Set your course by the stars, not by the light of every passing ship.  - Anon.

All that sass...

All that sass…

My daughter, River (aged almost-10), and I got into a battle of wills the other day.  I realize it’s part of growing up: expressing a difference of opinions, not readily agreeing with with everyone says, and generally breaking away a bit.  Just because it’s a normal phase (and let’s face it, necessary), doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Or even fight those battles.

Yes, you read that correctly.  I am not my daughter’s “alpha” any more than I am my dog’s “alpha”.  That term actually disgusts me.  What I’m here to do is answer questions for my daughter as long as she needs me to do so.  As she gets older, the questions get less frequent, but more intense and definitely more serious.  When she was 4, she wanted to know if she could have candy for dinner (um…no).  Now that she’s a tween, she wants to know if she can spend hours on her computer and neglect her homework.  It’s obviously not a question that is vocalized, but rather asked through her actions (or lack thereof).  Again, the answer is “no”.  Eventually, she will be at a point where she doesn’t need me to answer her questions anymore (though she still may want to seek my advice). I will hopefully have done my job as a parent, and showed her how to think for herself; how to take information and act upon it.

It’s a difficult break when the time comes, but as a human, that’s my goal:  a child who will always be my little girl. To the rest of the world however, she will be a strong, courageous woman capable of both standing up for what is right, but also apologizing when she’s wrong.

River in full bloom.

River in full bloom.

I raise my kids in a very similar way that I raise my dogs.  No, really.  I’m here to answer my kids’ and my dogs’ questions.  As far as my dogs go, Sparta’s big questions usually involve other dogs, and if they are a threat or not.  For Orion, it’s usually about a fear of being separated from me.  I’m not their “alpha”.  I’m the person who has answered all of their questions in a way that they understand, and doesn’t scare them. I don’t lose my temper…at least not in front of them.  (Hint: It’s okay to walk away.)  The difference between dogs and kids, though, is that you aren’t raising dogs to be independent.  Dogs will always require a Pilot to help them navigate our human world.  The important thing to remember, is that it is still their right to question our answers.

Let me repeat that: a dog is allowed to ask questions, and to challenge the answers you have given them. 


The key is that you have the right to stand firm in your answer.  For instance, Sparta’s main question, as I’ve stated in an many posts, has to do with other dogs.  She perceives them as a threat.  Her question is usually, “Should I kill it before it kills me?”.

Of course my answer is “no”.  But it is her right not to immediately accept my answer.  I call it the Are You Sure.   The object of the game isn’t to bully her into accepting that my answer is valid and correct.  It’s to help her understand that I will stand firm in this answer, and that I will keep answering her questions until she accepts my answer.

Look at it from a human perspective.  I recently bought a new house, and did a 100% gut and remodel of the interior.  During the process, I was convinced that I wanted hardwood floors.  I love the look, the feel and just the vibe of hardwood.  My husband, on the other hand, suggested tile floors.

No way.

So he set about answering my concerns about it:

It will look cheap. No, there’s tiles that look exactly like hardwood floors.

We can’t refinish it like hardwood. We won’t need to refinish it; it’s so much more durable than hardwood.  

It’s cold.  We can put radiant heating under it.  

So eventually, I took the leap of faith (after many, many more rounds of Q & A). I accepted his answers to my questions.  We put in the tile.  

And I love it!

But bear in mind that my husband did not “alpha” his way into getting me to accept his answer.  He gave his answers in a calm manner.  He didn’t ignore my questions, nor did he try to distract me from my questions about the tile.  He definitely didn’t use an electric shock collar on me to get me to accept his answer (I mean, wtf?!).  He answered questions for me until I felt that his answers made more sense than mine did.   Now, I’m not going to say I can always be this cool and rational about a difference of opinion.  After all, I’m human, and so is he.  We sometimes throw emotions into it.  The really nifty thing is that dogs don’t.  They are logical, sensical beings who, once you have a higher amount of money in your Piloting Piggy Bank than they have, will acquiesce. And the more money you have in your bank, the more they trust your answers.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

