Bringing Up Baby

Hold puppies, kittens, and babies anytime you get the chance.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

So here I am, a deadline for a blog post looming over me, and I’m drawing a blank on what to write.  To my rescue:  a telephone call from a past client.   Apparently they’ve brought home a new addition over the weekend and wanted to verify how to integrate their current dog with the new addition.  After verifying that they meant a new baby, and not a new puppy (completely different set of rules), I set about giving them the lowdown on creating a harmonious house while dealing with a new baby.  So here are a few things to bear in mind:

It sucks.

You’ve just given birth (historically, if you’re female).  You’re sore, tired and overwhelmed with both love and the looming, daunting task of raising a mini-human.  Unfortunately, the dog is going to fall by the wayside for a little bit.  That’s okay (short-term).  Okay, it’s not really ok, but you’re going to do the best you can with what you have.  Piloting doesn’t mean being perfect…it means accepting that you’re the one in charge with difficult decisions, and that you will answer all questions.  Only now you’re doing it on 2 hours sleep a night.  There is only so much of you to go around.  It’s okay.  Fido will manage.  This is short term, until you find your footing.  Right now you’re doing triage, so don’t beat yourself up if Fido doesn’t get his usual 5 mile hike each day.  Just do your best.

Look For Shortcuts.

Just because you’re doing your best doesn’t mean there isn’t a baseline that needs to be adhered to.  For example, when I was pregnant with my son Eric, Darwin was already an old dog of about 10.  His baseline for activity was at least a walk of about 1/2 mile every day.  That was no where near his maximum capacity, but that was the sweet spot.  Any less than that, and he would start to exhibit unsavory behaviors, such as hyperactivity, pacing or even destruction.  Right after I had Eric via c-section, I wasn’t even up for 1/2 mile hikes, so I did the best I could to equal that amount of activity.  Short cuts, if you will, such as these.  Think outside the, uh…leash.  Agility, backpacks or playdates.  I had a client who, while pregnant with twins, trained her dog to run up and down the steps on command, just to wear him out.  No, this won’t work forever, but it’s not meant to.  It’s meant to be a stop-gap between the time you give birth and the time you are able to sleep more than 4 hours a night.

The same goes for Work.  Make sure your dog is still getting the mental Work they require.  Otherwise they will come up with something to occupy themselves, and believe me, you won’t like it.

Remember Whose Baby This Is.

I’m all for bonding kids and dogs, but the time to do that is a little bit later.  Right now Fido needs to understand that this is your baby.  And thank you for the offer, Fido, but I think I’ve got it.  Odds are Fido will ask you questions about the baby.  It’s natural to be curious about something new (and loud and smelly) that enters your life.  However, it’s up to you to set boundaries.  With my children, the boundary was roughly 2 feet.  My dogs were not allowed within that area of my child.  Mean?  Maybe.  But there were no bites – no issues with uncertainty around my children.  They were mine, and I’ll tend to them, thankyouverymuch.  I treated my infants as if they were a chocolate frosted cake I was carrying around.  Would you let your dog go nose-to-nose with that?  Nope, didn’t think so.

By making sure Fido understands that this is your baby, you are removing all his rights to correcting the child (read: nipping the child to get them to stop crying).  There will be no face licking when the baby spits up all over (a dangerous and repulsive behavior).

Once the child is about 6-8 weeks old, it’s a good time to start slowly introducing them.  If Fido is on the floor sleeping by you, and the baby is calm, take the baby’s foot and start slowly petting the dog with it, immediately giving calm positives when the dog remains calm, and giving a gentle, but firm, negative if your dog gets excited or hyper.  You are training your dog that calm interactions with the baby equal positives.  Add more stimulation to the situation as your dog grows accustomed to the interaction.  Gradually start to bridge the 2-foot perimeter you set up for safety previously.  Gently redirect your baby towards appropriate petting if they start to grab Fido’s fur.  Praise positive, gentle petting.  You are setting the flavor of future interactions.  Read: no pouncing on the baby.  No jumping on the toddler wandering with a handful of pretzels.  No pulling on Fido’s ears/tail/tongue.  You are setting the scene for future interactions between your child and Fido now.  Don’t wait until there’s a problem – establish calm as the go-to mode between them.

Abuse Your Dog (a little)

Yeah, this one’s a bit of a heartbreaker, but you’ve got to get Fido used to some things that babies may do.  Obviously it’s up to you to make sure that your children are acting appropriately towards your dog, but accidents happen in a heartbeat.  Set everyone up for success.

Start pulling on Fido’s tail (and then immediately giving them a reward).  Take a knuckle and “noogie” his ears gently.  Pry open his mouth, and then give a positive.  Get them accustomed to anything that a young child may do.  No, it’s not fair that your dog has to go through this to help de-sensitize him – it’s always up to you to make sure you child acts appropriately – but if you screw up (because, like, you’re human), then hopefully you’ve set the groundwork for success rather than becoming another statistic.

