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

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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.

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 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.

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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

 

When Failure is Not an Option

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“Grow up!” – Me, to my son Eric, aged 12

A few weeks ago, my son did something pretty immature.  Not End-Of-The-World immature, but I had been having a rough day, it was late, and I was cranky.  I finally lost it and told him to grow up.

“Mom, I’m 12″, was his response.

Yeah, thanks kid.  I needed that. Along with the medicinal pint of Ben & Jerry’s, which Eric and I shared.

Problem is, Eric is the most well-behaved, mature, responsible kid I’ve ever met.  I seriously doubt that’s because of my DNA.

No regrets

No regrets

Regardless, I know I don’t deserve that kid.  He’s amazing.  But he’s a kid.  No matter how “good” he is, he’s still going to be just a kid at the end of a (long, frustrating) day. I allow him to make mistakes, and we laugh it off.  I allow him to grow in spite of because of those mistakes. The more I allow for him to be a kid and to fail occasionally, the less he fails, and the stronger he emerges from his rare failures.  But sometimes I do need to remind myself that he’s just a kid (or at least have him remind me).

And I’m still just a grown up.  I may be the adult, but I need to cut myself some slack.  I’m not here to set an example of how to manage a perfect, non-frustrating day.  I’m here to model how to manage in a perfectly imperfect world.  My children need a mom, not a messiah.

I can see it so easily with my clients.   One of my favorite clients called me the other day.  June* had adopted a beautiful dog who almost immediately bit a child on the head(!).  Rather than instantly returning the dog to the shelter to be euthanized, she called me.  She stated the circumstances: a neighbor kid had been playing tag with their preschool aged child, which can easily be misconstrued by a dog as attacking.  The dog tackled the neighbor child and essentially put them in a headlock.  Terrifying to witness, but the dog did no damage beyond a scratch to the “offending” child.

Still, it can be a traumatizing thing to any parent to witness.  June firmly believed that the dog, Ladybug, was not actually aggressive, but was trying to protect her child.  I agreed.  We worked together, and discussed Piloting Ladybug.  Piloting involves answering Ladybug’s questions so she would never be put in a situation like that again.  Questions like:

“Is that kid going to hurt my little girl?”

No, Ladybug, they’re only playing.

“Is my little girl going to die?! Do I need to save her?!”

No, Ladybug, it’s called a swing.  She’s fine.  

June noticed the more she answered Ladybug’s questions, two things happened:  Ladybug started accepting answers a lot more quickly, and she stopped asking questions so frequently.  In short, Ladybug allowed herself to be Piloted.  She learned that June would not only answer all of her questions, but would let Ladybug know if she needed help.  Result: Ladybug didn’t feel the need to monitor every single situation.  Ladybug was free to relax.

 

Happy ending to Ladybug’s story…until I got a phone call from June.  Ladybug had gotten loose.  Simple mistake.  See, Ladybug also had separation anxiety, and while it was being managed pretty well, she still wasn’t too thrilled with being left home alone.  Busy, hectic morning for June, trying to get a herd of kids ready for school, carpooling, etc., and suddenly Ladybug decided she wanted to join the fun. She got out of the house and ended up in the car with the kids some how.

Not the end of the world, right?  But as June put it, the kids saw her lose her temper.  No, she didn’t hit Ladybug.  She didn’t do anything terrible.  She just happened to yell at her a little bit.  June was upset, though.  She claimed she didn’t want her kids to see her like that.

“Like what, a human being?”, I responded to her during our phone call. I reminded June that it was precisely because she had allowed a dog to make a mistake (tackling the neighbor kid) that Ladybug still had a home.  She saw through the situation to realize that the behavior was not because Ladybug was aggressive, but because she was overwhelmed by the circumstances.  A dog had done the best she could…in a human situation.  And had failed miserably. Fortunately June had realized that Ladybug tackling a “threatening” child was merely the culmination of a perfect storm of events, and gave her the chance to do better (which she did).  Yet June couldn’t cut herself 1/100th of the slack she had allowed for Ladybug.  I guarantee that Ladybug had already forgiven June for the slip-up.

I will never be the perfect mom.  I will never be the perfect dog owner.  All I can do is the best I can with what I have.  Some days that’s more than others.  Some days I’m hanging on by a stash of Milano cookies and a glass of Pinot.

Don’t strive for perfect to be the normal that you show your dog.  Strive for best you can do to be the normal for your dog.  Sometimes the Pilot crashes.  Sometimes it’s just a rough day.  Striving for perfection only has negative consequences:  1) you burn out; and 2) your dog panics.  You broke character.  It’s okay.  I promise.  You’ll do better next time. Don’t fail at failing.  You’re going to fail; accept it.  Now either you can dwell on it or you can utilize that failure and grow from it.

Now, as Oprah said, “Think like a queen.  A queen is not afraid to fail.  Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.”

Long live the Queen.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

 

 

*Names have been changed for privacy

Just Because

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” 
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I’ll never forget a conversation I had several years ago with a friend who happens to be a (great) vet.  She was asking me about the “come” command, and what my thoughts were about having a special “come” command, or an emergency recall.  A special word that means “come”, no matter what? Did I have a command like that?

“Yes”, I replied.  ”The word is “come”‘.

I have a lot of people who ask me why their dogs won’t come when they’re called.  My usual reply?  ”Why should they?”, which is always followed with some type of justification on the owner’s part.

  • Because I called them.
  • Because I’m their owner.
  • Because I’m their pack leader.

Just “because” isn’t an answer.  It’s a polka.

Hey, I'm Slovak.  What did you expect?

Your dog needs a reason to come when called, and there’s only one reason a dog will come when you call them.  That reason is you have more money is your Piloting Piggy Bank.  You simply must have more money in your piggy bank than your dog does.  Claiming to be Pilot or Leader doesn’t mean much unless you actually are.  I can claim to be Queen of the Scots, but unless I have something to back up that claim, well…Here, I’ll let Bruce explain.

So, to that end, I present to you How To Attain (Near) Total Recall.  Notice the caveat in there?  ”Near” Total Recall.  Because we are dealing with living, breathing animals, not machines who are programmed to respond a specific way to specific sets of stimuli.  No dog will ever have 100% recall.  So let’s do this.  Let’s get Fido to (Near) Total Recall.

