No Other Option

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

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

Technically speaking, there is more than fight or flight. 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

– Brittany Graham Photography

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

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

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

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

More meerkatting by the inventors of the sport.

More meerkatting by the inventors of the sport.

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

Congratulations!  You have successfully Piloted your dog.

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

And remember:

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

 

An Open Letter to Lakewood City Council

This post was originally published prior to our Pittie Parade in May 2015, where Dariwn Dogs took their stance, along with so many, against BSL.  In an interesting twist of fate, today I just had David Anderson, council member for the City of Lakewood knock on my door (it’s election season, after all).  I spoke with him briefly about the BSL in Lakewood, and how we can hopefully amend this egregious piece of legislation.  I mentioned the Pittie Parade from this spring, along with my open letter to city council, and asked what his thoughts were.  His answer was that he didn’t remember reading the letter (and that if a letter is sent with all the council members cc’d on it, it’s difficult to remember to read it).  I offered to have him read the letter, and mentioned it was on my blog, but he declined, as he stated he doesn’t read blogs.  He admitted that he isn’t a dog person (which doesn’t make anyone a bad person…let’s not muddle the issue), but that he’d look into it and find my email from months ago and read it.  The Pittie Parade alone had quite a bit of media coverage, support from many, many institutions, as well as so many dog owners who were on hand to lend their voices to the cause, I find it difficult to understand how anyone could not be aware of the growing outcry among pittie supporters against BSL in Lakewood.

I realize that BSL is not the only deciding factor in determining who you wish to have in office as your ward representative, but how individuals respond to their constituents is pretty important, regardless of their questions or concerns, is telling.  I was informed by Mr. Anderson that we could possibly bring this up again in January.  In other words, after elections.  I mentioned that perhaps we could bring this up before elections. His response was “Good luck.  That’s three weeks away”.  I thought I’d like to bring it up again, anyway.

In conclusion, thought this conversation may have seemed hostile, Mr. Anderson came across like a very reasonable individual, and hopefully one who will listen to what so many of us are asking: drop the ban.  I hope that at least in him we will have a dose of common sense when it comes to how our Lakewood dogs are labeled and treated.  I urge you to share this post, especially prior to elections, and perhaps we can have them take notice.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

To the Members of Lakewood City Council:

Ah… the Lakewood BSL. I realize this has been discussed at length already during city council meetings.  But rather than quoting statistics and information that you’ve already heard, which, while still very important, can only be heard so many times, I’d much rather offer solutions.

As our council members, your job is difficult.  You must weigh public opinion against the legality of certain issues, add a measure of your own different viewpoints, and combine it with a dash of funding issues.  I realize that can be a very difficult job – tedious at best. When you passed legislation in 2008 to enact a BSL, I realize that this was not done on a malicious basis, but rather, prior to when all  pertinent statistics and information were made available about pit bulls.  I do believe it was passed to try to protect our citizens, our law enforcement officers, and our domestic pets.

Unfortunately, the BSL solution was for the wrong problem.  As you’ve heard previously, pities are not the problem.  You all have heard where they rank in bites, and it’s pretty low. In my entire career of working with dogs, I’ve never been attacked by one.  I wish I could say the same for every breed.  Rather, the problem is in the ill-considered actions of owners.  Whether it be through negligence or ignorance, I put forth that we address the situation at the source: education.

Prohibition didn’t work, and therefore ended with the 21st Amendment.  However, it didn’t end without a plan: education about responsible use of alcohol.  In 1935, AA was founded.  Legal drinking age was established to make sure alcohol was used in a responsible manner.  Education became the weapon of choice, and it’s been working ever since.

I am asking that the same tact be taken with regard to the BSL.  Let’s educate our citizens of Lakewood, starting with issues revolving around issues such as retractable leashes.  Let’s educate about the body language that a dog can give before they are forced to attack.  Provide information on how to prevent dog aggression, (or what is actually happening - defensive reactions, - which can be addressed). Help our community fix the entire dog-bite issue, and not just ban one specific breed, leaving a gap of ignorance around the actual problem.

I work with and educate humans on how to be little more dog-responsible every day, and I see the results of education.  Therefore, I propose regular, free general-safety seminars to be offered to the citizens of Lakewood. I would be happy to present these seminars in conjunction with other professionals, if so chosen, as well as spearheading a general resource of safety etiquette and knowledge as it pertains to dogs.

