The Ten Commandments (For Dog Owners)

Nefretiri: You will be king of Egypt and I will be your footstool!

Moses: The man stupid enough to use you as a footstool isn’t wise enough to rule Egypt.

The Ten Commandments (1956 film)

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

I have a long history of standing by my statement that dogs are very simple creatures.  They definitely aren’t stupid. They’re refreshingly simple.  There’s not much subterfuge about them.  I’ve never cottoned much to people coming up with long lists of do’s and don’ts when it comes to dogs.  Why complicate such simplistically beautiful creatures, such as dogs are, with all kinds of clauses,  addendum and notations?  Still, humans tend to fare better when at least given the general direction of where to start with dogs, preferably written down.  In stone.  So I therefore present to you,




1) THOU SHALT PILOT THY DOG.  Thy dog is not savvy unto the ways of the human world, for thine canine is but a canine,though created perfectly, as a canine.  

In other words, if you want a square peg to fit in a round hole, it’s going to need some help.  Both the square peg and the round hole may need to change and accommodate each other, but both need to change.  In most households, I see the dog is expected to adapt to living in a human world, whereas the humans are expected to merely expect the dog to accommodate them by changing into a human.  Dogs need Pilots.  Until they develop opposable thumbs, help them to understand this human world.  Answer their myriad of questions, whether it be as benign as “Hey, you going to eat that?” to as serious as “Is that other dog going to kill us?”.  Give them the answers they crave in the form of Piloting, and help them make sense of this place.  - Book of Kerry, Yes Way, No Way

2) THOU SHALT KEEP THEY DOG IN MOVEMENT. For  thine canine is not a machine, it has a heart which loveth thou deeply. Keep it pumping.

Your dog is not a mobile area rug, nor should you expect it to behave as one.  If you want a good dog, give your dog the Activity he craves, no just for his enjoyment, but for his well being.  A dog who is not exercised has plenty of demons.  Exorcise Exercise those demons.  - Book of Kerry, Calm

200-1 cea

3) THOU SHALT GIVE YOUR DOG A JOB.  Thine canine was created for a purpose, and a purpose he must have.

Don’t treat you dog like he’s stupid, because he ain’t.  He’s got a big ol’ brain in his head, designed to help him work with his pack to hunt his food.  Right now that huge cranium is being used to hunt down the last Cheerio from under the couch.  Treat a dog like a dog…like the intelligent, sentient being he is.  Give him food for his brain.  - Book of Kerry Blood(less) Sport

4) THOU SHALT NEVER PUNISH A DOG FOR BEING A DOG.  Thy canine has been created perfectly, as a canine. Thou shalt not punish him for not acting human.

You got a dog because you wanted a dog.  If you want another human, go on a date, realize it’s stupid, humans are dumb, and then get a dog, because dogs are so much better.


 Don’t punish the dog because it doesn’t fully understand a human world, and doesn’t do human things.  Punishment is sick and gross, and so overrated. -Book of Kerry Shocking


You simply cannot use positive reinforcement for every single situation your dog gets into. Learn to identify when positive is merited (a lot more often than you’d think) and how to give it (it’s not just treats!).  Marking a behavior you like (housebreaking, calmness, or a trick) with positive reinforcement is only half the answer.  Making sure you don’t mark unwanted behaviors with positive is the other half.  - Book of Kerry Positive Influence

6) THOU SHALT REALIZE THE DEPTH OF DEVOTION THY CANINE HAS.  And thou shalt strive to be worthy of said devotion.

Your dog will only live 10-15 years.  Some less, some more.  Most of their time is spent waiting for you. For that brief moment of happiness they get when you spend just a little bit of time with them. For that quick “Hi Fido. Miss me today boy?” that they get in that five minutes between you coming home from work to let them out and you going out again for drinks with you friends.  It means the world to them.  You mean the world to them.  Be worthy of it. They spend their entire lives waiting.  Don’t let it be in vain.  Love them.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

7) THOU SHALT SCREW UP, AND THOU SHALT BE FORGIVEN.  Thy canine is but a canine, and thou art but human.  Forgive thyself as thy canine hast already done.

