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

Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew

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

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

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

Your dog.

Orion and Sparta.  Brittany Graham Photography

Orion and Sparta. Brittany Graham Photography

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

Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew

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

OrionS

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

Brittany Graham Photography

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

10308283_832990790064261_2457400682443452031_n

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

My Sparta

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

Brittany Graham Photography

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

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

DARWINDOGS_0091

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Game Time

 

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail – Kinky Friedman

Looking for a fun game with your dog?

How about “Find it”? Let’s get started.

What you’ll need:

1. Your dog in a calm state (take them for a walk before if there’s any concern)

2. A toy that your dog likes

Yup, that’s it.

 

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

 

Put your dog in a sit. While your dog is sitting show him the toy and let him sniff it a little.

Keep your dog in the sit and put the toy about 3 to 5 feet away in plain view.

Walk back to your dog and give them their release command (Porter’s is “okay”) and then repeat the phrase “Find it” over and over until your dog makes contact with the toy you had just placed 3-5 feet in front of him. When contact is made give them tons of praise. Lots of “good dog” and pets to go with it.

Practice this a few more times with the same distance. Each time your dog should see you put the toy down. As your dog becomes consistent in finding the toy, go ahead and make the distance longer.

Let your dog watch where you’re putting the toy, but make the distance more substantial. Again, praise each time your dog finds the toy.

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Once you feel like your dog has a handle over what you’ve been doing so far, make it a little harder. Hide the toy behind something. Let your dog see where you’re walking, but then hide the toy behind the couch or a chair, somewhere they can’t see it from where they’re sitting. Repeat the “Find it” phrase until your dog reaches the toy and then praise again.

So now, you get to make it even more challenging! Don’t let your dog see where you hide it. Go in a different room or around a corner.  When you release them repeat the phrase “Find it” until they come across the toy and then praise, praise, praise!

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

You can always help your dog find the toy by leading them over to the area if you find that they’re having trouble. But give them some time to figure it out! They can do it!

This is a great game to play when the weather is not so great outside or if you think your dog needs some more mental work than you’ve been able to give them recently. Make sure to have fun with it! It will be hard not to. Trust me!

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Faulty Logic

Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.

Douglas Coupland

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Today I had a conversation with my friend Anne (not her real name), who was having some problems housebreaking her dogs.  I spoke with her for several minutes on the phone.  While I was sitting on my couch with a nice, hot cup of coffee, helping her identify the housebreaking issue, Orion jumped up on the couch, jumped over me, and knocked my arm holding the cup of coffee , spilling it all over my couch.  I pose  question: whose fault was that, mine or Orion’s?

The answer:  Neither and both.

Let me explain.  There is one mantra I’d like you to chant over and over again.  Something that will help you get through moments like the one I had today.  Moments when your dog chews up your favorite shoes, or leaves a puddle on the floor.  This is important enough to tattoo somewhere (inconspicuously, of course).  Something that explains why you’re having problems with your dog,and what your reaction should be:

My dog is a wonderful dog, who is learning to be human. I am a wonderful human, who is learning what it is to be a dog. 

Ink it

Ink it

It’s a learning curve for both of you!  Cut yourself some slack.  Cut your dog some slack, and understand that you are working on a bond that transcends species!  How many of us can say they have the perfect friendship/relationship/marriage that doesn’t have its ups and downs?  Not me.  And that’s a relationship that’s at least with someone who speaks the same language as you!  That’s why I’m completely, 100% against blame of any kind.  Wait a minute:  let me get Captain Jack to explain.  Everything sounds better coming out of Johnny Depp’s mouth, right?

But you HAVE heard of him?

But you HAVE heard of him?

Look at it like this…what are your goals for your dog?  To be good?  But a good what?  Your dog can only be the best dog he can be.  You can only be the best human you can be.  Leave room for lots of error.

There’s an old saying about how to housebreak a puppy.  Basically:

“A rolled up newspaper can be an effective training tool if used properly immediately after a housebreaking accident or if your dog chews something. Take the rolled up newspaper and hit yourself over the head while chanting the phrase “I forgot to watch my dog. I forgot to watch my dog. I forgot to watch my dog.”

hate that mentality.  Blame.  It’s like ketchup to a kid. It goes with everything.  