 Oh, "Rekall, Rekall, Rekall." You thinking of going there?

Oh, “Recall, Recall, Recall.” You thinking of going there?

A few simple rules about (Near) Total Recall.

1. Remember the three steps to working with your dog:

  • Control Yourself.  Are you angry? Rushed?  Annoyed?  If so, it’s not going to work.  Calm is the only way to get what you want, and that goes for the “come” command, too.  Take a break and listen to the polka music again.  Nobody can be in a bad mood while listening to a polka!
  •  Control the Situation.  In other words, don’t start working on recall when your dog is chasing the mailman down the street.  Start in a controlled environment, say….your living room!
  • Add Stimulation (“Come”).  Let’s get ready to rumble!

2. You MUST use positive reinforcement.  In other words, “COME HERE!!!!” will never work.

Yeah, I always preferred Liu Kang anyway.  He was the only one who didn't seem to be on a roid rage.

Yeah, I always preferred Liu Kang anyway. He was the only one who didn’t seem to be on a roid rage.

Start in your living room, with your dog not too far from you. Make your body into slight letter “S”.  The object is that you don’t look intimidating, but rather, inviting.   Call them.  Remember you are teaching your dog a new language, so repetition is integral.  One word only.  In our house, it’s “come”.  In your house it could be “Pajammas” for all I care, just so long as you are repeating it over and over again. Pat your leg consistently to give them something to focus on,.   Hopefully, they will start walking to you.  The moment they get to you, they get high value positive reinforcement.  If your dog is food motivated, give them a treat.  If they are praise motivated, praise them heartily.  If they are love-bugs, give them a thorough belly/back scratch.  In a perfect world, you will be doing all three.  This is called Touch, Talk, Treat.  You are creating a Pavlovian response by linking these three things.  Pretty soon, you don’t need all three!  The Touch and Talk can take the place of the Treat.  That way you don’t need to rely on treats all the time to get your dog to come when you call.

Now that your dog came when you called, try it again, from farther away.  Pat your leg, move into an “S” shape, and start calling them.  Uh oh.  This time they’ve decided to ignore you. What do you do?

1) If you are home alone, quietly stand up, walk towards your dog, take them by the collar and start gently tugging (not dragging!) them to where you called them, repeating “come, come, come” the entire time.  Once you get to where you originally called them, they still get Touch,Talk,Treat.  There is absolutely no punishment, ever.

2) If someone is with you, have them retrieve the dog to where you are.  The person bringing you the dog should merely act as a disembodied hand that is bringing your dog to you. You will still be saying “come, come, come” over and over, and yes, they still get Touch, Talk, Treat when they get to you.

Practice this a few times. Pretty soon your dog will come bounding over to you to get their treat.  Now it’s time to start weaning them from the treats.  Now it’s 9/10 times they get the treat.  Then 7/10 times.  Soon it’s 1/30 times.  No matter what, they still get lavish praise and affection when they get to you.  Call them from all areas of the house so they actually have to find where you are.  Get them accustomed to actively looking for you when they hear they are being called.

Now you’re ready for outside.  But there’s a trick to it.  Yes, it’s easy to get your dog to come in the house, but outside they’re, well, loose!  Even in an enclosed back yard it can be difficult to catch a dog who won’t come.  That’s why I use a cotton clothesline initially.  About 20 feet will do.  Tie a big knot about every 2-3 feet along the line, and then attach it to your dog’s collar.  Now let them outside. When you call them, and they won’t come, remember, they’re dragging 20 feet of rope behind them.  Simply step on the rope (the knot will catch on your foot), and you can tug them along two towards you, calling them the entire time. And yes, they still get Touch, Talk, Treat when they get t you.

So you’ve been working at it outside, and your dog has (Near) Total Recall outside. Now you’re ready to lose the clothesline, but if you just instantly take it off, your dog may figure out that they’re completely free again.  Instead, gradually start cutting the clothesline smaller and smaller until there’s nothing left.  Your dog will never know the instant where you can’t catch them anymore.

What does it take?  Effort.  I loathe the people who tell me this doesn’t work, and when I ask them how long they’ve been at it, “Oh, at least 2 days now!”  You are training a dog to be human.  To respond to human speech, and to trust that you make a better Pilot than they do.  To this day, I still work at the come command with my dogs, even thought they attained (Near) Total Recall a long time ago. Work at it, because the first time you call your dog and this happens:

 

…it will all be worth it.

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

 

The Simple Life

In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Entering into a new training session, there are always a few consistencies.  I have only two hours to accomplish many things:

  • Gain the trust of the humans
  • Gain the trust of the dog(s)
  • Ascertain the situation
  • Develop a game plan for addressing the behavior issues
  • Create bonds of communication between dog and owner
  • Have fun.

It doesn’t necessarily happen in that order, but that’s a pretty good synopsis of everything I can accomplish in two hours.  It seems like a lot, but as I’ve stated numerous times, dogs aren’t stupid. I also believe that (most) people aren’t stupid either. There are, of course, occasionally the incredible human exceptions.  Dogs, however, are amazingly simple.  That’s why I’m able to keep my training sessions short and simple.  Remember, there is nothing wrong with your dog; he just sucks at being human.  And most people are pretty decent humans; they just suck at being dogs.  So, simply put, we need some communication going on, not a bunch of rules and regulations about how the two species should interact.  Three steps to working with your dog; that’s all it takes for any situation involving a dog to be solved.

I firmly believe dogs ask questions.  We’ve already agreed that dogs aren’t stupid, so of course they ask questions.  They’re curious creatures, and aside from wanting to know about their world around them, they want to know what you think of the world around them.  How should they react?  Should they react? And most importantly, is it time to eat?!

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All of their questions can be answered, but not all of them necessarily need to be answered.  There are simply some that must be answered.  But more on that in a moment.

Working with your dog involves 3 components: Piloting, Activity and Work, or what we refer to as The PAW Method.  To break it down:

Piloting: Answer your dog’s questions. They only ask “yes/no” questions, so it’s pretty easy to do!  Learn how here.

Activity: Keep ‘em moving and active.  Ever experience something called a runner’s high?  Yeah, well, neither have I, but I hear it’s wonderful, and dog’s are addicted to it. They need their Activity, and either you give it to them, or they figure out how to get it themselves, and that’s never a good thing.