I stepped on Orion’s tail yesterday.  After I kicked him in the face during our walk.  I totally suck.  But he forgave me, and I forgave myself because I did the best I could. I look back at my first dog, Saint Darwin (he’s been canonized for this post), and I see so many things I would have done differently with him, but it was nearly 20 years ago.  I did the best I could.  If you can truly say that, then you’re forgiven.  Grudges are never held. That’s the beauty of the Church of Dog.

All is forgiven for those who are truly trying.

All is forgiven for those who are truly trying.

8) THOU SHALT NOT FEEL THE NEED TO LIKE THY CANINE AT ALL TIMES, FOR HE CAN TRULY BE AN ASSHOLE.  Yet thou shalt still remember to love thy canine despite his proclivity towards assholery.


Sometimes you really want to murder your dog.  Usually over a new pair of shoes, or what is now 1 1/2 pairs of shoes.  Remember, your dog isn’t out to get you, your dog isn’t angry, and your dog isn’t “acting out”.  But that doesn’t help assuage your anger, though, does it?

I have a saying:  ”I’d rather say a mean thing than do a mean thing.”

I give you permission to call your dog is an asshole.  To not like him at the moment. To call him whatever name you want to (Hint:  ”Shitbird” has already been taken by Orion; Sparta is “Crazy Bitch”.) I will never yell these names  at my dogs, because my dogs are not ever to be demeaned by yelling.  But calmly acknowledging that I don’t like them right now …well, that’s imperative.  I’m not going to pretend that I love working with Sparta’s dog reactivity, or that Orion’s anxious nature is something I had long dreamed to have in a dog.  I may not like these issues, but I’m the human, and it’s up to me to deal with them. And it’s ok not to like them.  But I will always love them.  No matter what they’ve done, I love them still. – Book of Kerry Time Out

9) THOU SHALT LOVE THE CANINE YOU HAVE, NOT THE CANINE YOU WANT.  For the canine thou want is but a mythical beast which lives only in thy imagination.

Sparta is dog reactive. Orion is hyper.  Not the dog I want, but always the dogs I’ll love.  I will never try to turn them into something they aren’t.  - Book of Kerry  What Could Have Been


Whomever painted this is either the most compassionate animal lover or an absolute masochist towards humans.  Crying yet?

One of a kind.  The best dog ever.  Mourn them when they’re gone.  Get a little weepy eyed when you see another dog walking down the street that looks exactly like your old dog, Rex.  They spend such a brief period with us…physically.  In spirit, though, let them linger on for as long as you breathe for that is truly the best monument to give to a dog: memory of them. A small smile and a misty eye are the best shrine your dog could ever have, even 30 years later.  And they deserved it.  Even after everything, they always deserve it.

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


Finding the Best Dog Trainer for You

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.  -William Arthur Ward

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

So Fido chewed your new shoes.  Or maybe Fifi decided she wants to kill every dog she sees.  Perhaps you’ve stepped in a puddle on your new rug (barefoot, of course).

What do you do?  Onto Google.  Searching for “a dog trainer near me.  Local dog trainer.  Dog whisperer.  Dog shouter.  Dog guru….”  anything to help you out.  But you need to ask yourself, are you actually helping yourself, or are you stepping into an even worse pile than you just stepped in?  How do you know if the person you are hiring to help you with your dog is actually going to help or hurt your dog.  Here are some important questions to ask yourself.

1. Initial Contact. 

Perhaps a phone call, email, or even a text.  How quickly did they respond (bearing in mind weekends and evenings…dogs trainers have lives too, ya know).  But did they get back to you within a reasonable time?  The saying goes that if a professional has immediate availability, it’s usually because nobody else wants them either.  Yes, perhaps you may need to take an appointment that is a week or so out, but did they show you enough courtesy to return your call?  If they don’t return your calls with questions before they have your money, how readily do you think they’ll call you back once they’ve cashed your check?

2.  Questions.  

Did they answer the question you asked during initial contact, or did they give you some vague, one-size-fits-all answer.  Every dog trainer and dog behaviorist of course has their general speech (myself included) that goes over fees, what to expect, and our techniques.  But if you ask a specific question, are they able to answer it, or do they stumble back into the same speech?