"Why yes, I would love a side of blame to go with my piping hot dish of guilt!"

“Why yes, I would love a side of blame to go with my piping hot dish of guilt!”

That’s not to say there isn’t a problem.  But let’s start out in the right frame of mind now, and starting off training by blaming anyone isn’t the way to go.   Here are some simple ways to appropriately deal with a situation that you’ve deemed negative (remember, “negative” doesn’t mean “bad”, merely that you don’t want that behavior again).  Let’s focus on the two problems that occurred today, Annie’s housebreaking problem and Orion’s incident, which we’ll dub Coffeegate:

Be rational.  Orion didn’t wake up this morning and decide to leave a huge coffee stain in the middle of my couch.  Dogs don’t premeditate anything.  The universe isn’t conspiring against me, and my life doesn’t suck.  I have a coffee stain on my couch.  End of story.  Your dog doesn’t hate you when he pees on the rug, nor is he getting back at you.  You aren’t the world’s worst dog owner and your dog isn’t stupid.  You’re trying (as a human) to understand why your dog is acting, well, like a dog!  Understanding the logic of another human is difficult, let alone another species.

Determine if there is indeed a problem.  Orion is allowed on the couch.  I’m allowed to have coffee.  Perfect storm of clumsy dog vs. clumsy owner?  Possibly.  Odds of the same situation happening again?  Minimal.  But that’s not always the case.  Housebreaking issues?  Yeah, you know that’s gonna happen again.

"Deja-Poo", when you feel like you'e pooped here before

“Deja-Poo”, when you feel like you’e pooped here before.    Britany Graham Photography

Have a plan.  My plan for the couch?  I flipped over the cushion.  My plan for if the perfect storm aka “Cofffeegate” starts up again?  The PAW Method.  Answering’s Orion’s questions about whether or not he can jump up on the couch when I have coffee (hint: read this article to see how).  Annie’s housebreaking issues are going to take a bit more effort, but here’s the Darwin Dogs’ method on dealing with housebreaking issues.

Move on.  Yes, come on. You can do it.  Don’t cultivate anger.  As Mark Twain said:

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

Now think about all the times your dog has been angry at you. Or blamed you for something.  Sparta, Orion and I had a pretty terrible day last week.  Within the first 2 hours of waking up I accidentally kicked Sparta in the face while going up the stairs, and then punched Orion in the throat when I reached for my phone.  Do you know how each dog reacted? Without blame.  I felt terrible. That’s because I’m stuck being a human.  My dogs?  They got over it instantly.  How lucky are they who have no word for “blame” or “guilt”.  As Hoagland stated so succinctly:

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.

Brittany Graham Photogaphy

Brittany Graham Photogaphy

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Surviving a “Teenage” Dog

“Whatever.”

- Me, at 14 years old

10308283_832990790064261_2457400682443452031_n

I got Orion when he was 6 months, which, if you read my blog posts, you already know is the worst age for a dog.  For dogs, it’s the equivalent of a 14 year old girl.  Lots of eye-rolling.  Even more stomping of feet.  You know the drill.  Dogs go through adolescence as well.  And just like with humans, it’s the time where they start to figure out where they belong in society/pack, and to do that, they test boundaries.

The drama

The drama

So I inherited Orion, this little ball of energy, at the worst possible age.  I skipped right over the adorable, fluffy stage, and went straight into-the-mouth-of-hell stage.  And oh, wow did he show it. Orion was never a bad dog.  The thought of a dog as bad is ridiculous.  Orion was a perfectly normal, adolescent dog.  His problem was that he sucked at being a human. Even for a teenager.

On top of Orion hitting puberty was the fact that he was a nervous bundle of energy.  No, his previous owner hadn’t abused him (quite the opposite, actually).  It is just Orion’s nature to be skittish and hyper.  He is a dog who would be ripe for anxiety-driven destructiveness and maybe even biting if not properly Piloted. His teenage “years” were still very trying, but we had our coping mechanisms in place.

1)  Exorcise Exercise Those Demons.  

