When the Levee Breaks

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

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Orion peed on the floor last week.

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

I took Sparta for a walk.

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

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

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

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

Or as I refer to it, The Fountain of Youth

Or as I refer to it, The Fountain of Youth

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

So what should I have done?

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

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

giphy (12)


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

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

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

giphy (13)I get this.

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

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





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

Saint Francis de Sales

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

Picard would have been calm...just sayin'

Picard would have been calm…just sayin’

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

1. Control yourself

2. Control the situation

3. Answer your dog’s question(s)

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


Easy to say, sometimes not so easy to do.

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

Let it go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the full video of the trials see below:

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

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


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

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




The Buddy System

 It’s so much more friendly with two- A.A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

If you pull up any article that starts with “The 5 Best Ways To Motivate Yourself To (Insert Hobby Here: Run, Lose Weight, Start Yoga, Learn to Knit, etc.)” usually, somewhere on that list is this advice: Don’t do it alone, grab a friend to go with you.

So guess what I’m going to tell you is a great way to start working on your walking skills:

Don’t do it alone! Grab a friend to go with you!

Doing a Pack Walk of 2 (or 4 once you add in the four legged ones) is extremely beneficial.

Make sure you go with someone that you’re comfortable with. It needs to be someone who has similar ideas on walking as you and is also a good Pilot for their dog. The main ingredient here is to choose someone that you can offer advice to and who can take advice from you. We’re not perfect and we need other people to help us out.


Brittany Graham Photography


Here are the top 5 reasons you should grab someone else, along with their dog, and go on a walk:

      1. You’ll feel more motivated to actually get out there

-          Right now, it’s freezing out. It’s dark. It’s pretty much miserable. However, if someone else is counting on you to show up, then you’re more likely to get out there and get your pup for a walk. Even though it’s gross out, your dog still needs his activity. This is a great way to make sure everyone gets outside and gets the activity they need. If someone else is counting on you, you’re more likely to go.

       2. You’ll be working on building your pack

-          When dogs go on a walk together, they become pack. By walking next to another dog and their owner, answering your pup’s questions (Is that dog walking right next to us a threat? No, Porter, no he’s not. Oh, okay, can I play with him then? Nope, not right now.) You’re making your dog accept the other dog as part of the pack. He will start to realize that this other dog isn’t so bad and you can all walk together in a leisurely manner. This builds on his social interaction skills along with trusting your Piloting.

        3.  You have someone to talk to when you decide your dog is being a jerk

-          Recently, Porter and I did our own little mini pack walk with my friend Karis and her dog, James Franco. When Porter was being difficult on the walk it was nice to turn to someone and say, “What a jerk right?” Instead of just being by yourself, talking to your dog, and letting people think you’re crazy. But, in all seriousness, it’s nice to have someone who can agree, let you know you’re not alone in how you feel, and move on. You don’t have to keep it inside and there’s a certain amount of comfort in knowing you’re not the only one who has these issues.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

        4. You can switch dogs when yours is being too difficult

-          This is KEY. When your dog is really getting on your nerves, and you’re starting to get frustrated, switch dogs. You’ll be amazed at the difference. It’s easier for someone else to walk your dog than you. It’s also easier for you to walk someone else’s dog. Why? Because there’s less history. Your friend has given your dog less love and affection than you have. It won’t be perfect at first of course, but switching dogs allows you to focus on another dog that you don’t feel as emotionally connected with. Which means you’ll be less frustrated and able to focus on your Piloting skills. And you’ll see their results right away.

Karis and I switched dogs on our walk and it was great. She got a break from her 9 month old border collie and I got a break from Porter. Now, if you have a dog reactive dog like I do, just be aware of your surroundings. I saw a dog ahead of us that was on a retractable (friends don’t let friends use retractable leashes, by the way), so I asked Karis if she was comfortable walking Porter by the other dog or not.

