Stranger Danger

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.

Shirley MacLaine

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

“My dog is aggressive towards strangers.

“My dog is fearful.”

“My dog is skittish.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog training in Cleveland, Ohio

Admiration to Owners of Anxious Dogs


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

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


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

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

Should I run away? No?

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


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

What about those dogs?? All a no?

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Here’s why I admire this owner:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Word Games

One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.

Eleanor Roosevelt


If you’ve been around the Darwin Dog’s blog post a bit, you’ve probably figured out that we are a bit quirky. Okay….I’m  a bit quirky.  Danika is the more serious of the two of us. But that’s not really saying much.

Danika and I at a recent event.  There was absolutely NO alcohol involved in the making of this pic. Nope.  None.

Yeah, we’re kinda like the Oz Couple.  

We’ve also developed our own lingo here at Darwin Dogs.  You hear words thrown about, like, “Piloting”, and “slamming the door”, but what does it mean?  Well, here you go, a list of words that are commonly used, along with links for more information about each term.

 Darwin Dogs’ Dictionary

Activity Exercise!  Fundamental for a happy, healthy dog.

Think outside the, uh, leash, too!  Orion is doing agility over my leg for a bit of Activity.

Think outside the, uh, leash, too! Orion is doing agility over my leg for a bit of Activity.
Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Cobra-ing When out on a walk, your dog find something terribly interesting and keeps trying to look around you, from one side to the other, like a cobra or a pendulum.
Houdini or Copperfield As in the magicians.  A dog whose owner thinks that their dog’s behavior will never change, but 2 hours with Darwin Dogs and –poof!- behavior problem is solved.  Example:“Hey Danika, how did your session go yesterday?”
“The dog just had a lot of questions, so I showed the owners how to answer them. It was really easy. A total Copperfield session, Kerry.”
Lap Shark This:

Natural habitat: Grandma's lap.  Also found being carried *everywhere*

Natural habitat: Grandma’s lap. Also found being carried *everywhere*

Meerkat-ing or Prairie-dogg When your dog suddenly looks like he rubbed Viagra all over his body: he’s alert and all his muscles are stiff, ears rigid, and perhaps a little furrow between his brows develops.  He’s asking a question about something.  Answer his question.home_meerkat
Negative Reinforcement Answering any of your dog’s questions in a negative fashion, from “Can we go for a walk now?” or “May I please beg?” to “Should I attack that other dog?”.  Not to be confused with “punishment”. Ever.
No No Bad Dog session A dog who jumps, barks, walks terrible on a leash…but deep down is a wonderful dog, who happens to think his name is “No No Bad Dog”. When writing descriptions of the dogs we are working with on our schedules, Danika and I frequently refer to some as “typical ‘No No Bad Dogs’”.55df2e62e7e3343e85c98fcd236fc915
Pavlovian Response (aka, Classical Conditioning) Linking two things together so tightly that when one happens the other is implied.  For example, “salt and __________”.  If you immediately thought “pepper”, you’ve been classically conditioned to always think of those two things together.  Anything can become a Pavlovian response, from a doorbell (indicating someone is here), to my snapping my fingers (which in my house, stand for “no” to my dogs).  See also, “Touch Talk Treat” for another example.
PAW Method Combining Piloting, Activity and Work together to create a happy, healthy relationship with your dog.
Piloting One the three basic things required when working with a dog.  Piloting a dog is merely answering your dog’s questions, so they don’t have to. Answering questions puts money into your Piloting Piggy Bank.
Sparta is asking as simple question ("Should I get up?").  I Pilot her by answering her question (in this case, with a negative). Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham
Sparta is asking as simple question (“Should I get up?”). I Pilot her by answering her question (in this case, with a negative).
Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham
Piloting Piggy Bank The more questions you answer for your dog (i.e., Piloting them), the more money you take out of your dog’s Piloting Piggy Bank and deposit it into yours.  The more money you have, the easier it is to Pilot your dog.
Positive Reinforcement Simply giving a positive answer to a question, or rewarding a dog when trying to catch a behavior so as to have the dog repeat said behavior.  Example: housebreaking a dog requires positive reinforcement. See also, Touch Talk Treat

