Calm – Why It’s the Most Important Component in Training

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

Saint Francis de Sales

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

Picard would have been calm...just sayin'

Picard would have been calm…just sayin’

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

1. Control yourself

2. Control the situation

3. Answer your dog’s question(s)

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


Easy to say, sometimes not so easy to do.

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

Let it go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the full video of the trials see below:

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

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


Changing the Norm

Without the element of uncertainty, the bringing off of even, the greatest business triumph would be dull, routine, and eminently unsatisfying – J. Paul Getty

 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Recently, my normal every day routine has been wildly different. I went to CT for over a week, I went to Nashville, and combined with some other (positive) changes in my life, things became hectic. My normal week day schedule suddenly became non-existent. For a while there was no pattern, and now, there’s a new pattern. However, the new normal has only been in effect for a little over a week.

What does this mean? Porter’s a little bit uncomfortable. Dogs are creatures of habit. When we first got Porter he would bark like crazy when we left for work. However, he soon realized that we leave every day at the same time, and then end up coming back. So, really, it’s not that scary. The barking then stopped. Porter’s anxiety about us leaving, even when it’s not for work, has gotten better. However, he will act out in other ways.

With my schedule so different, Porter hasn’t had a chance to feel out and get used to the new routine. This last week he ended up being a little more frantic. I would have to enforce commands before they were carried out. Instead of being able to just snap my fingers to have him stop barking, I would have to use my body language to tell him that he had done his job and he could stop now. Walks were tough. There were many corrections to be made (and names to be called). His energy level had skyrocketed. He was nervous. He didn’t know what was coming next. We can look at someone and say “I’m feeling very anxious about not knowing what’s coming next”. All our dogs can do is show us. This comes in forms of not being able to stop moving, whining, barking, and pacing to name a few.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

The best way for me to counter Porter’s anxiety is to show him that everything is normal. I go about my schedule as though this is what it always has been. There’s no “I’m going to miss you so much” before I leave for work. It’s simple. I leave the same way I did before.

I’ve added more activity. More hikes on the weekend, and runs in the morning. The activity in the morning helps him not have to focus on what’s coming next because he’s already tired.

And of course, we’ve upped the mental stimulation. There’s more work to be done on commands. Just yesterday we worked on the come command a little more. This time, to make it a little trickier and to make sure he’s paying attention I would say a string of words that started with that hard “C” sound. (ex. Cooling, Colorado, Crayon, Cope, Come”) He would have to make sure he was coming on the correct word. If not, he would be put back where he started and we would try again.

 Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Anxiety is normal. We all get it. It’s how you react to it. There’s no babying. It’s isolating the problem and figuring out how to move forward. When you change your routine on your dog, it can be a very scary situation for them. The world is a scary place and if they’re not there to protect you, who knows what happens? Focus on giving them the PAW that they need and coming up with creative ways to work a little harder at it. Soon, the new abnormal will become the old normal and it won’t matter as much anymore.

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