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Work: Dogs aren’t stupid, nor are they merely knick-knacks strewn about your house to be idly admired: they are thinking beings with cognitive abilities that we still haven’t fully explored in the tens of thousands of years they’ve been with us.  In other words, keep them mentally engaged. A bored dog is truly a destructive force.

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That’s the groundwork, your foundation.  Make it a good, strong foundation, and you can build upon it by answering your dog’s questions. Dogs are binary, which means every question they ever ask you will require a “yes” or a “no”, which is different than “good” or “bad”.  Your dog is incapable of being bad: he will always choose what’s right for a dog, which may be in direct conflict of what’s right for a human.  Remember, you are merely answering questions for your dog, not punishing them, nor should you be inflicting pain or fear upon a dog.

Using “yes” and “no” can be very confusing.  When do you give negatives, and when do you use positives?  Simple.

Negatives/No

1) When you don’t like what your dog is doing.  Sounds simple enough, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t understand that “No” is a complete sentence and can be used liberally.  Ask yourself, “Do I like this behavior that Fido is doing?”  If the answer is “no”, then give them a negative.  Anything from jumping, barking, and getting on furniture to the simple questions Fido may ask on a walk: “Do we turn left here?”.  If the answer is “no”, then give them a negative!  Remember negative doesn’t mean bad, it just means “no”.

So how do you answer a dog’s questions?

Use your body language to answer these questions. If your dog is staring at a treat on the floor and then at you, he’s asking if he can have it. If you do not want your dog to have it, answer his question by walking in between him and the treat, facing him, with the treat behind you. This means that you are “claiming” the treat. You can move into his personal space to back him off it a bit.  Once he’s engaged with you, nothing, or everything (in other words, looking anywhere but at the treat), remove your strong body language by walking to the side or away from him. This shows him that he is giving you the correct response: accepting that the treat is yours. If he looks at your treat again, simply use the body language again.

Think of it as a game of hot/cold.  His question is, “Can I have that?”  The answer is “No”. You answer his question using that body language.  When he accepts the answer (looking at you, everything, or nothing, but definitely NOT looking at the treat), then you’re finished.  Remove your negative body language.  You may have to put the negative body language right back on him if he immediately tries to go for it, but that’s natural – it may take him a few times to accept your answer.  Remember, remaining calm is the key.  Anger should never be a part of this exercise.

So again, Piloting is answering a dog’s questions. You would answer the question in the same way if he is asking if something is a threat (stand between your dog and the perceived threat, facing your dog, and simply back him off while standing up straight). Pretty easy, huh? The more you show your dog that you are capable of being in control and the Pilot, the more your dog will be able to relax and actually be a dog. He’ll look to you for guidance instead of feeling as though he needs to protect you and your family from every garbage can, dog and plastic bag in the neighborhood.

2) When your dog is “Yo, Bitch”-ing you.  Wow….there’s a term.  What’s “Yo, Bitch”, anyway?   Symptoms include: slapping you with their paw, trampling you, pushing you out of your seat on the couch.  Basically, any behavior that would translate to : “Yo Bitch, give me a cookie”, or “Yo Bitch, pet me”.  It’s as detrimental to your healthy relationship with your dog as it would be in any human relationship!  Respect yourself enough to expect respect from your dog.  Your dog is perfectly capable of a “May I Please?” instead of a “Yo, Bitch”, and you know the “May I Please?” look.  It goes something like this:

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“May I Please” ….have a cookie?  Go for a walk? Jump in your lap?  All of these can be answered with a “yes” or a “no”.  Your choice.  But if your dog is “Yo, Bitch”-ing you, the answer must be a negative.  Don’t accept a bully dog‘s behavior.

Positives/Yes

1) The “come” command.  Always, always, always…positive.  Give them a treat. Tell them how wonderful they are!  Scratch their belly.  Whatever it takes to get them to understand that what they did was wonderful.  If you need help with “recall/come”, check out this link.

2) Asking a dog to do a “human” behavior.  Your dog is a perfect dog, and can be expected to do dog things wonderfully.  Being a human, on the other hand…well, that’s a little different.  Any time you are asking your dog to do something that another dog couldn’t ask them to do, you must use positive reinforcement.  For example, a dog will tell another dog to go away, or play, or stay away from their toy.  But they don’t teach each other English (sit, stay, come, etc.), nor do they teach each other tricks.  If you ask a dog to do a human thing, make it worth their while.

3) When they’re calm.  This is the most important of all. I always tell my clients I want “calm” to be like a lottery ticket:

1) you have to play to win;
2) You probably aren’t going to win; and
3) But unless you’re holding a ticket, you’re definitely not going to win.

I want your dog holding a many lottery tickets as possible.  Because the more tickets they have, the better their chances are at winning.  Reward calm any chance you get, and pretty soon Fido will understand that “calm” is like a magic button he can press that will (sometimes) get him exactly what he wants.  If you see your dog sleeping on the floor, give him a gentle scratch behind the ears.  If you’re cuddling on the couch, give him gentle praise for being calm.

And remember, calm is about progress, not perfection. So if you’re dealing with separation anxiety, just reward progress.  If you are crate training, but your dog in the crate and walk into the other room.  He’s going to escalate to a decibel 11….simply wait him out until he goes down to an 8 before re-entering the room.  You are trying to catch a behavior: increased calm.  It’s not always immediate, and it is rarely perfect, but that doesn’t mean the behavior isn’t there to catch.  Make sure you reward it.

So let’s break everything down:

Your dog needs Piloting, Activity and Work (the foundation).  Only once you have given them what the need are you able to build upon that foundation by answering your dog’s questions using “yes/no”.  Pretty simple.  You’ll notice I didn’t give a lot of rules.  I hate rules.  They don’t take into account human and dog personalities.  I know many trainers who:

-Insist a dog should never be on your bed.  Why not?  I sleep better snuggled next to a dog.  Just remember it’s your bed, and your choice who is in it.

-Don’t give your dog people food. Because….?  My dogs get plenty of people food (in a healthy moderation, of course).  If it isn’t on the lethal list (grapes, onions, chocolate, etc.), and your dog isn’t “Yo, Bitch-”ing you for the food, go ahead!  Just remember, it’s their right to beg for food, (“Can I have some?”) just as it’s your right to answer “no”.  