I will never bully my way into being Pilot.  I want them to ask questions of me. To feel safe asking questions that I will always answer for them (to the best of my ability).  One cannot use the pain of a shock collar to establish your role as Pilot.  That role is earned, not inherited just because I have opposable thumbs and they don’t.  I answer their questions.  And most importantly, I choose my battles.  Yes, I usually answer their questions (“Can I bark at the mailman?”  ”May I please have a treat?” “Can I pull on the leash?”) but only if I feel mentally capable of doing so at time.  I need to be calm and rational when answering questions.  Not harried and frustrated.  Let’s be frank, the more I answer their questions, the more money I get in my Piloting Piggy Bank.  But sometimes, I just don’t have it in me, and that’s fine.  As I told my husband the other day, I win 100% of the battles I choose to fight with our dogs (and our kids!).

So that battle with River I had? It really wasn’t a battle of wills.  It was a battle of my being tired after working all day, along with her being a tween and trying to move her boundaries forward.  But I’m the adult.  I’m her Pilot.  I knew I wasn’t in a position to Pilot her correctly when I was tired, so I didn’t.  I told her issue was valid for discussion, and that we would address it in the morning when we were both more rational.  I stood hard and firm in that conviction, and gently, but firmly negated her attempts to discuss at that moment.  After a few “Are You Sure’s” from her, she accepted that answer, and we did end up discussing it in the morning.

And you know what?  I answered her original question (Can I have a later bedtime) with a positive.  She presented her answers why she should be allowed, and I agreed.  She was right.  Piloting isn’t always about standing firm in your convictions; it’s about being able to change your views when presented with more information.  That’s what Piloting is about: giving the correct answer, not the easiest nor the most convenient. And that’s how to win a battle correctly.

image1 (4)


Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


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


Bringing Up Baby

Hold puppies, kittens, and babies anytime you get the chance.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

So here I am, a deadline for a blog post looming over me, and I’m drawing a blank on what to write.  To my rescue:  a telephone call from a past client.   Apparently they’ve brought home a new addition over the weekend and wanted to verify how to integrate their current dog with the new addition.  After verifying that they meant a new baby, and not a new puppy (completely different set of rules), I set about giving them the lowdown on creating a harmonious house while dealing with a new baby.  So here are a few things to bear in mind:

It sucks.

You’ve just given birth (historically, if you’re female).  You’re sore, tired and overwhelmed with both love and the looming, daunting task of raising a mini-human.  Unfortunately, the dog is going to fall by the wayside for a little bit.  That’s okay (short-term).  Okay, it’s not really ok, but you’re going to do the best you can with what you have.  Piloting doesn’t mean being perfect…it means accepting that you’re the one in charge with difficult decisions, and that you will answer all questions.  Only now you’re doing it on 2 hours sleep a night.  There is only so much of you to go around.  It’s okay.  Fido will manage.  This is short term, until you find your footing.  Right now you’re doing triage, so don’t beat yourself up if Fido doesn’t get his usual 5 mile hike each day.  Just do your best.

Look For Shortcuts.

Just because you’re doing your best doesn’t mean there isn’t a baseline that needs to be adhered to.  For example, when I was pregnant with my son Eric, Darwin was already an old dog of about 10.  His baseline for activity was at least a walk of about 1/2 mile every day.  That was no where near his maximum capacity, but that was the sweet spot.  Any less than that, and he would start to exhibit unsavory behaviors, such as hyperactivity, pacing or even destruction.  Right after I had Eric via c-section, I wasn’t even up for 1/2 mile hikes, so I did the best I could to equal that amount of activity.  Short cuts, if you will, such as these.  Think outside the, uh…leash.  Agility, backpacks or playdates.  I had a client who, while pregnant with twins, trained her dog to run up and down the steps on command, just to wear him out.  No, this won’t work forever, but it’s not meant to.  It’s meant to be a stop-gap between the time you give birth and the time you are able to sleep more than 4 hours a night.

The same goes for Work.  Make sure your dog is still getting the mental Work they require.  Otherwise they will come up with something to occupy themselves, and believe me, you won’t like it.

Remember Whose Baby This Is.