…And Protect Your Dog

Yes, kids can be jerks to dogs, knowingly or otherwise.  Make sure you handle it.  If a toddler-aged child is abusing an animal, give them a hardcore consequence – I don’t care what your parenting style is, drop the hammer!  A harsher punishment is nothing in comparison to a dog bite!

If it’s an 8 month old baby, that’s a different story.  No, a child that young doesn’t understand that it is wrong to yank fur off the dog, but your dog will need to see you are protecting them from the threat your child is giving.  Protect your dog!  (Another good reason for the “2 foot rule” regarding babies, as I stated above.)

In my house all the animals are mine.  Yes, my children will cuddle with whatever animal is available, but they are borrowing my animals.  Because let’s face it, elementary school kids don’t always take good care of what is theirs.  Toys get broken or discarded.  However, what belongs to mommy?  Well, that’s a different story.  What’s mine will be treated with respect and with the understanding that consequences happen if my things get broken, abused or disrespected.  If my kids treat the dog well, get him water if the water bowl is low or simply engaged appropriately?  That deserves some praise.

“Help” the cat down the back porch, though (as my daughter, River, did)?  That was a full week without any type of electronics.  My daughter almost died during that week.  I had the eulogy written out and everything….we were frankly surprised she was able to pull through, but miraculously she did. And has never done anything remotely disrespectful to the animals again.

River, aged 7, exhibiting advanced stages of "Not Allowed On The Computer-Itis".  Note the apathy towards life, the "I'm Bored" mantra, and the general distaste for ever disrespecting a cat again. Please also notice absurdly loyal cat patiently waiting by River's bedside for her recovery.

River, aged 7, exhibiting advanced stages of “Not Allowed On The Computer-Itis”. Note the apathy towards life, sulking under her covers, the “I’m Bored” mantra, and the general distaste for ever disrespecting a cat again. Please also notice absurdly loyal cat patiently waiting by River’s bedside for her recovery.

In short, use common sense.  We need to bear in mind what we are integrating: a young child and a dog.  Not two grown adult humans.  Misunderstandings happen.  It doesn’t mean that your dog is Cujo, or your baby will grow up to be Elmira.

Seriously, was I the only one who watched this show?!

Seriously, was I the only one who watched this show?!

Address the small issues as they happen, so they don’t grow to be huge incidents later on.  Above all, maintain a sense of humor.  Because when you look back, yes, these were  the good ol’ days…but only because you’re finally out of them.

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

 

“Mine” Craft – Working with Food Aggressive Dogs

“People aren’t against you; they are for themselves.” – Anon

A shelter dog undergoes the SAFTER test.  Food reactivity is guaged when the fake hand tries to take away the food.

A shelter dog undergoes the SAFTER test. Food reactivity is guaged when the fake hand tries to take away the food.

A few days ago I had a very difficult situation to work with.  The dog in question, a Shar Pei mix, I’ll call Lisbon, was food aggressive (had actually bitten people and other dogs in the house) as well as resource guarding (resource guarding is the same as food aggression, only in place of the food, she was aggressively guarding areas in the house she deemed as her own).

If a dog is reacting with aggression over anything other than their safety (i,e., they’re scared of you), or the safety of their pack, that’s trouble.  That’s the sign of a dog who is in the Pilot position, and who is frequently more than happy to try to take money out of your Piloting Piggy Bank.  Remember, whomever has the most money wins, so frequently these dogs are indeed the Pilot in the house simply because snapping and growing over a resource works.  Essentially, they tell you “no”, and it works because, well, teeth can be scary!  The more often they tell you “no”, and the more often you accept that as an answer, the more money the dog has taken out of your Piloting Piggy Bank.

Most other things aren’t quite so dangerous to work with because we are working with questions that the dog actually hopes end in a “no”.

Will that other dog kill me?

No, Fido.

Have any dogs ever died in a thunderstorm before?

No Fido, and I doubt you’ll be the first.

Resource guarding is different.  A dog has decided that something is theirs, and no matter what, they are keeping it.  Sometimes when I come into a house a dog is resource guarding, but their heart really isn’t into it.  They’ve accidentally become Pilot in the house because the owner has never properly communicated with the dog, letting them know that they don’t have to be Pilot.  Hint:  most dogs don’t even want the job!

These dogs aren’t resource guarding so much as taking all the perks that come with the Piloting position.  For a dog, being Pilot can be scary, terrifying, and generally sucks.  Just like not every human feels comfortable leading, the same is true for dogs.  If they’re going to be Pilot, there had better be some perks that come along with it!  These include the right to eat first, the right to sleep where they want to…basically, the right of first refusal for anything.  For the dogs who aren’t even really into the Pilot position, and didn’t want the damn job to begin with, merely Piloting them and taking the money out of their bank is sufficient.  They aren’t true resource guarders.

As Danika mentioned in her blog post On Food Reactivity….Nothing Personal.  Really.,   they aren’t doing it because they hate you.  Or because they want to hurt you.  In their minds, you are asking a question:  Can I have that back? They are answering your question (No), but you aren’t listening, apparently, so they have to answer it with more force, until you finally back down.