She was honest and said that she wasn’t comfortable with that yet, so we switched dogs back. No big deal. You can switch dogs as much and as many times as you want and whenever you want. Keep it interesting, but also keep it within your comfort zone.

         5. You’ll want to go again

-          Going on a walk with someone else is fun! You can catch up on each other’s lives. You can complain about your dogs. You can talk about the latest episodes or bounce new ideas off of each other.


What all that talking does is, makes you forget about your dog. Your instincts will kick in and you’ll think less and just do. And the time will fly by. You won’t realize you’ve already gone on an hour walk. The whole experience will be more enjoyable which means you’ll want to go again. And once you make plans with your walking Partner, you’re back to reason #1: because someone will be counting on you to show up.

So, find someone out there that you can pair up with and get your Activity on. It will benefit you and your pup. Walking is so important for your dog. We know it’s hard to be motivated once the sun seems to be in slumber for a while and the weather is not enjoyable. But this is a great way to keep yourself motivated and work on those Piloting skills!

Keep calm and pilot on

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

A Little Less Thinking

Your mind knows only some things. Your inner voice, your instinct, knows everything. If you listen to what you know instinctively, it will always lead you down the right path. – Henry Winkler

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Recently, I had a walking session with a client, Jen. Jen and her adorable French Bulldog Mimi, were having some issues with dog reactivity on the walk and wanted to focus on making it a more enjoyable experience for the both of them. (Check out our series on walking here to get some refresher tips!) I asked a few questions about what happens when another dog is seen on their daily walks. Jen answered in respect to how Mimi would react. This is a perfectly logical way to answer the question and at the time, it was exactly what I was looking for.

But then, I had a light bulb moment. I asked Jen: how do you react when you see a dog coming towards you. I expected the answer of: I tense up and get nervous. The answer I received was: I am thinking about every step I need to take. When I need to answer the question that the other dog is not a threat, when I’ll slam the door, how I’m going to handle if she continues to react. And I realized, yes that is also making her tense and nervous, but there’s only so many times we can say “fake it until you make it”. So I tried to view the problem as more concrete. So, my response to her was: follow your instincts and let your body do the work.

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

What Jen was doing, what I do, and what I’m sure a lot of you do, is think too much. We think about our next move with our reactive dogs.

When will I slam the door?

What if the dog goes around to the left, then what?

How will the other dog react?

When will I keep moving again?

Guess what, we’re psyching ourselves out, making ourselves rigid, and just plain using our brains too much. You know what you have to do.

Answer the question: Is this dog a threat?

Slam the door: Nope, Fido, I need you to focus on me right now and not the other dog, so we’re going to stop our forward movement and take a minute to regroup.

Keep moving if the dog is in a stagnant place: We’re moving past the point of built up energy, instead of containing it all in a small area

Deep breath, and move on

We know. If someone asked, we’d be able to tell them hands down what to do. So your brain knows it, it’s time to let your body follow through on it naturally. Trust your instincts. There’s a reason you’ve been working on these skills for so long. It’s muscle memory now, so let your muscles take over.

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

The other day, while on a hike with Porter, we were starting to go up a set of stairs. Porter is not very good at stairs. First of all, he’s just absolutely uncoordinated when it comes to them because he never has to do them on a daily basis. Second of all, it takes a lot of Piloting to make sure he goes up the stairs at a pace that’s safe for me. So, as we’re walking up the stairs, I notice another dog on the landing. All of a sudden my brain started going into overdrive.

Should I move Porter to the other side of me?

What happens if this escalates, there’s nowhere to go?

I’ll make sure I keep moving and not slam the door

I should make sure I’m answering his questions as soon as he asks

As we walked by the dog, there was some minor reactivity. More than I had hoped for, but nothing to really worry about. We continued up the rest of the stairs and at the top, there was another dog. I didn’t have time to see him or prepare for him. As we got up to the top landing, I reacted without thinking. Quick tug, no tension, moving on immediately. Guess what, that interaction went a lot smoother even though the second dog was more out of control.