200 (1)

Most dogs will have problems behaving without adequate exercise, but adolescent dogs in particular need extra activity.  And no, going for a walk around the block doesn’t cut it.  If you’re not tired, your dog isn’t tired.  Even when you are tired, your dog is most likely still ready to go for more exercise.  A walk is mandatory, just so our dog don’t remain insulated, but there are easy ways to get them the exercise they need beyond running yourself into the ground.  Read here for some tips.

2) Take Your G.I. Joes and Go Home.  In other words, know when, and how, to end a stand-off.  Don’t get sucked into a never-ending vortex of behavior.  With Orion, it had to do with the cat.  He was obsessed with “torturing” my cat Echo.  Yes, every time he would do it, I would answer his question (“Can I chase the cat?”  No.)  but wow…at that age they will “ask” over and over and over (and over).  So, how many times to I have to answer him?  One more time.

And then “take your G.I. Joe’s and go home.”

What this means is that I answer his question about the cat once more.  He accepts it (even though I know it will only be for a moment), and then during that moment, I engage him in something else.  That way I don’t have to answer the question anymore because he isn’t asking it.  If he “asks” a question, I must answer it (no bribing him away from the question with treats or whatnot).  However, once he accepts the answer, it is perfectly okay to remove his ability to ask the question anymore.  You can put him in his crate for a bit (usually so you don’t go insane). Give him a little “snack” of exercise, such as a quick round of agility.  Or give him something to occupy himself, such as a kong or even an ice cube.  Anything to keep him from asking the question again.

3)  Work Like A Dog.  Remember, adolescence is a time of learning and exploring.  Is your dog getting enough mental exercise?  Most of the tricks and commands Orion learned was during his adolescent period, and he learned fast.  And always wanted more.  So he uses enrichment feeders exclusively for food.  He learned stupid tricks that still make me laugh (such as using Sparta for an agility course), he learned the  basics (heeling off leash, long distance stay, etc.).  All of these things were taught when his mind was most willing to learn: adolescence.

4) Enforce Calm.  You’ve set them up for success with the exercise and the mental work.  Now you can get what you want – calm.  To get the calm you desire, make sure you are giving them positive reinforcement (petting, affection, treats., etc.) at the appropriate times.  So for instance, if your dog is acting hyper, jumping on you, or “slapping” you with their paw, that is not a good time to give them affection.  Don’t encourage behaviors you don’t actually want.  ”Answer” their question using negative body language.  If when they are calm, you can then reward them.

5) Potty Problems.  For a lot of dogs, puberty can start up problems you thought you had already handled: housebreaking.  No, your dog isn’t suddenly “unhousebroken”.  What happens is your dog is making a bid to become Pilot. How do they do that?  By marking.

Aim high.

Aim high.

Piloting your dog, and using the techniques outlined above, will help with the marking.  Spaying and neutering your dog will help, ahem,…eliminate the odds that they will take up this unsavory behavior.  Basically, if you are Pilot, you have the right to mark things as yours.  The more you Pilot your dog, and answer their questions, the less likely they are to try to claim things. For more information about how to handle this problem, read this article.

6) Keep A Sense of Humor.   Perhaps this should have been first, because it’s the most important.  Your dog isn’t out to get you.  Your dog isn’t “getting back at you”. Your dog is too busy being, well, a dog to concern themselves about how to get even.  Laugh when you can.  Answer your dog’s questions about what is acceptable and what isn’t, but don’t hold a grudge.  As Shakespeare said, “This, too, shall pass”.

Remember, this is just a phase with your dog, but just like human teenagers, how you react to your dog’s adolescence can have a bearing on who they are as an adult.  Enforce your rules with a kind, benevolent (but firm) leadership, and you will have a wonderful adult dog.  But most of all, enjoy the ride, because in the scheme of things, our dogs, though so precious to us, are with us for all too short a time.  Don’t waste any of that precious time wishing to skip to the next age, because every adolescent dog will eventually become a wizened, old dog with a muzzle full of gray sooner than you wish.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

The Consistency Rule

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham


Trust is built with consistency – Lincoln Chafee

Something you’ll hear often with dog training is “Be consistent”. It’s important to make sure you follow through and answer your dog’s questions consistently.