- Never play rope toy/tug/wrestle with your dog because then they’ll know they can beat you.  News flash:  my dog already knows they can beat me.  Using that logic I should never run with my dog because they are faster.  Playing rope/tug/wrestling with your dog is all about setting your boundaries.  We bond through play, and this is a prime way to do it…if you wish.  Set your boundaries.  For example, when Sparta and I play, I have very limited rules:  she’s allowed to knock me down, grab the rope, even (carefully) bite me.  But the second I feel it has gotten too rough, I give her a negative, and she instantly stops.  Some days I’m up for a WWF-style match, other days I’m only good for a drastically diminished version.  Just because we romped hard yesterday doesn’t mean that’s what our game is going to be about today.  You set the rules for each and every match…anything from “no rules” to “not playing at all” is acceptable.  Think of it like Fifty Shades of Grey:  Anything’s okay so long as you are both okay with it.  That includes not wrestling at all.

grey

So stop complicating your bond with Fido.  No more lengthy list of rules and regulations trying to define your relationship with your dog.  Your bond is unique:  just as there will never be another bond like I had with my first dog, Darwin, there will never be another bond like the dog you have with your dog.  So no more One Size Fits All training style, nor endless rules for working with your dog..  Only you know what you need from your relationship with your dog, and now you have the foundations to build that relationship.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

Restraining Order

Freedom is not the absence of obligation or restraint, but the freedom of movement within healthy, chosen parameters.

Kristin Armstrong

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Last week I had a rather full schedule training, including a couple of dogs who were, for lack of a better term, “aggressive”.  And this is how my week ended.

image1-8I really wish I could say I got it doing something exciting. It didn’t happen while I was training dogs.  It happened while I was painting.

I’m officially middle aged.

Anyway, I’m supposed to rest it for at least a week, so as far as sprains go, it’s not too bad.  Now that brings to light a few questions, though:  how am I supposed to do this week’s training sessions, which includes one aggressive dog, as well as 3 super-hyper dogs, whom will undoubtedly need work on leash walking.

The answer is that if I can’t walk dogs with a mildly sprained wrist, then I can’t walk dogs.

The secret to working with dogs is to never make them feel restrained.  In other words, I shouldn’t need muscle to walk a dog.  If I am able to drive a car (which I am), then I am okay to walk a dog.

The biggest complaint I hear about people walking their dog is that the dog is pulling the whole time, causing the owner’s arms to become tired very quickly.  But let’s think about it  rationally:  the dog physically can not be pulling you unless you are pulling back.  In other words, you are pulling backwards just as much as they are pulling forward.  You are trying to muscle your way through the walk.  Even worse, the reason why your dog is pulling is because you’ve restrained them…no, not with the leash, but with the tension attached to the leash.  You’ve engaged their fight or flight response, causing them to pull forward, which in turn engaged your flight or fight response, causing you to automatically pull backwards.

Number5

But what if you didn’t fall into that vicious cycle?  What if you didn’t sink your feet into the ground, and pull back with all your force?  No, I’m not stating you should let your dog run amok while you follow meekly behind.  But rather than using brute force, have you tried answering your dog’s question instead?

Dogs ask a lot of question, all the time.   Answering your dog’s questions is called “Piloting” them.  Some questions you can ignore (“Is it okay if I scratch my ear now?” or “Mind if I take a nap?”).  Others you want to give a profound, hearty “yes” to, (“Should I potty outside?” or “Should I sit politely to get that treat?”).  But the most important ones sometimes require a “no”, such as, “Can I jump on your guest?”, or, in this case, “Can I lead our walk?”.  The answer must be “no“. So how do you “answer” your dog with a negative?

Easy.

Stand up as straight as you can, pretend your dog is a lot taller, and simply invade their personal space.  Keep your feel like a letter “V” so you don’t accidentally step on their paws.  The moment they are no longer “asking” the question, you are done.  So, for instance, if my Sparta were barking at something outside the window, I would simply stand up straight and get between her and the window she’s barking at, and back her off the window using strong, confident body language. I’m “claiming” the window, or, as we put it, answering her question, “Should I be worried about that dog outside?”.  The answer is “no”.

How can I tell when she’s accepted the answer?  She will stop barking for a moment, perhaps look at me, sit down, turn her head away, or even just walk away.  She is no longer actively engaged in the window, or what’s outside, therefore, I no longer have to answer her question.  I’m done.  No force involved.  I didn’t drag her away from the window, I merely crowded her out from it, using my body.

So how does this work on a walk?  Well, let’s start with the three most important steps:
1) Control yourself. No anger, no yelling. Good, confident body language. Fake it if you have to.

2) Control the situation.  Did you just walk out that door with the dog dragging you, and then continue walking? Control each and every moment.  If you lost control, that’s okay, just reboot to regain control.  Don’t just follow the momentum. Create calm.  It’s okay to stop and start over.

3) Answer questions as they come up, using the body language.

Okay, now you’re ready.

Go to the front door.  Put Fido’s leash on.  Now I want you to “claim” the door.  In other words, Fido’s first question is going to be, “Do you want me to lead you out the door?”  Your answer is “No”, so simply pivot on your foot that’s closest to your dog, and now you should be facing Fido, with your back to the door. You yourself should look like you are a door that just slammed in Fido’s face.  Using your body language, gently back him away from the door, using an occasional tug, tug, tug on the leash if necessary, but never holding him back physically. Now he’s calm?  Okay then, you’re ready to walk outside.

Take each step slowly.  If he tries to drag you down the front steps, stop, give a series of gentle tugs until he is close by you again.  His ears should never be past your knees – if they are, he’s leading you.  Simply answer his question; the moment his ears get past your leg, give a gentle tug on the leash, and/or pivot on your foot so you are now facing him, again, looking like you are a door that just closed on him.

3

 

When Fido backs up to where he belongs, and/or looks away, you’re good to “unslam” the door and move on.  No pulling, no yanking, and now restraining.  Merely answering questions.