Along these lines, make sure you ask the correct questions.  What methods do you use?  How does a training session break down?  What will we be covering?  It helps to have a list of behaviors you feel are important to address, but a good trainer will be able to spot problems without your bringing them up.  For example, I had a client mention that her dog counter-surfed and would run around like a maniac during the day.  She failed to mention that the dog was horrible when answering the door, jumping and barking, but I knew already that would be added to the list.  This ain’t my first rodeo, as I”m fond of saying.  I know what behaviors travel together, and when you mention one behavior, I know I’ll be addressing accompanying behaviors as well. Like Lannisters and, well, other Lannisters, some things just go together.

3.  Ask about follow-ups.

You aren’t going to understand every single concept your trainer presents to you.  There’s just no way.  You may think you understand what you’re doing right after your training session, but once reality hits…it may be a different story.

Yeah, you definitely worked on Rover’s dog-reactivity during your training session, but now you’ve forgotten what to do when you pass by two other dogs. Maybe you don’t remember if you’re supposed to let your dog on your bed or not.  Whatever your question is, your trainer should be available for answers.  Ask what their policy is on follow-up questions, and if they’re available for phone calls, emails, texts, etc.  after your training session.

4. Reviews.

Do a simple Google search of the trainer’s name and/or company.  What do the reviews say?  Pay attention to negative reviews, but remember to put them into context.  For example, I personally have 2 negative reviews through one source.  All the other fifty are 5 out of 5 stars.  The two negatives?  Both were people I’d never worked with before.  One was left by someone who didn’t like the fact that I stick up for pitbulls, another by another trainer.

When reading negative reviews, keep an open mind.  Same goes for the positive reviews. Did 6 out of 7 positive reviews happen within a 1 month period of time?  Odds are someone asked their friends to leave a review.  If you’re concerned about a specific review, ask about it when you contact them.  Check a few different source materials, as well.  Facebook, Thumbtack, even Google all have their own reviews.  See what’s out there.

5. Methods.

Ooooh….this is where it gets tricky.  You’re asking for help from someone about your dog because you have no idea how to deal with your dog’s behaviors.  If you knew what method was best, you wouldn’t be looking for a dog trainer/behaviorist, now would you?  How are you supposed to know which method is best?  I personally think the PAW Method is best, but I may be a little biased.  Of course I think my method is the best.  If it weren’t, I’d be using another method.  

But I’m sure other trainers think the same thing about their method.  So while I prefer using the PAW Method, there are plenty of other methods utilized to train a dog.  Shop around.  See what makes sense to you.  If you don’t feel a certain method is right for you, move on.  What’s right for one person may not be right for you.  Even my method has adapted and changed over the years.  What I did ten years ago may vary slightly from what I do now, because you learn and grow.  If a method is inflexible and immutable, it won’t work.  No method is perfect, and therefore, room to improve must be acknowledged.  Ask your trainer what they do differently now vs. when they first started.  If they say, “nothing”, move on, because they have stopped learning.

Regardless of what trainer you use, using what methods, it all comes down to one thing:  will you follow through.  Because the most frustrating thing is when a client tells you “it isn’t working”, and when you ask them which part, all they can tell you is that they aren’t sure because they haven’t really followed through. Dog trainers and dog behaviorists aren’t here to pour magic potions on your dog to make them “good”.  News flash:  your  dog is already a good dog.  He’s perfect, as a dog.  He just sucks at being a human. Always remember that when going into training.  You aren’t training your dog to be a good dog, you’re training them to be a good human.

And you’re learning how to be a good dog.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


Stay just a little bit longer
Please please please please please tell me that you’re gonna
- The Four Seasons


Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

So you’ve worked hard at recall with your dog.  Now what?  How about the “stay” command?

If you go about it like most people do, you’ll put your dog into a sit, slowly back off of them, saying “stay, stay, stay”, then crouch down, and call them, giving them a treat when they get to you. Um, yeah…



Remember, you’re trying to catch a behavior and reward it with positive reinforcement.  So let’s start at the very beginning.  A very good place to start.


Remember the three steps to working with a dog:

  1. Control Yourself.  Don’t be angry, don’t be frustrated.  Be calm.  If you can’t be calm, be gone and try again later.
  2. Control the Situation.  Don’t add energy to a situation you don’t already have control of.
  3. Add Stimulation and Answer Questions.  “Can I get up yet?”. Not yet, Fido.

Okay, now, you’re ready to go.  Or stay.  Whatever.