Is that dog a threat? Nope, not now, not in 10 min, not tomorrow.

Can I lick the coffee table? Nope, not now, not in 10 min, not tomorrow.

Can I bark at the squirrel outside? Nope, not now, not in 10 min, not tomorrow.

Consistency. Making sure they get the same answer every time. Makes sense. Perfect sense. But sometimes, we put ourselves in positions where we need to step away and maybe we don’t follow through that one time.

Erdman_0045-1

When you’re working with a dog on breaking a habit (barking, food aggression, nipping) emotions can get high. When I was first working with Porter on his food aggression it was an extremely frustrating situation. I knew I could not let my frustration get the better of me, and had to be calm and collect while working on the issue. However, I’m not a superhero.

There were days where I would get home from an exhausting day at work and I would be dreading what would be coming next. I would get in a calm state before feeding Porter, but I would find myself some nights, not being able to deal with the situation in a calm way. That’s when I would walk away.

I wouldn’t follow through those nights. Why? Because I knew it would not be constructive for me or Porter. I would be emotional and frustrated, which means he would feed off of that energy. When you’re dealing with a situation where emotion is involved on both you and your dog’s end, you need to make sure you’re the one calm and controlled. If you feel like you’re not going to be? It’s okay to walk away.

You’re not failing. That one time you have to walk away is not going to set you back months in progress. In fact, sticking around and trying to follow through when angry or upset will set you back. So, step away if you feel as though you can’t control your emotions. Go in the other room and reboot. Take a minute to gain your composure and then interact with your dog.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

It’s okay. We’re only human. We can’t be the picture of absolute perfection all the time. It’s just not realistic. So, accept that you’re human, accept that you can walk away from your dog if you have to, and then accept the fact that tomorrow you can try again.

Consistency is very important. But so is keeping a healthy and respectable relationship with your dog. So deep breaths, and try again tomorrow.

Keep calm and pilot on

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

Time to Say “Goodbye”

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

“Remember me and smile, for it’s better to forget than to remember me and cry.”
― Dr. Seuss

All dogs can be rehabilitated.  I have never come across a dog that with the right mix of Piloting, Activity and Work, couldn’t be transformed into a dog who could properly bond with their human.

Unfortunately, sometimes the proper amount of Piloting is well-beyond what any human can reasonably be expected to give.  But that sure doesn’t stop them from giving.  At what point is it okay to say, “I can’t do this any more”?

Take, for instance, Sparta.  She is a wonderful dog, and I love her very much.  However, the amount of Piloting she requires is astronomical.  She is very dog aggressive, combined with a very fierce tendency to guard her “flock”.  Of course that doesn’t make her a bad dog….there is no such thing as a bad dog.  Unfortunately, though, that makes it very difficult for her to live in a human world without a monumental amount of Piloting.  I will never be able to be off-guard when taking her for a walk. I will never be able to have a friend of the family let themselves in our house.  Luckily, this is what I do for a living!  Piloting her is (relatively) easy for me because I have been doing this with dogs for over two decades.

But there is a promise between me and my family:  if I ever die, Sparta will be euthanized. Not because I don’t love her, but because I love her so much.  Nobody else in my house can safely walk her.  Nobody else in my house is as obsessed with Piloting her as me, and without a Pilot, Sparta is terrified.  Her terror then turns to aggression.  I answer every one  of her questions, no matter how many times she asks it, because I know that if she were to try to answer her own question (“Is this person a threat?”), the results would be disastrous, and would most likely involve severe injury to another dog or even a human.

Sparta is not a bad dog. She’s actually a great dog. Unfortunately, she is a horrible human.    No, she wasn’t abused, and nothing happened to make her this way.  It’s just who she is, and I love her for who she is.  The dog I have.  Not that dog think I should have.  

Huffington Post recently published an article by Trish McMillan Loehr about such issues, only in the reverse. A dog who had a horrible life, but was able to work into a family situation, quite well actually.     Lines that reverberated with me:

Ask any behaviorist what’s more important — nature or nurture — and they’ll answer “both.” Some dogs can be raised by the book, socialized to everything, and still become dangerously aggressive.

