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.

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.

Monday, April 20, 2015

EIGHT IS (more than) ENOUGH

April 2015
I just came across this half finished blog below.  I wrote it 6 months or so ago.  
Ah...such good intentions...
Let's see how much I actually accomplished!  Read the post and I'll dissect it in blue.

Thankfully my dogs all get along...That is my only criteria really for whether a dog can become part of our family.  But we now have EIGHT dogs of our own and a foster dog.  It is alot and each dog has his/ her own need for space and attention in order to feel safe, relaxed and loved.

That is REALLY HARD to provide with this many dogs and a life outside of dog care!

Okay...well Lupie and Mamcita have had a few spats and we are working on that.  The altercations are very context dependent so are easy at this point to prevent, but it is a serious situation that will require ongoing observation and evaluation. I am not oblivious to the fact that the added stress of a crazy Vizsla puppy and the foster dog may be contributing to the angst between the girls.  Thankfully Goose is growing up and see the good news below about our foster dog!

Lately I have been feeling stressed, overwhelmed and depressed.  I've blamed it on money issues...lack of structure in my daily schedule...my on going battle with these extra 10 pounds of belly fat...

Ha, ha, ha...still carrying the extra pounds!

But after some rough days inside my own head I've come to the realization that I am overwhelmed with the task of adequately meeting the needs of my dogs (never mind my husband, my students and myself!).

Seeing as I am stuck with myself and am not going to get rid of any dogs, divorce my husband or quit my job anytime soon...


Step 1:  Place the foster dog.
Easier said than done!  She is a great dog...in the right hands...and a potential disaster in the wrong ones. She needs to go, but I am NOT willing to place her in a situation I am not 100% comfortable with just to get her out of the house!  So...Step 1 may take some time.   Breathe...

Hooray!  Cassidy has her own family now and in spite of some bumps in the road is happy in her new life!  Phew! 

Step 2:   Set aside time for my husband
Friday night will be designated as "date night" in my new fall work schedule.  Our "date" will directly follow Red Dog Solutions' new PUPPY SOCIAL HOUR on Friday nights! I will also try VERY hard to put away my stupid smart phone at night!  Though that isn't very helpful if he doesn't put away his... :-) And we will sit down together to plan quick meals for the week.

Well...the Friday night Puppy Hour never really took off and with it our date night fizzled due to logistics...BUT my new Summer schedule has me off most weekends, so Brian and I should be able to get away more! :-)  Provided of course that I can develop some addition dog care giver options...
The phone obsession (Brian's and mine is an on-going battle)

Step 3:  Identify causes of dog stress at home (theirs, mine and Brian's!).  Eliminate as many situations
as possible.
a.)  Crazy Vizsla puppy (GOOSE) jumping all over other dogs and me when excited (feeding time especially).
b.)  Crazy senile Vizsla (TUCKER) barking ...repetitively...makes me wanna throttle him.
c.)  Intense excitement barking (TAWNIE and CITA) when they think I am leaving house or letting them out...or thinking about leaving the house ...or thinking about letting them out...(gotta love those herding dogs!)
d.)  Overly rough play between BIG Vizsla puppy and smaller dogs.
e.)  Feeling like there isn't enough of me to go around in the course of a day.

Management/ Elimination:
a.)  Feed first thing in a.m. to avoid dogs laying in office waiting like coiled springs for me to get up from computer to feed them. Crate/ feed Goose in office so he can be confined at the beginning of feeding time, which takes him out of the arousal level mix.
b.)  In general. take the extra time and steps to handle dogs one at a time, rather than en masse.  Make two trips to/ from car...let dogs outside one at a time etc.
c.)  Limit Goose's time with smaller dogs.
d.)  Use citronella bark collar proactively rather than reactively.  For the most part, I know when Tucker is going to bark.
e.)  Establish clear routines about departure so that Tawnie and Cita know whether they are leaving with me or not. (eliminate the Am I going? Am I going? craziness).

All of these issues still exist.  I honestly have not put the time into developing better/ different routines to decrease excitement levels.

