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, December 27, 2011

Why do I foster Dogs?

I sometimes wonder what foster dogs think - Suddenly finding themselves in a strange place with strange people...often residing with strange dogs...What goes through their minds? Tucker is 9 1/2 years old.  He had been in 3 homes and a shelter before he made his way to me.  He is understandably anxious, but in just 9 days he has settled into our home.  At day 4 he started "listening" to the girl dogs, backing off instead of repeatedly mounting them and getting snapped at.  At day 5 he stopped pacing.  At day 6 he stopped staring at me intensely, his eye contact becoming soft, rather than frantic. At day 7 he started settling elsewhere in the house rather than insisting on keeping me in sight.  At day 8 he started barking in the yard at outside noises, protecting it as his own.  At day 9 (today) he started picking up toys and playing. It is a process.

I have fostered a lot of dogs over the years.  Time and again I have offered unconditional acceptance, appropriate exercise, consistent expectations, predictable routines and plenty of love to dogs whose previous lives were sadly lacking in those areas.  Some dogs settle into foster easily.  Others take time to accept their new environment and housemates.  But all of them go through that change in their eyes.  Their expression always changes at some point. Confusion becomes clarity.  Fear becomes trust. Panic subsides.

When people ask me why I subject myself to the emotional upheaval that fostering dogs creates, I tell them that it helps dogs find loving homes.  But in truth, it is as much for me as it is for them.  I am addicted to seeing that transformation in their eyes.  There is nothing better in this world.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Patience is a virtue

I first met Lilly when her human parents came to me to evaluate their pup.  They described her as alarmingly aggressive - biting, throwing temper tantrums, acting wild and out of control.  She was just 10 weeks old.  Lilly's parents had raised Labradors before and had never experienced a puppy like her.  They couldn't even pet her without coming out of it bloody and scratched. "Is this normal," they asked?  "Is there something wrong with her? Should we keep her? We don't want to give up on her...but..."

 My first thought upon meeting Lilly was, "Hey, what a cute pup!".  My second thought was, "Glad she's not mine!" Lilly was cute for sure and playful, but she displayed very little impulse control.  She was easily over stimulated and did not react well to restraint at all.  Her eyes dilated and her teeth started grabbing and snapping when her adrenalin spiked or when she was prevented from doing what she wanted.  Yikes!  These folks had a real project on their hands.

Immediately we discussed the importance of being calm when dealing with Lilly.  We trained SIT and started using it as Lilly's access to what she wanted.  We practiced standing on the leash and keeping our hands away from her until she calmed.  We immediately stopped interaction when she went after our feet or acted wild.  We talked about increased exercise and playtime with other dogs.  They started Lilly in my Basic Manners class, set up play dates with another Lab pup in class and they hired me to walk Lilly twice a week. 

It is one thing to spend an hour here and there with a pup like Lilly.  Frankly its fairly easy to be consistent and calm for a short period of time, but I knew these folks had their patience tried daily, actually living with Lilly. I know they lost their cool occasionally and I knew Lilly did too from the scrapes and bites marks on their arms!  My first few walks with Lilly were not all that much fun.  She would bite my feet while on leash and jump on me wildly in the fenced yard, leading with her open mouth.  I won't lie to you...I finally lost my temper when she took me off guard and really hurt me.  I spoke sharply and grabbed her collar.  That action on my part caused our first and thankfully our last, complete meltdown.  Lilly's pupils dilated and she started thrashing, snapping her jaws like a crocodile.  "Oh my" I thought, "bad idea, Auntie Lesli".  

Realizing my mistake I stopped, stepped on her leash, completely ignored her and waited until her temper tantrum ran its course.  When she relaxed for a millisecond I immediately redirected her to a game of fetch and from that moment forward, Lilly became MY teacher.

Lilly has taught me patience.  She has taught me to be in the moment at all times.  She has taught me to truly trust that rewarding the good stuff and ignoring the bad stuff works.  She has taught me that management and being proactive is so very important.  In other words, she has taught me to practice what I preach!  We all know dogs that will stop what they are doing when told to do so sternly.  Lilly is not one of those dogs and she is a constant reminder to me of why I choose to train dogs using gentle, non threatening methods.  Just because those methods sometimes work is NOT an excuse to use them.  And for a dog like Lilly...punitive training methods are completely inappropriate and cause her to escalate her inappropriate behavior.

Lilly and I can now take long companionable walks together and play fetch in the yard.  Does she occasionally get over stimulated, lose her mind for a moment and get bitey?  You betcha!  But when I react with complete calm, stopping all movement and looking away from her, Lilly relaxes almost immediately now.  She is a baby and in time she will develop more impulse control.  Meanwhile her family and I will exercise her as much as possible, buy LOTS of chew toys, give her playtime with other dogs, keep working on basic skills and we will help her learn to control her temper by controlling our own!