We will be using positive reinforcement in this situation because we are asking a dog to do something human: learn a new language.  Of course your dog already knows how to stay.  So does an elephant, or any other animal. What we are teaching Fido how to do is link a word with a behavior.  Any word will do, be it “stay” or “Bananarama”.  The trick is to link it to the precise behavior you want.

So let’s take another look at what you did. You started off well, putting your dog in a sitting, calm position.  You then calmly repeated the word “stay, stay, stay”, as you slowly backed off your dog, adding as little energy as you could, making sure you “nailed” your dog to that spot with your eyes and your finger as you back away from your dog.

Listen to your Uncle Sam.  He's got it right.

Listen to your Uncle Sam. He’s got it right.

And then you derailed the whole thing by calling your dog and rewarding him when he came to you, telling him he was “Good stay!  You’re such a good boy…good stay Fido, good stay”.  Um,


You’re trying to catch the behavior of “stay”, not “come”.  Now your dog is confused.  Stay and come have become entwined.  Remember, one word for one action.  ”Come” means moving towards you.  ”Stay” means not moving at all.  But you just mixed them up for your dog.

Great.  Total protonic reversal. Nice one.

Great. Total protonic reversal. Nice one.

So instead of calling them, after you’ve taken a few steps away from them, as you’re repeating “stay, stay, stay” ad nauseum, simply start moving towards them again, finger out Uncle Sam-style.  When you get to them, calmly give them a reward.  Your dog should not have moved a single muscle, staying glued to the floor the entire time.  That’s how you catch a behavior.

So, you did it once or twice, merely taking a few steps away from your dog, and remaining in eyesight the entire time.  You’ve controlled the present situation (as in Step 2 outlined above).  Now you’re ready to add more stimulation:  stay command out of sight.

So you put your dog in a sit, Uncle Sam him, and then leave the room, go outside, and take a jog around the block and, yeah…


Of course your dog didn’t stay!  You added too much stimulation.  Take baby steps…progress, not perfection.  The first time you go out of the line of vision of your dog (maybe around a corner for just an instant), you will still be repeating the word “stay”, calmly, over and over again.  You will only pop out of sight for just a brief moment.  Your dog stays as you walk back. You reward.  All is right with the universe.

Gradually add more and more to the amount of time you disappear from sight.  Gradually repeat “stay” less and less.  If the first time you repeated it 15 times during the exercise, the next time, try for 14.  If Fido gets up, go back to 15 times for the next round, and then try 14 again.  And then 12.  And pretty soon you’re down to once or twice.

So how long does it take until your dog “gets” it?

Well, look at it like this.  I’m currently learning Spanish.  Ten minutes after I do one of my language exercises, I can remember almost 100% of the vocabulary words  Two hours later, maybe 90%.  The next day, 50%.  That’s why I practice a lot  Your dog is learning not only a new language, but a new way of communicating.  Dogs aren’t based on vocal communications like we are.  They don’t understand inflection or tonality.

No, but you're learning now!

They are based on body language.  So cut them some slack, and don’t get angry when they’re being “stubborn”.  They’re doing the best they can learning an entirely different form of communication.  Give them some help:  frequent micro-training sessions of less than a minute.  Praise and rewards for getting it right.  And the well-earned gift of your patience.  Because that’s were true staying power comes from.

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


Just a Bit Off the Top

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

   – Thomas Merton


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course I chose the latter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs

Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew

“Some people care too much.  I think it’s called love.”
- Winnie the Pooh

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

We all try our best.  I know I do.  We try to give our dogs a good life, make them happy, and help them feel safe and secure. We work through behavioral issues as best we can.  We read books.  We watch videos and tv shows about dog trainers and behaviorists, each vilifying the others, everyone contradicting each other.  So who’s right?

Your dog.

Orion and Sparta.  Brittany Graham Photography

Orion and Sparta. Brittany Graham Photography

Your dog is constantly communicating with you. You need only to be sensitive enough to notice what they are trying to tell you, and suddenly it becomes crystal clear.  Take away the background noise, turn off the tv, put down the book, and pay attention to who has the best information on what your dog needs:  your dog.  

Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew

1) We are simple.  We don’t apologize for being simple, just as we don’t apologize for being dogs.  We will never understand your human need to over-complicate the most simplest issues.  We are not stupid, but we do prefer being in the moment.  We don’t worry about what may happen tomorrow.  We are your best friend.  We mean you best friend…you know, the kind that will tell your that the outfit your wearing does indeed make your butt look big.  We don’t worry about giving offense because we never take offense.  We love you enough to never be anything but sincere. Now please go change your outfit.


2)  We are always trying our hardest.   I know I sometimes get anxious and nervous when I see another predator dog while we’re out on a walk.  I don’t mean to be a jerk, I’m really just afraid that vicious creauture puppy might try to kill you.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that you’ll protect both of us.  I’m not trying to be bad, I’m actually trying my hardest to be the best body guard friend I can be.

Brittany Graham Photography

3) I ask a lot of questions.  Please answer them.  You may think they’re stupid, but they mean the world to me.  So seriously, now, is the mailman trying to kill us?  If you’d just answer the question, I could stop barking.


4) We don’t understand punishment.  We understand “yes” and “no”.  When I understand that the answer to my question about chewing on your shoes was “no”, please let it go.  We don’t understand punishment or discipline.  If it makes you feel better to punish me, though, then I love you enough to let you.  But it confuses and frightens me. I’d feel much better if you’d just answer my questions and move on.

My Sparta

5) Give me what I need, and I’ll do anything you want.  All I need from you is the basics for life, and some Piloting, Activity and Work.  Don’t pick and choose when giving me what I need.  Give me all those things I need,and I’ll do anything you want, like, stop chewing on your shoes, for instance. If nobody Pilots me, then I guess I have to do the job myself.  I really don’t want to be a leader and Pilot everyone, though. Please don’t make me.

Brittany Graham Photography

6)  Keep me forever.  I’ve only got a short time to live compared to you, please let me live it with you.  I can’t help that I shed, or that the new apartment you want won’t let me in.   It frightens me not to have a home, and it takes a toll on me each time I’m bounced from home to home.  I would give me life for you. I ask only that you never turn me away, and keep me always by you.

IMG_55297) And then let me go.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  I tried not to get old, but it’s hard for me to walk well, and it’s too much for me to come bounding up to greet you like I used to when I was younger.  I know you tried your hardest as well.  You took me to the vet’s office regularly, and made sure I had a good diet and exercise, but now it’s time for me to go.  Who thought we’d have this long together? I’ll be okay. I promise you.


Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Scent Detection

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains. 
- Diane Ackerman

Porter, ready to do some Work! Brittany Graham Photography

Fun fact for the day: While humans have about 5 million scent glands, it’s nothing compared to your pup, who has anywhere from 125 million to 300 million scent glands.

We see the world predominately through sight, whereas dogs come to understand the world through smells. Think of it this way, if you were to make a crockpot meal and have it on low for the full 8 hours your dog wouldn’t just smell the stew for 8 hours. Your dog would smell the carrots, the onions, the beef and the broth all separately as their own entity… for 8 hours. Now, this post isn’t about making you feel guilty about crock pot meals, it’s about finding a fun way for you to bond with your dog as well as give him some mental work outlined in the PAW method while using his Super Smeller.

I’m sure you’ve seen dogs that do scent detection work. They look for missing persons, contraband in airports and even prey (i.e. fox, rabbits). But you can do scent detection in your own home with your pup. He may never find Timmy in the well 5 miles away, but he can find objects you have around the house.

Scent Detection Fun

To start working with your dog on scent detection, you need a trigger object (what your dog is trying to find).  When first teaching a job scent detection, I favor strongly scented objects, such as lemons and limes. Place your dog in a sit-stay command. Hold the object in front of his nose (if you need to lightly cup your hand around the bridge of the nose to make your pup focus more that’s fine). Repeat the word “Scent” at least 5 or 6 times. Give the stay command, and in a very short distance in plain sight place the trigger object down.

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Brittany Graham Photography

Move your attention to your dog, point at the treat/toy and say “Find it”. Your dog should go straight to the toy/treat. Once he engages with the object by touching the object he was searching for, praise him like crazy. You can praise him by using the Touch, Talk, Treat method. Give your pup a light touch while saying a phrase , such as “good dog” and then pop a treat in their mouth. Soon they’ll start to align getting the Touch and Talk with the Treat and you don’t have to use the treat every time.

