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There is more to life than increasing its speed.

Mahatma Gandhi

I just spent the day at a local elementary school with one of my favorite dogs, Stan, who is a registered therapy dog.  I love going into the school, the enthusiasm the children show, how “Stan Time” can be earned by good behavior, and how Stan Time can also be used for helping children with stress or anxiety.  Stan Time includes children who have special needs.  He gives sensory therapy to those dealing with sensory issues, or encourages behaviors, such as using verbal communication to get a reward (getting to play fetch).  He also helps a typical child who may be doing very well in school and therefore earns a reward of Stan Time (children are able to save up points for good behavior, and then spend them like money on various rewards, such as lunch with the principal, or Stan Time).  Other children just need some time to reboot, and the mundane pleasure of throwing a ball for a big, goofy Golden Retriever can help melt stress prior to taking a test.

So in almost every sense of the word, Stan is a therapy dog. He gives all he can to these children (as well as their teachers).  It’s my job to make sure he is set up to be utilized to his full potential.  For example a child with sensory issues may not want to touch that slobbery tennis ball, and definitely does not want to have added stimuli of Stan running back and forth to fetch it, but they break out in smiles when simply allowed to lay their head on Stan’s side and snuggle with him.  Other children need an outlet, and would be far too energetic for snuggle time.  I took those children and showed them the basics of agility, which they then taught Stan to do.

A student working with Stan on agility.  Problem solving together...

A student working with Stan on agility. Problem solving together…

...helps with self confidence for both Stan and the children.

…helps with self confidence for both Stan and the children.

It’s always a wonderful experience for me when I’m at the school, and it’s nice to feel as if we’re making a difference, but let’s face it. It can be grueling for Stan sometimes. It’s exhausting for me, too.

Me walking through the school halls without Stan.

Me walking through the school halls without Stan.

OMG! It’s Stan!

That’s why every hour I give him a little bit of a break. Are we done? Not necessarily.  Just a bit of time to take breather.  To reboot, if you will.

The three-finger salute, as I refer to it.  Control + Alt + Delete.  Time to reboot.

The Three Finger Salute, as I refer to it. Control + Alt + Delete. Time to reboot.

No matter what he’s been doing, when he needs a reboot, he needs a reboot.  There’s only so much he has to give, and sometimes he needs some time to regain his composure.  The steps to working with a dog are:

1) Control yourself;

2) Control the situation;

3) Answer your dog’s questions, or as we refer to it, Piloting your dog.

By pushing forward when Stan’s mentally exhausted, I’m not adhering to Step 2.  I’m not controlling the situation, I’m merely adding more stimulation.  That never ends well.  So rather than pushing forward, I’ll take a step back and let him both of us relax for a moment.

I apply this concept to every aspect of my life.  I apply it during a walk with Sparta, who is notoriously dog-reactive.  She does very well with being Piloted past another dog, but two in a row?  On retractable leashes?  I’ll Pilot her, and then give her the Three Finger Salute, and let her reboot a bit after that one.  I simply answer her questions about the other dogs, get her past the situation in a calm manner, and since I know it was a mental struggle for her, I give her a moment to compose herself again.  Sit her down, scratch her gently behind her ears, and calmly praise her.  She literally shakes the incident off after a few seconds, and then is ready to go again, ready for the next dog I may need to Pilot her past.  In other words, I never run my dog down to empty. I always let them refuel mentally.

Rebooting the dogs has become a natural and normal part of my life over the years.  I automatically do it because I know I get better results from the dogs, and not pushing them to their limits earns more trust between us, allowing us to accomplish greater and greater feats.  Sparta now only requires very minimal Piloting when going past another dog.  Orion hasn’t had any stress-elimination in a very long time.

There is one aspect I keep neglecting, though.  Me.  So, while I had fun with Stan today, I came home exhausted.  I sat in my chair with my phone in one hand, a coffee in the other, and my computer on my lap, all ready to return the days phone calls and set up next week’s training sessions.

But I was tired.  I needed a Three Finger Salute.  I needed a reboot.  Sometimes I forget to give myself the same considerations I give to my dogs.  The same considerations that the students give themselves. They recognize when they need to cuddle Stan and just decompress.  I could learn a lot from those kids.