Orion gets some positive, this time a treat. Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Orion gets some positive, this time a treat.
Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Slamming the Door Using your body language to answer your dog’s questions while on a leash (such as, “Can I react to that other dog?”) by pivoting on your foot, swinging your body around to face your dog entirely.  You look like a door slamming in your dog’s face, thereby answering “no”.
Touch Talk Treat Every time I give my dogs a treat, I give them a gentle pet or touch, along with a soft “good dog”.  Pretty soon, a pet, or a “good dog” tastes like a treat, freeing myself from always carrying around treats in my pockets. It also allows me to mark the precise behavior I’m looking for.  For example, teaching “Sparta” to play dead.  While she was learning, I could tell her “good girl”, and she knew she was on the right track and would be receiving a treat soon if she continued.  See also, Pavlovian Response and Touch Talk Treat
Work Mental stimulation, enrichment…are you making your dog think?
Yo, Bitch-ing When your dog is trying to take Piloting money out of your Piloting Piggy Bank.  Symptoms include: slapping you with their paw, trampling you, pushing you out of your seat on the couch.  Basically, any behavior that would translate to : “Yo bitch, give me a cookie”, or “Yo bitch, pet me”.  Detrimental to your healthy relationship with your dog, as it would be in any human relationship!

Our vocabulary is enriched by each session we do.  It will forever be a growing, living language, formed by our interactions with so many different dogs.  Kinda like….

Only less take-over-the-universe and more dog hair

Only less take-over-the-universe and more dog hair


Now, on to the words that I detest.

Bad Yuck.  Your dog isn’t bad.  Your dog simply sucks at being a human.  And guess what….you’re not always the best dog.  Avoid this word (and this train of thought) at all times.
Clicker Dogs communicate with each other without the use of a clicker, we feel you should be able to as well.  A clicker is merely a Pavlovian response.  Click equals treat. Sound theory, but it’s like Communism; it only works on paper.  Where is that clicker when you need it? See Touch Talk Treat or Pavlovian Response.
Dominant, Pack Leader, Alpha, …bleh bleh bleh We’re secure enough in our, uh….masculinity (yeah, or, um, something) not to feel the need to “assert our dominance” over our dog (or anything else).  We are here to answer our dog’s questions about a confusing human world, not to make them “understand their place in the pack”.o094d
Punish Sick, gross, and completely unnecessary.  Punishment is only there to make a human feel better, not to train a dog.  See also, “Bad”.  Just don’t step in it.

The work we do with dogs enriches our lives.  It shines through to our day-to-day lives.  From the fun session we had with a crazy puppy, to the sad, scared, newly-rescued older dog, every training session leaves us enriched, and that has permeated through to our vocabulary, and made its way directly to our hearts.  Open the doors to communication, and amazing things can happen.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Walking Terror

Terror made me cruel.
- Emily Brontë Wuthering Heights

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

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

There’s something up there.  It looks like a dog.  Is it pack/safe?
Is it a potential threat?
Should I make it go away?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An off-leash dog comes rushing at you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And remember, an ounce of prevention….

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

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

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

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

Just don't eat the dates

Just don’t eat the dates

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

A Little Bird Told Me…

  My dogs are a priority and a big responsibility… but the payoffs are well worth it.

  – Will Estes

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I recently had a training session with a tiny, spunky little Chihuahua mix named Bird.  Bird’s owner was concerned about the level of energy her dog was exhibiting, as well as some other issues.  Bird’s owner, Kim, was impressive to watch as she basically went from being her dog’s doormat to a true Pilot:  a calm, benevolent leader.  I received this email from her a few days later:

Hi Kerry! I wanted to thank you and to let you know how well Bird  is doing since our session!  My mom even commented on how much calmer and more respectful she is now that she knows I’m the pilot (or at least getting there).  I’m so grateful for what you have taught me.
Today, though, I had a very frightening experience with Bird.  I was at Lakewood park with a friend and we were reading on blankets on the grass.  Bird was laying next to me on a leash.  I noticed she was growling a little bit at every dog that passed by so I tried the fake “bite” with my hand which don’t seem to stop her from growling. Then before I could stop it, another little dog (off leash) ran up to sniff her.  Bird freaked out, snarled and almost attacked the other dog.  When I grabbed her to pull her away she snarled again and almost bit ME. She has NEVER done anything like this before.  I was so embarrassed and sad. I felt like such a bad dog-mom.
So, for future notice, I’m wondering what I should do when Bird growls/barks at other dogs.  I tried the pretend “bite” with my hand which didn’t seem to work.  I tried standing between her and the other dog, which seemed to distract her a little bit, but nothing really stopped it. Like I said, this is the very first time this has ever happened.  She has never shown aggression toward another dog beyond growling at them.
Thank you again for all your help.  I think you are wonderful at what you do and I’m so happy to have you as a resource. – Kim
Aggressive dog?  Just because  a dog shows teeth doesn't mean they're aggressive.  Sometimes they are merely trying to protect themselves or their owner.  Photo: Brittany Graham Photography

Aggressive dog? Just because a dog shows teeth doesn’t mean they’re aggressive. Sometimes they are merely trying to protect themselves or their owner. Photo: Brittany Graham Photography

So it looks as if Kim is doing just about everything right, so what happened?!  Read on for my response:

Hi Kim – let me rephrase what happened from Bird’s point of view:  She gave an alert about potential danger while you were lying prone on the grass.  While she was still trying to get handle on the situation, a predator ran right up to your prone form, forcing her to protect you.  While she was busy trying to defend you against the unanswered question, another hand came out of nowhere, whereupon her adrenalin (which was already kicked up to begin with) forced her to react to this new danger, whereupon she realized right before contact that it was only your hand.

That’s exactly what you stated above, but only from her perspective.  At no point did she do anything wrong, nor is she a bad dog.  However, as I mentioned before, you can give a negative to her if you happen not to like what she is currently doing.

So, playing this scenario out again, with what you can do next time.

1)  Use as much “no” as is necessary.   You “bit” her using your fingertips, but she wasn’t able to accept the answer to her question.  It’s okay to add layers.  Remember, the fingertip-bite is only there to get her attention so she can see what you’re “saying”.  Dogs are based on body language, remember.  The moment she looked at you, use your negative body language.  If that didn’t work, stand up and do it.  Remember, that tiny little girl was trying to protect your prone form from passing predators.

2)   Sometimes you need to walk it off.  Your Piloting was tested when she wouldn’t stop the growling after you answered her question the first time, thereby refusing to accept your answer to her question.  Meaning she took some money out of your bank… Take it back!  The best way to add Piloting to your piggy bank is to go for a very short walk, answering her questions as you go along.  Maybe even as little as 800 feet.  When you feel you’ve got your money back, add a little more than she took, and then you’re done.  Try the scenario again.  Remember, whomever has the most money in their Piloting Piggy Bank gets to be Pilot.  Be stingy in giving money back to her.

3) Position matters.  What was the positioning?  Was she hanging out in front of you, otherwise known as the “Sentinel Position”, wherein she has inadvertently been asked to keep a lookout?  If so, change her position.  Things you are supposed to protect belong behind you.  Things that are protecting you are in front of you. If she’s having problems, try positioning her so you are between her and the perceived threat.

Watch your positioning.  Your dog may not always feel comfortable being in the Sentinel  position  (in front of you).  Brittany Graham Photography

Watch your positioning. Your dog may not always feel comfortable being in the Sentinel position (in front of you). Brittany Graham Photography

Lastly, always keep in mind the steps to working with a dog:

- Control yourself. No anger. No excitement.  Acting calmly bored is best, no matter how your dog is reacting.

- Control the situation.  This includes proper positioning, if necessary, as well as layering on the negatives as necessary.  Some questions are bigger than others, and may require more layers of “no”.  “May I have a piece of your pizza?’  takes only one or two layers of “no”.  “Is that dog going to kill us?”, obviously is a harder question requiring more layers.