Dogs and wolves are a pack. They are a single entity driven towards one thing, survival and continuation of the pack.  In the pack, only alpha male and alpha female breed.  They are the Pilots.  They have (for the moment) the best shot of perpetuating the pack because they are the best dogs/wolves in the pack.  Obviously this can change.  Dogs and wolves don’t vote in who they think is the best for Pilot.  There’s no bribes.  Either you are or you aren’t and accepting another dog’s “no” to a question you asked can take enough money out of your Piloting bank to no longer make you Pilot.

Wolves deciding who's eating first. The wolf on the left is giving typical "back off, it's mine" body language. The wolf on the right is submitting.

Wolves deciding who’s eating first. The wolf on the left is giving typical “back off, it’s mine” body language. The wolf on the right is submitting.

So back to resource guarding.  It isn’t a bad behavior.  Remember, nothing a dog does is bad; it’s always perfectly correct.  For a dog.  However, as humans, we can not safely tolerate resource guarding.  It’s dangerous, and for kids, it’s the second biggest reason I see them get bit, (first is teasing or torturing the dog).  The difference is, a bite because a child is manhandling a dog is usually a sudden nip.  Yes, it may cause blood even (remember, you’re supposed to be covered in hair and loose skin, like a dog, not soft vulnerable flesh), but it’s typically not that bad unless the dog hit a lucky spot.  With resource guarding, it can be a lot, lot worse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  resource guarding is one of the few things (the only?) that I will tell a client to put a dog down for.  Yes, they can be worked with, and you can indeed take the Piloting position back, but you will have to defend it the rest of your dog’s life.  They may challenge you at any moment.  You may absent-mindedly drop food on the floor, lean over to pick it up, and the dog decides at that moment to claim it, meaning a bite.

These dogs can be the sweetest, kindest dogs on the planet, as Lisbon is.  Wonderful, loving family pets.  But once the food comes out, they are like a vampire who hasn’t fed being led through a blood bank.  Yucky, ugly things ensue.

So back to Lisbon:  how did things end?  Well, they haven’t yet.  They never will.  Some dogs you can slack with on the Piloting and still be fine.  Lisbon’s owner will always be on alert for any sign Lisbon is trying to take money out of his bank.  Lisbon’s owner is single with no kids, so he doesn’t have to worry about a child being bit.  He also understood the severity of the issue.  He is dedicated to the training regime, which includes:

- Feeding Lisbon after a successfully Piloted walk.  A walk done correctly (read: you are leading, not your dog) takes money out of their Piloting Piggy Bank.  We want to empty Lisbon’s account out as much as possible before feeding.

- Lisbon will always be on a leash during feeding times, just like you always wear a seat belt in the car.  You may never truly need it, but there’s nothing like feeling safe to help bring out the Pilot inside of you.

- Hand feeding Lisbon.  Food only comes from him, and no other source.  We want to remove everything as a possible option for Lisbon to acquire food.  She need to be dependent upon her owner for all food. Food is placed on the counter, and Lisbon will be seated and fed one handful at a time, and only if she is calmly waiting.

- Removing signals that may increase energy during feeding time.  For example, when Lisbon sees her owner grab her food dish on the counter, she knows her owner is about to feed her.  Her energy level goes way up, and she can be difficult to manage.  Lisbon will never be fed out of a bowl again.  Even the vessel used to contain the food while she is being hand fed will be switched out frequently so she never knows if food is coming or if her owner is merely grabbing a cup for some coffee.

- Dropping food on the ground doesn’t mean it’s yours!!!  Lisbon’s owner, while hand feeding Lisbon, will occasionally gently place food on the ground behind him, moving very slowly.  If she lunges for the food, he can redirect her with the leash, wait until she’s calm, and then slowly pick the food up and throw it away.  Lisbon will never have the right to food on the floor.  Ever.  If she remains calm during that little exercise, she will get another handful of food.

- Never toss food at Lisbon.  The very act of snatching food in the air is aggressive.  In some dogs it’s not a big deal, and is even amusing (Darwin could catch food out of a dead sleep!), but those dogs aren’t really jockeying for Pilot position.  We are driving the point home that calm is the only thing that gets Lisbon food, and lunging towards food won’t be accepted any more.

- Getting her used to disappointment.  A lot of resource guarding dogs get upset and retaliate if they think they were about to get food but don’t.  For example, the now-defunct food bowl.  If Lisbon’s owner simply picked up the food bowl to move it without feeding her, Lisbon might retaliate.  You were supposed to feed me, remember?  Touching the food bowl is a visual marker that is supposed to end a certain way, and if it doesn’t…bad things happen.  So he’s going to get her used to disappointment.  Dropping the food on the floor is a good start, but sometimes putting food in a cup on the counter, creating calm with Lisbon, and then dumping the food back into the bin, all in a controlled manner.  Calm doesn’t always get Lisbon food.  It’s merely the only way she might get food.  It’s like the lottery:  you don’t always win, but unless you play, you aren’t going to win.

Hand feeding... in the good way

Hand feeding… in the good way

I have great hopes for Lisbon and her owner.  Lisbon is a great dog, and they made wonderful strides in the two hours I was with them.  Lisbon’s owner is dedicated, and he understood the severity of the problem.  If anyone has a chance at a safe, wonderful bond with a resource guarding dog, it’s him.