Do this a few times with the toy/treat in plain sight. When you feel your dog has a handle on it, go ahead and hide the object around a corner or behind another object, but somewhere we he can see you put it down. Repeat the word “find it” and always praise him when he does.

Soon, you can have him in a sit/stay command and hide an object in the other room. Always make sure you give him the scent of the object before you hide it. If he needs help, stand near the object you have hidden to give him a hint as to where to look.

Feel free to have fun with it and change up the object. Once your dog has a handle on it, switch up the objects he’s looking for. It doesn’t have to be one of his own – it can be a shirt of yours or a towel. Anything you can think of! The key is to always reward him when he does find it, even if it takes him a while. Remember, positive reinforcement is a must for this situation.

Let’s say your dog is having some trouble finding the object. If he’s looking around for the object frantically or doesn’t seem to understand what you’re asking him to do, gently direct him to the object while repeating the phrase “find it”. You can do this by gentle tugs on the collar until he gets to the object. Once he engages (i.e. picks it up, touches with his nose or makes even eye contact with it) then praise again.

So to break it down in some easy steps:

1. Sit/Stay command

2. “Scent, Scent, Scent, Scent, Scent” while letting your dog sniff the object

3. Hide Item

4. “Find it” command

5. Praise like crazy when your dog finds the object

This is a great way to bond with your dog and get some more mental activity in. I highly recommend taking advantage of it now when it’s hard to go on long walks with your pup. My Porter personally likes finding limes,and I have a great time working as a team with him.That’s what bonding is all about!

Brittany Graham Photography


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

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

Your Superhero Powers

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

With great power, comes great responsibility – Uncle Ben

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

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

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

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

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

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

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

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

Keep calm and pilot on

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

A Little Less Ego

-Brittany Graham Photography

-Brittany Graham Photography

The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it – Criss Jami

Dog’s have no ego. Which is a big reason why we love them so much.

The dog that saves his family from a fire, doesn’t go up to the news crews wagging his tail saying “I did it! That was me!”

Balto didn’t make sure he sent out a press release before he made his journey. Nope, he just did it.

The dog that puts himself in between his owner and harm doesn’t post it on Facebook after to see how many likes he can get.

Dogs don’t look to feed their ego. They do what they do because their hearts are made of gold and it’s the right thing to do.

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

Wouldn’t it be nice if people worked that way too? Yes, of course we all like a little positive reinforcement.

We like to hear someone say “good job” and that they appreciate what we’ve done for them. But, do we necessarily need to have our name attached to it if it’s for the betterment of the community?

So, in human terms, let’s make a larger analogy here. We know there’s multiple universities and research labs that are looking for a cure for cancer. No one can argue that a cure for cancer wouldn’t be an amazing feat for mankind. Let’s say University X discovers a piece of information that could help the other researchers get one step closer to a cure. What would you expect University X to do? Share it right? Ok perfect. University X shares this groundbreaking knowledge. And let’s say University Y says “ummm… thanks but no thanks. We’re working on that as well, so don’t need your help”.

Now, you’re scratching your head right? Because, let’s be honest, if this piece of information could help us get that much closer to a cure wouldn’t you want to use it? Wouldn’t you want to discuss this information with University X and see what further developments you can make? After all, it’s all the same end goal correct?

But see, this is where we as humans are sometimes flawed and dogs are, well, quite perfect. We have egos. And unfortunately some people need their name attached to the feat. They need the press release stating that they’re the ones that accomplished something great. They’re the ones that need the Facebook likes and the shares. And sometimes, this can cause our community not to improve as quickly or rapidly as one would hope.

Dogs don’t need their name attached to anything. They do the right thing and they move on. If there’s more than one of them doing the right thing? They’re perfectly content with that.

- Brittany Graham Photography

– Brittany Graham Photography

Ego. Try letting it go. Do good just to do good. That’s what dogs do. They give you affection, not because they expect anything in return, but because they are emotionally attached to you. If we’re all working towards a common goal, let’s be more like our canine friends and be supportive. After all, who cares whose name is attached to anything? How about just putting our pack name on there – The Community. We all have a stake in the changes that are made each day. So, let’s take away the credit by giving us all the credit. And let’s live a little bit more like dogs. Because, what a wonderful fulfilling life that would be.

Keep calm and pilot on

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