I’m all for bonding kids and dogs, but the time to do that is a little bit later.  Right now Fido needs to understand that this is your baby.  And thank you for the offer, Fido, but I think I’ve got it.  Odds are Fido will ask you questions about the baby.  It’s natural to be curious about something new (and loud and smelly) that enters your life.  However, it’s up to you to set boundaries.  With my children, the boundary was roughly 2 feet.  My dogs were not allowed within that area of my child.  Mean?  Maybe.  But there were no bites – no issues with uncertainty around my children.  They were mine, and I’ll tend to them, thankyouverymuch.  I treated my infants as if they were a chocolate frosted cake I was carrying around.  Would you let your dog go nose-to-nose with that?  Nope, didn’t think so.

By making sure Fido understands that this is your baby, you are removing all his rights to correcting the child (read: nipping the child to get them to stop crying).  There will be no face licking when the baby spits up all over (a dangerous and repulsive behavior).

Once the child is about 6-8 weeks old, it’s a good time to start slowly introducing them.  If Fido is on the floor sleeping by you, and the baby is calm, take the baby’s foot and start slowly petting the dog with it, immediately giving calm positives when the dog remains calm, and giving a gentle, but firm, negative if your dog gets excited or hyper.  You are training your dog that calm interactions with the baby equal positives.  Add more stimulation to the situation as your dog grows accustomed to the interaction.  Gradually start to bridge the 2-foot perimeter you set up for safety previously.  Gently redirect your baby towards appropriate petting if they start to grab Fido’s fur.  Praise positive, gentle petting.  You are setting the flavor of future interactions.  Read: no pouncing on the baby.  No jumping on the toddler wandering with a handful of pretzels.  No pulling on Fido’s ears/tail/tongue.  You are setting the scene for future interactions between your child and Fido now.  Don’t wait until there’s a problem – establish calm as the go-to mode between them.

Abuse Your Dog (a little)

Yeah, this one’s a bit of a heartbreaker, but you’ve got to get Fido used to some things that babies may do.  Obviously it’s up to you to make sure that your children are acting appropriately towards your dog, but accidents happen in a heartbeat.  Set everyone up for success.

Start pulling on Fido’s tail (and then immediately giving them a reward).  Take a knuckle and “noogie” his ears gently.  Pry open his mouth, and then give a positive.  Get them accustomed to anything that a young child may do.  No, it’s not fair that your dog has to go through this to help de-sensitize him – it’s always up to you to make sure you child acts appropriately – but if you screw up (because, like, you’re human), then hopefully you’ve set the groundwork for success rather than becoming another statistic.

…And Protect Your Dog

Yes, kids can be jerks to dogs, knowingly or otherwise.  Make sure you handle it.  If a toddler-aged child is abusing an animal, give them a hardcore consequence – I don’t care what your parenting style is, drop the hammer!  A harsher punishment is nothing in comparison to a dog bite!

If it’s an 8 month old baby, that’s a different story.  No, a child that young doesn’t understand that it is wrong to yank fur off the dog, but your dog will need to see you are protecting them from the threat your child is giving.  Protect your dog!  (Another good reason for the “2 foot rule” regarding babies, as I stated above.)

In my house all the animals are mine.  Yes, my children will cuddle with whatever animal is available, but they are borrowing my animals.  Because let’s face it, elementary school kids don’t always take good care of what is theirs.  Toys get broken or discarded.  However, what belongs to mommy?  Well, that’s a different story.  What’s mine will be treated with respect and with the understanding that consequences happen if my things get broken, abused or disrespected.  If my kids treat the dog well, get him water if the water bowl is low or simply engaged appropriately?  That deserves some praise.

“Help” the cat down the back porch, though (as my daughter, River, did)?  That was a full week without any type of electronics.  My daughter almost died during that week.  I had the eulogy written out and everything….we were frankly surprised she was able to pull through, but miraculously she did. And has never done anything remotely disrespectful to the animals again.

River, aged 7, exhibiting advanced stages of "Not Allowed On The Computer-Itis".  Note the apathy towards life, the "I'm Bored" mantra, and the general distaste for ever disrespecting a cat again. Please also notice absurdly loyal cat patiently waiting by River's bedside for her recovery.