I didn’t over think it. I just did. I reacted to the situation. The less time I had to think about each individual movement the better the situation turned out.

- Brittany Graham Photography

Trust what you’ve learned and what you’ve perfected. Yes, in the beginning you’ll have to think about each individual step. However, once you’ve done this a few times it’s time to let muscle memory and your instincts take over. Have some confidence in yourself. You’ve put in the time and effort. You know how to handle your reactive dog. So just relax and then react.

Let’s say there’s a dog coming towards you. Instead of thinking about each step, just pay attention to your dog and answer your dog’s questions accordingly.  Trust all the work you’ve been putting into your walks and let your instincts take over. Less thinking and more reacting. You can absolutely do this. It’s time to have some confidence in yourself and act like the Pilot you want to be.

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


Creating a Great Co-Pilot

Every pilot needs a co-pilot, and let me tell you, it is awful nice to have someone sitting there beside you, especially when you hit some bumpy air – Eric Wald

- Pete and Tank, Brittany, from Brittany Graham Photography's own dogs!

– Pete and Tank, Brittany, from Brittany Graham Photography’s own dogs!


When we first got Porter, car rides were not so much fun with him. There was constant whimpering, some occasional barking and just general hyper activity happening in the back seat. However, now, he’s not annoying to have in the car. Of course, he likes to look out the windows, but there’s less noise, less barking and less anxiety.

Here are some steps that I took, along with Tall Guy, to help him get to this point:

We Kept Taking Car Rides

Sure, he was annoying, but it didn’t make us stop taking him places. If we had just chosen to never drive him anywhere, we would have missed out on a lot of great adventures. Not to mention the fact that the more he’s in the car, the less scary and new it is. Good things happen when he gets in the car. Yes, there’s the occasional dreaded vet trip, but the park, family, friends trips outweigh the vet trips by far.

Positive Reinforcement for Positive Behavior

The moments that Porter was quiet and relaxed in the backseat he received positive reinforcement. Now, for Porter, treats only add way too much energy to the situation. So he received praise and a pet when he was calm in the backseat. Think, Touch, Talk, Treat. A pat, “good boy” and then if your dog is less of a jerk than mine you can pop a treat in his mouth. What we’re letting him know is that good things happen when he’s calm in the car.

Negative Reinforcement for Negative Behavior

When Porter would bark, he would get a negative. For him, that’s a snap from me since we’ve worked on a lot of Piloting in the house already. If you need to, have someone else drive and sit in the back with your dog. You can Pilot your dog the same way you do in the house, just use your upper body as opposed to your whole body. Use whatever negative sound you have correlated with your negative body language. If you feel like you’re giving a negative way too much and nothing is coming of it, then ignore the situation for a while. No positives, but no negatives either. Make sure you are not going to become angry or vocal with your dog. That won’t help the situation. Find your zen place in the backseat.

Shorter Trips

If you’re planning on working with your dog, try not to work on the car behavior while you’re on a long road trip. Go in short spurts to work on it. This will keep your temper in check and make sure you don’t get too frustrated. We’re looking for improvement, not perfection after the first time.

Exercise First

Make sure your dog is getting Activity before you work on the car behavior. This will release excess energy and the endorphins he will be feeling will help you in the long run. Do things to set yourself up for success. Make sure your pup has gotten a lot of PAW that day before working on the car situation.

 - Brittany Graham Photography

- Brittany Graham Photography


Improvement can take time, lots of time. But if you work on it, little by little you’ll realize that your dog’s car behavior has improved tremendously. Stick with it, and soon you’ll have the best four legged co-pilot ever.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Admitting There’s A Problem

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often – Winston Churchill

 - Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

There are many accomplishments I’m proud of as a dog owner. I’ve worked hard on Porter’s food aggression and the results are staggering. His dog reactivity has also extremely improved over the time that he’s been with us. However, the one thing I’m most proud of as a dog owner? The fact that I can admit when he’s being a total jerk.

