2014 Darwin Dogs’ Awards!

Winning is only half of it. Having fun is the other half.

 - Bum Phillips

Brittany Graham Photogrphy

Brittany Graham Photography

Yup, it’s that time of year.  All of the egg nog has been drunk (as well as some of us as a result of that egg nog!).  Presents wrapped only to be unwrapped.  Family and friends share their meticulously prepared feast.  What’s left?

The Darwin Dogs’ Awards!

This year our winners will  be receiving a gift certificate from Brittany Graham Photography for a photo session with their beloved pooch.  So, on to the winners!

Cutest Dog – LUCA


Hard to go wrong with a puppy, but when it’s this puppy, things turn ridiculously adorable.  While I have the pleasure of quite a few puppies throughout the year, Luca was definitely blessed in the charm and looks department.

Biggest Challenge – TUCKER


What do you get when you cross a 100 lb dog, puppy adolescence, a huge amount of energy and having gone an entire life never being told “no”?  Well, if you add in a copious amount of charm and sweetness, along with a big heart, you get Tucker, one of the largest Doodles I’ve ever come across.  His owner realized that things had gotten out of hand with this handsome fellow, and called me in to help her unravel him back down to his good, sweet nature.  It took a lot of patience, effort and determination, but we did it.  He now gets negatives when necessary, and his owner realizes that negatives doesn’t mean he’s a bad dog, it’s just an answer to a question (Such as, “Can I jump on you?”).  His owner did a remarkable job in a very brief amount of time (during that 2 hours, she walked him on a leash for the first time without his dragging her!). Both are well on their way to successful bond anchored in mutual respect.  I’m looking forward to hearing more from them as they continue to strengthen their bond.

Owner Dedication (tie) – FARGO


Fargo is not a particularly difficult dog, but he’s different than most.  It’s hard to quite identify what’s different about him; perhaps it’s his super-high intellect, or maybe it’s that he’s so street savy, having been a stray for quite a while before finding his forever home.  And when I say forever, I mean forever.  Whatever the reason for his uniqueness, his owners didn’t let that stop them.  We did our training session, and then they got to work: Pack Walks (almost every single one of them!), training sessions, questions, emails, phone calls – Fargo’s family were determined to make this work.  And they succeeded. Great job!

Owner Dedication (tie) – Cody


Cody’s owner suffer a serious injury mere weeks after she adopted him as a puppy.  While she’s normal a very vigorous, healthy and active individual, she was suddenly bedridden.  Cody had to be boarded so she could recuperate.  Realizing that this was not the optimal way for him to grow up, she enlisted my help to train him in her absence in a more typical home-like setting.  Phone calls, text, and emails poured in from her almost daily.  She truly missed her dog, but realized given her present condition, she couldn’t care for him.  Rather than risking her health, his welfare, or both of their sanity, she made a tough call and spent several weeks away from him.  She has since fully recovered, and Cody is back at home with his beloved owner, who has taken on the Pilot role with great determination.  Cody is happy, safe, and home where he belongs.  That’s dedication!

Surprise Turnaround – CINNAMON


I met Cinnamon during a training session back in March.  It was the first “aggressive” session Danika ever went to (you can read her take on the session, and what it’s like to work with aggressive dogs here).  Cinnamon was a tough little girl with a very strong protective streak towards her owner.  She had bitten quite a few people.  She tried to take a chunk out of me when I first met her.  Her owner turner her around.  I had thought about nominating Cinnamon for Owner Dedication, but a three-way tie is a bit much, plus, Cinnamon was truly a surprise turn around.  Now that she’s being Piloted by her owner, she is a much, much calmer dog who doesn’t feel threatened in every new situation.

Honorable Mentions 

I really wish I could give out more prizes.  There were so many of you this year who were amazing (we had well over 250 dogs this year), so there were quite a bit to choose from.

Owner Dedication

Sunni, Max and Dakota.  Sometimes it’s the hard choices, when you realize that it’s time to say goodbye, that make you the most dedicated owner.  Gone but not forgotten.

Surprise Turnaround

Mitzi, Gunner and Sebastian.  All came from different families.  All had difference circumstance.  All could have ended differently. I’m thankful for how far these guys have come today.

Biggest Challenge

Well, right now a training session I had today with Dakota comes to mind, as does Finnegan (a dog who was big, scared, and protective.  Oh, and had never been on a leash in his life).  I’m looking forward to seeing how Piloting works for these dogs, and looking forward to their being nominated for Surprise Turnaround in 2015!

Cutest Dog


I can’t tell you how many times I wake up in the morning, not in the mood to go train 2-3 dogs that day.  I drag myself into the car.  Grumble the whole way to your house.  Ring your doorbell, and then….

Oh my God!  You have a dog!!!! How awesome is that!  Look at those cute little/big ears.  That fluffy/smooth coat!  What a handsome/pretty boy/girl! What’s his/her name?  What a wonderful dog!

Because each of your dogs makes me smile in some way.  Each of them brings me joy, from the puppy who I get to roll around with on the floor for two hours to the dog who took over an hour to convince I wasn’t going to hurt her before she finally came out of her back yard for her first walk ever.  All of them take steps towards working on a viable bond with their humans.  They don’t give up, and they keep all of us with the opposable thumbs going.  From puppy mills, to shelters, from retired dog fighting survivors to the adorable shelter dog and yes, even the purebreds from good breeders: you all make it worthwhile, and I always end my day with a smile because of you.  Thank you for that!  Here’s to a wonderful, dog-filed 2014!

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Most of all, to the dog that started it all for me: Pebbles.  I met her when I was six.  I lost her when I was 21.  Thanks for everything you taught me, Pebs!


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

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