River, aged 7, exhibiting advanced stages of “Not Allowed On The Computer-Itis”. Note the apathy towards life, sulking under her covers, the “I’m Bored” mantra, and the general distaste for ever disrespecting a cat again. Please also notice absurdly loyal cat patiently waiting by River’s bedside for her recovery.

In short, use common sense.  We need to bear in mind what we are integrating: a young child and a dog.  Not two grown adult humans.  Misunderstandings happen.  It doesn’t mean that your dog is Cujo, or your baby will grow up to be Elmira.

Seriously, was I the only one who watched this show?!

Seriously, was I the only one who watched this show?!

Address the small issues as they happen, so they don’t grow to be huge incidents later on.  Above all, maintain a sense of humor.  Because when you look back, yes, these were  the good ol’ days…but only because you’re finally out of them.

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


Married to the Mob

Love doesn’t make the world go ’round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.

Franklin P. Jones

[Editor's note:  My husband, Michael came up to me the other day as I was writing a blog post.  He asked what I was doing, and I told him.  He mentioned that he should write a blog post for me about what it's like being married to a dog trainer.  Of course I jumped at the chance!  So, I present to you, Michael's take on what it's like being married to someone who trains dogs]

I guess Orion is my Co-Pilot

I guess Orion is my Co-Pilot

I ran into one of my co-workers in the kitchen the other day. “I see you like Darwin Dogs on Facebook too! We hired Darwin Dogs a few weeks ago. Did you hire them too?”

I see it coming before I answer. “No,” I replied. “I’m Kerry’s husband.”

My co-worker began to laugh. “Does she Pilot you when she wants the dishes done? Does she do that thing she does to the dogs when you do something she doesn’t like? Does she give you a ‘negative’?” It kept up like this for quite a while. It was clear my co-worker was enjoying himself.

Of course, the answer is “No”, the reality far more pedestrian — we’re a normal married couple who treat one another like any other married couple. That is to say, we fight sometimes, get along most of the time, and love one another dearly. However, there are probably a few key ways in which my household differs from others:

1. We don’t tolerate bad behavior from our kids, or our dogs.

I think one of the key insights in having a well-behaved dog is to think of them as children, at least in a sense. When you see your children behaving badly, you correct the behavior.

However, when a dog starts jumping on most people, they think, “Ahh, that’s just a dog being a dog.” When a dog jumps on one of us, we immediately think of a small child yelling, “gimme gimme gimme”, and react appropriately.

Along those lines:

2. My dogs are the best behaved dogs I’ve ever met.

This is one of the perks of being married to a dog trainer. Frankly, I can be (and have been) a bit lazy about working with our dogs. I could chalk it up to having a full-time job (I work in technology), or the importance of the division of labor and specialization and all that, but the truth is more simple – I know my wife will do it and will do a better job than I will ever do, so I let her have at. In fairness, guess which of us sets up this blog and maintains the webpage?

Kerry thinks this is her girl, Sparta.  Kerry is wrong.  She's secretly MY Sparta.

Kerry thinks this is her girl, Sparta. Kerry is wrong. She’s secretly MY Sparta.

3. I hear a lot about dog problems

It has given me a lot of insight into dogs, and the typical types of problems dog owners have. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that nearly every owner thinks his or her problems are unique – everything from submissive urination, “aggressive” dogs (which are normally anything but) to simple poor leash-walking. My wife deals with the same problems over and over, which helps her to be better at her job. If she saw something new every single session, she wouldn’t be nearly as good as she is. Which brings me to:

4. My wife is *damn* good at what she does

Of course I’d probably say that even if it weren’t true, but I’ve been fortunate enough to accompany my wife on a few training gigs (somebody needs to stand outside in the winter and pretend to be the postal delivery person), and I’m amazed at just how well she does her job. While my wife is training dogs, she is really doing something far more involved – training humans how to interact with their dogs in a way the dogs will understand. My wife takes her role very seriously. Often, my wife is all that stands between the would-be dog owner, and either a well-adjusted dog, or a one-way trip to the shelter.

5. My wife has a demanding job

Though you might not realize it, her job is full-time. Beyond the training, there is the blog to maintain, calls to make & return, text messages to answer, volunteer work, market research — the list is nearly endless. The home visits themselves are really just the tip of a vast iceberg.