The first step is admitting the problem right? Well, if I was never able to admit that Porter isn’t perfect then I’d never be able to work on his issues.

Hi, My name is Danika, I’m a dog trainer, and my dog can be a total jerk sometimes.

Imagine the first time that he tried to take my arm off while eating. Now, if I had just said “Oh, he’s just a stray, poor guy needs more food!” I would not only have a very fat dog, I would also have a very dangerous dog. Instead my thought process was, “Well, crap, we have to deal with some food aggression here” and I dealt with the situation little by little (if you’re having trouble with  any resource guarding/food aggression check out these articles and please give us a call).

Or how about the first time he lunged, growled and raised his hackles at another dog? If I had just said “Oh, he just wants to play and is just unsure of the situation” I’d have had a lot more trouble on my hands. My response, “Well, crap, now we have some dog reactivity. That’s unacceptable” and my Piloting kicked into full gear.

- He's not perfect, but I still can't imagine a day without him Brittany Graham Photography

– He’s not perfect, but I still can’t imagine a day without him
Brittany Graham Photography

My dog isn’t perfect. Sure, he has his moments of pure genius. Like the other day when we were able to place a bag of open chips on the floor next to him and he didn’t even think about making a dive for them. But, he also has his moments of pure assholery, like the other day when he would not calm down or stop jumping when I grabbed his leash. I praised the calm dog next to the chip bag, and gave the terror a negative and waited for him to calm down before we went anywhere. But, now I know we need to work more on pre-leash and door manners.

One of my pet peeves is owners that won’t admit that their dog might need some work and will only make excuses or stupid cooing noises. No dog is perfect. They’re not supposed to be! That would be just plain boring. It’s okay that they’re not perfect. It’s okay that they bark incessantly, they steal things off the counters, the pee on the carpet. But, it’s only okay if you acknowledge the fact that maybe there are some things (like the PAW method) that you can provide your dog to work on those behaviors and actually take steps to work on them.

If you admit your dog isn’t perfect you’ll feel better. I promise. And then, you get to work on those issues. It’ll be challenging of course, but it will also be so rewarding. It’ll be something you work on together and you’ll see the results. You can’t make your dog an even better dog unless you admit they’re not pure perfection to begin with.

The other day Porter and I were lucky enough to have a photo session with Brittany of Brittany Graham Photography. She is great with animals and is a level of sweet and nice that really makes me question if I’m a terrible person on a daily basis. Porter was up to his old tricks, beyond excited, super hyper, generally just a terrible dog. My Piloting went into gear immediately, however grass is super exciting apparently and when it’s taller than you are, all you want to do is stick your head in it and smell everything.

 - Porter eating the tall grass Brittany Graham Photography

– Porter eating the tall grass
Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany’s response to all of these general jerk dogness antics was “Oh! This is such good practice for me when I work with active dogs!”

My response: “Nope, this is good practice when you just work with jerks. Dog or not.”

I’ll always admit when he’s being a jerk. And then, I will work on why he’s being a jerk so that he can just be a goofy dog again.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Meeting James Franco

One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation. – Arthur Ashe

So, I’m going to admit it – I tend to get a little high strung sometimes when it comes to Porter. This is only because I want him to behave in an acceptable manner and I desperately want to be the best Pilot I can be for him. But, it sometimes means I stress out a little more than I should. I have all the tools to set him up for success, and sometimes I just forget that.

Friends of ours have recently added a Border Collie puppy to their family. Now, if anyone can handle a Border Collie’s energy and everlasting mind, it’s these owners. They are diligent about getting him the PAW that he needs.

The James Franco Selfie!

The James Franco Selfie!

For a while now, we have been trying to set up a play date for their dog (James Franco) and Porter. When the time finally came I became nervous. I did not want Porter to be a total jerk. Deep down, I knew he’d be fine, but the apprehensions of Will he be aggressive towards the dog? Will he have an issue with the dog being male?  Swirled around in my mind. However, I knew what I needed to do to make it successful. Here’s a previous a blog post about Puppy Play Dates.