Training/ Training tools:
a.)  Purchase ADAPTIL collar for Tucker.  Set up ADAPTIL diffuser unit in Goose's crate room.
Nope - didn't do it.

b.)  Increase exercise.
Yes with the weather changing they are all getting more yard time.  I have started playing fetch with Goose and Cita individually.  I began scheduling a run for MY dogs into my daily dog walking client schedule and insisting on it. 

c.)  Train - "Go to your house (crate)!" for feeding time.
I have accomplished this with Goose, but primarily because he is the biggest and craziest dog, plus he gets crated first!  Pure laziness on my part - the rest are still acting like idiots at feeding time. LOL

d.)  Train - "Enough" for Goose when he crosses the line from playing to bullying.
I have hollered at him (bad dog trainer!) and stepped in and physically stopped him, but no...I haven't actually trained ENOUGH as a cue using rewards.  As he matures it is getting better on its own to some degree and I am always finding other dogs for him to play with to remind him that he can't ALWAYS be big man on campus.

e.)  Increase Goose's tolerance of being restrained/ manipulated by his collar through rewards.
Yes I have worked on pairing treats and praise with leading/ pulling him by the collar.  
He resists it much less now.

f.)  Increase Goose's tolerance of being crated through desensitization.
Hooray!  Yes!  Goosey can tolerate the crate for 3-4 hours happily now.  In truth I simply gave up on it for a while, then reintroduced short periods of confinement with beef marrow bones when left alone and high rates of reinforcement when I was present. 

g.)  Better time management!
Hmmmmm....not sure I've accomplished that...the computer is a big time suck (damn you Facebook!) BUT my new schedule is designed to create extra time at Red Dog to get paperwork done and allow me time to train my own dogs. 

So, 6 mths later, why didn't I just delete that half finished blog and start over?  Alot of trainers would not admit to these failures in public!  How can we expect our students to do what we tell them to do if we don't do it ourselves?   
Well, the reality is that we (dog trainers and students alike) will not always do what we know we should do to make our lives better, nor to improve the behavior of our dogs.   
We are weak.  We get busy.  We get tired.  We are not perfect.  Shit happens.  

The important thing is to realize that our dogs are NOT to blame for our shortcomings.  They're just dogs being dogs.
The important thing is to NOT GIVE UP.  To try again.  To adjust our expectations and our goals to allow for small successes.  And to be inspired by those successes!

So here goes:
My new plan:

1.  Get Goose into a structured class environment to help me focus on him alone, away from    the group.  Train agility 3 days a week, now that it is spring and my agility field is ready for action!  This will provide Cita and Goose with more individual "MOM time" and provide extra exercise.

2.  Create departure routines  that make it easy for Cita and Tawnie and Goose to know if they are coming with me (sound familiar? Yup I will try again.)  Goose is really very good about waiting calmly at front door when I am leaving with him.  I created that behavior using a tether by the door.  I will do the same for Cita and Tawnie - promise!

3.  Fence an additional area of our yard to provide more environmental stimulation for my crew.  The area I have designated has brush, trees and open grassy space.  It is full of birds and chippies and butterflies in the summer.  The dogs will have limited access to it, keeping it special and novel.  It will double as a fun area for play dates for visiting dogs and an off leash potty area for agility students.  

4.  Take Mamacita and Lupie on walks together to improve their emotional relationship.

5.   Feed first thing in morning to avoid meal time anticipation (sound familiar?) 
I will try again to feed first... sit at computer and drink coffee after!!!  

Thanks for tuning in.  Love your dogs.  Love yourself.

Raising Goose - Birthday Boy

My baby dog turned a year old yesterday!  Hard to fathom.  Time passes so quickly, too quickly.  As a dog trainer time so often works against dog owners.  They get a puppy, who turns out to a bit shy.  They assume that the pup will grow out of it, but instead, as time passes by, the pup gets more and more worried.  By the time they contact a trainer the pup is usually growling at strangers and is well past the crucial socialization age. Time is one thing you do NOT have enough of with a developing puppy.  By the time Rufus is 6 mths old your ability to tweak his personality is gone.  Yes, you can still train him, still desensitize him to things and still make him comfortable with specific things (specific people, places, dogs etc), but you have lost your window of opportunity to change how he feels about new things in general.