- Answer the question.  Layer on the “no”.  Gentle tap with your fingertips on the ribs, confident body language directed at her, standing up, moving into her, gentle tap on the leash, moving into her.  These are all layers of “no” that can be used.

Your situation at the park was a perfect example of how you can have everything under control, and then suddenly lose it.  Dogs live in the here and now.  Shake it off and move on.  Don’t carry any of that last experience in the park with you on your next experience.  In other words, set yourself up for success next time, paying attention to body positioning, etc., but don’t go into the situation expecting a battle.  You’ll get one if you do.

Add some positives to the situation next time.  If she sees a dog and she growls, answer the question first (always answer the question!), but once the accepts the answer, give her a gentle pet, a calm word, and/or a treat.  Touch Talk Treat.  You working to establish that Being Calm = Good Things.

Judging by what I saw Kim do during our training session, I have full confidence that she will soon have Bird feeling safe and protected, no matter what the circumstances may be.

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

A Simple Matter


  Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

 - Leonardo da Vinci

Dogs are simple.  Not stupid…definitely not stupid.  But they keep things very simple and streamlined in their world.  Their communication is based upon a binary system of “yes” and “no”.  They don’t complicate their emotions.  Have you ever heard of a dog questioning why they love you?  They accept their emotions, be it love or fear, completely, without judgment or reason.  They feel a certain way because they do.  No need to siphon out a reason.

That’s why it makes my eyes itch when I see people overcomplicating their dogs.  No, your skittish dog probably wasn’t abused before coming to a the shelter.  No, your food-aggressive dog wasn’t starved before you got him.  Behavior doesn’t necessarily need a reason.  It just is.  And that is completely wonderful.  As I’ve stated countless times, dogs are incapable of doing anything wrong.  They are absolutely perfect…for dogs.

Now, unfortunately, not all behaviors are appropriate in our human world.  Take food-aggression for instance.  In the not-so-long-ago days when dogs lived in the wild, food-aggression was merely a way for a dog to keep whatever nutrients might stumble its way.  Dogs didn’t necessarily live in the land of milk and honey.  Sometimes each calorie was hard won, and therefore vigorously guarded.  In the wild, we call that survival.  (Regrettably, in the human world, I call this one of the very few good reasons to rehome a dog in certain situations.  Yes, this behavior can indeed be managed, but it is like keeping a loaded gun in the house.  With a family of children.)

Back to simplicity.  The simple, wonderfully brilliant thing about dog is that you don’t have to know why they are evidencing a certain behavior to help them modify that behavior to be suitable in a human world.

Example:  I had a client named Claire, and her beautiful Rottie named Bubbles (I kid you not).  Bubbles was a lovely, happy, drooling bubbly ball of fun with one pretty big issue.  On the walk, Bubbles would be going along just fine, with his head right by his owner’s leg, and the leash slack.  Suddenly, Bubbles would rear up like a dinosaur, desperate to get away from his owner, the leash, everything.  He turned into a snarling, writhing mess.  It was all the Claire could do to keep Bubbles under control during one of these “episodes”.  Medical issues were ruled out.  She couldn’t figure out what set Bubbles off.  Some days would be fine, others, she could barely make it around the block.  When Claire called me, she was at the end of her rope.  “I’ve tried everything.  I can’t figure out what’s making him react like this!”

“Who cares why he’s reacting like that.  All we need to do is answer his questions. Obviously, something is scaring him, but we don’t need to know what that “something” is to answer a question, do we?  And the answer is definitely ‘no, Bubbles, nothing is going to hurt you.”  I calmly stated back.

So we went to work.  Bubbles tried to react with me on the leash, but here’s the thing… I could read his intentions early.  Dogs are wonderful at projecting their thoughts.  Bubbles was no exception.  His ear pricked forward, a series of wrinkles developed along his forehead between his ears.  He stood on his toes and leaned forward as his tail (undocked!) when straight up. All of these signals of his intentions happened in less than 5 seconds, but I was ready for him.  I didn’t blink.  Just was quickly as he started to ask the question, I answered it.   I didn’t wait until Bubbles was in a full on tantrum of terror, lunging and growling.  I answered his questions the second I saw he was asking it. I honestly didn’t know what the question was, aside from a general, “Will that hurt us?”.  I didn’t need to know what that was.

