I have for that dog is tremendous.  He saved a little girl. They are great dogs, just like every other dog.   Faithful, loyal, and loving.

“With my last breath, I’ll exhale my love for you. I hope it’s a cold day, so you can see what you meant to me.
”  – Jarod Kintz

But that’s not the story here.

Because a little girl was mauled.  That’s the real story.

If you would like to donate towards Remayah’s recovery, please check out this link.

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

 

http://www.gofundme.com/hcyjzo

Point Taken Quite Literally

 It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.

J. C. Watts

Dog-Sad-Depressed-SickMy neighbor two houses over and I have a nodding acquaintance.  She happens to own a rather large mastiff mix who I just think is the cat’s meow.  He’s big, sweet, and goofy.  He does have a small problem with other dogs, though, and is prone to barking at them and lunging.  No, I’ve never mentioned to my neighbor that I train dogs – it always strikes me as rude and presumptuous.  At this stage in my life, I realize that those who want help will seek it.

And seek it she did.  A few weeks ago I looked out my window to see that there was a gentleman in her front yard working with her to train her dog.  I was pleased – the dog would no longer be frightened of other dogs (which, as I explain here,  is the real reason the dog was reacting so badly).

But then I was horrified.

They were using a prong collar on the dog.  And lifting him off the ground with it. I watched out my window as this dog was having pain inflicted upon it merely for the simple act of being afraid of another dog.  The trainer had brought another little dog with him as bait, the same thing I do with Orion.  Every time the larger dog would show any interest in the bait dog, the larger dog was held aloft by the prong collar.  The worst thing was that this dog wasn’t even too terribly dog-reactive.  He had a simple question:  “Is that other dog a threat?” , and every time he even asked the question, instead of receiving an answer, he was stabbed by the collar all around his neck.

Kinda like my gently placing barbed wire around your neck and then suspending you by it.

Prong collar designed so people can't see you're using a prong collar.

Prong collar designed so people can’t see you’re using a prong collar.

I desperately wanted to say or do something, but I realized that wasn’t the time to do it.  Anything I could say would like like, at best professional jealousy.  At worst, I could come across as an extremist.  So I waited a few days.

The next time I saw the dog outside with his owner, I approached the owner and made the usual small talk.  Finally I broached the real reason I was there.  I asked if she was comfortable using the prong collar, because there were a lot less stressful ways to work with a dog that don’t inflict pain upon them.  She gave the me the usual rhetoric that it doesn’t really hurt them.  I chose a different tact, asking if she were even strong enough to life the dog off the ground with it.  She claimed that she didn’t do that, it wasn’t necessary.  I looked down at the dog, who was still wearing that offensive thing.  She wasn’t even using it “just to train”.  She was keeping it on him 24/7.  Meaning every time he would lay his head down, there would be that familiar prick in his neck.  Every time he turned his head, that familiar scrape of mettle across his flesh would be felt.  I realize at this point anything I said would fall on deaf ears.  I wished her luck with her training and left.

To be honest, I don’t have anything personally against prong collars.  I think they are an effective tool in working with dogs when used properly.  But that’s the problem.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen one used properly.  They are meant to be tugged and then released in a microsecond, causing a “tap” of a bite all around the dog’s neck, not a “my throat is being ripped open” sensation.  I cannot always use them properly.  Therefore I will never personally use one

There is no added measure of security with a prong collar: they only tighten so far.  You can’t actually incapacitate a very dangerous animal with one, say, if a dog were literally ripping another dog apart, or if a dog had such a high prey drive that it was dragging you across a busy intersection towards a rabbit on the other side of the road.  All a prong collar does in those situations is add more stress (and pain!) to an already stressful situation.

For safety’s sake I always use a nylon slip lead.  I never leave it on the dog; it stays on the leash at all times.  And if you’ve ever trained with me, you know my mantra:  if you choke your dog with it, you’re a jerk.  That’s not why they’re used.  I prefer them for a couple reasons:

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- If something horrific happens, say, Fido gets terribly spooked and tries to flee into oncoming traffic, or is aggressive and decides he need to cross that intersection right now, sometimes there’s nothing you can do.  Rather than allow him to be killed by a car, I would keep the slip lead as tight as I could make it, forcing him to lose blood and oxygen, and he goes down.  He’s hurt really bad, but not dead. Again, this is only in a life or death situation. 

- More importantly, the main reason I use slip leads is because I’ve had dogs get out of every form of collar out there, from harnesses to martingales.  Some dogs have awkwardly shaped heads and not much stays around their necks (greyhounds, for instance).  Other dogs are just Houdinis getting out of everything (pugs, dachshunds and terriers).  No matter what, it’s my job to keep my dog safe.  That means leashed at all times.

So, next question: how do you use a slip lead correctly?  A flick of your wrist.  That’s it.  For a lot of dogs I work with I merely tap the leash with my finger, causing a tapping sensation on the collar, akin to tapping someone on the shoulder to get their attention.  Never constant tension.  

The important thing to understand is that Fido has a question that still needs to be answered:  “Is that other dog a threat?”  Pain from a prong collar certainly does not answer that question.  Neither does a tap from a slip lead.  The slip lead is utilized the same way tapping someone on the shoulder is: to get them to look at you.  Remember, dogs are based upon body language.  If you have something to say to them, they have to be looking at you to see your answer.  Tap the leash, they look up, and they see your body language:  No, Fido, that other dog isn’t a threatRead here for exactly how to do it.

Back to the prong collar that my poor neighbor dog is wearing.  His owner may not even realize how painful it is to him.  For every ounce of force she puts on the prong collar, he feels it multiplied by ten on his neck.  She’s completely removed from the amount of damage she’s inflicting upon him, sort of like the President pushing the “nuke button”.  It’s just the simple pressing of a button to him, but the effects are far beyond that little bit of effort.  The input isn’t the same as the output.  I do not feel that a human should ever be so far removed from what they are doing to their dog.  I know exactly how much force I’m putting into the slip lead because I can feel it on my end.  It’s equal from me to him. There’s no barbs on the end of it.  I’m not keeping it engaged and tight.  More importantly, I’m answering my dog’s questions with body language rather than causing them pain for even asking the question to being with.

Every time I look out that window and see that poor dog trying to relax in the yard while wearing a prong collar, my heart breaks.  That’s not about Piloting your dog: that’s about dominating your dog.  I don’t ever feel the need to have such power over the pain my dog can feel.  I can’t dominate my dog Sparta – she’s 100 lbs. of muscle!  All I can do is Pilot her through the questions she may have, and make sure she has enough faith and trust in me to trust my answers to her questions.

Sparta

Sparta

No, I will never answer Sparta’s questions with violence.  I’m her Pilot because she trusts me.  And you can’t force trust with metal prongs.

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