So please, pit bull lovers, stop saying “it’s all how they’re raised.” I know you mean well. But if you truly believe your words, no fight bust dog would ever be able to be adopted. And just look at the success of Michael Vick’s former fighting dogs.

 

If you truly believe “it’s all how they’re raised,” no stray shelter dog or abused dog would be safe to place in a home. I’ve worked with many animal victims of abuse — some have issues, it’s true — but many of them are just as resilient as Theodore.

 

Occasionally, an idyllic puppyhood still results in a dangerously aggressive adult dog. I’ve met those, too. And most dogs fall somewhere in between these extremes. Environment counts, but so do genes. Ultimately, all dogs are individuals, and that’s where we need to meet them.

“So just train it out of her”, some may say.  Training is different than Piloting.  Training involves a set of responses that are cued by a set of circumstances.  For example, when I say “sit”, Sparta sits.  The word triggers the action. Piloting involves questions.  You can’t always train questions.  Remember, you can’t train a dog, especially a naturally protective one, to accept every single other dog as part of their pack.  But what you can do is Pilot them, and answer their questions about this dog or that dog.  In other words, it isn’t all encompassing.  In human standards, it would be the same as my training you to trust all humans merely because they are human.  The thought is silly, and quite contrary to the interest of self-preservation.

Sparta was trained to hold random objects.  She was Piloted through her questions on how to do it.

Sparta was trained to hold random objects. She was Piloted through her questions on how to do it.

Usually, the more you Pilot a dog, the less you have to Pilot a dog.  Sparta and I have passed a great many dogs on our walks without incident because I have always answered her questions about them.  Sometimes it is literally just a tap on the leash with my ring finger (“No, we aren’t hunting that squirrel”) to “shutting the door” on her.  The very act of answering a question makes her more in tune with me.  She naturally starts to look at me, rather than that other dog she’s just spotted, to gauge my reaction.  I look bored, so she figures it’s not a big deal.  Again, sometimes that’s not enough of an answer for her, so I have to use more Piloting.

Sparta is a dog, and her reactions to other dogs and other humans (read: non-pack) is well within normal and healthy for a typical canid.  Just as all humans don’t exhibit the same amount of sociability, neither do dogs.  The difference between humans and dogs in this instance is that humans are living in a human world, one that we understand.  We know that the man coming to our door isn’t going to kill us… he’s merely delivering the mail.

Not every dog lives with someone who is willing Pilot them so readily.  Most dogs haven’t been abused or taught to react this way.  There was no trigger for them to start asking so many questions, with such dangerous results if they answer the questions themselves.  So at what point is it okay to say “goodbye”?  That’s the question I started off with.

When is it okay to put a healthy dog down due to the level of questions being asked, and the intensity with which they answer their own questions?  I firmly believe the humans come first.  The concept of euthanizing an otherwise healthy dog is always tragic, but sometimes necessary.  Rehoming is not always an option.  That’s like handing over a lit stick of dynomite to someone without warning them what happens when the fuse runs out.  That isn’t solving the problem, it’s shifting responsibility.  The dog typically still ends up asking a question that isn’t answered, and it ends badly.  Sometimes the end result involves a child.

Yes, it feels good to save these types of dogs, be can’t, and shouldn’t, save them all.  There aren’t enough facilities for the “low-key” dogs.  The ones whose toughest questions are “Can I play with that?” or “Can we go for a walk?”.  These dogs are being put down.  If these dogs can’t find a home, why would someone take such a risk as to try to rehome a dog who is known to be aggressive?  Again, that is merely shifting responsibility.  The problem is that we want to save them all. The result is we can’t.  It’s like trying to shove ten pounds of gold in a five pound bag.  There just isn’t room.

Some people will get judgemental about this post.  Saying that you never give up on a animal.  That they never gave up on their animal. Ah…if only everyone could be in the same situation they are, able to never give up on their animals.  But we all aren’t.  Sometimes there are young children in the house.  Sometimes someone becomes ill or infirm.  Sometimes that beautiful, adorable puppy grows up and has severe guarding issues. Sometimes thing just can’t safely work out.  Again, this isn’t about giving up.  This is about knowing when it’s time to say a necessary “goodbye”.