I do that to my kids a lot.  “Mom, can we-”   “NO.”  End of discussion.

Bubbles and I went around the neighborhood with no instances of lunging, but quite a few questions answered.  Then I handed the leash to Claire, who also started to answer Bubbles’ questions.  Everything went beautifully.  Bubbles’ now had his questions answered.  Claire realized that she didn’t have to know what Bubbles was reacting to in order to give him a “no”, making him feels safe.  I didn’t get Rottie drool on me (by some sort of divine intervention).  The whole situation ended with a “happily ever after”.

A Piloted dog is a happy dog

A Piloted dog is a happy dog


Claire called me about 6 months later.  She was excited on the phone. “I think I finally figured out what originally set Bubbles off!  I think I finally figured out the exact question he was asking me!!!!”   Of course I was dying to hear this.  “Well, as you know, I live in a rural area.  Mailboxes are at the end of the driveways.  I knew it wasn’t the mailboxes that were setting him off.  However, I finally discovered that if the red flag on the mailbox was up, he’d flip out. He was terrified of the little red flags!”

And that’s a Rottie for you.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
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

Point Taken Quite Literally

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

J. C. Watts

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

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

But then I was horrified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


A Piloting Transfer

 The thrill of coming home has never changed – Guy Pearce


- Porter taking advantage of nature's agility course

– Porter taking advantage of nature’s agility course


Last week, I was able to go home to CT for a while. I spent time visiting family and friends which left Porter and Tall Guy to themselves. Each day I’d get a picture of their hikes, adventures or Porter not wanting to wake up. The two of them had a lot of time together. Tall Guy had an entire week to work on his Piloting skills. Which means, he also got to put a lot more money in his Piloting Bank.

Upon my return there was a very excited dog. All of those moments that we look forward to after  being away from our four legged friends for a while. There was happy whimpering, lots of kisses and a dog that could not get close enough to me. Nothing can compare to that feeling of getting a dose of unconditional love.

But then…. A walk happened. We decided to go on a hike right after I got home. When the 3 of us go on hikes together, I’m the one that usually handles Porter. So, I stepped right back into that roll. But, here’s what I forgot: I hadn’t put any Piloting into Porter for over a week and Tall Guy had.

All of a sudden he was looking to Tall Guy for direction and not me. At first, I was stunned. But then, I thought about it from Porter’s point of view. Tall Guy had made sure that Porter hadn’t died all week by himself. Even though the main Pilot (me) was gone, Tall Guy had made sure the both of them had made it through the week. They went on multiple walks and hikes where murder was inevitable in Porter’s mind, and they had made it through. Guess who put more money in their Piloting Bank than me?

Here we are having a heart to heart... I don't think he's listening

Here we are having a heart to heart… I don’t think he’s listening

Instead of becoming frustrated, throwing my hands up and handing Porter over to Tall Guy, I made sure I walked Porter on all walks and hikes. I made sure I followed through on everything and put some more money in my bank. There were times where I became annoyed. I’m not perfect! When you have a bad walking day with your dog it’s not fun. However, each bad day means there’s another good day out there. I pushed through daily walks and hikes with Porter until I felt more comfortable with the amount of Piloting I had done. It took a few days, but Porter and I were back to our normal relationship.

I’ll be going away again this weekend as well. Which means, another boys weekend for Tall Guy and Porter. When I come back, I’ll have to do some more Piloting right away. I know that. I’m well aware. However, the best part is it gives Tall Guy even more time to work on his Piloting. Between the two of us Porter has a pretty great pack. It takes hard work from both of us, but it’s completely worth it.

Are you done making fun of me yet Mom?

Are you done making fun of me yet Mom?


Keep calm and pilot on

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