About Me

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My name is Lesli Hyland. In my fifty one years on this earth, my home and my heart have been graced with the company of twenty four dogs. Many came to me as seniors. All of them taught me something and helped determine the course of my life. I became a dog trainer because of them. I met my friends because of them. My husband and I are are forever bonded by our mutual connection to them. Currently, as a Dog Walker I have access to other people's dogs and I am allowed to experience their unique personalities. The dogs make me a better person by forcing me to closely examine my motivation, my actions and my choices. Everything I do affects their behavior, safety and happiness. It is an awesome responsibility. The dogs keep me honest.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Rain, agility and finding my tribe

It is 4:00 in the morning.  It is dark and I am tired, but I drag myself out of bed and finish loading the car.  The dogs are let out, fed and happily go back to bed, sleepily confused at the change in routine.  All dogs except one that is. She is waiting by the door.  She knows.

My phone's weather app is talking about rain.  I turn on the radio as I head down the road in the darkness.  I am hoping for better news, but the weatherman's forecast is the same - rain.  I sigh.  My dog lifts her head and looks at me.  I can't help but smile in spite of feeling more than a little bit sorry for myself.
"Sorry girlie.  We're gonna get wet today".

Vermont Public Radio is broadcasting an interview with a woman who has written a book about seeking desperately for somewhere to belong.  The author comes from a mixed race family and sets out on a journey to find her people... her tribe. She does DNA testing on her family members.  She travels to Burma and Ireland.  Long story short, after a lot of searching, she finds out that, as a person with such a crazy mixed up heritage, she will never truly find "her people" by looking at her past or her future.  She comes to the realization that her tribe are the people that she spends her days with.  That her people are the ones that share her experiences today.  It is an interesting piece and it keeps my mind off the weather forecast.  Before I know it the two hour drive is done and I'm pulling into the campground where our agility trial is being held.  And it is starting to rain.

There is some good natured grumbling as we all don our rain gear and try to convince our dogs to go potty on the wet grass.  We huddle together under tarps and canopies if our dogs will tolerate the close proximity to other dogs.  If not, we alternate between visiting with friends and hanging out with our own dogs in our cars where they are comfortable.  We study the courses.  We discuss the best footwear in the rain.  We run our dogs and we watch each other do the same.  We cheer each other's successes and we commiserate our failures. We get pretty wet.

At the beginning of the trial, the judge (who truly will be standing out in the rain ALL DAY)  greets us with a huge smile.   "We are here with our dogs and our friends and we are playing agility.  What's a little rain?"
And of course she was right.

As I look around at all these people milling around in funny looking rain hats and wet sneakers I realize that this is MY tribe. These are MY people.  We are a very diverse group.  We are men and women; grandmothers, sons and sisters.  We are straight and we are gay.  We are Democrat and Republican. We have big dogs, little dogs, purebreds and dogs of mixed heritage.   But we are all bound together by one shared experience.

There is a moment of indescribable joy, of feeling that all is right with the world,  that happens when you do agility well with your dog.  It doesn't happen in every run.  Sometimes it a comes when a difficult sequence is cued and executed flawlessly.  Sometimes a perfect contact performance will bring it on.  And every once in a while you have a run in which you and your dog are completely in synch with each other, like dance partners in an intricately choreographed routine.  When that happens you leave the ring breathless and humbled and everyone watching knows without any explanation exactly what you are feeling.

This is what binds me together with my people.  This shared experience.  This is why the next time it is 4:00 in the morning and dark outside and it is raining,  my dog and I will get out of bed, I will load the car and we will go to join the rest of our tribe and we will search for joy together.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Wow...its been a LONG time since I blogged ANYTHING.  A lot has changed in my life.  I no longer operate Red Dog Solutions (dog training).  I consider myself a Dog Walker now and I enjoy the simplicity of that.  My dog family has changed, as it always does.  We adopted a 16 yr old Beagle whom we named Mr. Beagle.  Sadly we lost him to lymphoma after only 4 months.  But seeing as his previous 15 years were spent tied to a dog house...it was a GOOD 4 mths for him.  Following Mr. Beagle we adopted an elderly Chihuahua named Edgar.  Caring for Eddie, as we came to call him, is what has prompted me to come out of hiding and post after such a long hiatus! So, whether you missed me or not - here goes.