Our Lakewood Police Department undergoes a rigorous amount of training with canine situations, and in speaking with Lt. Warner recently, I discovered what an amazing track record our police have with dogs, and using force as a last resort.  I firmly believe that stellar record comes from good cops being given good information.  Now I ask that our citizens be given the same opportunity for learning.

Lakewood has a wonderful library.  We have the Beck Center!  I first handedly know about our schools, including our special education department, which has made my children thrive!  Rather than deviating from Lakewood’s path of education, tolerance and non-discrimination by retaining the BSL, let’s be a shining example to other cities, not only by removing BSL, but offering a plan in its place to keep our citizens and their dogs safe.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

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

Photo Finished

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

- Gertrude Stein

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

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Seriously?

 

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Dog’s options: Allow child to break spine, or bite and get put down for being “aggressive”. After all, the child is only playing!
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Let’s put our kid in a dominant position on top of the dog, let her choke the dog, and watch the fun ensue. Of course the resulting bite is because pits are vicious and should learn to have a little fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now grow up and get your kid some real toys.

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

Hulk

“…so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” -Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park

o-PITBULL-570This is Hulk.  At 175 pounds, he is the world’s largest pitbull (which yes, I know isn’t even a breed, but rather a conglomeration of different breeds).  He is owned by Marlon Gannon of Dark Dynasty K9.  Hulk has been bred, and according to Gannon, is a trained professional guard dog, who will heed his owners every command and protect them with his life. Lisa Gannon claims she trusts him around her toddler “precisely because of his thorough guard-dog training” and even lets her toddler ride him(!), a very dangerous (and stupid) thing to do.

Because nothing shows respect so much as letting your children ride your dog

Because nothing shows respect so much as letting your children ride your dog

Let me start by stating that anyone who claims their dog will follow their “every command” has some ego problems.  My dogs and I are pack members. I have nothing to prove to them except that I will always take care of them, and in a crisis situation (say, intruder breaks in or a zombie apocalypse) I know they will do their best to protect me.  I will never claim any animal (or human, for that matter) will obey every command, as every creature has a breaking point.

I’ll admit it: I don’t respect guard dog trainers very much.  I think it takes a special kind of bully to turn a dog into a compensating appendage.

Contact your doctor if you try to compensate for more than four hours.

Contact your doctor if you try to compensate for more than four hours.

I do realize that there are indeed special circumstances that actually require a guard dog, and that there are indeed wonderful trainers who can train dogs to safely handle these situations.  Police dogs, military dogs, even personal protection dogs, are all a necessary evil.  However, I do wonder at the ludacris number of “guard dog trainers” out there. Especially the ones who use pitties as guard dogs.  One of the worst choices for the job.  Yeah, they’re muscular, but so was Michael Clarke Duncan.  Who was a vegetarian.  

So wait, muscular individuals don't dine on baby flesh?

So wait, muscular individuals don’t dine on baby flesh?

I stumbled across the best statement about this whole “Hulk” debacle on Facebook.  Trainer Shannon Duffy, from Your Good Dog, had this to say about it:

“This may come as a surprise but I am not a fan of Hulk. Well, Hulk I love, the situation around him is despicable in my opinion. Hulk, the 175 pound “Pit Bull”, is the latest internet sensation. Hulk is also a mutation that is the result of irresponsible breeding that is done purely for looks and size with no regard for the health or temperament of the dogs created. He seems to be a great family dog even when the parents, showing extreme poor judgment, allows their child to ride him like a horse. I wish him all the best and hope that he continues to be a good ambassador for Pit type dogs but I cannot support the concept of breeding based purely on appearance (looking at you too AKC).”

And that sums up everything despicable surrounding poor Hulk. I, too, wish you the best in this crazy world you’ve been thrust into, big guy.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Real Story

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

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Remayah, aged 5

Remayah, aged 5

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

A little girl was mauled.

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

Another child was mauled.

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

Because a little girl’s face is now disfigured.

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

WPTV-labrador-bite-victim_1416181004701_9626788_ver1.0_640_480

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s not the story here.