Orion took a little while to warm up to me at first, but after some patience, was soon rewarded with a happy-puppy dance every morning and a lap dog to enjoy my coffee with.

While most of the things I’ve listed are positive, there are also drawbacks to being married to a dog trainer – we usually have more dogs than I’d prefer running around the house at any given moment, there are dog treats stuck in our washing machine, and my wife is required to work odd hours.  And of course initially when I’d ask her what her training schedule looked like on a particular day, my heart would skip a beat when she would casually throw out: “I have an aggressive Shepherd mix at 10, and then a puppy session from 1-3.”  Now I realize that aggressive dogs are typically just scared, and I know that Kerry finds the puppy sessions more exhausting. Fun, but exhausting.

Wait....who's dog is this?!

Wait….who’s dog is this?!  KERRY?!  DID WE GET ANOTHER DOG?!

Part of me does still get a kick out of people’s reactions when they hear what my wife does for a living.  I love watching her get all excited answering questions about their own dogs, which invariably happens when they discover her profession.  I’m proud of the volunteer and charity work Kerry does, and how she stands up for what she believes is right.  But if I were to sum up Kerry in one word, that word would of course be “Pilot”.  Someone who can calmly take the controls if necessary.  Someone who is confident enough to know when someone else should fly the plane.  Someone who knows their limitations, but tries every day to stretch those limitations.  Kerry is someone who inspires me to do the same.

Keep calm and pilot on


Michael Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Photo Finished

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.

- Gertrude Stein

I get it.  You’ve just had the cutest baby in the whole world, just like everyone else. You want to document as much of your child’s first years as possible via pictures and videos.  Especially with your first baby: your dog.  But here’s where I revoke your parent card, because obviously you aren’t using it:




Dog’s options: Allow child to break spine, or bite and get put down for being “aggressive”. After all, the child is only playing!

Let’s put our kid in a dominant position on top of the dog, let her choke the dog, and watch the fun ensue. Of course the resulting bite is because pits are vicious and should learn to have a little fun!


Would you allow this child to do this to his other siblings? Didn’t think so.


Hope nobody rings your doorbell/walks by your house with another dog/says “treat”/startles your dog while your baby is perched precariously atop the poor beast

Um, anyone else notice a problem here?  Not cute, not funny, not responsible.

3r31oyBy using your dog as a prop, what are you teaching your child about animals?  Children learn from example.  If you are treating your dog as a photo embellishment for your precious child, then that’s how your child is going to see them.  Another toy to play with.  You’ve missed one of the most important lessons having a pet can teach a child:  empathy.  Respect for the pain that another animal can endure, and not being the one who inflicts it!  Animals are sometimes the only sibling some children have, and we all know that siblings are how practice  being a socialized adult.  One who doesn’t treat other humans like toys.  Who understand respect for others.  In other words, someone who isn’t an award-winning Christian Bale character.

Pretty sure his mom has pics of him sitting on the dog somewhere

Pretty sure his mom has pics of him sitting on the dog somewhere

Your child isn’t cute.  They are being trained to be irresponsible pet owners.  Just like you.  No, I don’t want to see another pic of an “adorable” toddler choking some poor dog who’s body language is practically screaming, “Make him stop! I don’t want to bite him but I will if you don’t make him stop!”.   They’re called kids for a reason: because they aren’t mature enough to make rational decisions.  That’s where you come in.  Teach you kid how to respect animals.  Read about it here.  (Coincidentally enough, when searching for the post to link to, I used the search term “respect” and found it.)

Yes, kids can be physical with their dogs: in an appropriate manner.  It’s up to you to intervene on the dog’s behalf if there’s trouble.

Two bored-looking dogs, and a child who is calm.  Good, safe combo

Two bored-looking dogs, and a child who is calm. Good, safe combo

Calm child. Calm, relaxed body language from the dog. The dog even appears to be reciprocating.

Calm child. Calm, relaxed body language from the dog. The dog even appears to be reciprocating.

Teach your children to respect dogs/animals.  How to cuddle without constricting.  How to give gentle hugs and snuggles that allow an animal to escape if needs be.  Most importantly, supervise. Kids and dogs.  Pilot them both.