Eddie was picked up by Animal Control as a "stray" in Worcester MA. The humor in that still makes me giggle. The image of this deaf, blind, barely mobile, 6 lb, old dog "running at large" in the mean streets of Worcester is ludicrous. In reality he was likely dumped or left behind when he became inconvenient or too hard to care for.  On one of my good days I imagine that he belonged to an elderly person who passed away and somehow Eddie got lost in the shuffle.  On darker days I create a special hell in my mind for the monster that allowed dental disease to eat holes through Eddie's facial bones...then left this poor creature to fend for himself.

I met Eddie a couple months after his "capture" off the streets - ha ha. He was lucky enough to have found his way into the care of Forever Homes Rescue in Walpole MA.  They spent the considerable amount of money needed to pull all of Eddie's rotting teeth, pump him full of antibiotics and try to get him healthy.  I give FHR a lot of credit for taking him in.  In Rescue when you decide to take on an elderly dog like Eddie you know it may be a permanent foster dog, in essence, a money pit.  Not too many folks are trolling Petfinder.com looking to adopt a deaf, blind, toothless, ancient Chihuahua.   But this is where Eddie's luck continued, because that's pretty much exactly what I was doing at the time.

Mr Beagle had passed away and my heart felt empty.  Certainly our home was not empty with 7 other dogs living here, but the old dogs...ah...they are different.  So in December of 2016 we picked up Eddie in MA during our Christmas visit to family.  He was best gift I got.

People have two reactions when they hear that I've adopted an old dog like Eddie.   The first reaction is "How could you do that?  I'd be too sad to lose them so soon!"  The answer to that question is simple in my mind.  "How could I not?"
The second reaction is "You're such a wonderful person - you're a saint!" This is where it gets more complicated.  Though I appreciate the kind words, they really couldn't be further from the truth.

I'll let you in on a little secret.  I adopt old dogs because I am selfish.  I adopt them because I am impatient...and quick to anger...and petty...and...imperfect. In my marriage, my friendships, with my family, even in my relationships with my other dogs I sometimes fail miserably at being the person I strive to be.  I am rarely the person I want to be. The person who never snaps at someone they love or gets resentful or angry or frustrated.  The person who puts other's feelings and needs above their own.  I sometimes really suck at all of that. 

But not with Eddie (or Mr Beagle or Pistachio or Muffin or any of the others that came before him).  When I make the commitment to take in an old dog, I do it with no expectations, no hopes or dreams or preconceived notions of who that dog may turn out to be. There is never any disappointment.  It is what it is. 

Eddie's sightless and silent world made it difficult for him to interact in any meaningful way and his dementia contributed to his isolation.  But this made it more important that I handle him gently and often.  He needed to be guided to his food and water and carried outdoors to go to the bathroom.  He needed his face cleaned and his nails trimmed.   He needed soiled bedding replaced with clean.  He needed special food and sometimes he needed to be hand fed.   The fact that he never acknowledged any of my care did not matter. I  had vowed to make what ever time he had left on this earth safe and pleasant.   This was my purpose and it was enough.  I loved him completely with no thought of reciprocation.

When I am with a dog like Eddie I am fully present.  I am patient.  I am thoughtful.  I am gentle.  I am forgiving. I am kind.  I ask for nothing and I give everything.  I am the best person I know how to be.  I feel whole. There is no doubt or worry or insecurity or self hate.  I know what I am doing.  I've "got this".

I rarely feel like that in other aspects of my life.

Of course I realize that the reason I can achieve this 'zen like' state with my old timers is because it is usually a short term commitment.  Lets face it if you adopt a dog at 16, your time together will be limited.
I am able to give that dog everything I have, every time we are together.  That is pretty much impossible in a long term relationship.  There are just too many opportunities to be weak or screw up over years or lifetimes. Adopt a puppy or a young adult dog and trust me you'll made dozens of mistakes over the span of his lifetime.  Marriage?  Family?  Friendships?  Work situations?  Oh yeah you're gonna be a jerk sometimes and some mistakes can never be made right again. 

But not with Eddie. With Eddie there are no regrets.

So last Wednesday we said goodbye to Eddie.  He was in pain and it was my job to take that pain away. I had made a promise.  So I did - with the help of my vet, with my husband by my side.  And with Eddie's passing I felt the familiar tilt to my world, felt my feet grappling for purchase. I felt myself falling from grace.