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

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

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

 

http://www.gofundme.com/hcyjzo

Point Taken Quite Literally

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

J. C. Watts

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

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

But then I was horrified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

imagsdses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sparta

Sparta

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

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

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

 

Total Recall

“I’ll be back.”  – Schwarzenegger  

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

The other day, Danika and I both decided to do some work with our dog-reactive dogs.  We were in the Metroparks walking a lovely path, both our dogs on leashes.  Across the field I suddenly saw a black lab running towards us.  I shouted out to the owner (who was standing idly by with noting less than a bovine look on his face) that our dogs weren’t friendly.  He commenced trying to call his dog back, to no avail.  She charged us (obviously only wanting to play).  She headed straight towards Sparta, who was in no mood for her form of play.

Fortunately, I was able to control Sparta, although I literally had to kick the other dog away from her to maintain control.  Eventually I had enough control of the situation that I could pick up the errant dog’s leash, and walk both Sparta and the Lab over to the Lab’s owner.  I brusquely handed him his dog’s leash, stating firmly that that was the part one holds.

As the owner of a dog-reactive dog, I have no patience for for the ill-trained beasts running mindlessly around the Metroparks.  Their dogs are not much better.  Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to control my dog.  However, if Sparta is on a leash, walking nicely with me, and we are suddenly charged by even a friendly dog who is off-leash…there isn’t much to be done.  I Pilot as best I can in that situation, as described here.  Damage control is more like it.

Now, back to the Lab who charged us.  Her name was Abbie.  I know this because her owner was incessantly calling it to no avail.  Obviously there was quite a bit of recall issues going on.  The dog had no idea what the “come” command meant, or knew and realized that they were the Pilot, not the human, and therefore “come” was merely a suggestion.  Which was promptly ignored.

So what should have been done in this situation?  Prep work.  One doesn’t just let a dog off leash without working towards total recall first.  How to do it?

Start in a very boring, low-key situation.  The dog park is not the place to start working on the come command.  Your house works best, beginning with the dog a few feet from you. Squat down, and while patting your hand against your leg the entire time, simply repeat the word “come” over and over, in your normal voice.  Yes, this is a command, but barking “come” at your dog will have the opposite effect desired.  Utilize Touch, Talk, Treat (calm petting, gentle praise and a treat) when your dog arrives to you. The object is to look non-threatening when you call your dog, so save the strong, dominant body language for other uses.

If your dog doesn’t come to you, stop calling them, silently stand up and walk towards them, take them gently by the collar and tug, tug, tug them back to where you had initially called them, repeating the word come, come, come the entire time you are tugging them.  (NOTE:  tugging is essential.  Do not drag your dog.)  Practice over and over, gradually adding distance between you and the dog.

To work on recall outside, start with an enclosed area:  your backyard, if possible.  Repeat the steps above, but remember, we’ve not added more stimuli.  There are birds, squirrels, noises… you may lose your dog’s focus and they may not come at all.  Instead of getting angry, shouting or yelling, instead calmly stalk your dog.  Silently walk directly towards them.  They will dart in another direction.  Simply change your course and continue to stalk them from location to location.  This takes time and patience, but what you are doing is setting up the stage for future confrontations such as these.  Your dog’s question is: Can I ignore your request?  The answer is “no”.  You must follow through with this answer.

Eventually you will be able to catch your dog.  Resist the urge to punish: it is the worst thing you can do at this point.  Simply tug your dog back to where you first called them, and offer Touch Talk Treat.

An easy way to help with this is to attach a long, cotton rope (like a clothesline) to their collar.  At the other end, tie a huge knot.  Let your dog wander around, dragging the rope with the knot behind them.  When you call them, and they don’t come, you have an easy way to catch them: simply step on the rope (the knot will catch at your foot) and reel them in like a fish, repeating the word “come”.  Touch Talk Treat when they arrive. Once they get good at recall, gradually start cutting the rope into smaller and smaller pieces, until it’s no longer there.  That way your dog will never realize that suddenly they are no longer attached to it.

This is an important command; maybe even a life or death command.  Practice, practice, practice.

I still work on this command with Sparta and Orion.  I will work on it until the day they are no longer mobile.  Both have wonderful recall, but…

I will never let Sparta off leash.  She is a lovely, well-behaved, obedient girl, but she is still a dog; one who has dog reactivity.  She is not a machine.  She was bred to protect, and protect she does.  She isn’t perfect, and the one time she decides to ignore my command could end with tragedy.  So why do I do all this practice and prep work?  Because I’m not a machine either. I’m not perfect.  I may slip up, drop the leash, or fall down.  She may find a hole in our fence that never existed before.  I work on it because I love her and want her safe.  That’s what it means to be Pilot.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

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