Goose is well socialized.  He has regularly been exposed to alot of different people and dogs, some farm animals, a cat or two.  He has traveled to Boston, been on a beach, gone hiking in different places.  He has spent time away from me with friends and their dogs.

He is in a bit of a spooky stage right now, barking at people occasionally on hiking trails, but I am confident that his solid foundation of socialization will get him through that, provided I handle it properly (NOT correcting him/ rewarding calm and quiet instead) and continue to expose him carefully.  Without his good social foundation, my ability to get him through this stage would be very limited. 

Goosey is a wild child, as he should be at his age.  He LOVES to run and jump and act crazy.  He has good basic skills (sit, down, wait) and can respond reliably even when he is REALLY excited,  But he has zilch in the way of impulse control.  It will come with age.  For now he needs alot of reminders to act appropriately!

In truth, if Goose was an only child, he would be a calmer dog.  The chaos of an 8 dog household adds to his arrousal level without a doubt.  And the fact that alot of my other dogs are wee little things, means that his exhuberance can be dangerous.  He wants to play constantly and he is big enough to be a real pain in the ass to the smaller dogs!  The only time I REALLY get aggravated with the big dope is when he is too rough with them.  But it is not his fault he came into this crazy household!  In the end he will learn to play appropriately (safely) with dogs of varying sizes because he lives here.  And I need to be patient - again alot of reminders to counter his lack of impulse control and alot of environmental management to prevent it in the first place.  

He is really pretty gentle with the Chihuahuas, because I have limited his exposure and been very consistent about what he can and cannot do with them.  And truthfully they like to play with him, but are are pretty feisty when he gets too rough.  He is much more persistent with the mid sized dogs - Kenzie and Mamacita, because I have let them fend for themselves, so to speak!  Kenzie likes to play with him, so he pushes it with her constantly until she has REALLY HAD ENOUGH.  Cita also likes to play with him, but gets overwhelmed by him easily.  I need to intervene sooner.  James has made it clear that he doesn't want to play so Goose doesn't bug him anymore.   Goose will tease Tucker to play and occasionally Tucker (the old coot) will humor him.  But Tucker has dramatically disciplined Goose on several occasions, so Goose minds his Ps and Qs with the old guy.  Tawnie will groom Goose and likes to snuggle but has NEVER EVER EVER encouraged his advances toward play, so for the most part he leaves her alone.  As he grows up he will seek Tawnie out for companionship, but right now she's not as much fun as crazy Kenzie!

As I watch the relationships develop between Goose and his siblings it is glaringly obvious that what works with Goose (and every other dog on earth) is consistency.  He is over the top with Kenzie, because sometimes she lets him and he gets rewarded by play.  She is not consistent about her lines in the sand.  So he pushes because it sometimes works to get her to play.  Tuckers lines are clear. Tawnie's lines are clear. The chihuahuas lines are clear because I set the boundaries for them.  Mamacita is conflicted and unsure of what she wants from Goose. Chase me!  STOP chasing me!  Wrestle with me!  DON'T TOUCH ME!
She LOVES to play but then gets a little scared I think.  At that point she will over reacts to Goose's advancements.  I can almost read his mind "Geez, don't get your panties in a knot..." .  He's not sure what works with Cita, so he keeps trying until I intervene.  Its all about getting to play for Goose.

This consistency or lack there of translates into dog/ human relationships too.  Goose will sit when asked to at the door to the yard.  He will wait coming out of the car.  He will stay off of me when I come in the door.  He will release toys during fetch games. I have ALWAYS required those behaviors in order for him to access what he wants in those situations.

On the flip side...
He jumps on my friends. He jumps on my husband when he gets home from work.  He insists on being next to me on couch, laying right on top of another dog if it happens to be in his spot.  He crashes through the front door when we are leaving the house.  I have allowed him to get what he wants through obnoxious behavior in those situations.

Goose does what works - plain and simple. He's a simple creature! And so am I.  I am as lazy as the next person and am consistent when it is easy to be so or when it suits me.   So as we head into his 2nd year we will work hard to be consistent in more situations, so he knows what is expected of him.

We will continue to exercise, exercise, exercise to help curb his exhuberance. 
We will continue with careful exposure to the world.
And we will let him continue to be a baby dog...but maybe a little less of a brat!



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.