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

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,

THE FIFTEEN COMMANDMENTS (FOR DOG OWNERS)

tumblr_mvb7r9inVE1rxam8fo2_250

tumblr_mvb7r9inVE1rxam8fo1_250 THE FIFTEEN TEN COMMANDMENTS (FOR DOG OWNERS)

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.

tumblr_inline_n2z0zlIWbv1s31pko

 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

5) THOU SHALT USE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT LIBERLLY, BUT ONLY AS APPROPRIATE.  Thou shalt Pilot thy dog, not bribe thy dog.

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.

20-dog-shaming-photos-that-will-have-you-cracking-up-2

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

10) THOU SHALT KNOWETH THAT THY CANINE IS UNIQUE, AND SHALL REMAIN SPECIAL IN YOUR HEART FOREVER.

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

 

Limitations

   The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.

  – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sparta guarding our house against, um, ...what was it you were guarding against, Sparta?

Sparta guarding our house against, um, …what was it you were guarding against, Sparta?
Brittany Graham Photography

My Sparta.  The most beautiful, obedient dog I’ve ever worked with.  Over 100 lbs. of pure physical poetry. She’s the type of dog who we can leave the Thanksgiving turkey out on the counter right above where she’s sleeping, and she’ll leave it alone (we do).  She will follow any command, no matter how scary, because she trusts us (she does).  In short, she is practically a machine when it comes to her obedience.  It’s sorta creepy, now that I think of it.  Sounds like the perfect dog, right?  Except she has one big problem.  As my husband likes to say, she reads too much Guns and Ammo.

Sparta is a Shepherd/Rottie mix (not a guess, but verified truth), with emphasis on the Shepherd.  Ah, suddenly it clicks why she’s so obedient.  Shepherds have been used for many years for a myriad of reasons: search and rescue, guide dogs, drug dogs, war, peace, agility and everything in between.  I truly believe that while they may not be the smartest dog (looking at you Border Collies and Poodles), they are probably the most willing to accept whatever training you wish.

However, I’m a firm believer in breed profiling.  It’s called “breed standard” for a reason.  Imagine going into a car dealership and saying I need a car, but having no idea what you want.  Mini-van, Corvette, Jeep?  What will you be using this car for?  If you don’t know what you want, you won’t know what you’re getting.   Pound puppies can follow some form of breed standard as well. If you adopt a Pit/Aussie mix, prepare for a lot of enthusiastic cuddling.  A Basset/Poodle?  Probably a lot of sedentary mind games, like chess. Not always the case, but a good general rule. Of course there are Frankendogs.  The dogs that you have no idea what breed(s) they can be.  Simply find out who they are, rather than focusing on what they are.  (Hint: here’s an article that can help with that.)

Back to Sparta.  She’s predominantly Shepherd, and boy does she show it.  Obedient, trusting…every command I give her, I feel as if her response is Sir, yes sir!  No, I didn’t make her that way; she just is.  The problem?  Shepherds were originally bred to guard livestock (not manage it….that’s you, Border Collies).  She has it ingrained in her DNA to guard her pack, flock, family – whatever you want to call it.  And she will do it with her life.

There’s an old joke about Shepherds:  How many Shepherds does it take to change a light bulb?   First you secure the perimeter.    That is exactly who my Sparta is.  That can make living with her in a very dense population a bit of a challenge.  If a zombie apocalypse were ever to happen, she’s the dog you want.  However, a walk through Downtown Mayberry?  Yeah, that’s some Piloting that needs to happen there. Yes, it can be done, and I do it, but I realize that I will be Piloting her and answering her questions very frequently.

 Is that a threat? No, Sparta.  Should we reinforce our rearguard?  No, Sparta.

I’m not angry with her, I’m never punishing her.  I’m merely answering her (legitimate) questions. However, I know my limitations, as well as hers.

I recently (foolishly?) decided to completely renovate my bathroom.  My family was out of town for about a week, and I thought it to be the perfect time to do it.  However, I needed some help.  I called a friend of our family, Sam, who generously came over every day to help me tear apart the bathroom, put in a new sub-floor, new tile, new vanity, new everything.  Obviously, very involved, and a lot of noise to go with the project.  Sparta happens to not like Sam.  I don’t care if she’s best friends with him or not.  She’s allowed to ask the question:

Can I kill him?
No, Sparta.  Not today.
Okay, then.  I’ll be in the mudroom if you need me to kill him.
You enjoy yourself there, Sparta.  And put down the Guns and Ammo magazine.  How about some Vanity Fair mags for a bit?

Problem is, she will be asking that question frequently.  Sometimes Sam might need to go downstairs by himself.  Sometimes he might need to come in and out of the house while cutting tile.  In Sparta’s mind, each instance is always a separate question.  And yes, she will immediately accept the answer, but only if I give it.  And right there is our limitation.  What if Sam runs downstairs, just one time, and I don’t notice, and don’t answer her question?  Sparta would do what comes naturally to her: defend the flock.