Now grow up and get your kid some real toys.

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

Unconditionally Pavlovian

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)

- Kenny Rogers and The First Edition


Cute-Dog-Reading-About-Pavlov-Funny-Picture-There have been many arguments about whether to use negative or positive reinforcement.  As I’ve stated in the past, absolutes are absolutely ludicrous:  both negatives and positives are needed.  You can’t have one without the other.  Only by using both appropriately can you help your dog thrive. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize how easy it is to confuse your dog with the wrong kind of positive reinforcement.

Prime example:  A shelter dog named Simba.  Simba, for whatever reason, had been improperly socialized as a youngster, and grew into a young adult who exhibited dangerous behaviors.  As a puppy he should have learned what is appropriate and inappropriate play.  Not to jump.  Not to bite.  He should have learned moderation and self-control.  Typically this is learned from other pack members as a young pup (why do you think we don’t take puppies away from their family too early – they’re learning!).  Simba wasn’t a bad dog, nor was he aggressive in the slightest.  His problem was that he was very demanding.  He was a spoiled brat.

Simba was very willing to learn…for a price.  If Simba wanted to play, he would grab your clothing and drag you to the ground to wrestle.  If he wanted to go somewhere other than where you wanted during a walk, he would drag you there, sometimes by an arm or leg.  If you did something he didn’t like, he would nip you.  Hard.  Now I want you think about what would happen if a child were to engage in this sort of behavior.  Odds are, you’d give them negative reinforcement of some sort to let them know that this behavior is unacceptable.  Unfortunately in the shelter environment that Simba was in, they only believed in positive reinforcement.

At first it looked as if it were working.  If Simba started to pull on a walk, his handler would whip out some boiled chicken to coax him back into a polite pace (Simba would not listen for anything less than boiled chicken – no Milkbones here!).  If Simba jumped up and grabbed an arm or pant leg, he was bargained with:  release my arm and I’ll give you some chicken.  Again, it seemed to be working!

Now, some of you may be noticing a problem here.  See, Simba was an extremely intelligent dog.  He started to figure out the system.

“If I bite someone or become violent with them, they give me a treat! I’ve finally got this whole human thing figured out!”

What happens if you don’t have a treat?  This:

The only pic I can, for decencies' sake, I can publicly post

The only pic of the volunteer I can, for decencies’ sake, publicly post Quite a bite, huh?

One of the volunteers was attacked by Simba.  She literally had her shirt ripped off by him and was bitten several times on the torso area.  Again, Simba wasn’t what you’d call aggressive (I know…biting not aggressive?).  He had humans figured out:  he sat when told, he’d get chicken.  He released someone when he was playing, and he’d get some chicken.  Well, the human ran out of chicken when he had a hold of her.  In Simba’s mind, she didn’t keep up the end of the bargain!  So he did it again, and again, expecting the volunteer to finally figure out what he was telling her:  give me some chicken like you’re supposed to!

Simba’s story doesn’t have a happy ending.  He was eventually quarantined, and only select members of the shelter were allowed to work with him (still using only positive reinforcement).  Eventually, it was decided that he needed to be put down.  He was euthanized because nobody cared to tell him “no”.

So how could this have ended differently?  You’re probably wondering, didn’t I state in the first paragraph of this post that both negative and positive were needed?

Yes, but only done correctly.

Let me give you a different scenario.  My daughter, River (age 6) and my son, Eric (age 9) have quite a few things expected of them with regard to chores.  For example, Eric has to do dishes.  River is in charge of keeping the baseboards in the house clean. They are children, so they have to be reminded to do it (that’s why they’re called “kids” and not “adults”).  But I simply tell them to do it, and off they run and do it.  Their reward?  A hug and a thank you.  About once a week we go on a cleaning spree.  They are expected to help me clean for a couple hours.  I give them age-appropriate tasks, which they complete without putting up a fight or complaining.  If they need help, I give it to them.  But typically they don’t.  And typically, they do a great job.  Again, no complaining, and their reward is a thank you and praise.


Yeah, I don’t know why they’re cleaning in their PJ’s either.