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So for once, phone calls weren’t returned immediately.  For once, I didn’t set up appointments as soon as I came home.  For once, I immediately took care of myself.  Took a leisurely cup of coffee with a dog on my lap instead of a computer.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

A Lesson From Porter

  Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.
   – Oprah Winfrey

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Sometimes, I let my mind run a little too much. I’m constantly thinking about the next thing I need to be doing, what I should have done, what I could’ve done better. It can range from things that happened that day to things that happened 5 years ago.

The worst is when I go to bed. I’ll lay down and know that I need the sleep that is about to come, but I can’t get my mind to stop. The constant buzzing and swirling of the day’s events, of past events, fill my mind. Then comes the frustration. The thoughts of I really need to be asleep right now. Why am I not asleep? I’m going to be a mess at work tomorrow. And now I’m in a whole new swirl of thoughts and emotions that only keep me up longer.

When we first brought Porter home he slept in his crate. I wanted him to know that this was a place he could sleep on his own. I wanted him to enjoy his crate and not mind going in there at night if he had to. But, eventually he was allowed to sleep in the bedroom.

The first night he slept in the room with me, I was on alert. Would he go to sleep? Would he pace? Would he understand that his bed was the one next to me on the floor? As I laid there trying to listen to any movements he might make, I heard him stand up and do a few circles in his bed. Then I heard him lay down. I waited to see what would happen next. A few minutes went by, and then all of a sudden I heard him take a huge deep, cleansing breath. One of pure contentment and of letting go. I smiled to myself and found myself mimicking him. And suddenly I was asleep.

Porter does this every night. He settles into bed and then there’s one big deep inhale and exhale of breath. It’s a nightly reminder to me that at the end of the day, you just have to let it go. There’s no need to worry about what happened that day or what’s going to happen tomorrow. Just one deep breath and you can relax for the night.

5-9-14(1)Our dogs are wise. You may not think so, in fact, each time Porter accidentally runs into a wall I find myself shaking my head and wondering about his actual intelligence. But they’re creatures of the present. They are beings that completely invoke living in the moment. Keep an eye out and you might be surprised at the lessons your pup can teach you.

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

Goodnight Moon

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 We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars – Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

A dog is quite honestly the loveliest thing in the world. I know this. I do. And yet, sometimes, I forget. I forget the amount of joy and kindness that they exude. I try not to take these things for granted, but somehow, when I’m reminded of their remarkableness, I realize that I had been taking this amazing species for granted.

I don’t do well with winter. I get mopey and lack my usual excitement for things. I pump the Vitamin D and try and stay active. It’s just, without that sun and warmth I turn into a shell version of myself. So, when I find things that make me happy, I hang onto them pretty tight. Last night though, I got taken by surprise about what I tend to do every night. It came as an epiphany. I finally noticed what the last thing is that I do before I fall asleep.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

As I laid in bed, I let the usual running thoughts start. However, lately I’ve really tried to control those. So, I started to listen to Porter’s breathing. He had already done his nightly ritual if his big cleansing breath. And I, of course, had copied him. But as I struggled to fall asleep I found I could hear his breathing pattern as he had slipped into his dreams.

His breaths were nothing short of adorable. I matched my breaths to his and pictured all the happiness that he brings me. All the pets that he wants so badly, the way he will drop everything when he sees my car pull up, the way he gives gentle kisses when I’m feeling sad, and the way he chose us, and most definitely, not the other way around.

I thought about all these things and started to feel myself drift off. And then I realized what was happening. I was smiling. I was falling asleep while smiling because of all the pure bliss my dog brings into my life. How many people can actually say they fall asleep while smiling? I realized then, that I am so lucky and grateful to have animals that love unconditionally in my life.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

My goal is to notice the little things that bring me joy. And also to notice my body’s natural reaction to these things.

I had a tough session this morning, more on that later. So today, I will be taking full advantage of Porter’s love of pets and his unconditional love of me. And I will make sure to notice, that at the end of the day, my dog makes me smile as I fall asleep. How much better can it get than that?

Keep calm and pilot on

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

My Dog, the Yogi

We are what we think. All that we are, arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world – Buddha
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I had just returned home from a yoga class and Porter greeted me at the door. He was calm, yet happy to see me and then all of a sudden he went into a play bow stretch, or for you yoga people, a downward dog. I watched him and suddenly held a hint of jealousy towards him. He did that stretch perfectly! Yet, I’m constantly trying to reposition and make sure I’m holding my body correctly.