So instead of constantly being on alert for Sparta, she has spent a relaxing week at my mother’s house.  She got to play with her “cousins”, Louie and Kiwi.  More importantly, she had little to no questions to ask while she was there (thanks, Mom!).   When she comes back today, she will notice that there is a new bathroom.  Odds are, she’ll want to check it out to make sure there are no threats to our family in there (Sir, no Sir!) and all will be right with our little pack.

Sparta stoically securing the perimeter

Sparta stoically securing the perimeter
-Brittany Graham Photography

 

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

 

Married to the Mob

Love doesn’t make the world go ’round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.

Franklin P. Jones

[Editor's note:  My husband, Michael came up to me the other day as I was writing a blog post.  He asked what I was doing, and I told him.  He mentioned that he should write a blog post for me about what it's like being married to a dog trainer.  Of course I jumped at the chance!  So, I present to you, Michael's take on what it's like being married to someone who trains dogs]

I guess Orion is my Co-Pilot

I guess Orion is my Co-Pilot

I ran into one of my co-workers in the kitchen the other day. “I see you like Darwin Dogs on Facebook too! We hired Darwin Dogs a few weeks ago. Did you hire them too?”

I see it coming before I answer. “No,” I replied. “I’m Kerry’s husband.”

My co-worker began to laugh. “Does she Pilot you when she wants the dishes done? Does she do that thing she does to the dogs when you do something she doesn’t like? Does she give you a ‘negative’?” It kept up like this for quite a while. It was clear my co-worker was enjoying himself.

Of course, the answer is “No”, the reality far more pedestrian — we’re a normal married couple who treat one another like any other married couple. That is to say, we fight sometimes, get along most of the time, and love one another dearly. However, there are probably a few key ways in which my household differs from others:

1. We don’t tolerate bad behavior from our kids, or our dogs.

I think one of the key insights in having a well-behaved dog is to think of them as children, at least in a sense. When you see your children behaving badly, you correct the behavior.

However, when a dog starts jumping on most people, they think, “Ahh, that’s just a dog being a dog.” When a dog jumps on one of us, we immediately think of a small child yelling, “gimme gimme gimme”, and react appropriately.

Along those lines:

2. My dogs are the best behaved dogs I’ve ever met.

This is one of the perks of being married to a dog trainer. Frankly, I can be (and have been) a bit lazy about working with our dogs. I could chalk it up to having a full-time job (I work in technology), or the importance of the division of labor and specialization and all that, but the truth is more simple – I know my wife will do it and will do a better job than I will ever do, so I let her have at. In fairness, guess which of us sets up this blog and maintains the webpage?

Kerry thinks this is her girl, Sparta.  Kerry is wrong.  She's secretly MY Sparta.

Kerry thinks this is her girl, Sparta. Kerry is wrong. She’s secretly MY Sparta.

3. I hear a lot about dog problems

It has given me a lot of insight into dogs, and the typical types of problems dog owners have. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that nearly every owner thinks his or her problems are unique – everything from submissive urination, “aggressive” dogs (which are normally anything but) to simple poor leash-walking. My wife deals with the same problems over and over, which helps her to be better at her job. If she saw something new every single session, she wouldn’t be nearly as good as she is. Which brings me to:

4. My wife is *damn* good at what she does

Of course I’d probably say that even if it weren’t true, but I’ve been fortunate enough to accompany my wife on a few training gigs (somebody needs to stand outside in the winter and pretend to be the postal delivery person), and I’m amazed at just how well she does her job. While my wife is training dogs, she is really doing something far more involved – training humans how to interact with their dogs in a way the dogs will understand. My wife takes her role very seriously. Often, my wife is all that stands between the would-be dog owner, and either a well-adjusted dog, or a one-way trip to the shelter.

5. My wife has a demanding job

Though you might not realize it, her job is full-time. Beyond the training, there is the blog to maintain, calls to make & return, text messages to answer, volunteer work, market research — the list is nearly endless. The home visits themselves are really just the tip of a vast iceberg.

 ds

Orion took a little while to warm up to me at first, but after some patience, was soon rewarded with a happy-puppy dance every morning and a lap dog to enjoy my coffee with.

While most of the things I’ve listed are positive, there are also drawbacks to being married to a dog trainer – we usually have more dogs than I’d prefer running around the house at any given moment, there are dog treats stuck in our washing machine, and my wife is required to work odd hours.  And of course initially when I’d ask her what her training schedule looked like on a particular day, my heart would skip a beat when she would casually throw out: “I have an aggressive Shepherd mix at 10, and then a puppy session from 1-3.”  Now I realize that aggressive dogs are typically just scared, and I know that Kerry finds the puppy sessions more exhausting. Fun, but exhausting.

Wait....who's dog is this?!

Wait….who’s dog is this?!  KERRY?!  DID WE GET ANOTHER DOG?!