Here are some of the steps I took this day:

-          We went for a walk in the neighborhood beforehand. I walked Porter up and down the driveway to the house we were visiting a few times as well to make it become more familiar.

-          When I felt as though I had control over Porter, I had James Franco and his owners join me on a walk. At first James Franco walked behind Porter and then we switched. Eventually when I felt comfortable with their interactions on the walk, we walked them side by side.

-          When entering the fenced in back yard, I had James Franco enter first and then Porter after that.

When we released the dogs from their leashes, it was the most anti-climactic event ever. I braced myself for immediate chasing, barking, all out craziness. What I saw was two dogs, walking around the yard, giving each other space, and sniffing different trees. It was bizarre at first. But then I realized that no, that’s what happens when you have 2 Pilots introduce dogs.


James Franco and Porter having some play time

Eventually they both became comfortable with each other to play. There was running, rolling, jumping… but it was all controlled. James Franco became more comfortable playing with other dogs and eventually learned the infamous play bow. Both dogs were having a great time, but were still being respectful of each other and their Pilots by listening to our commands.

You know how to handle these situations, even the hard ones. It’s just trusting in yourself to make sure you can go through with it without getting yourself worked up.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Adventure Time

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure – Joseph Campbell

New adventures can be a little challenging with Porter. It takes a lot to Pilot him and make him focus. However, this doesn’t stop me from taking him to experience new things. If it did, he’d never get better at new situations. I’m just careful in when and where I decide to go. Because let’s be honest, adventures are way more fun with your pup.

Porter Beach3

The other day, we took Porter to the dog beach. Now, since we know he can be a total jerk in new situations (and by jerk I mean he just gets way too overexcited), there are some precautions we take before bringing him somewhere new:

-          Walk him before. We made sure that he got some exercise before getting in the car to go to the beach. It drains out some excess energy and gets him in the mentality that he must pay attention.

-          We go to these new places when it’s not amateur hour. We chose to go to the dog beach on a week day and in the morning. There’s a lesser chance for people out there for sure. If you don’t have any days off to spare, trying going early in the morning on the weekends. Unless it’s a farmer’s market, you’ll be sure to hit less people anywhere you’re planning on going.

-          The walk to whatever location that we’re going must be a good walk. I am much stricter when we are walking towards a new location. Here are some walking tips. If it takes me 15 minutes to do a normal 5 minute walk, then so be it. In the long run, it’ll help your dog focus on you and be in a more calm state of mind.

-          I act calm and collected. I enjoy nothing more than the beach (even if it is on a lake). I am the most relaxed when I’m by a body of water. This worked in my advantage on our beach adventure. Since the water calms and relaxes me, I portray that energy to Porter. It’s no big deal that we’re there. My energy isn’t excitable so he feels there’s nothing to be excited about either. So find your “beach” mentality when you’re taking your dog somewhere new.

-          Try and seek out an area at the new adventure location where you and your dog can regroup. Find an area where there are less people, dogs, distractions so you can regain your dog’s focus. Even if it’s just for a few seconds, every little bit will help.

-          Always pay attention and know when it’s time to leave. In our case, our fun beach adventure was interrupted by 3 large dogs running down the stairs with no leashes or owners in sight. There was lots of barking and commotion which only brings Porter’s energy level up. That’s when I knew it was time to leave. There was no one Piloting those dogs, so it’s in my best interest to remove mine from that situation. There are times and places to accept challenges, however, if you’re feeling frustrated, tired, or feel like this is too much for your dog to handle, then it’s time to leave.

Porter Beach2

Don’t let the fact that you have a reactive dog stop you from going on adventures. Just be aware of your dog’s limitations and take some precautions to ensure that it will be a success. You got a dog so you could share the world with them, so make sure you’re doing it!

Keep calm and pilot on

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