As I watched him the rest of the night more epiphanies started to occur and the final conclusion was: My dog is a yogi.

The Stretching

Blog Post Yogi

So there’s the stretching. He’s amazing at it. He really stretches every party of his body out. And as I started to watch his stretches, I started to realize when he was doing them.

He always stretches first thing in the morning. He starts his day off by making sure every muscle is engaged. You should always stretch in the morning as it sets your body and mind up for a new adventure.

He stretches before we go outside. He resets his body and mind before going outdoors. He’s calming himself down, making sure he’s attuned to his body and then moving forward with the outdoor world.

He stretches when he’s stressed. He uses it as a stress relief.

He stretches when… well he pretty much stretches all the time. He’s constantly resetting his body and energy to focus on another matter close to a yogi’s heart:

The Now

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He lives in the present.

Dogs, all of them, especially Porter, live for each moment in that moment. Dogs don’t consume themselves with the past. They live for each moment. They live fully. They live with vibrancy and pure bliss. They are absolutely and completely invoked in each moment in each day. Their happiness is the fact that they are present. All the time.

When I’m with Porter, I do tend to stay in the moment. He brings me complete joy and sometimes frustration, but he’s always so good at making sure my mindset is set in the present moment.

The Breath

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Porter breathes. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, we all breathe. But, Porter pays attention to his breaths. When he’s about to go to bed, or if he’s just relaxed, Porter takes big cleansing breaths. He sucks in as much oxygen as he can and he lets it go, loudly. He cleanses any anxiety, uncertainty or worries he has with those breaths. It’s all about the breath.

What’s wonderful is, when he starts doing this, it’s a reminder to me to breathe as well. I mimic his breathing until I’m relaxed and finding myself more present and aware of my body.

The Gratitude

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Everyday Porter wakes up grateful. Every night when I come home he’s grateful. Every time he climbs into his bed, he’s grateful. He’s grateful for his bones, he’s grateful for his bed, he’s grateful for pets and he’s grateful for a home.

You can see it in his actions, in his eyes, in the way he greets all of these things when he’s been away for a few days.

Seeing his gratitude reminds me of all the things that I take for granted and puts me in the mindset to be thankful for each day, each experience, each person that has shaped my life. After all, if my dog can be grateful for it all, I should be too.

My dog is a yogi. He’s never been to a class (although dog yoga, doga, is a thing), he’s never read a book, he’s never talked to another yogi. But he gets it all instinctively. Watching him changes my perspective on things and makes me realize there are some things that I should be doing differently.

Ok, so his reaction to squirrels isn’t the most yogi type reaction, but we can’t be perfect right?

Keep calm and pilot on

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

What Could Have Been

Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.

 - Buddha

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This is Stan.  Stan is ridiculously perfect.  He’s owned by my daughter’s 1st grade teacher, who decided Stan should become a therapy dog.  *poof* Done.  Yes, it was that easy.  It was like deciding to try to make Halle Berry beautiful.  Yeah… not so much effort needed in that endeavor.
Stan’s owner had a lot to do with it:  she’s a damn good Pilot.  She did her homework and practiced leash walking with him until she had it down cold (if you could use a refresher on your leash walking skills, read this).  She asked me to check out Stan’s disposition to make sure he’d be suitable for a classroom therapy dog.  So I took him for a test drive.  We went shopping.  We went hiking in the deep, dark woods.  We went to school together and practiced walking by things that might be scary to a dog:  children in wheelchairs (putting my 7-year old daughter in a wheelchair and asking her to wheel around as bait, which was a sobering experience).  Stan hardly blinked at all of these things.  Steady as she goes.
Test drive through crowded, noisy pet stores, and scary automated doors.  No problem.

Test drive through crowded, noisy pet stores, and scary automated doors. No problem.

I believe in thoroughness.  I didn’t want Stan to enjoy being a therapy dog whether he liked it or not.  I wanted him to thrive.  And thrive is exactly what he did through these situations.  He was so….easy.

And I became jealous.

It made me think of Sparta.  My dear Sparta of the “Kill First, Bark Questions Later” mentality.  Sparta who has an endless stream of questions.  Sparta who I work with endlessly to ensure her questions are answered.  I love her so much, but why couldn’t she be easy.  Sometimes it seems as if I’m trying to carry water in a sieve with her.  An uphill climb.  Those of you who have worked with your reactive dogs know exactly what I’m talking about.  Why can’t Sparta be Stan?