This post is to a dear friend, “M”, who today will be saying goodbye.  She is a true Pilot, and a wonderful human being.  Please share your support for the difficult, painful decision she has had to make today.  Thank you, M, for your dedication to your dog. Just because the ending isn’t how you expected it to be doesn’t mean you didn’t see it through to to the end.

My girl Sparta.  I will love you forever.  I love you enough to never leave you without a Pilot.

My girl Sparta. I will love you forever. I love you enough to never leave you without a Pilot.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Home

Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.

 - Sarah Ban Breathnach

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

So you’ve done your research and done a good job of it.  I’ve made an educated decision about which dog you’d like to adopt, and there he sits in the backseat of your car, on your way home.  You’ve got the the dog food, the vet appointment is set up, and perhaps you’ve even made an appointment with a dog trainer to get off on the right paw foot.

So now what do you do?

Here’s a step by step on how to acclimate your dog to their new home. It’s all about stages and not overwhelming a dog at any point.

1) On the way home, in the car, give your new family member plenty of time to sniff you. Give him a positive (a tiny reward or at least some praise and petting) every time.  What you are doing is linking your smell to a positive.  You’re a good thing.  That will translate later when he’s in a house that smells like, well, you.

Scent is a very important thing for humans.  We bond through scent.  We cradle babies by our armpits so they can smell us and be relaxed.  We hug for the same reason – sharing scent.  How often has a crying baby been brought in to snuggle with mom, and then, without nursing or anything, instantly falls asleep?  They smell mom and feel soothed.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

For a dog, nothing smells safer than pack.  Pack is like a security blanket, and the bigger that blanket is, the better it smells.  You are the dog’s new pack.  Familiarize him with the scent as much as you can.  Providing a lot of positive combined with your scent makes it a very comforting thing for new pooch needs.

2) Take your dog immediately into a quite, secluded area of the house.  If you’ve set a crate up for them, put them in the crate and just quietly hang out by them for a while, again, equating your scent with the safety of the crate.  The crate isn’t a bad thing, it’s their “bedroom”.  A place that is safe and entirely theirs.  Allow them to become familiar with it immediately.

3) Give frequent potty breaks.  A lot of shelters will say that a dog is housebroken because the dog never messed in their cage.  While they aren’t lying, the dog may not be housebroken.  A lot of dogs will not eliminate in their cage or crate.  Start off on the right foot immediately by following the basic rules for housebreaking, outlined here.

Don’t get upset if your dog marks in the house.  This can be quite normal for the first day.  A lot of dogs will do it once or twice, and then never do it again.  They are merely adding their own scent to the house, often as a way to self soothe.

4) Put yourself in the Pilot position.  I say over and over again that Piloting is a huge piggy bank, and whomever has the most money wins the position.  Start adding money to your bank immediately, before your dog has any chance to add money to their bank.  Don’t allow them to jump on you.  Don’t allow them to demand your attention (a dog version of “may I please be pet” should always be expected).   Start answering their questions now.  They’re going to want to know the rules of the house, so be kind enough to give them the answers.  Some answers are “yes” and some are “no”.  Read here to find out how to give it to them.

5) Take them for a (calm) walk.  No, not in the Metroparks, or downtown.  Try your backyard.  Somewhere that still sorta smells like pack, but will still require a leash (yes, even if your yard is fenced in).  You are adding even more money to your Piloting piggy bank.  If you need some help with leash walking, read this series on how to do it without drama.  Remember to praise and reward for any potty activity that takes place outside.

6) Put your dog on a leash and walk them around your house, allowing them to sniff and smell.  They are familiarizing themselves with the area, and it feels safer to explore if their Pilot/New Best Friend is doing it with them.  Remember, though, a lot of dogs have never been acclimated to living in a house.  Some may not know the rules.  They’re dogs not humans, so be prepared for some crazy behavior, such as jumping on tables or counters to investigate, etc. You have them on a leash so you can easily answer their question, which is, “Is this acceptable?”  Um….no, Fido.  Not in the slightest.