At first, Fido is going to have a lot of questions that need answering, because let’s face it, he’s always lead you on the walks before.  Stick with it.  Answer his question each and every time he asks if he should lead.  The first 10 minutes are going to be very frustrating for you.  The next 10 minutes will be less so.  The final 10 minutes are going to be like a whole new, positive experience.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Another No Good, Very Bad (Rotten) Day

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
-Winnie the Pooh

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

A few days ago, Danika posted a wonderful article about her day when nothing seemed to be going right with Porter.  Glad she posted that, because oh, boy, did I have a doozy with my day today.  Only mine involved a severely dog-reactive dog, and this:

*cue dramatic music*

*cue dramatic music*

But we’ll get back to that in a moment.

I know I’m not perfect.  Actually, I’m glad I’m not perfect, because that’s such a high expectation to live up to.  A pretty big job that I certainly don’t want.  However, that doesn’t mean I can’t do the best with what I have.  Sometimes I don’t have a lot, either.  So let’s start with my frame of mind when I first started to go for a walk with Sparta, my dog reactive dog, this evening:

My daughter (River, aged 8) decided she wanted to be vegetarian. We agreed, but we informed her that meant she needs to eat everything we cook for her, because she’s growing, and nutrition is important.  Fine.  Well, today she didn’t like what I cooked.  I told her that she didn’t have to eat it, but that I would not be making anything else, and reminded her that she needed to stay healthy.  ”I choose death instead”, was the response I got from her.

What I felt like

What I felt like

Apparently part of “being the adult” includes not getting to smash things when you’re angry.  So I used the PAW Method (as I so often do) on my darling little child.  In other words, I followed the three most important steps to Piloting your demon child:

1) Control yourself.

I didn’t immediately respond to River’s demand for death (which she was this close to getting).  Instead, I took a deep breath and controlled myself.

Because, like, "adulting" and stuff...

Because, like, “adulting” and stuff…

2) Control the situation.

There was no way I was going to be able to make her eat her food without a long, drawn out battle. I knew she was going to try to push my buttons, so rather than fight with her, I moved the fight to my desired location.  Meaning, I told River that if she chose death, there was nothing I could do about it, as I already tried to feed her, and could she could go ahead and starve to death upstairs in her room.  She quietly went upstairs as she was told.  In other words, I diffused the situation.  I didn’t fuel it.  Gasoline and Fire went to their respective corners.

3) Answer the question/correct the behavior.

I wasn’t there yet; remember, I had to send River to her room to keep from squishing her like a grape.  It’s okay to get angry, but you are responsible for how you act upon your anger.  In other words, I had control of the present situation…but if I had added even an ounce of stimulation (say…an eye roll), I knew I could lose it.  And once words are said, they can never be taken back.  So I left River to stew in her room.

Now.  Back to that first picture.

Sparta, as you may already know, is very dog reactive.  That’s why I choose to (mostly) walk her at night, especially if I’d had a rough day already.  Today was no different.

mostlySo we went for our walk.  Me, not thinking about how keyed up I still was about River trying to commit hari kari by not eating dinner.  Sparta obviously felt it.  We usually go for about 2 miles, and she did mostly well during those two miles, without a lot of Piloting that was needed.  However, the wind was blowing pretty badly, and of course it’s garbage day tomorrow, and debris was blowing everywhere, including right at us.  So now Sparta was on her toes, getting a little jumpy (to be honest, so was I – it was pretty bad).

When I was young, I used to think this was my 3rd grade teacher. Now I know better.  It was.

When I was young, I used to think this was my 3rd grade teacher. Now I know better. It was.

Now for the dramatic twist.  Another dog.  I spotted the dog before Sparta sensed it.  It was about 1/4 block away from us, headed in our direction.  The owner seemed to be doing well with the dog, who appeared to have already caught a whiff of Sparta.  In other words, the owner was Piloting their dog (which kinda surprised me, which in a way is sad).  The owner was taking their time, and just looked calm and relaxed, helping their dog relax.  I answered Sparta’s question (“Is that dog a threat?”) about the dog when she spotted it, and once she accepted my answer (“No”), I took her across the street so as to control the situation better.  Considering the high energy we both had going into the situation, she did pretty well.  When she’d ask the question again, I’d answer, and because I was too keyed up myself to go right back to walking, I’d turn her around the other way to calmly take a few steps, almost like getting a running start before hitting the gauntlet, before starting again.  She was doing fine, until…..I tugged on the leash, which suddenly wasn’t attached to my dog anymore.  The clasp had completely come undone, broken from the main part of the leash.  Sparta immediately went running across the street after the dog.

Now, I had a few choices:  I could either panic and start yelling and shouting frantically at my dog, but that would only add energy to a situation I didn’t have control of.  So I chose a different path.

Thanks for the reminder, Liz.

Thanks for the reminder, Liz.

I took a deep breath, and speed walked my way across the street. I called Sparta’s name repeatedly, but not in a panicked fashion.  At this point, she had already gotten to the other dog, where she had started to bark at it, and essentially try to chase it away.  I grabbed Sparta, looped what’s left of the leash around her neck, and controlled the situation as best I could given the circumstances. In other words, she calmed down, and the other owner (#OhMyGodImSoSorryAboutThat), was able to safely take their dog away. As they were walking away, I heard the owner say something to the effect of, “Calm down Sheila”, at which point I said, “It totally wasn’t Sheila’s fault.”

Now, a word about the other owner.  He never lost his cool.  He was calm, and bored, and essentially an amazing Pilot, especially given the circumstances.  Quite frankly, he was the reason the situation was resolved so quickly: he added no energy, and just diffused his dog, and ignored mine.  Beautiful.

So, he continued on his way, and I took Sparta back home. I sat down in a chair, whereupon Sparta curled up at my feet, just like she always does.  The incident already out of her mind.  Yeah, it was scary, but either we could dwell upon it, or move on. And honestly, part of Step 2 (control the situation) is knowing when the situation is over.  Just let it go. Nobody was hurt. Nobody got hit by a car. I was able to Pilot Sparta pretty quickly, and we got home safely with 1/2 a leash.  I couldn’t be angry for Sparta for being who she was (fearful of other dogs), but I could be proud of her for trying so hard to move past her fears.  She’s an incredible dog who has come a very long way.  She’s not perfect, but I don’t want her to be.  That’s such a difficult thing to be: perfect.  She did the best she could with what she had.