There will be another.  Not today, but someday. Somewhere another tired old soul has already been left behind or cast aside. This fact is disgraceful and incredibly sad, and when the time is right, I will welcome another chance at redemption.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Raising Goose - Adolescence

UGH!  My puppy is a teenager - Pushy, self absorbed, overly dramatic, crazy...
I know that some of my training friends are appalled at his seemingly out of control behavior (barking, jumping, pulling).  But I am not worried.  He is a baby in a big dog body right now.  Unaware of his size and possessing very little impulse control.  He tries to be good...but its just too much fun to be bad! 

He is friendly with dogs and people.
He has been started on platform targets and go to mat training.
He likes jumps and tunnels.
He tolerates a tether.
He tolerates a crate.
He fetches and plays tugowar enthusiastically.

But, yeah...I know...he is pretty obnoxious right now unless physically prevented from being so with management tools (ie tether, no pull harness)! 

My husband keeps asking me if I know a good dog trainer...Ha! Ha!  Obviously I married the man for his razor sharp wit.

It suppose at 9 months of age it might be time to reign in the red monster a bit. :-) 

But someday I will look back longingly on the days when he never walked when he could run and never stood still when he could bounce! 

So I'm in no hurry...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Muffin - Saying Goodbye

2015 finds me on my computer, purging files.   I came across this short piece about Muffin and thought I would share it with you.  Hard to believe it has been 4 years since we lost her.    

I stood just inside the front door, dogs milling around my feet.  I reached into my coat pocket and felt her collar. Pulling it out, I turned it over and over in my hands.   I removed the ID tag and considered the idea of tossing the collar in the trash.  Once a bright blue plaid, it was faded now and frayed in one spot.  I hesitated and threw it into the laundry instead.  It would clean up okay.  I let the dogs out into the yard.

I went into the bedroom and cleaned out her crate.  Her blanket had a dusting of fur.  I held it up to my face, inhaling her scent, then placed it into the laundry as well.  I folded the crate and brought it out to the garage.  I let the dogs back in from the yard.

I filled the utility sink with bleach and water and thoroughly washed the floor and walls in the mudroom, clearing the air of her sickness with the sharpness of the disinfectant.  The area rugs that helped her stay on her feet on the linoleum were rolled up and put on the porch for cleaning later.  

Walking back through the living room, I noticed the set of stairs she used to gain access to the couch.  None of the other dogs needed them, so I packed them up and brought them to the attic.  A stack of pictures sat on the dining room table.  Glancing through them, I found the right one. She was moving directly toward the camera with a sense of purpose.  I put the picture in a plain black frame and placed it on top of the curio cabinet.

Friends called on the phone to offer condolences. “I’m okay” I assured them. “It was time. Thanks for calling.” 

I fed the dogs, let them out, let them in again and watched some TV.  Finally it was time for bed.  It seemed like a week had passed since the trip to the vet this morning.  I fell back on the pillow, exhausted and fell asleep quickly. Sometime during the night, something woke me abruptly.  My feet were on the floor and I was half way to the spot where her crate had been before I remembered.  She was gone.  She didn’t need me.  My breath caught in my throat and slowly I turned and crawled back into bed. My husband reached out, drawing me close, muffling my sobs against his shoulder.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

RAISING GOOSE - Crate expectations

You may remember my early concerns about Goose's intolerance of being crated (or gated...or put in an ex-pen...basically confined in anyway away from me).  Unfortunately that did not improve.  I did everything I knew of to get him to be comfortable crated at home, but he would tremble, shred bedding, drool and bark.  DAP spray, calming music, chew bones, positive reinforcement, shaping, stuffed toys, food stuffed puzzle toys, crate games...nothing even made a dent in his anxiety level.

Goose is now 6 mths old.  I would LOVE to be able to say that hard work, determination, desensitization and solid dog training finally prevailed.!  But that would be a lie.  Goose IS finally tolerating being crated for 3 or 4 hours at home (hooray!), but not because of my implementation of any of the accepted standard procedures recommended to crate train dogs.  I think what finally worked was...wait for it...giving up! 
Well, not totally giving up, but simply accepting that Goose was not comfortable being crated alone at home and deciding to stop trying it. 

This is what happened that made me stop trying altogether:
Yup, that is the plastic tray he chewed up - dangerous!!!