Now, sometimes I when give them the mandatory thank you and praise, and throw in an extra.  Some money.  A trip to the zoo when we’re done.  An ice-cream treat. Once it was a Nintendo DS.  It’s not a reward for doing what I told them to do:  that’s expected!  It’s merely added to the “thank you” they receive.  And it is never presented in the “If you do X, I’ll give you Y” fashion.  They never find out about it until after the task is complete.

Are you seeing how this should be applied to dogs?  If a dog is biting me, I’ll give him a negative, and then they stop.  I will not reward the dog for respecting me.  I expect respect from a dog.  I give it in return.  But sometimes you can see a dog is really struggling, and comes through with good choices.  For example, walking with Sparta, and there’s a suicidal squirrel who runs directly in our path and decides to hang out (really…WTF squirrel!!!).  That’s a hard one.  Sparta has high prey drive.  Yes, I tell her to leave it, but it’s a struggle for her.  That’s where Touch, Talk, Treat comes in to play.

I have her conditioned.  Every time I give her a treat, or even her enrichment toy, she gets a gentle scratch behind the ears, as well as gentle praise.  Very soon she linked the Touch and the Talk to the Treat/Food.  Once you have that Pavlovian response going, you can give your dog a hard-core positive without the food.  So when she passes by that squirrel without making a ruckus, she gets Touch and Talk.  The Treat is implied, the same way “jelly” is implied if I say I’m making a peanut butter sandwhich because jelly and PB are always linked together.  Maybe she’ll get a treat later.  But the thing is, she doesn’t expect it.  It’s like the lottery:  you have to play to win.  Yes, occasionally I’ll have pocketed some treats to give her, but it’s not an expected.

The problem with Simba was that conditioning works both ways.  “We had a deal … I do *this* and you give me a treat when I stop.”  So who was wrong?  He kept up his end of the bargain.


Who’s being conditioned?

Positives are tied for the most useful thing in training…with negatives.  Eventually, proper use of both will shift the tide of things:  pretty soon you are only giving positives.  Good positives, given in the correct instances.  Sparta has not had a problem with squirrels in quite a while. Every so often she still get a treat for passing one.  She’s on the right path and doesn’t need to be guided towards it very much any more, so I can reward her for choosing well. Same with my kids.  We’re heading out for ice-cream right now.  They don’t know it yet.  But they did a great job, and (as usual) didn’t complain once.  They deserve a treat.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.


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

Standing MY Ground

I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.

~Abraham Lincoln

Trig, Sarah Palin's dog, who apparently doubles as a step stool for her son.

Trig standing on Sarah Palin’s dog, Jill who apparently doubles as a step stool in the Palin family

I suppose I can justly insert “politics” in place of “religion” in Mr. Lincoln’s quote above, but this post isn’t about politics.  Yeah, sure, it was indeed a major political figure (Sarah Palin) who posted the picture of her son standing on the Palin family dog, Jill.  Now, I’m going to come out and say it:  I’m not a big fan of Sarah Palin. Her knowledge of dogs is summed up in one quote:

I love those hockey moms. You know what they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is? Lipstick.  - Sarah Palin

So obviously she knows nothing about pitties, or even dogs in general.

But rather than admit that her son had not been treating her dog humanely (and since her son is a minor, means blame falls squarely on the adults), she tried to defend her actions.  Or rather, deflect her actions, with this quote to PETA, after the animal rights organization called her out on the picture:

“Aren’t you the double-standard radicals always opposing Alaska’s Iditarod – the Last Great Race honoring dogs who are born to run in wide open spaces, while some of your pets ‘thrive’ in a concrete jungle where they’re allowed outdoors to breathe and pee maybe once a day?” she wrote. “Aren’t you the same herd that opposes our commercial fishing jobs, claiming I encourage slaying and consuming wild, organic healthy protein sources called ‘fish’? (I do.)”