Do not allow your dog full run of the house immediately.  Start with small areas, and has your trust in them grows, go ahead and add areas of freedom for them.  Baby gates are integral for this.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

7) Bedtime.  Ah…this can be the hard part.  You’ve set yourself up as Pilot, your dog is (mostly) acclimated to the house.  But now comes the scary part…being alone all night.  If you want your dog to sleep in bed with you, go for it.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  However, if the dog is to sleep elsewhere, you have to help them prep for this.  The worst thing you can do is try to pop the pup in the cage for the night without any prep work.

You are going to do a crash course in separation anxiety.  The first time he’s alone in his crate shouldn’t be for 8 hours while you’re (trying) to sleep.  Put him in the crate for five minutes, leave the room, come back and let him out.  Now try for 15 minutes.  You are creating normalcy out of being alone in the crate. Pop him in and out of the crate all day, focusing on longer and longer periods of time.   Think of it as dress rehearsal for the big show.  Trust me, you’ll thank me for this when it’s bed time.  For a more detailed description on separation anxiety, read this article.

Wash, rinse repeat.  Some dogs take 5 minutes to feel comfortable in new home.  Other take a little longer.  Take your time.  Don’t rush them.  They’re worth the wait.

im234ages

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

Brittany Graham Photography

Puppy Playdates

Life must be lived as play.
- Plato

02-12-14(2)
Brittany Graham Photography

A tired pup is a good pup. One of the best ways to tire out a dog is to let another dog tire him out for you. Dog people like other dog people. Which means, at one point or another, a friend of yours has come up with the fantastic idea of coming over and bringing their dog with them. Immediately you are all for it and can only see the positives. Then, after you solidify a date, the questions start. How is their dog going to react to a new home? How will my dog react to having another canine in his home? What kind of boundaries and rules do they set up for their dog?

The best way to start off a play date is for all of you to go on a Piloted walk right away (no manic pups running rampant on retractables). This solidifies that you accept the other dog and owner as “pack” and therefore your dog will too. This also allows time for both dogs to get used to each other’s scent. The more the scent is familiar the less exciting and foreign it is. Even if your dogs have played together before, it’s never a bad idea to go on a walk before. Again, you’re re-familiarizing your dogs to each other. Don’t allow the dogs to play together until they both are calm. If you decide to go on a walk, have one dog enter the house and wait calmly. The second dog must be calm before entering the house. When you feel that you have control over the situation with both dogs in it, they can then interact with each other.

02-12-14
Brittany Graham Photography

You are Pilot, which means you have to protect your pup if you need to. If you feel that the other “playmate” is behaving in a way that is making you or your dog uncomfortable, claim your dog.  Use the same body language outlined in The PAW Method at the dog park or during a doggie play date. Place yourself between your dog and the visiting dog with strong body language to communicate your ownership of your own dog. It is also best to remove any high value toys that may be around (i.e. rawhides, antlers). These toys can bring out some resource guarding tendencies in either dog, even if you haven’t been aware of them.

As far as rules go, think of the saying “my house, my rules”. Dogs that come to visit me, have to abide by the same rules that my own dog does. I use my body language to let the visiting dog know what is allowed and what is not. The same thing goes for my two legged visitors. If I feel as though my dog needs a break but the other owner wants to let them continue to play, I’m not afraid to use gentle confident body language to make my point. By standing up straight and placing myself in between both dogs, I’m saying, “No, not right now”, not only with my voice but with my body too, but in a gentle way. Your pup is looking to you for direction and protection as you are their Pilot. That means being smart with what you allow and how you react to certain situations. Having a “doggy play date” has so many benefits. The best part is, after your dog’s friend leaves, they will be looking forward to some catching up on some sleep.

Easy Rider

    It is better to travel well than to arrive.