Lilly , you are cute pup and I love you like you were mine!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

 Simon is a great puppy.  I walk him twice a week for his family.  He is crate trained, knows how to sit and lie down and for the most part he walks pretty well on leash.  His family brings him to my training classes every week and they work hard on his lessons.  I work with him too of course, when we take our walks, but right now, Simon is at that awkward stage where his level of training has been surpassed by his size and strength!  He can't help but forget himself now and again, lunging out out at a passing leaf or a teasing squirrel.  He gets over excited when he sees people on the street, pulling toward them like a freight train. He is young and impulsive - it is completely normal - but wild behavior that was easily controlled or managed when he was 10 weeks old is suddenly not so easy to stop.  This past week he lurched sideways toward the busy road after a fluttering candy wrapper left over from Halloween and it took all my strength to stop him.  Visions of the family's young daughter being pulled into traffic behind him made me shudder and I thought, "Okay, time for a Sensation Harness!"  The Sensation harness made by Soft Touch Concepts is, in my opinion, currently the best management tool on the market to help slow down and redirect hard pullers.  It does not give you the same amount of control as a head halter, but it also doesn't require the lengthy acclimation period.  Let's face it, most dogs don't like the feeling of the head halter on their face, whereas a body harness seems to be well tolerated by most.  The Sensation harness allows you to gently stop your dog's forward momentum.  Once he stops and gives you some attention or comes back close enough to create slack again in the leash you can reward and  move forward - no yanking, no choking, no pain,  just a bit of gentle pressure and redirection of his own force.  It works like a charm.
     Simon is a deep chocolate color.  He has soft, expressive eyes that I could easily get lost in. I am completely smitten with him, as is his own family!  But Simon is pushing five months old and he's gigantic.  Being dragged around by him, even if only occasionally, isn't much fun.  We human's tend to get cranky when our arms are yanked out of their sockets! Until Simon's brain catches up with his body we'll need a little help controlling him on leash.  He is responsive to rewards for walking close (praise, treats, games and toys) but he is a puppy and he loses his mind occasionally!  Using a Sensation Harness will prevent human frustration and anger during those lapses in self control.  It will prevent disaster or injury, but more important it will create an environment of success for both Simon and his walkers.
Come on Simon, "Let's go!"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Starting at the beginning, because I know there is no end

It all began with Coco.  Coco was a chocolate colored, foxy looking mixed breed puppy that my parents brought home to two very excited children.  My brother and I were amazed that we had a dog of our very own!  I was three and he was six.    

My strongest memories of Coco are my earliest ones…sneaking her M&Ms at my birthday parties…crying into her fur when I forgot to put on the supper when my Mother gave me that responsibility after school.  Coco was a constant through the turbulence of junior high and high school.  She lived to be 17 years old. I came home from college to put her to sleep when my Mom couldn’t make the decision. 

Coco was raised with plenty of love and absolutely no knowledge by the average American family.  She never went to doggie daycare or Pet Manners Class.  She was walked sometimes, certainly not enough.  She was a terror in the car, barking at everyone and everything outside the windows.   

I am ashamed to say that Coco even survived an acid trip that a moronic high school acquaintance sent her on one night at a party.  Don’t worry, the kid paid a price for that act, but my shame comes from the fact that I wasn’t the one to extract that pound of flesh.  His older brothers beat the hell out of him for doing something so stupid.  I wish it could’ve been me that did the beating, but I didn’t find out until many, many years later and frankly I don’t know if the weak, teenaged version of myself would’ve had the guts.   

Rest in peace Coco, you deserved better. I think you would be proud of the person I finally grew into.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One of many...

Usually I'm a proponent of individuality.  I embrace uniqueness.  But right now, as I look at the dogs lying at my feet I am thrilled to be one of many.  It makes me happy to know that there are thousands of people just like me, looking down at their dogs and feeling the same way that I do.

We are a nation of dog lovers.  We may not always agree on the best way to train them...or what to feed them...or whether adopting a dog or purchasing a puppy is the way to go...but we all feel a similar thrill when our eyes meet the eyes of the dogs in our lives.

Yes, there are people out there who view dogs as property, yard ornaments or as subordinate beings, but I choose not to allow those people into my world.  I cannot change the mind of a person with that type of belief system.  As a dog trainer I concentrate instead on the folks who love their dogs, but lack the tools and knowledge to fully develop a healthy and cooperative relationship.  In my personal life I surround myself with people who cannot help but smile when they see a puppy...people who understand the peace of watching a gray faced companion asleep by your side.

We love our dogs.   I am content to be common place, one of many... just like you.