I am the first to admit that I’m not necessarily the best parent on earth.  Yes, I have caught my kids in unsanctioned interactions with my animals.  When my daughter River was 3, she went through a phase where she’d pick up our cat upside-down and toddle through the house with the poor beast.  The thing is that River was corrected for that behavior.  I didn’t post a pic of the deed on Instagram, or share it on Facebook.  River was too young to realize that Echo could get hurt like that, or that she could get hurt if Echo felt he needed to escape the situation himself.  But ultimate blame falls on me, the parent, for not supervising my child when she was interacting with the cat.  Nobody’s perfect, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore the issue or deflect.

And that’s what Palin did.  Fishing rights have no bearing on a child standing on a dog.  The Iditarod has nothing to do with a house pet who is being used in this manner.  It has to do with the lowest-ranking member of a household not being protected, not having a voice to defend themselves.  I’m going to throw Sarah Palin’s own quote right back at her:

We need leaders who will stand up for the little guy and listen once again.  -  Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, that little guy is Jill.  And that leader should have been you.

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:


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

…With Little Help From My Friends

Going to try with a little help from my friends
  – Billy Shears/The Beatles

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

On August 2, 2014 something extraordinary happened in Illinois: three third graders changed the law.  Brooke Martin, Claire Hackmann and Maddie O’Dell, after reading a book about two kids rescuing a dog from a puppy mill, decided to take action and change the world, even if just a little bit, for the better.

They contacted local politicians, and even did some lobbying in their own school.  End result?  Doubled penalties for animal abuse.  This is beautiful on so many levels, from the children learning about something terrible and deciding to do something about it, to the adults actually taking to heart the kids’ message.  Frequently adults pooh-pooh children.  Sometimes they remind us of some of the more important messages of all: change for the better.

If this trio, who still don’t have all their adult teeth yet, can achieve this lofty goal, what can we as adults do?  “Like” and re-post on Facebook?  Awesome, but that’s not a lot.  Let’s get real.  Let’s get our hands dirty.

Go to your local shelter and volunteer.  Write a letter (yes, and honest-to-God, pen-and paper letter!) to your congressman.  Demand protection for our animals.  What about starting a kibble kitchen in your neighbourhood? There are so many ways we can help.

So let’s take a cue from these lovely ladies.  Don’t worry about how big a job may be, or how difficult a problem is to overcome. Start chipping away at it.  These girls did.  So can you. Do you have any ideas to share about how to help the animals in your community?  Post them in the comment section below!

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

Doggedly Devoted

“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

Three year old Karina is expected to make a full recovery after spending 11 days in the Siberian Wilderness.  Her dog is the hero of the story.  Picture: SakhaPress

Three year old Karina is expected to make a full recovery after spending 11 days in the Siberian Wilderness. Her dog is the hero of the story. Picture: SakhaPress

When I was a child of about 5, my mom took my younger brother (aged 2.5), and my older brother (aged 7) and I hiking.  She let my older brother and I climb some not-too-steep cliffs by the river while she held my younger brother’s hand at the bottom.  Halfway up, a man appear from behind a boulder and tried to get me to come with him.  My mother couldn’t release my younger brother’s hand (he was by the river!) but she could see that her older two children were in terrible danger.  She threatened to the man to leave us alone or she would release our dog, Pebbles, from her leash.  The man kept creeping forward, so she released our dog.

Pebbles immediately scaled the slope and boulders, and herded my brother and I down the cliff, nipping at our heels as we went, and snapping at the man and backing him off every time he’d come closer. We made it safely to the ground, whereupon our mother whisked us home and called the police.  They found the man right were he had popped out at us.  He had a little nest set up with blankets, food, etc.  He also had a warrant out for his arrest for molesting a little girl.

I’d hate to think of what could have happened if Pebbles hadn’t been there.  I think of my poor mother, and the abject terror she must have felt.  Leaving her young son to rescue her older two could have resulted in his drowning.  Leaving us to fend for ourselves at the top could have ended in tragedy as well.  How much hope did she place in Pebbles, desperately trying anything to get out of the situation.  And Pebbles came through.

I forgot to mention, Pebbles weighed in at roughly 20 lbs., and Aussie mix.  A typical shelter rescue.

This story here tells of a similar story.  A little girl lost in the Siberia wilderness, saved by her dog.  Nobody even knew the dog was trying to help.  There’s a reason dogs are named “Fido”…it means “Faithful” in Latin.

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