    Buddha

3-16-14(1)

 

Summer!  Road trips to the beach! Travel to the park!  Go! Go! Go!  If you’re like me, once the weather breaks, you want to be outside doing, well, …something. Sparta, Orion and I love hiking once the weather breaks (technically, Sparta likes hiking before the weather breaks – Orion and I are too delicate).  Part of the fun, though, is discovering new areas to hike.  We live in Lakewood, and are very familiar with the trails around the Rocky River Reservation, but several times a week we will travel to a new locale:  Hinkley Reservation to hike Whipps Ledges.  Down south to Strongsville to hike Royalview.  In Vermilion, there is a great lagoon.  All of these trips require a car ride.

Sparta and Orion are perfect little angels in the car.  But most dogs aren’t just born that way.  Sparta sits in the back seat, her usual stoic look upon her face, waiting for her next orders.  Orion sits in the passenger seat next to me, excited about our destination, but trying (and usually succeeding) to contain himself. 

So, how did I get my little companions to do so well in the car?

Piloting. There is no substitution, no harnesses, herbal remedies, or restraints that will help your dog relax in the car.  Piloting is the only thing that can take a dog who is hyper in the car and turn them into a road warrior.

You and your dog - Road Warriors

You and your dog – Road Warriors

Let’s take a few examples of bad behaviors in the car and address how to Pilot your dog through them:

  1. Hyper dog, who jumps back and forth between the seats and never seems to calm down.  A couple issues with this dog:  energy and possibly anxiousness.  All dogs have questions that need to be answered.  This dog’s questions are pretty simple:Are we there yet?  Can I be in the front seat now?  Can I drive?   All of these are answered with a simple, gentle negative.As mentioned previously in the PAW Method, you need to control your situation before adding stimulation.  In other words, don’t start trying to Pilot the situation while flying down the highway at 65 mph.  Start simply.  Put your dog in the car, start your car, and hang out in your driveway.  If pooch starts acting hyper, simply use your body language and/or your negative command to address their question:  Can I be hyper?  Obviously the answer is no!   Angle your body as best you can so you are facing them, and them stare them down.  You may have to gently tap them on the ribs with your fingers to gain their attention (read: not discipline, you are merely getting them to focus).  The moment they care calm, give them a rewards (Touch, Talk, Treat).  Give a treat, gentle praise, and a gentle pet to reward.  Quickly you won’t need the treat anymore.  If you dog won’t accept the treat, that’s fine.  Still offer, and still give the Touch and the Talk.
    Remember, the object isn't to restrain them, it's to answer their questions.

    Remember, the object isn’t to restrain them, it’s to answer their questions.

    Stop the car and get your dog out once they are calm.  You should never let your dog out while they are hyper.  Remember, we are practicing calm – nothing fun ever happens unless they are calm first.  Keep practicing this in your driveway.  It is essentially the same as crate training: we want our dogs to become accustomed to the car.  It’s a normal, every day thing.  A “no energy” zone.

    After you have mastered the driveway, enlist someone’s help to start driving. Anywhere is fine…just start moving.  Every time your dog even gives a hint of energy, give them that gentle negative.  If necessary, you can even stop the car until they’ve calmed down. Keep at it. Travel by car isn’t always achieved overnight.

  2. Anxious, worried, terrified dog.  This dog is truly a sad sight to see.  They are scared.  They look like a small child in the queue for the world’s largest roller coaster:  convinced they aren’t going to make it.  Resist the urge to comfort.  Remember, if everything is good, fine, and safe, why would you feel the need to confirm that?  You don’t walk around your house reassuring them that it’s safe, right?  Do the same thing in the car.  If they seem to be doing a little better, you can offer them calm, gentle positives.  Don’t try to soothe them with words:  you are rewarding them for relaxing, not trying to bribe them into relaxing.
  3. Car sick dog.  This usually occurs in puppies under 1 year, as their inner ear has not quite developed yet, giving them a frequent feeling of vertigo.  Unfortunately, the best thing to do is ride it out. Orion reliably got sick in the car, every single time, until just after his 1st birthday.  If your dog is older and still getting sick, it could be that you have a dog who is actually anxious in the car.  Pilot him.  He will calm down.  You can also ask your vet what you can give your dog to help their stomach while traveling.
Boots & Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots & Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Keep at it.  Don’t give up.  You will have the perfect traveling companion. You just have to help them realize that there are indeed rules for them in the car.

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