Part of me does still get a kick out of people’s reactions when they hear what my wife does for a living.  I love watching her get all excited answering questions about their own dogs, which invariably happens when they discover her profession.  I’m proud of the volunteer and charity work Kerry does, and how she stands up for what she believes is right.  But if I were to sum up Kerry in one word, that word would of course be “Pilot”.  Someone who can calmly take the controls if necessary.  Someone who is confident enough to know when someone else should fly the plane.  Someone who knows their limitations, but tries every day to stretch those limitations.  Kerry is someone who inspires me to do the same.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Michael Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Horsing Around

I’ve often said there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse. Ronald Reagan

cowboy-dog-horse

I’ve been working with dogs for many, many, years at this point.  I’ve trained thousands of owners dogs, and my work load is pretty full, so I’m constantly able to re-evaluate my techniques and refine my approach, as well as fine-tune The PAW Method. While I will never be able to learn and know everything about dogs and their behaviors and interactions with humans, I will never stop adding to my cache of information, and will continue to learn until I’m gone from this world.  But I recently realized that there was on crucial element I was missing.

I haven’t learned how to learn in a long, long time.  

Look at it like riding a bike.  I’ve been able to ride one since I was 6.  Now everything I do on a bike is merely adding to information that I’ve already learned, but I’m not learning how to “bike” all over again, if you will.  The same has held true with working with dogs.  I’ve been “dogging” for so long, it’s second nature to me.  But I forget sometimes that the methods I use are foreign to most people (hint: that’s why they work).  I don’t do click and treat, nor do I feel the need to physically correct or punish a dog.  I essentially teach people how to “dog” from the beginning, in a whole new way.  Like learning how to ride a bike again, only in a fashion completely different from how you originally learned.

I need to learn how to learn again.

So I decided to do something about that.  Meet Bounce.

Why the long face?

Why the long face?

Bounce is a beautiful, sweet Thoroughbred owned by Jessica Cardillo, who runs Foundations Equestrian out of Olmsted Falls, Ohio.  Jessica has been working with horses for as long as I’ve been working with dogs.  I decided that it was about time for me to put myself in my clients’ shoes, and take instruction on a completely foreign concept.  Namely, learning how to “horse”.

I’ve learned a few things. More than a few things, actually (such as the best way to shovel manure).  But here are what I feel are the most important, especially how they apply to working with dogs.

1) Horses are huge.

No, that's not me, but that's how big I feel on top of Bounce, who is 16 hands high at the withers (base of her neck).  That translates to 64".

No, that’s not me, but that’s how big I feel on top of Bounce, who is 16 hands high at the withers (base of her neck). That translates to 64″ high…not including her neck and head.

Bite your head off, man.

I am conveniently terrified of heights.

Aggressive dog with a bite history?  No problem.  Need to get onto the second step of a ladder to paint a wall?

dean 1

How does that help me work better with my clients and their dogs?  Well, I work with a lot of people who own dog-reactive dogs.  These people are typically shell-shocked from trying to walk their dogs.  They are constantly scanning the area around them for a threat another dog, and live in perpetual fear of a dog running up to them, or some idiot with a dog on a retractable leash who wants to let the dogs “just say ‘hi’ to each other”.  They are literally terrified of their own dog, and how their dog reacts to other dogs.

I am literally terrified of getting on Bounce.  I will be sitting over 5′ up in the air.  That isn’t exactly what I’d classify as My Happy Place.  But funny enough, just as sometimes I have to Pilot my clients, Jessica ends up Piloting me with Bounce.

“Put your foot in the stirrup, swing your leg over, and climb up there”, she says in a bored yet amused voice, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

But wait, maybe it is.

I’m no stranger to Piloting my clients through a scary situation, such as walking their dog-reactive dog past another dog on the other side of the street.  ”Come on, let’s go.  You’ve got this”, I say, as if it’s no big deal.  And my clients do it, and do it well!  But I’ve never been in the situation of being told it’s No Big Deal.  But guess what….it wasn’t.

Well then.

I can see my house from here…

First time sucked.  Second time…sucked.  Third time…still sucking.  Actually, it always sucks.  I’m still terrified of heights.  Only now, I’m more accepting of the situation, at least on top of Bounce.  I’m never going to like mounting up, just as my clients with dog-reactive dogs are never going to enjoy passing another dog, but at least I’m comfortable with my fear, and I have the tools to manage the situation (sit up straight, heels down, and relax), just as I give my clients the tools to work with their dog-reactive dogs.

2) Muscle is worthless.

Bounce is in beautiful condition.  Me?  I pulled a muscle in my ass just crossing my legs.

Bounce is in beautiful condition. Me? I pulled a muscle in my ass just crossing my legs.

I have always loved working with dog owners who also have horses for one major reason: they already know they can’t muscle their way through a horse.  If a horse doesn’t want to do something, you ain’t gonna physically make ‘em!  So horse people don’t even try.  They understand that might doesn’t make right…if it did, your horse would always be right.  That translates onto their dogs.  Horse people don’t force an issue.  They rely on the horse trusting them.  They do what’s called ground work, which is essentially Piloting a horse on a very long leash called a longe line, basically getting the horse to work with you and trust that you have the answers before you climb up on their back.