As I was sitting there, my daughter came back downstairs.  She said she decided she wanted to live, and that she loved me.  I told her I was very proud of her, and that no matter what, she’s always My Favorite Little Girl in the Whole Wide World.  We hugged it out, and I knew that I needed to control the previous situation: by letting it go.

So there I was.  Another No Good, Very Bad (Rotten) Day that ended with my two girls, Sparta and River, both doing the best they could with what they had, just as I had tried to do.  Not perfect, but who wants to be perfect anyway.    After all, it’s about progress, not perfection.

Keep calm and pilot on

The Complete, Unabridged Set of Dog Rules

The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

“Is it okay that my dog is on the couch?”

“Can we play tug with a rope toy? Or is that wrong?”

“We’re using puppy pads.  Is that bad?”

Questions like these from my clients make me crazy.  No, not because they are asking me questions, but because somehow they got it in their head that there are hard and fast rules to “dogging”.  They get a dog, and the first thing they want to know is what the rules are.  All. The. Rules.

winterBecause obviously, if something isn’t complicated and supremely structured, it doesn’t work.  The more rules, the better you’re doing, right?  After all, t’s been working for the DMV.

We must be cautious.

We must be cautious.

So obviously, rules suck.  Unless you’re a dog owner, and then you want the rules.  All the rules.  Well, you want ‘em?  You got ‘em.

Before I tell you the rules, let’s review the steps to working with a dog, in any capacity.  Whether stopping the barking, teaching them to sit, or maybe something a little more intricate.

Everything starts with these steps:

1) Control Yourself. 

Controlling yourself means you are calm (even if only on the outside).  You are using confident body language (stand up straight!).  You are not yelling, or even talking.  In other words, you are NOT Corky Romano.

Don’t be a Corky.

2) Control the Situation.

Meaning if you can’t stuff 10 pounds of dirt in a 5 pound bag, why are you trying to stuff 15?  Stop, take a look at the current situation.  For example, if someone is at the door, but your dog is there barking, jumping, and, well, being Corky Romano, do you have control of the situation?  No!  Then don’t add any stimulation (such as opening the door) until you have control. Answer your dog’s question about the door, and then move forward when you have control. Reboot if necessary.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Okay, now that you know the playing field (controlling yourself and controlling the situation), now for the rules.

I use a mix of negative and positive.  The same way you do throughout your life.  I asked my husband it was raining outside  He said “no”.  That’s a negative  My daughter asked if she could go to a friends house. I said “yes”.  That’s a positive.  Think of it as a game of “hot or cold”. We call this Piloting your dog.

Rules of When to Use Negatives

1) When you don’t like what your dog is doing.  Yes, seriously…it’s that easy.  Ask yourself if you like the behavior your dog is giving (barking, jumping, or just laying against the fridge that you are trying to open), and if you don’t like it, give them a negative.  Remember your dog isn’t bad.  Dogs are incapable of being bad.  They are perfect… for a dog.  They just happen to suck at being human.

And guess what?  You probably don’t make a very good dog.

So let’s jettison the whole “Good/Bad” thing…and the gun.  You’re answering questions for your dog, not deciding if the questions make your dog “good” or “bad”.

2) When your dog is “yo-bitching” you.  Now there’s an interesting term:  ”yo-bitching“.  What does that mean?  It’s when a dog slaps you with their paw.  Or jumps on you.  Or pushes you out of the way.  It’s the human equivalent of saying, “Yo, Bitch, gimme a cookie.” Or “Yo, Bitch, that’s my chair”.  Vulgar?  Absolutely.  Acceptable?  Never.  You wouldn’t accept a human addressing you like that, so don’t accept that from a dog.  Dog’s are perfectly capable of using polite, “May-I-Please” body language.  Start to demand and expect it at all times.

On to the positives!

1) The come command/recall.  Positive, people.  Give your dog a good reason to come when you call.

2) When you are asking your dog to be human.  Think about what one dog will tell another dog.  Things like, “Go away”, or “Let’s play” or even “That’s mine”.  But dogs don’t teach each other English (“Sit”, for example). They don’t housebreak each other.  So if one dog can’t teach it to another dog, and you’re asking your dog to be a little bit human, you must use positives.

3) Calm.  This is the most important, most overlook opportunity for positives.  I want calm to be a like a lottery ticket:  You have to play to win (you’re probably not going to win), but unless you have a ticket, you definitely aren’t going to win.  That ticket is calm.  The more your dog has the “calm ticket” the more likely he is to win.  So if he’s calm, give him a gentle positive.  Anything from chilling out on the floor, to trying his best to be calm at the vet.  Reward the effort.  Progress, not perfection.

So there you have it.  That’s all the rules.  When to give positive and when to give negative.  Everything you ever needed to know about how to work with your dog.

But I didn’t address your questions from earlier?

“Is it okay that my dog is on the couch?”

“Can we play tug with a rope toy? Or is that wrong?”

“We’re using puppy pads.  Is that bad?”

Yes, I did!  About the couch, think about the negatives.  Do you like what your dog is doing on the couch?  No?  Then give him a negative.  Don’t care that he’s on the couch?  Well, then, neither do I, as long as he isn’t “yo bitching” you.

Playing tug with a rope toy?  Cool!  I love a good, rough game of tug.  My husband doesn’t.  I encourage it.  My husband negates it.  Remember, ask yourself if you like the behavior, and if the answer is “yes”, go for it.  If the answer is “no”, then negate it.  Just make sure that you have your limits adhered to.  My Sparta is allowed to really go at it with me when we wrestle…until she isn’t  When I feel things have escalated too much, I simply give her a negative, and she stops.

Puppy pads?  If it works for you, it works for me.

In short, nobody should be telling you how to enjoy your dog.  My dogs are allowed to beg from the table, as I frequently give them a small amount of table scraps.  But once I’m done with them, they are given a negative, and they know to stop begging and stay away from me while I eat.

My dogs, like yours, are only here for my enjoyment.  They make life easier, and so much sunnier!  Don’t let a book full of rules tell you how you should be enjoying their company.  Make sure you are indeed enjoying your dog, and not merely tolerating their behavior.  If you don’t like their behavior (say, getting up on the couch), it’s up to you to answer your dog’s question (“Can I sleep up here?”), and set your own rules of how to enjoy your dog.  The rules will differ from house to house, but the enjoyment will be constant.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to snuggle in bed with my dogs while I share my snack of cheese and crackers with them. I’m tired from all that rope-tug I played with Sparta.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

First Do No Harm

“The physician must … have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm” - Hippocratic Corpus

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Clients frequently ask me for advice with regard to their dog’s health, and I will answer them honestly (the biggest of which is that yes, your dog is overweight.  Now do something about it.) However, I have a very limited knowledge base of most things having to do with a dog’s physical health.  It’s not my area, and there are plenty of well-qualified individuals who can answer questions beyond “How do I clip my dog’s nails?”.  That’s where your vet comes in.

Choosing a Vet

Choosing a doctor or vet can be a very difficult thing.  It’s almost as dramatic an undertaking as choosing a pediatrician.  You are placing the health and welfare of your dog/child in the hands of someone else, essentially asking them to Pilot your dog’s/child’s health.  It can be scary handing over control.  So take your time when choosing your dog’s doctor.

Sometimes it can take ten tries before your get the perfect doctor.

Sometimes it can take ten tries before you get the perfect doctor.

Use your resources and referrals.  Do you like your dog’s groomer?  Ask who they recommend for a vet.  Did you adopt your dog?  Ask the shelter who they like to use. Don’t forget to ask your friends, or even post on Facebook to get some recommendations.  You may notice a trend of vets whose names frequently pop up, either good or bad.  Choose wisely.

Just kidding...you can change

Just kidding…you can always change vets if you need to

So you’ve got a recommendation, and you’ve made your first appointment.  Think of it as a first date.

column_010-dog-memes

Things to look for:

  • Clean offices.  No, I don’t expect the floors to be spic and span, but if there is anything other than dog/cat hair on the floor (is that dried blood?!) step away from the reception desk.  Keep stepping.  Right out the door.
  • Friendly staff.  If reception makes you feel like a jerk for just checking in for your appointment, then how do you think you’re going to feel when you call them later asking a “dumb” question about your dog’s symptoms?  Yes, they may be very, very busy, and you may have to wait to have your question answered, but you should never be made to feel stupid for caring about your dog’s health.  Expect respect, for both you and your dog.
The staff here is a joke

The staff here is a joke

  • Easy set-up.  For those of you with dog-reactive dogs, you know what I mean.  It can be difficult working with your dog’s reactivity while out on a walk and another dog is across the street.  It can be very difficult in a crowded waiting room.  If the waiting room is over-crowded, approach the staff and ask if there is another option (waiting outside, or even better, a small room where you can wait).
  • Good communication.  Ask your vet a question, you should get an answer.  Note I did not state you should get the answer you are looking for. However, you should not feel shamed or stupid for asking questions.  You and your vet are a team both working together to keep your pet happy and healthy.  So if you don’t understand a procedure, or a medication, or symptoms, ask your vet.  They should give you an answer in terms you can understand.
  • Good “dog-side” manner.  Yes, your dog is scared, and perhaps you are, too.  Your dog might not like the vet at first.  Allow for some time to get a good relationship between your dog and your vet.  Watch your vet: do they seem comfortable working with your dog?  Do they take safety precautions when necessary (such as a muzzle or another person to assist)?  Those are good signs.
  • And sometimes “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer.    If your vet knows everything, know that they don’t.  It’s okay for them to say they aren’t sure, or don’t feel qualified to make a diagnosis.  Remember, first do no harm!  Knowing your limits (even as a vet) is a good thing.

And makes for wonderful BBC mock-umentaries.

Finally, be aware that any vet can be subjected to biased reviews, undeserved slander, and malicious attacks.   The very nature of their practice unfortunately includes taking animals to the Rainbow Bridge.  Understand the difference between a poor practice and poor circumstances.

4b4134082daceed3ba1de68721569bfe

Damnit Jim, he’s a doctor, not a time traveller!

Choosing a vet is a very personal thing. You are asking someone else to care for the health and well-being of a very important part of your life:  your pets.  It’s okay to take a pass on a vet just because you got a “strange vibe”.  Listen to your gut, don’t be afraid to speak up if you have questions, and trust your instincts.  Your pet will thank you with a long, happy, healthy life.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Generally Speaking

All generalizations are false, including this one.

Mark Twain

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I went out to a local Thai restaurant a few weeks ago.  I brought home the leftovers, and when I ate them the next day, ended up getting food poisoning.  I decided that this was very dangerous to the health and safety of the general populace in my area, so I decided to take action.  I’ve started a petition to ban Thai restaurants in my city.  Public safety comes first.  That’s why I’m including any Chinese, Japanese and Cambodian restaurants in my proposition as well:  I’m mean, they’re basically the same food, right?  And I’d rather nobody had to experience what I went through.  It’s a known fact that people are more likely to get food poisoning from these styles of cooking than any other type of cuisine.  I’m going to include Indian food in the ban as well.  Better safe than sorry.

If you’re reading this and shaking your head, wondering if I’ve gone bonkers, you know how I feel now reading about breed specific legislation.

And both manage to avoid all rational thought.

And both manage to avoid all rational thought.

Yes, technically I did get sick from some Thai food that I ate…but my fridge malfunctioned and the food was left at room temperature for waaaay too long.  Essentially, because I did not harbor the food properly, it turned against me.  I didn’t take care to ensure it was in a safe environment, and against all precautions, ate it.  And paid the price for it.  However, I’m pretty sure that if I had chosen to eat the meatloaf that was left in similar conditions, I would have ended up with the same results.

I have indeed gotten food poisoning through no fault of my own – twice.  But considering how often I eat out (2x or more per week), having food poisoning a couple times in my life is a pretty amazing track record.

Let's stay positive about this.

Let’s stay positive about this.

Claiming that a breed of dog is inherently “bad” is about as sane and rational as declaring an entire cuisine poisonous based upon one bad experience, regardless of who is at fault. So I question the mentality of banning an entire breed, let alone lumping several in together because they “look alike”.

Currently, in the city of Lakewood, Ohio, the law reads:

 ”As used in this section, “pit bull dog” means any Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier breed of dog, any dog of mixed breed which has the appearance and characteristics of being predominantly of such breeds, any dog commonly known as a pit bull, pit bull dog or pit bull terrier; or a combination of any of these breeds. ” – LAKEWOOD, OH., ORDINANCES § 506.03(b)

Excuse me….did we just legislate against something using the word “appearance”?  Zucchini may have the appearance of a cucumber, but it ain’t the same thing. (As a matter of fact, my abhorrence for zucchini runs so deeply I had to spell it 5 times before finally running to spellcheck for assistance.)

Zuchini...zuchinni? Abomination That Masquerades As A Cucumber?

Zuchini…zuchinni? Abomination That Masquerades As A Cucumber?

 So lawmakers have opened that horrible floodgate of legislation based on appearance – one I thought we had finally closed years ago.  Do we really want to re-open that can of worms?  I didn’t think so.

Pit bulls (which are actually many breeds lumped together to form a “group”) have plenty of faults: most of which arise from the fact that they are dogs.  They are just like every other dog.  They can be sweet, they can sometimes be annoying.  They require Piloting, Activity and Work (or what we refer to as “PAW“) just like every other dog.  Mostly they’re interested in whatever it is that you are eating, and whether or not they can get a belly rub from you.  They will defend, they will run away.  It all depends upon the dog.

Members of Lakewood City Council are starting to realize the toxic nature of these laws.  jSam O’Leary, councilman for the City of Lakewood, has this to say:

“Lakewood’s BSL unfairly punishes a breed for the actions of irresponsible owners. Lakewood should hold the responsible party accountable: the owners of a vicious dog. When we legislate based on fear instead of the facts, we end up with policies that are ineffective, unfair, and fail to protect our neighbors and pets. Lakewood’s repeal of BSL is long overdue.”

I’m against judging a dog by their looks.  I like judging dogs by their actions.  Based upon who they are, not what they look like.  I believe in accurate breed profiling.  But most of all, I believe that the sum is worth more than the parts.  Case by case determination of what constitutes a “vicious dog”.  Repercussions for irresponsible owners.  I favor education over legislation any day.

 

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Rescue

 

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” – Emma Lazarus

boy

Before you get any further, realize that this is going to be a polarizing article.  I’m not here to make friends, I’m not here to write about the “feels good” topics of puppies nor stories of bonding with your dog.  Today I write for a completely different reason, and I truly hope you understand why.

There are an (estimated) 7.6 million cats and dogs who are homeless (approximately 3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats.).  Nowhere to go, and since nobody wants them, they end up in shelters.  Of that 7.6 million, 2.7 million of these animals are killed, simply because they are the criminals whose only crime was having no place to go.  Most are harmless.  Some are innocent puppies and kittens.  All are scared.  None deserve death for the crimes perpetrated against them by some humans: not providing for them, not caring for them, and abandoning them.  They literally have nowhere else to go.

We’ve heard of their plight, and have offered assistance to them; not just domestically, but abroad.  Russia, South Korea, among so many others.

Stray dogs from the Sochi Olympics.

Stray dogs from the Sochi Olympics.

Dogs being saved by Americans from South Korean meat market.

Dogs being saved by Americans from South Korean meat market.

It doesn’t matter where the dog is from; all we see is an animal in need, and animal struggling to survive.  An innocent who needs our help.  I love how passionate animal rescuers are about this.  We go the extra mile (or thousand) to bring these animals to sanctuary here in the USA.  We make generous donations to fund these rescue missions.  We make room in our already-crowded shelters for them.  Somehow we make it work. Dog is dog is a dog is a dog, as Gertrude Stein might have written.  It doesn’t matter where that dog is from; it matters that it’s a living being in danger and in need.  We open our already full hearts and let them in.

Which is why I’m so confused.

On Friday, Donald Trump issued an executive order which, as the New York Times worded it,

 ”…indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.”

 

You may be Republican or Democratic.  You may be neither, preferring another party altogether.  What you cannot be is untouched by the repercussions that this will have.  Homelessness isn’t something that is country specific.  It’s not something that only applies to pets.  It’s a human issue, too.  And it ends just as tragically for humans as it does for companion animals.

The body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, found washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. The boats carrying the boy's family to the Greek island of Kos capsized. His 5-year-old brother and mother also lost their lives. DHA/AP

The body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, found washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. The boats carrying the boy’s family to the Greek island of Kos capsized. His 5-year-old brother and mother also lost their lives.
DHA/AP

Are you shocked? Are you angry?  Are you upset that I’d post such a picture?

Good.

Because those of us who are active in rescue need to be active in all forms of rescue.  If we can’t be pro-active, we need at least not hinder those who are seeking asylum.  Because innocent victims of war, famine and poverty can be human, too.  And because if the thought of dogs suffering in China makes you more upset than the thought of a child huddled in a bombed-out town, I seriously question whether you are human yourself.

The argument that some immigrants and refugees may be dangerous is also moot.  I’ve rescued many, many dogs. And guess what?  Some of them were dangerous.  But not a lot. Not even a fraction.  I was more than willing to risk the (very) few dangerous ones to save so many other lives.  And yes, there was always the risk of getting  bit, but it was worth it.  More than anything I’ve ever done.

So by now I’m sure I’ve lost a few of you.  Maybe a lot of you.  But this isn’t a political post.  It’s a humanitarian post.  We are all connected, regardless of where we came from.  So many times on the Darwin Dogs’ Facebook page I’ve asked my followers what is your favorite breed of dog, and the overwhelming response is always “mutts” or “mixed breeds”.  It’s the diversity in the dog that makes it so wonderfully unique, so strong, so much healthier.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

We need our diversity in this wonderful United States of America. It keeps us strong and healthy.  It bonds us together and is what built this great nation.  Accept the unique, the strange, the *gasp* differences between us as something to be celebrated rather than vilified and feared. That quote at the top of this article, the one we all know it from the Statue of Liberty?  Most of us didn’t know it was written by a woman named Emma Lazarus.  How fitting the name, “Lazarus”, to come back from death.  They are just words until we take action to make them a reality.

In closing, remember the compassion that drives us to rescue.  Remember why we do it: to end suffering.  Let’s just remember that suffering isn’t something that is limited only to animals, and let it be proven that dogs don’t have the monopoly on love.  There’s the saying about trying to be the person my dog thinks you are.  Even above that, try to be the person your dog would be:  color blind and full of only acceptance and love, no matter what your circumstances or where you came from.

keep

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training Rescuing in Cleveland, Ohio