But then I stumbled across these pictures, and it got me thinking.

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Yes, she was holding the shower head for me while I lathered her up.

Yes, she was holding the shower head for me while I lathered her up.

This is Sparta getting de-skunked.  She didn’t even get sprayed.  I didn’t realize that our cat had actually gotten sprayed and then made himself cozy in Sparta’s bed.  I had told Sparta to go to her bed, which she dutifully did, and then stood stoically in the tub so I could bathe that smell she acquired out of her.  Sorry about that Sparta.

Which led me to pics of Sparta holding random objects.  I was bored, so over the course of a summer, I would take pics of her in various scenarios holding different things, including:

Styling hair at the local salon

Styling hair at the local salon

Doing the dishes

Doing the dishes

Playing bathroom attendant

Playing bathroom attendant

 She did over 130 of these shots, never once balking at what was next.  She IS pretty amazing.

And then today, I finished making dinner for guests, but forgot to grab a bottle of wine.  So I rushed out the door to go buy some, and neglected to lock up Sparta…leaving her with a freshly roasted chicken on the counter.  I didn’t realize my mistake until I came home – and saw the chicken just as I had left it.  What a wonderful dog.

Sparta would take a bullet for me.  She would defend my life with her own.  Hell, she’d give up her own life to merely keep me from breaking a leg!  She’s not perfect, but guess what: neither is Stan.  Stan happens to be easier in certain situations.  Sparta has made a tremendous amount of progress with her “aggression“.  My guests who came over today?  When they arrived, Sparta went to her room as soon as the doorbell rang (that takes a lot of faith on her part).  She stayed there, not showing interest in my guests until I called her out about an hour later.  She still didn’t even look at my guests (although she was staring me down, waiting to see if I had any orders regarding said guests  – good girl!).  She very politely took offered treats from them, eyeing me the whole time for further instruction:

“Mom, is this right?”
Well done Sparta.

She even suffered through some affection from said intruders guests.

“I’m trying, Mom”.
You sure are, Sparta. I’m proud of you. 

And do you know what?  I realized that Stan was bred to be a therapy dog.  Everything about him, from how he views the world, even to how he looks, is designed to be warm, loving, happy and carefree.  Stan was born with the equivalent of a silver spoon in his mouth.  Sparta was bred as a guard dog.  She was bred to protect.  To be wary of strangers, animals and odd situations.  Sparta would have thrived as part of a K9 unit.  Or as part of a team in military service.  But she’s here.  In the suburbs.  With strangers all around her.  It must be like someone who is terrified of heights living in a high rise.

But Sparta has become so much more than the sum of her parts.  She has moved beyond what she was meant to be, and has done so much more than the best she could.  She trusted me enough to do the best I thought she could do.  And she’s soared!  An off-leash dog on the street that a few years ago she would have mauled has come charging up at us with no more than a “Really?!” from her.

So rather than comparing the dogs, which I never should have done in the first place, what I should have done is compared where they started.  Sparta was quite literally the underdog.  But she’s come so far.  So what if she’ll never be a therapy dog.

Or maybe she already is.

My girl.

My girl.

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

Keeping Faith

Courage is found in unlikely places.

 - J. R. R. Tolkien

faith2Dogs are therapeutic, as we all know.  Some are trained to work in hospitals, or to read with kids.  Others have such a spark in them that they aren’t trained to do anything…merely existing can bring hope and courage to others.

That was the story of Faith, a Lab/Chow cross who was born deformed, without her front legs.  Whisked away by a caring human just as she was about to be smothered by her mother, she wasn’t expected to live very long.  Thank God the veterinarians were all wrong.

Faith did live.  And she thrived.  She inspired others to do the same.  She learned to walk on two legs and not only survive with her disability, but give courage and hope to humans who may be struggling accepting their disability.  She gave me hope as well.  I personally have no disabilities, but like all other humans in the world, I can get depressed, overwhelmed or just tired.  I’ll never forget the first time I saw her: trying to process the creature in front of me – a dog walking on two legs. At first it was disturbing, as my mind tried to categorize this creature in my head.  It’s a dog. That walks on two legs.  It doesn’t pace as dogs do, it was bi-pedal.  And ecstatic about life.  For some reason she brought tears to my eyes.  Just the way she would keep on keepin’ on .