I started taking him everywhere or leaving him home loose (a scary thing to do with a 5 month old Vizsla!).  I did continue to crate him in the car, during meals and occasionally at work because he was OK with that. It is HARD to not be able to confine a puppy safely.  I worried when he was loose at home...I worried when he was in the car...This went on for several months.

I'm not sure exactly why, but one night I decided to try crating him again.  I had tired him out thoroughly during the day (he was exhausted).  I fed him and gave him two treat filled, puzzle toys in his crate..  I drove out of the driveway with a knot in my stomach.  But surprise, surprise, surprise!  I came home to a calm puppy with no shredded bedding or any other sign of distress in his crate!

I really have no idea what made Goose "turn the corner".  Maybe it was simply a developemental/ maturity thing... maybe the "OK crate time" with me present finally convinced him that crate time alone was OK too.  But it is a HUGE relief to now be able to leave him home occasionally in a crate.

Silly Red Dog!


Friday, September 12, 2014

RAISING GOOSE - Where has the time gone?

Goose is 21 wks old tomorrow...WHAT? 5 MONTHS????   How the heck did that happen?  He is a big bruiser and he is ALL BOY! In other words he is a bit of a bull in a china shop! :-P  We adore him , as do all of his "Aunties", though they may be becoming less thrilled with his exuberant greetings...
Yup, he is a champion jumper.  He is just too damn happy all the time. Silly Goose!
Here is Goose with one of his canine friends:

He is a joyful puppy with a mind of his own and the typical Vizsla love of people.  Frankly, right now he is a bit of a beast!  His size is quickly over taking his training level and his impulse control - He's a wild man!    In other words...

As a trainer, nothing frosts my windows more than an owner whining and complaining about their puppy. "When will he stop chewing everything?  I take him for a walk and he is still crazy when we go home! He jumps on us!  Why won't he just go lie down?"  Sigh...Yes, some breeds and some individual puppies are calmer than others, but really folks, why did you get a puppy if you don't like the way NORMAL PUPPIES act? Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about puppies with over the top behavior or hard biting or isolation distress issues...that stuff IS hard to handle.  But I'm talking about teething, mouthing, acting like a complete maniac...you know...the regular stuff!

I am happy that Goose is a normal, outgoing, happy, CRAZY puppy. I hope he maintains his confidence and adventurous spirit and that these traits translate into his enjoyment of competitive sports (Agility, Freestyle, Rally etc).

But right now I won't lie and tell you that it doesn't aggravate me when he runs ahead on the trail to go visit a complete stranger with total abandon.
I'm not particularly happy when he bounces off my chest in his enthusiasm when I come in the door.
It can be annoying when shreds everything he gets his teeth on.
Hey, I'm only human and he is only puppy.  Together we will find our way - through training and exercise and time.  And I will not wish away a single moment of it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RAISING GOOSE - 4 mths old!

Where has the time gone?  My baby puppy is now a gangly version of his adult self.  He is in between being a baby and an adolescent.  He is all legs and ears and enthusiasm!

I have been teaching him basics (SIT, DOWN, STAND, HERE and some leash manners), but mostly I have been concentrating on exposing him to the world in a positive way and letting him be a puppy.

He likes to jump on people now and he is tall enough to counter surf, so I have to step up my environmental management to prevent those behaviors from becoming habit.  That means nothing edible or interesting with in reach and using a leash and or treats to help Goose keep his feet on the floor when greeting people. He'll get it eventually.

I will be starting a class with him soon with my friend Sandy Chicoine.  Best Buddy Dog Training .  People always ask me why a dog trainer needs to take a training class.  The answer is 1. There is ALWAYS something new to learn and 2. It is a treat  for me to just be a student and concentrate on my own dog for an entire hour! Plus of course it is a chance to practice new skills in a new place with new dogs .

Goose has yet to meet a person he doesn't like and is confident in new environments.  This is GREAT! Especially for someone like myself who wants to participate in performance events.  But it comes with its own set of challenges that I did not have with my last Vizsla puppy.  Though Belle was a happy, stable puppy, she was more cautious with new things.  That meant that if we saw a person while hiking she would stick closer to me at first.  Goose barrels right up to them! Belle was not particularly distracted by people or dogs while we were working together  (though birds were always an issue!).  I anticipate distractions will be more of a struggle with Goose. The bird thing is a given!  He flushed a family of Woodcock the other day and I ceased to exist in his world for a while!

Stay tuned!