Fortunately, Jessica and Bounce are a team.  Jessica has worked with Bounce, done the ground work, and Piloted Bounce so much that anything I do on Bounce’s back that’s wrong doesn’t freak Bounce out.  They have an unspoken communication between them.

Bounce: Mom, Tall Lady is sitting all wrong and she’s posting off diagonal.
Jessica:  I know, sweetie. She’s screwing it up.  It’s okay, though.  I’m watching her.  She’ll be fine.
Bounce:  Okay.  Just checking.

In other words, Jessica has Piloted Bounce so much that she trusts whatever Jessica does.  Because it’s always been okay, it always will be okay.  Jessica didn’t have to beat Bounce to achieve this, nor did she beg Bounce to trust her.  Jessica simply took the Pilot position, answering questions for Bounce when she asked them, (“Can I refuse this jump?”) by calmly, but firmly restating her answers (“No, sweetie, you can’t”) using her body language, and correctly reading her horse’s body language.  The more questions Jessica answers for Bounce, the easier it becomes to answer questions.

Not much different for dogs of any size.  Muscle is what distances you from your dog rather than bonding with them. Makes you Master instead of Pilot.  Dictator instead of Protector.  Feared Alpha instead of trusted Leader.  Just because you can (maybe) physically manhandle your dog into submission doesn’t mean you should.  Trust is the means that enables you to work with your dog.

3) Your head will spin.

image2 (1)

“Heels down! No chicken arms! Hold the reigns tightly! Heels down! Make her move, squeeze with your calves…she’s slowing down!  Coffee cups – your hands are falling down!!! Heels down!”  - Jessica Cardillo

All of this is said without a breath in between.  And I’m scrambling to try to keep it all together, while actively not falling off Bounce.

1234

Back to the bicycle again.  I can ride a bike easily, and I’m sure most of you can as well.  However, think back to when you were first learning to ride a bike.

"...back in my day"

“…back in my day”

There were so many things to remember!  How to brake.  How to steer.  Balance!  And there were plenty of scraped knees and roughed-up elbows.  But more and more you were able to put pieces together.  Maybe not all at once…but more and more pieces started to feel comfortable.   You could pedal without thinking of it anymore.  Braking became more natural.  Steering got better…pretty soon, you were “biking”!  You got it!

Sometimes my clients get a bit overwhelmed. I have faith that they will get it, but they are convinced they are failing miserably, simply because they need some reminders.

Stand up straight. Stop talking to Fido. Relax your arms.  Stand up straight. Fido’s meerkatting…answer his question! Stand up straight. – Kerry Stack

 

I see my clients’ heads spinning, especially when learning leash skills.  They’re thinking they’ll never get this right.  So much to remember…but then I watch them. I’m not telling them to stop talking anymore; they’ve stopped on their own.  They’re standing up straight.  Their arms are a bit stiff, but this about progress, not perfection.  And next thing you know, they’re “dogging”, and suddenly a beautiful grin comes across their face.  They’re doing it!

bounce 2

 

There's that grin.

There’s that grin.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

If you live in Northeast Ohio and are interested in learning to “horse”, Jessica can be reached at 440-821-4887 and foundationseq@gmail.com.  Bounce can be reached through feeding of carrots, brushing of her face, and a bit of spoiling and love.

Stay

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…

bush_doing_it_wrong_1

 

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.

indeed

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,

521e4-whatitmeans

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…

youre-doing-it-wrong

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

 

Ctrl + Alt + Del

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.

sdfdsfsdfsd

Control + Alt + Del

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

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
20130419-080054-133-190
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

 

The Little Things

  “Judge me by my size, do you?”
Yoda – The Empire Strikes Back

10385367_10204184623834452_9168845168471881616_nConfession:  I’ve always been afraid of small dogs.  Not necessarily afraid of them…more like afraid to be around them.  Or more importantly, on top of them.  I’m about as graceful as a giraffe on roller skates, so the little ones always put me on edge a bit.  I knew deep down that they were just like every other dog, and I could see how they responded just as quickly to a bit of Piloting as the large dogs did, but still, they looked so…delicate.  Even if I were working with a dog deemed “aggressive“, if it was a Chihuahua running up to me Cujo-style, it instantly put me on edge, more so than even a Rottie or other large dog.

Then a couple of years ago it became more and more apparent that I needed a “bait” dog.  A dog that could help me out with the dog-reactive dogs.  It had to be a dog that was friendly, but aloof unless given permission to be pet.  A dog who wasn’t dog reactive, and would trust me completely.  The dog needed to be intelligent, healthy, and above all, non-threatening in looks.  Enter all 5 lbs. of Orion.

I hear you have a job opening?

I hear you have a job opening?

Growing up I did indeed have a small-ish dog named Pebbles.  She was a 20-ish lb Aussie mix we got from a shelter when I was in preschool.  But there’s a difference between a small-ish dog and a tiny dog.  Or is there? And so I present:

The Little Things That Make Little Dogs Great.

1) They can go anywhere with you.  Easily.

Sparta desperately trying to fit into the mudroom she loves so much.

Sparta desperately trying to fit into the mudroom she loves so much.