We lost Faith this past week.  She lived to be almost 12 years old.  This saddens me deeply. She was a true role model and a hero for many who themselves were faced with a sudden disability, as she frequently visited our returning soldiers. She was also a hero for those who lead “normal” everyday lives.  She was a hero to me.  Her story may end, as all stories do, but the pages are filled with inspiration.  Goodbye Faith.  Thank you for the 12 years you gave to make this planet a better place.

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

 

Placebo In Effect

It hurts doesn’t it? Your hopes dashed, your dreams down the toilet. And your fate is sitting right besides you. – Rounders

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Some things just boggle the mind with how evil they are.  Fake charities.  Moms shaving their kids bald and passing them off as cancer patients.  Dogs being passed off as service animals who don’t even know the basic commands.

For a lot of people, service dogs represent a link between the world and a human who may be isolated either mentally, emotionally or physically.  That service animal is a door.  No, I’ve never seen a perfect service animal (hence the word “animal” instead of “machine”).  But typically these dogs are like the Special Forces of the dog world.  Meaning they’ve been through boot camp, Special Forces training and have had real world experiences (or at least the dog equivalent).  They are cherry-picked animals who were chosen because of their ability to handle public scenarios, because they don’t panic easily, and because they flat out can do the job.

Then something like this comes up:  A family has a child who needs help from a service animal. They save thousands of dollars to pay for the dog, holding fundraisers, benefits and drives to help cover the cost of the dog.  They finally receive their canine lifeline, and…he isn’t even housebroken.  He’s destructive. He can’t even do basic things that most dogs are taught in the first few months of living in a house.

You know that door to the outside world?  The one that some person has been waiting for?  Who has spent thousands of dollars on?  What if it’s locked.  Nobody has the key, and nobody ever will.

A recent article from Dogster described it perfectly:

But the point is that even in the best of circumstances, people who are trying to cope with illness or disability are already struggling against a stacked deck. You need an exquisite degree of sadism to not only deliberately exploit that pain and desperation, but add to it for nothing more than a quick buck.

Aside from trying to cope with whatever physical, mental or emotional challenges these dogs are supposed to help alleviate, they are actually making the problem worse!  Fake service dogs usually make you think of someone who can’t bear to be away from their little Princess, and therefore decide to call them a service dog and take them everywhere (even though poor little Princess isn’t mentally equipped herself to deal with the stressful situation these dogs are put through). That’s bad for so many reasons.

Companies selling fake service dogs though?  That’s a new low.  That’s like a pharmacy selling placebos…and charging you full price.  Oh, and there’s still side effects to this placebo.  Just no alleviation of symptoms. That’ll be $10,000 plus your hopes and dreams.

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

Elsa’s Hope

  Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.
   – Emily Dickinson

Elsa  waiting for her next patient with whom she can share her love.

Elsa waiting for her next patient with whom she can share her love.

Therapy dogs are ones that bring great joy and comfort to those they visit. It’s amazing to see the blissfulness they can share with those that need it most.

There’s something about a four legged friend that brings out the joy in us. We instantly have a smile on our face and our childhood innocence is renewed. There’s something to be said for this type of healing. No medication or therapy can provide that renewal of hope and innocence. It’s those 5 – 10 minutes where an individual can forget about their current challenges and just live in the moment. Because, well, the happy go lucky fur-ball in front of you is.

But how about if you could relate to that happy go lucky fur-ball at the same time as well?

Elsa is a therapy dog. Elsa was rescued from an abusive situation when she was very young. She had mange and many other issues. She bounced around from foster home to foster home until finally settling down in her forever home. At 1 years old, Elsa suffered a stroke. Even through all of that this poor girl was faced with another challenge. Her foster mom stood by her the whole way.

Although Elsa is now paralysed, she is an avid therapy dog and visits multiple Rehab Centers to cheer up the patients. Many of her friends in the Rehab Centers can relate to her as they have similar issues. She allows them to relate to her while offering some joy and comfort.

Besides being brave, gentle, and sweet, Elsa also has a great smile that cheers everyone up. Oh, did I forget to mention she’s a pit bull?  Read about her story here.

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