The PAW Method

The beautiful thing about Darwin Dogs is the simplicity of our core philosophy, which is captured in our innovative Piloting, Activity and Work, or as we refer to it, the PAW Method.  The PAW Method centers around the belief that dogs are dogs, and that’s why we love them.  Treat humans like humans, expect cats to be catty, but the beauty of dogs is that they are dogs.  They are beautifully simplistic!  Not stupid, mind you, just simple.  Minimalists.  Beyond the necessities of life, they only require three things:  Piloting, Activity and Work.

But where does the love and affection come in?

Think of PAW as your job.   Love and affection is your paycheck.  You don’t get paid unless you do your job, but trust us, salary is wonderful.  So once you put in the Piloting, Activity and Work, you now have “money” to spend on love and affection.

So what is PAW?


Let’s start at the beginning:  Piloting.  Imagine you are on an airplane and there’s only one pilot. Suddenly the pilot becomes unconscious.  Who is going to fly the plane?!  Obviously you are going to give it your best effort, but how do you feel?  Terrified? Nervous? Overstimulated and overwhelmed?  In short, not good.  You don’t understand this situation you’ve been thrust into, but it’s a life/death situation!

That’s exactly how your dog feels.  Your dog is a dog, and most of their instincts are still set for survival in the wild.  Dogs and wolves are the same animal.  They can viably breed together.  A pack of dogs and a pack of wolves have the same social dynamics, rear their young the same, hunt the same….there is nothing on the planet that humans are so compatible with.  A dog can even be integrated into a wolf pack.  A dog still has instincts that allow them to survive in the wild.


Living in the wild is dangerous.  Not everyone survives, and it can be difficult, but the issues dogs and wolves face in the wild are pretty simple to understand: how to catch your prey, and how not to be prey. They are constantly on alert for anything that can injure them or kill them, as well as anything that can supplement their diet.  Pretty stressful, but they understand the rules of the game.

So what do we do? We stick them indoors, where we change all the rules.  First we mess with the natural order of light/dark by means of lamps and curtains.  Then we humans do some pretty crazy things, such as letting non-pack members (read: possible threats) in our house without properly checking them out. (To you it’s your Aunt Sally, whom you haven’t seen in years.  To a dog, it’s “Not Pack”).   Furniture, strange smells, strange sounds – it all adds up to a pretty stressful environment for a dog.  Then to top it all off, we ask them to Pilot our human world.  We answer none of their questions, and believe me they have them. No wonder so many of our dogs have separation anxiety, fear aggression and many other issues!


So, going back to that airplane (that you are flying while the true pilot is unconscious)…what would you do if the pilot regained consciousness? Maybe check him out, make sure he’s okay, and then jump out of that seat like it’s hot and let him fly the plane!  The sense of relief you would feel, not being in charge of the situation anymore!  Well, that’s exactly how our dogs feel when we finally start Piloting them.  So how DO you Pilot a dog? Simple.

Dogs ask questions all the time.  “Can I have that shoe?”  “Is that other dog a threat?”  “Can we play ball right now?”  Problem is, most humans never bother to answer a dog’s questions.  So Piloting a dog is merely giving your dog answers to the questions they ask.  To do that, you have to realize that dogs operate almost exclusively on body language. So the bad news is you have to learn a new language, but the good news is that dogs are binary creatures: they only ask yes/no questions.  Even easier: yes is the absence of no.  Those of you who have children understand this concept (“Well you never said I couldn’t!”).

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 everywhere 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 that you are finally ready to fly this plane.  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.


Activity is just the amount of exercise your dog gets.  Dogs, like wolves, need activity daily. Walking on a daily basis gives them their sense of roaming that they would get if they were in a wolf/dog pack. Each day a pack hikes miles to and from a hunt. Your pup has this same extinct. It’s important that they get Activity every day and probably more than you can even imagine that they can handle!

Some ways to enhance your Activity time is to invest in a backpack for your pup. You can find them on Amazon and your local pet stores. Put a bit of weight in their backpack, gradually building up to no more than 3% of their body weight, and make sure it’s something that won’t hurt them (no water bottles, please). You can use bags of coffee or even dried beans or rice.

Sparta Backpack
Sparta showing off her backpack 

Although you’ll be going the same distance, it will feel a little longer to your pup which is always a good thing!

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Fetch, agility and playtime outside and at a dog park are great additional ways to get in activity. But the walk is so very important because it gives you an opportunity to work on your Piloting and it helps them with their roaming instinct, even if it is just in your neighborhood.


The third part of the PAW method is Work. Your pup needs mental Work daily. Think of it this way, if you drive the same route home every day it becomes monotonous and easy for you. However, if there is a ton of traffic on that same route, you’re a lot more tired when you get home because there was a lot more mental work that went into that drive home. Your pup needs to feel that mentally tired. Otherwise, they’re bored. Boredom leads to your dog figuring out their own ways keep themselves busy, which leads to your shoes getting new ventilation.

An easy way to get some mental work in for your pup is to use an enrichment feeder, such as a Kong Wobbler, Omega Ball or Busy Buddy Twist N Feed for your dog’s mealtimes. These feeders make your dog think about how to get the food out as opposed to just waiting for you to poor it out of a bag, which is dull, boring and EASY. By making them think about how they will get their food, it adds some mental Work into their day, but doesn’t add anytime to yours as you are going to feed them anyways.  Also, while getting the food out of an enrichment toy can be stressful, your dog will figure it out, and when they alleviate their own stress, they build confidence.


Hunter working and enrichment feeder to get his meal.  Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Hunter working and enrichment feeder to get his meal. Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Other things you can do for some mental work are playing “find it” games, teaching them a new trick, or even just rapid firing commands at them that they already know:  sit, down, up, roll-over, sit – all of these commands said quickly makes your dog focus intently on what you may have them do next.

Each of these three parts of the PAW method are extremely important. It’s a tripod – remove a leg, and it all crumbles, so don’t “make do” with Piloting and Work, but skip the Activity.  Each component is integral. It takes commitment, but, it’s also a ton of fun. By giving your dog what they need (Piloting, Activity and Work) you will be getting exactly what you wanted: your best friend.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham



Keep calm and pilot on


68 thoughts on “The PAW Method

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  6. This article was so relatable and easy to understand! I am definitely going to start implementing the PAW method more with my dogs and continue to read through more of your articles. Thank you!

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