As I discovered after trading in a minivan for an Elantra, size can indeed matter…and bigger is not necessarily better.  While all 100 lbs. of Sparta fit nicely in my van, the same doesn’t hold true for my new car.  Not so much now.  Actually, Sparta doesn’t fit anywhere nicely.  A small dog doesn’t have the space problems that a larger dog can. Yes, I know what you’re going to say: a Great Dane is a better apartment dog than a Jack Russel (and you’re right), but if your floor plan only has 700 square feet, you’re taking a pretty big chunk out that with a Dane.  Any dog who is given the appropriate amount of exercise is good in an apartment.  Unfortunately, you can’t exercise the size out of a large dog.

2) They aren’t big eaters.

They're really only about a mouthful.  Wait....that's not what I mean.

They’re really only about a mouthful. Wait….that’s not what I mean.

The cost of feeding a small dog is drastically less than a larger dog.  For example, Orion eats between 1/4 – 1/2 cup of food per day, depending on how hard we hike.  Sparta, on the other hand, eats anywhere between 5-7 cups per day.  A Mastiff can eat up to 10 cups per day.  The cost of keeping a smaller dog is significantly less.

3) People aren’t as easily spooked by a small dog.

Awwwww....he's so cute!

Awwwww….he’s so cute!

Now, if you’ve been around dogs enough, you know very well that the little Yorkie is just as likely to bite you as the German Shepherd, but a lot of people don’t see it that way.  They see small dog, they automatically think of it as a friendly happy puppy.  So much that landlords typically don’t discriminate against any small dogs.  Ergo, it’s easier to get an apartment that allows dogs.

4) It’s easy(ish) to travel with a small dog.

I'll bet I could fit him in there....easily

I’ll bet I could fit him in there….easily

On a recent flight to Austin, someone brought a small schnauzer on board the plane in a carry-on.  The little darling easily fit on is owner’s lap for the entire duration of the flight instead of being regulated to the cargo hold.

5) Life span. 

photo 4(2)Smaller dogs live longer than larger dogs.  Orion’s projected life expectancy is 13-15 years.  Sparta’s is about 10-12.  Sad but true.

6) No counter surfing.

Brittany Graham Photography

Guess which one of us can reach the counter? Brittany Graham Photography

I’m all about training your dogs, but isn’t it nice when an issue isn’t even on your radar?  Sparta had to be trained to leave things on the counter alone.  Orion thinks the counter is Mt. Everest.

7) Eliminating the negative.

Eric, age 8, on poop patrol

Eric, age 8, on poop patrol

Ever clean up after a 100 lb dog?  Exactly.

8) Easier to manage.

Size never takes the place of training, but when dealing with difficult dogs, obviously a smaller dog is easier from a safety standpoint.

Size never takes the place of training, but when dealing with difficult dogs, obviously a smaller dog is easier from a safety standpoint.

Okay, a dog who is behaving aggressively needs to have the situation addressed, no matter the size.  But let’s face it: if tiny little Fifi the toy poodle decides she wants a piece of the mailman walking by, odds are she isn’t strong enough to literally drag you across oncoming traffic to get to him.

9)  Portable.

This is where Orion hangs out in the car. Passenger side on the floor.  His little den.

This is where Orion hangs out in the car. Passenger side on the floor. His little den.

When Darwin was a senior, I had a tremendously difficult time transporting him. Getting him into the car turned into an ordeal simply because of his size.  Smaller dogs are so much easier to care for as they age, requiring less muscle.  Similarly, on a hike, if Sparta gets tired, we have to stop and rest.  Orion, on the other hand, is easily portable.  Not that I’ve ever seen Orion get tired.

10) They’re dogs.

My ,majestic Papillon.

My ,majestic Papillon.

I mean, isn’t that what it all boils down to?  Dog is a dog is a dog is a dog.  They’re just like every other dog.

Sure I’ve stepped on Orion and tripped over him, but not very often.  Orion is a lot tougher than he looks: he has chased deer away from us, he has caught many a chipmunk in my yard, and he has remained courageous when helping me rehabilitate a dog-reactive dog who outweighs him by 90+ lbs.  I do indeed wrestle with him.  He hikes with me for miles and miles, never tiring. He has mettle. He truly is a mascot for Darwin Dogs.

Treating a dog like a dog.  What a novel concept! I treat Orion just like Sparta, and guess what:  both are well-adjusted, wonderful, polite dogs.  Small dog syndrome is indeed a real thing, but it’s something that we humans have created in our small dogs by treating them differently.   We don’t cipher out humans based on size. Danika is roughly 12 inches shorter than me (I’m 6ft tall)… but if you test our mettle, it’s neck-and-neck.  She and I are capable of doing the same things. Our clients don’t say they prefer me because I’m bigger than Danika.  I see people in shelters a lot looking for a new dog, but eliminating a certain dog from the running because they’re “too small” or a “sissy dog”.  Usually it’s a man, and usually I stand right next to them, look down towards them, and ask if that makes them a sissy man in comparison to me.  They usually turn red and walk away.

Small dogs, big dogs…  let’s just remember the best part: dog.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio