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, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

It's the day before Christmas.  I just listened to Willem Lange read the story of Favor Johnson on Vermont Public Radio.  It is my favorite tradition to sit and listen and clear my mind with the simplicity and purity of the tale. This year as I listened to the words paint their picture of companionship and friendship and generosity, my old dog lay sprawled half on, half off a dog bed across the room.  He held my gaze through partially closed lids for the entire story.   Merry Christmas, Pogo.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


So...the WAIT at the door is a work in progress!  Lower expectations of Pogo as he is deaf and senile! :-P
Tucker and Cita are the least reliable at this point (big surprise!). Progress reports to follow.
click here

Channeling images like this to remain calm...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

please help

Please help Pup  Click here for her story

Can you imagine your dog living outside..with no walks, no belly rubs, no playtime with humans or other dogs...ever?  That has been Pup's life.  In spite of it all she is friendly.  Please help her find a real home.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Puppy Teenagers

Mamacita's pups are growing up!  They are 5 mths old now!  Time flies...

I am very happy to be able to see Popcorn (now Cassidy) every week in Basic Manners class.  She is adorable and smart as a whip!  I LOVE her default down behavior.  When in doubt, most dogs sit, but Cassidy throws herself into a down position with a flourish!  Too darn cute!

Cookie (Rylie) and Biscuit belong to two related families.  I keep in touch through Facebook primarily.  Rylie's family just welcomed a human baby! Biscuit's family recently shared a photo of the two pups together at their home over the holiday.  The pups have turned out to look fairly uniform - very Corgi-like - even though as pups these two looked very different!  Rylie's coat is a bit shorter like her Mom.

Mamacita...you done good, kid!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Time for breakfast

My dogs are patient.  They know I need coffee and computer time to wake myself up in the morning.  They settle around Brian and I in the office...under our desks...on our laps...on the dog beds...and wait. 

But apparently, Mamacita has had enough.  She just jumped off my lap and is giving me THIS look!

Okay, MC.  Time for breakfast.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How bad habits start

Late summer/ early fall in Vermont is squirrel season.  And by that I mean that the squirrels are busy, busy, busy gathering nuts to store for the long winter.  This frenetic activity drives my dogs absolutely insane. They become obsessed, staring up into the trees.  They desperately want to be the first out the door to the yard in the hopes of catching one of the pesky critters.
With two new dogs in the house and this intense prey drive coursing through everyone's brains things began to get a bit dicey around the doors.  At first it was just Tawnie and Mamacita jostling to get out ahead of the other...then Tucker got into the competition...and of course Pogo decided he might want to be in the middle of that too.  Pogo is old, fragile, has poor balance and is a bit dotty.   Add the diminutive Chihuahuas and Belle with her bad back into the mix and it was just plain dangerous.

This situation happened gradually,  At first it was a bit amusing.  I even used the drive to get out the door to train Tawnie and Mamacita to burst forward on my "Go!" cue (useful in Agility). I held Pogo back by the collar for safety and let Tawnie, Cita and Tucker go.  Then the deck started to get icy.  I had visions of one of the dogs breaking their leg in the mad dash.

In the mean time the intensity began to transfer to the front door as well (the door we use when we are leaving the house). This made getting in and out of the house a real pain in the ass! With all this excitement and adrenaline, the barking increased in all aspects of our daily life as well.  Arrivals, departures and meal times had become very stressful.

Suddenly I had a house full of rude, noisy dogs.  WTF?
This is how bad habits are formed...slowly, bit by bit. 

To steal from John Lennon : Bad habits are what happens while you're busy making other plans.

I found myself hollering back at the dogs and losing my patience.
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...I had turned into one of my frustrated students!  

After whining a bit to friends and making excuses (busy at work...distracted by Cubby's play rehearsals...too many friggin dogs - ha ha!).  I reminded myself of my favorite quote.


So, there's a new sheriff in town (full of plagiarisms today aren't I?). This new sheriff is calm.  She is consistent.  She is reminding the dogs about WAIT and insisting on success.  She is COMPLETELY ignoring barking.  She is rewarding QUIET.  She is managing her environment to decrease the excitement and prevent crowding at the door.  She is slowing things down - No more rushing around like a crazy woman, which makes all the dogs crazy too.

Amazing what can be accomplished by concentrating on being proactive, rather than simply reacting (and poorly at that) to the chaos. Even dog trainer's dogs get out of control sometimes.  By following the same advice I would give my students, I'm getting things back on track. 
We're all happier already!


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mamacita - a training update

If you read my previous blog about Cita's training challenges , you'll recall the following list:
1.  reactivity toward strange dogs and strange people.
3.  Jumping, pulling on leash, lack of basic manners; intolerance of handling
4.  scratching at people and dogs when excited and playful; scratching on doors to get out/ in
5.  chewing/ destructive behavior

I'm happy to report that we've made some substantial progress!
She is walking nicely now on a Sensation Harness.  
Her scratching on US has decreased slightly with consistent discouragement.
She has learned SIT and DOWN.
She is learning HERE, GO ON, OUT for agility.
Her reactivity is much less pronounced.  She is learning that staying focused on me is HIGHLY rewarded.  Yes, she forgets herself if the trigger (person/ dog) is too close or too stimulating.  But her lunging/ barking can be shut down easily simply by increasing distance.
 In general she is more relaxed...still active, but not constantly in frenetic motion!
She is doing great with long line training on hikes.  She checks in often and comes when I call.  She spends more time at the end of the line than I would like, but in time with lots of reinforcement, I am confident that she'll stick closer within the 50 foot radius allowed her. 

She continues to get along nicely with all the dogs.  She gives Tucker, Pogo, Cubby and Tawnie their space and plays like a maniac with Belle and Lupie.  She has started playing tentatively with Tucker and Cubby.  Tawnie has discovered that Cita is fun to chase, but she's pretty intense about and Cita isn't quite sure how she feels about it!  We're watching that carefully.

She is a work in progress...
I'm really excited to start her in Agility!


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wild Child

Have I mentioned that I love this dog?!  She is a riot and full of beans.  I am pleased with the amount of attention I am getting from her in new environments.  She's comin along, as they say.  Her reactivity is a constant battle, but she is improving day by day!

I've started introducing her to "Go on", "Here" and "Switch" with agility in mind. She is smart as a whip and oh so fast!  I have high hopes!

Here she is showing off her "busy bee" personality.  She is constantly in motion!  wild child

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Failed Adoptions

Why do people adopt two puppies together?  I mean...I know WHY...they're sooooo cute together! But one Google search about raising two puppies together should stop most folks in their tracks. Puppies from the same litter that are raised together often form their strongest attachment to their sibling, not their owner.  This leads to training issues. Sometimes they are too competitive with each other and fights erupt.  Sometimes siblings are so much alike that their personalities clash.  Sometimes one pup dominates the other, squashing the personality that would've emerged if that pup was raised on her own.  But the biggest issue with raising two puppies together is that it is a TON of work!  It is hard enough to find time in our busy schedules to exercise, educate and socialize one puppy, never mind two!  And it does take twice as much work.  Though pups do help entertain each other, if you truly want to bring out the best in a puppy, time needs to spent with each pup alone.  The idea that two puppies will be easier than one is sadly inaccurate.

And while we're on the subject of  "Why?'... Why do families with small children adopt young puppies?  As if Mom and Dad don't have enough on their plate?  The idea of raising a child and a puppy at the same time seems ludicrous to me.  Two little beings with very little impulse control trying to work things out when they don't speak the same language, don't play the same games, grow at vastly different rates...and one has a set of sharp teeth!  In what universe does this sound like a good idea?

Some shelters and breeders do not adopt puppies to families with kids under five.
Some shelters and breeders will not send two puppies home together.
This blog is not about debating the pros and cons of those polices.

This blog is about two puppies that were adopted together by a family with two boys under 6 yrs of age.
This blog is about MY puppies...or rather my foster dog, Dixie's, puppies - Abby and Kate.

When I offered to foster Dixie and her brood for the shelter, I did it with the understanding that my job was to give Dixie a safe place to raise her litter and to give the puppies the best possible start in life.  Dixie was loved and cared for with us.  Her medical issues were addressed and as soon as the pups were OK without her, she was re-homed by the shelter.  The puppies were socialized with dogs, cats, adults and kids.  When I brought them back to the shelter at 7 weeks of age, I did it confident that I had done my job well. 

Abby and Kate were adopted by a nice couple and their two adorable boys. The pups were all sent home with a coupon provided by me for a free private lesson to help the adopters get off to a good start with training.  This family met with me a couple weeks after they adopted the puppies.  I could tell within 5 minutes of interacting with the family that they were nice folks...but they were totally overwhelmed  with the needs of two active boys and two active puppies.  I was stressed out just spending an hour with them!  Yikes!  It was obvious there was plenty of love in this household, but ...love is not enough. They were going to need alot of on-going support and training if they were going to succeed.  Sadly they did not seek that assistance.

A year later, the pups were returned to the shelter (thankfully), the family cited "financial hardship" as the surrender reason, but the surrender info form gave a glimpse into some of the training issues they were having above and beyond affording veterinary care!

I was sad when I got the call from the shelter, but I was not surprised.    Statistically, some adoptions are going to fail.  Shit happens in real life to real people.  In my opinion, this particular adoption's failure could only have been prevented by not ever happening in the first place...
But as I said, this blog is not about debating adoption policies.  

So...Abby and Kate are back at The Rutland County Humane Society and are looking for homes.
NO - They do not need to go home together.
NO - They were not mistreated.
NO - They will not be traumatized by this temporary set back in their lives. They are solid puppies.
          I know.  I raised them.
YES -They need some remedial training.
YES - They are sweet and friendly.
YES - They are cute as lil bugs.

YES - It makes me cry to see "my" pups in the kennels.

Please consider adopting one!
FYI - their names have been changed.
Ask about Dixie's returned puppies.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Management, training and punishment - Oh my!

Because my sweet Mamacita needs SO much work...
I've prioritized our goals.  Our first goal?
The plan:
 - Scratching on the door does NOT gain her entrance to the house - EVER - nor does it get her out of her crate.
 - Scratching at our feet and legs does NOT get us to interact with her - EVER.
 - Scratching on Belle to get her to play is stopped EVERY TIME, immediately.

In addition we are highly rewarding any greeting/ attention seeking behavior that involves keeping her feet on the ground.

Right now, All you 'positive reinforcement' trainers out there are smiling and nodding. You get it.

But...guess what?  Scratching at our legs is REALLY hard to ignore - it hurts! It DOES gain interaction even if it is the form of our jumping and cursing!  
And sometimes Belle starts playing with Mamacita before we intervene.
And sometimes my husband is not quite as consistent as I am...
And sometimes (gasp!) I'm not consistent either!

Welcome to real life.

This is the same challenge that my students face with their out of control dogs.  They WANT to use the positive, humane, non aversive training methods we talk about each week in class, but alone, these methods simply don't work.  There - I've said it!

So...what is the answer?    PUNISHMENT?  Maybe... (another gasp!) ...we'll get back to that.

But first we need to look at MANAGEMENT.  Dogs are creatures of habit.  Their behavior has patterns.  Behavior becomes habit simply through repetition.  If behavior can be predicted it can be prevented.  Mamacita is highly aroused when Brian and I come in the front door and will jump and scratch and nip at our heels (isn't she cute?). She is full of energy first thing in the morning and apt to pester us and the other dogs by scratching at us as an invitation to play.  If I am rushing around from one end of the house to the other doing chores she is likely to have her nose on my calf following me around and has trouble resisting a little nip now and then.
I KNOW she is going to act inappropriately in these situations, therefore I can prevent it.  How?
Restrict her freedom ahead of time!
1Hold her collar, keeping her away from the door, let the other dogs go out first or don't put her outside at the same time that the other dogs go through the door.
2.  Crate her after breakfast when she is bratty and we are distracted by computer work, showers etc.  Crate her or put her outside in the yard before I start my chores. Provide special toys only in the morning.
3.  Have her drag a line in the house so we can step on it or use it to better control her enthusiasm.  Kneel down to greet her.  Get her on leash before someone comes in the door.

How dumb am I, if I know "X" is going to happen 
and I do nothing to prevent it?  

Beyond MANAGEMENT we also have TRAINING of course.  We need to train alternate behaviors to replace undesirable behaviors.  These skills are easily taught using positive reinforcement.
SIT for attention, games, access to yard or house.
HERE to call Mamacita to us (and away from temptation!)
OFF to remind her that feet need to stay on the floor.

So what about PUNISHMENT?  

There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying NO to your dog.

A firm tone of voice, turning away, walking away, looking away, collar restraint/ removal from fun...all these are appropriate methods of saying NO to your dog.  What defines PUNISHMENT is that it decreases behavior. It does not need to be nasty, painful, angry or severe.  It just needs to be effective.

If Mamacita jumps or scratches at my leg (due to a lapse in my management) I can walk away. I can take her by the collar and hold her off me/ not looking at her.  I can firmly say NO while restraining her by the collar.    It's OK, really!  But if the jumping/ scratching behavior does not decrease over time, then I need to consider two things.
1.  Perhaps any interaction from me is rewarding Mamacita rather than punishing her.
2.  Is my MANAGEMENT program consistent? Punishment of any kind will not be effective if your dog is also gaining intermittent reinforcement for the same behavior!  This is the reason I generally choose Positive Reinforcement training over correction training - Reinforcement will always trump Punishment!  Dogs will take an appalling amount of correction if their need for attention is still being met.

That is rather sad, isn't it?

So, we will work hard to set Mamacita up for success through MANAGEMENT.
We'll TRAIN her using positive reinforcement - teaching her how to get what she wants in a more acceptable manner.  If we say NO through any of the methods outlined above, we'll do it sparingly, with an eye toward ultimate effectiveness.

And while we're at it we'll give her plenty of TLC, tons of exercise, and have lots of fun!  Have I mentioned that she is a brilliant little dog?  She learns quickly.  She is lightening fast.
She LOVES to play.
We adore her!

Gotta go - time to play some fetch!



Friday, August 31, 2012

From Rags to Riches

BG was born on the streets of Afghanistan.  Mark, a soldier serving there, took a liking to the pup and when she was just shy of 6 mths old, he shipped her to his girlfriend back home in the states. Not long after she arrived, it became apparent that this was no ordinary puppy.  That's when I met Stephanie and BG -short for Baby Girl (men have NO imagination!).

BG was very aggressive toward the resident cat and the senior dog in the house.  Mark's heart was in the right place and Stephanie wanted to do right by this pup, but she was scared for her other pets and pretty stressed out about dealing with this puppy on her own.  I didn't blame her.  This pup was gorgeous - a brindle and white patchwork of colors - but she had an edge to her that sent red flags up in multitudes.   I watched her switch from puppy mouthing to serious biting on a dime.  I watched her stiffen and attempt to bite the old Labrador who was nothing but sweet to her.  I watched her eye the cat like lunch.
"Do you REALLY want to keep this dog?"  I asked Stephanie.
Tentatively, she answered "Yes".  And so began her journey into dog training and the special connection that forms between a challenging dog  and a dedicated owner.

We implemented management strategies at home and began teaching basic skills, including "Leave it" We worked together to decrease BG's reactivity and increase her ability to stay focused on Stephanie.   Because Stephanie really had no consistent way to expose BG to other dogs, we enrolled her in a Basic Manners class.  Having BG in class was difficult.  She would erupt violently at some of the dogs.  We managed the situation pretty well, using distance and visual screening to help BG succeed.  We made progress in inches.  They moved into the Advanced Beginner Class which was  smaller and attended  by dogs and handlers with more experience.  BG was alot better with some dogs, but was still was a loose cannon with others.

Stephanie is a very confident, calm person which helped immensely in bringing BG down when she was hyper aroused, but even Stephanie got frustrated and embarrassed.
"It's only behavior," I told her. "Its not a reflection on you or her".
"Yeah I know, but this is stressful.  This is not fun for me." She replied.
Okay - point taken.

I suggested we try something different and  moved her to a Beginner Freestyle class.  This class was made up primarily of smaller dogs, that BG seemed  to like. Much of the class involved having only one dog on the floor at a time.  This helped alot.  Their progress grew from inches to feet and pretty soon they were working together as a team.

I wish I could say it was all smooth sailing from there on out, but this is not a fairy tale! BG is a work in progress.  She has played successfully with my dog Belle.  She has a couple doggie friends in her neighborhood.  She has learned to co-exist with the cat.  But she still has moments of aggression toward Stephanie's ancient Labrador, Abby.  She still erupts in wild barking and lunging at certain dogs and is unpredictable with certain people.   Stephanie has to be on her toes at all times.

BG has learned how to walk on Stephanie's left and right side, sit, lie down, stand, heel in all directions, march, back up, spin in both directions, jump through a hoop, leap in the air and weave through Stephanie's legs. They have successfully performed a short Freestyle Dance routine at 2 different fund raising events locally.  (Her musical choice of "Under Pressure" by Queen was made tongue in cheek).  Stephanie's ability to laugh at BG has played a big part in their success. She adores her 'problem dog' and accepts her for who she is, while working constantly to broaden her circle of comfort.

Currently Stephanie and BG are working on a dance routine to the song "Thank You for Being a Friend". It is perfect theme song for their a relationship.  They have "traveled down the road and back again" for sure!
Friendship is all about commitment.  Stephanie recently reminded me of my original question to her.
"Do you REALLY want to keep this dog?".
She is so very glad her answer was "Yes".

The following video clip exemplifies perfectly the teamwork and self control that Stephanie and BG have developed.  The smile on both their faces says it all. 
Heel position and back end awareness


Monday, August 27, 2012

And Mamacita makes 7...

So...it looks like Mamacita is going to stay...
SEVEN DOGS????  Am I nuts?  Perhaps...but I see so much potential in MC and so much that could go wrong!  I may not be the BEST dog trainer, but I'm good at reducing reactivity, having lived with a very reactive dog for almost 15 years now and having 90% of my private training business centered around different variations of reactivity.  I know I can help her.
MC's training challenges are as follows:
1.  reactivity toward strange dogs and strange people.
3.  Jumping, pulling on leash, lack of basic manners; intolerance of handling
4.  scratching at people and dogs when excited and playful; scratching on doors to get out/ in
5.  chewing/ destructive behavior

Alrighty then...here's THE PLAN:
1.  Introduce the clicker (conditioned reinforcer) - DONE
2.  Create "Look at that/ Look at me" behavior chain- STARTED
3.  Use counter conditioning / desensitization to decrease reactivity toward people/ dogs - STARTED 
4.  Get her into a basic manners class with a like minded trainer for different exposure.
5.  Introduce her to agility basics. (train GO, HERE, OUT)
6.  Use harness or head halter to help with pulling!
7.  Train SIT, DOWN, WAIT (she has SIT and WAIT under her belt)
8.  Crate her when not supervised - duh!  The chewed glasses, drawer pull, pen and long line...were
     a broad hint that she needed less freedom!
9.  I immediately stop her from the scratching stuf, but I fear it is self rewarding and has a history of
     reinforcement (it works!) so I will need to be creative on that front...
10. Create and reward calm behavior in the house using crates and tethers during 'down time'.
      Train ENOUGH to shut down her craziness and give the other dogs a break from her pestering.
11. Use Counter Conditioning / Desensitization  to increase tolerance of handling/ restraint. (STARTED)

If this sounds like alot of work...it is!  Particularly when you add in the training and exercise and TLC the other 6 dogs also need.  I am thankful for a flexible work schedule, the ability to take dogs to work with me, a VERY helpful husband, a big fenced yard, lots of "dog friends" and access to plenty of off leash hiking areas.  I am lucky and so are my dogs.  I would never attempt to have multiple dogs if I didn't have the lifestyle I do (and a husband who often works from home too!).

Maybe I need to quit my job and become a full time "dog-Mom"!
Of course then I couldn't afford the vet bills...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bye Bye Baby Dog

 Goodbye POPCORN... 
                                                                             Hello   CASSIDY!

Popcorn went to her new home yesterday with a new name!  Though I will miss the little devil, I know her new Dad will take good care of her.  And I'll get to see her in training! 

It felt good to clear out the mudroom and porch, put away the ex-pens and move the cat box out of my guest bath!   Mamacita has been integrated into the rest of the house.  She has a crate in the office for meals and time home alone.  She has a crate in the bedroom.  She has established the back of the couch as a favorite resting place.
Will she be staying permanently?
We'll see...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

And then there was one...

Cookie and Biscuit went off
to their new homes yesterday.
I was sad to see them go,
but very happy with where
they were going!
I can't wait to watch
them grow up!

It is a different experience to have just Zita and Popcorn.  They play for long stretches of time then crash together.  I took her to agility practice last night and she explored the equipment and played fearlessly with a Vizsla and a young terrier cross!  Considering how tired she must've been at bedtime, she still did some screaming last night when she realized that she was alone, but Mom was right outside the pen and she eventually settled.  Out to poop / pee at 5:30 this morning ...playtime with Mom for an hour...out to pee again...now crashed in her pen again...quietly!  She will go to her new home on Monday and then we will truly get to know Mamacita!  Right now she's a puppy thrown into raising puppies herself!  She is  very conflicted -protecting her babies from my dogs one moment, then turning on a dime into a the silly submissive baby she is.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Rule of 7

A tried and true guide for socializing puppies is: THE RULE OF SEVEN.  Simply stated this guide tells you that by 7 wks of age puppies should have met these bench marks:
  • Been on 7 different types of surfaces
  • Played with 7 different types of objects
  • Been in 7 different locations
  • Met and played with 7 new people
  • Been exposed to 7 challenges
  • Eaten from 7 different containers
  • Eaten in 7 different locations
  • met or seen 7 different pets (I added this to the conventional list)
Lets see how well I've done so far!
surfaces - grass, gravel, carpet, linoleum, cement, couch, paper, wood (8)

objects - ball, plush toy, Kong, nylabone, white bone, tennis ball, cardboard, stick, leaf, canvas, rubber squeaky, rope, bully stix,   (13)

locations - front yard, back yard, gravel run, grass/ dirt run, mudroom, kitchen, living room, porch, car, bedroom, under the deck (11).

people - 2 kids, 10 women, 4 men, 1 male teen, 1 female teen (18)

challenges - stairs, ramp, low gate, tunnel, whelping box, crawl over legs, box (7)

containers - plastic bowl, plastic double diner, metal plate, metal pan, metal bowl sm, metal bowl lg,  ceramic bowl (7)

eating locations - kitchen, mudroom, porch, kennel run, yard/front, yard/back, crate (7)

pets- cat, sm dog tan, sm dog bi-color, big red dog (female), big red dog (male), big merle dog, big bi-color dog (7)

Phew!  Looks like we're doing okay!    
The pups will be 7 weeks old on WED 8/8 and will head off to their new homes shortly thereafter!  We will miss them, but they are ready!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The more I learn, the less I know

Those of us who make a living helping people with their dogs are pretty well educated for the most part.  Some of us have many, many years of work experience around dogs.  Some of us have degrees in science and behavior.  I, for one, am very good at reading canine body language and am adept at seeing red flags in a puppy's behavior.  BUT  I am not a dog breeder.  I have had limited experience raising puppies from birth and observing nature at work in the form of the mother/ puppy relationship.    To date I have raised 3 litters - all foster litters from my local shelter.  I am no expert!
The first litter I raised was born to a young Mom who had 9 pups and did the bare minimum with them - meeting their needs but not spending alot of time with them.  She did bond strongly with one of the pups whom she had long term contact with though.  And I knew several of the puppies into their senior years, including my own Pogo who is still with us at 14.5 yrs old!
The second was born to a seasoned Mom who cared for her pups very efficiently and lovingly, but did not really play with them much and who had to be separated from them at 4-5 weeks due to being heartworm positive and needing treatment herself.
And now we have Mamacita and her 3 pups.  They have been an education for sure!

At 2 weeks old these pups would growl like little raccoons when picked up. Uh oh!  I stepped up the amount of handling they were getting to desensitize them and hoped for the best.  They improved.  They opened their eyes fairly late and when they did, they began growling, then latching hard onto their mother's face!  Uh oh!  They were 3 weeks old.  This had me pretty worried.  They weren't playing.  They were stiff and intense. I contacted several breeders including a terrier breeder, she basically shrugged it off saying I should handle them alot and let Mom sort them out.  Okay...I watched and worried.  I noticed that their "aggressive" displays did not upset Mamacita much.  She waited the tantrums out, then firmly continued whatever she had been doing (cleaning their face or whatever).  I followed her lead and did the same when they grumbled at me.  I just kept them elevated gently until they calmed, then put them back down.  They started kissing me after settling.  That made me feel better!
As they got older and more rambunctious , one pup stood out from the others as quite fearless and bratty.  Mamacita began targeting her with very rough play.  The puppy was not playing back.  She was defending herself vehemently.  Mama was merciless, darting in and grabbing with her teeth then retreating.  She was clearly playing but it seemed like she was antagonizing the pup.  Frankly it concerned me, so again, I consulted several dog breeders and some respected behavior people.  Mamacita started playing that way with another puppy too, treating the 3rd puppy more gently.  I sent out the following video clip and my concern was confirmed by the responses I received. rough play? (click here)
"Yikes" pretty much summed up the feedback I got! :-P Though one breeder (experienced with terriers) stated that she saw nothing unusual in the clips.

As recommended to me, I interceded when Mamacita's behavior seemed 'over the top'.  I continued to worry, but somewhere deep inside I felt like there must be a purpose to her behavior.  Though Mamacita was young and inexperienced, I couldn't help but wonder if she knew exactly what she was doing!  Though I admit, to all intents and purposes it simply looked like she was tormenting the poor pups!

The pups are pushing 7 wks old now and it gives me great pleasure to watch Mamacita play with her babies now.  Yesterday they romped together for a solid hour in a completely appropriate manner.  Her pups did not over react.  She did not push them to the brink.  I let out a big sigh of relief. "Tolerance" is a word that one of my behavior savvy friends had mentioned.  "You want pups that develop tolerance" , she stated.
I think that is EXACTLY what Mamacita was trying to instill in her pups by her seemingly badgering play behavior.  And it appears that she has been successful!
Check them out:
appropriate play  (click here)
more play  (click here)

How all this will play out once the pups go to new homes is yet to be seen. These are smart, busy, determined, mouthy pups.  They will need patient, consistent owners, lots of exposure to socially appropriate dogs and plenty of exercise.  I will see them in my classes.  I will stay in contact with their new families, offering as much support as needed.

I will continue to learn from them .

Monday, July 23, 2012


This past Saturday was a busy day for my foster pups!   My friend Cookie (yes the pup's namesake) came to visit. My friend Beverly came to visit.  My friend Alice came to visit.  Potential adopters came to visit (husband, wife, grown daughter).  The pups also went out on the grass for the first time.  The pups took it all in stride - they napped in between visits!  But Mamacita was a bit frazzled by the end of the day! Poor mama - alot to worry about.

Is anyone else coming??

Next weekend we're having a puppy party - food, drinks and puppy cuddle time!    The pups will be 51/2 weeks old and soaking up all these experiences like sponges!  Mama will be leashed to my waist for part of the party as she needs to meet more people herself.  Looking forward to the party!  It was great fun with last year's foster litter!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Puppy Saga Day 28

The pups are officially 4 weeks old today.  They weighed in at 3lbs (Popcorn), 3 1/2lbs (Biscuit) and slightly over 3lbs (Cookie).  They are getting more coordinated,  though I will miss watching them topple over and wave their feet around like turtles on their backs!  It is SO interesting to watch Mamacita deal with their fiesty, demanding behavior.  She simply ignores it and calmly continues what she's doing until they settle.  I do the same when they get squirmy or growly when picked up or restrained when they'd rather be doing something else!  The pups are starting to wag at us and give kisses.  They like to tug and shake toys. Mamacita likes to play with them which is very different from our last foster Mom who was an older dog and wasn't all that interested in playing. Both good Moms, but very different. It is a riot watching Mamacita wrestle and mouth fence with the wee ones!
Are these not the cutest faces ever?!
                                                      (Popcorn, Cookie, Biscuit)
On another front...Mamacita and Belle have been introduced and played a bit.  Now that the mommy hormones are kicking down a bit Mama can start spending some time with my dogs.  Hooray!  Belle will also be the first dog I intro the pups to.  She's so good!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Puppy Saga Day 25

Today was a productive day in puppy-land!  The pups met 3 new people and were handled, kissed and played with by all.  Mamacita met 5 new people (2 seniors, 2 teens and my friend Kelly - we won't mention her age! ).  By the time Kelly came by, Mama was pretty relaxed and friendly.  As the mommy hormones kick down she is getting much more receptive to visitors. That's 'all good' as they say.

Introduced the pups to food today.  The pics below are from our 3rd attempt.  They're getting the hang of it!
 Hmmmm...whats this?
                                                    Smells interesting...
 You try it.  No, You try it.
                                                                                                                      I'm goin' for it!

If you guys aren't gonna finish this...
Wow.  What a horrible blogger I am!  Here I am raising a litter of foster puppies and not a word has been said about it here!  Sorry!  Not that I have people holding their breath waiting for my next installment! :-P But I started this blog primarily to force myself to write regularly.  Failed experiment I'd say!
Any hoo... 

Mamacita arrived at my house on June 18th and gave birth to 3 pups (Cookie, Biscuit and Popcorn) on June 20th!  Big thanks to my friend Cookie Mac for helping me through the whelping! 

Mamacita was an owner surrender to my local animal shelter. What is she, you ask?  Good question.  My best guess is Rat Terrier and Corgi but it is only a guess.  Her pups are all tri colored with ears that look like they will eventually stand up.  They are 3 1/2 weeks old today.
 I'm not a big fan of the birth process.  Can you say YUK?! But I do enjoy watching the instinctive behavior of both the mother dog and the babies.  They all know their jobs and their purpose and I find that very reassuring. My job as their foster caregiver is to keep them safe and give them a good start in life through proper nutrition and lots of socialization. my husband and I handle the pups several times a day.  I talk to them. I sing to them. I play the radio and run the washer / dryer  so they'll be used to normal household noises.  I will expose them to different environments, dogs (big and small), my cat and lots and lots of people! One of a puppy's key socialization period is 4-16 weeks so it's "crunch time" now as we head into their 4th week.

When all is said and done (at 8 weeks of age) my hope is that I will have helped these pups develop into stable, friendly, potential pets ready to be adopted.  After that it will be up to their new families to continue socializing them and training them. 

But I do all this knowing that there is a big, unknown, black cloud up above that might darken their sunny future.  That cloud is their genetic make up.  The father of this litter is unknown.  Mamacita is shy and wary of strangers at first , but wiggly, silly and affectionate once she gets to know you.  I don't know if her shyness is genetic or whether she was not properly socialized herself as a puppy.  A dog's behavior is always determined by a combination of both those things. Socialization and good nutrition can only take these puppies so far.  They need to have a stable genetic make up as well.   There will be no shortage of folks wanting to adopt them - they are cute as buttons, but finding good matches for challenging puppies is a different story.  Let's hope these pups have solid temperaments.
Only time will tell!

Right now the pups are getting adventurous and Mamacita is trying to teach them some social manners.  They are demanding little beasties.   They are very vocal, attempting to bark and growling when they are frustrated. Cookie is already picking up dry kibble in her mouth and all 3 have experimented with lapping water, so we'll start feeding gruel today.  I hate to start it because my sweet, fluffy puppies will soon be food encrusted messes!  But Mama will appreciate the help I'm sure.

More blogs to come - I promise!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Training Goals

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have told my students that they need to be clear when communicating to their dogs.  I tell them to picture what they want the dog to do. How can the dog possibly get it right if they themselves do not have a clear picture of what it should look like?

Today an agility instructor asked me "What are your goals for Tawnie?" 
I want us to run fast and happy together.  
I want us to have fun.
I want her to love agility.
But suddenly I thought, "Yes, but what exactly does that look like?"
I realized that I myself did not have a clear picture of what I wanted.  I certainly did not have a plan for the steps needed to reach those lofty goals.

So, here goes.  I'll try to articulate my REAL agility goals for Tawnie.

I want to develop speed and independence through the use of targeting.
I want to remove ANY and ALL demotivating habits or maneuvers (such as front crosses which slow her down considerably) from our training.
I want to TRY TRY TRY to move seamlessly from a missed obstacle to a successful sequence without any indication from me that Tawnie made a mistake.  Let's face it - the mistake was likely mine.
I want to build Tawnie's love of agility by increasing my rate of reinforcement, by giving her as much enthusiasm as I want in return and by lowering my criteria at the first sign of confusion so she can succeed.

I want to be a better handler, so she can be a better team mate.
"Ready Tawnie?  Let's GO!"


Wearing my heart on my sleeve

After careful consideration (ten years worth...) I finally took the leap.  From this point forward, not only will Pogo be forever in my heart...he'll be forever on my skin.

Here is the picture the tattoo artist worked from:
And here is the tattoo:

Thank you Bald Bill 

in Burlington, VT

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Puppy's Plea

A Puppy's Plea

Will you teach me all about your world?
Translate your language into mine?
Will you help me to succeed 
and reward me when I try?

Can you laugh at my mistakes
and accept my imperfections?
When I try and somehow fail,
Can you adjust your expectations? 

Will you control me enough to keep me safe,
but give me freedom to explore?
Will I know that I am special?
Of your love will I be sure?

Can I run and bark and chew and chase?
Not always SIT and STAY.
Will your voice be music to my ears
and my name mean come and play?

Will I be the dog you dreamed of?
True companions, you and me.
Will you lead me through example?
Help me reach my destiny.




Monday, April 30, 2012

Once upon a time it was hard to stay one step ahead of Pogo.  He was fast and quick triggered and reactive to his environment.  His intelligence and reactivity forced me to work hard to direct him and keep him out of trouble.  He made me a better trainer. He kept me on my toes.
Agility training gave us an outlet for Pogo's intensity and taught us to work together.  If I close my eyes I can still feel the rush of adrenaline and the joy I felt while running with him.  I miss the team work... the communication... the feeling of being connected. I miss the Pogo of years past.

These days our time together is different.  Pogo gets confused easily.  His hearing is gone...his eyesight is minimal.  His body sometimes lets him down. These days our team work involves my helping him when he gets stuck under the table...my helping him into the car...my reassuring him when he gets scared.

There is no longer the rush of adrenaline, but the joy is still there. 
 I love this dog.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

This week our world was altered slightly.  It became a bit less bright and sparkly...a little less carefree.

A friend of mine let her dog out into the yard as she had a million times before and he disappeared.  Did he take off after a cat or a bear?  Was he hit by a car?  All we know for sure is that he disappeared that night and was found a week later close to home in a brushy area beyond a ditch. He was dead.

Suddenly the little routines we take for granted became suspect.  Suddenly the small chances we take with our dog's safety became big chances. Some people wanted to blame my friend.  Some people wanted to blame the dog.  Some people wanted to blame whomever may have hit him.  But most of us knew that there was no one to blame.  It simply was a twist of fate.  It could've happened to any of us.  It CAN happen to any of us.

I hike with my dogs off leash every week.  They are well trained to come when called.  They are not let loose anywhere near roads.  They are hiked in areas familiar to them.  They've never taken off for more than 2 or 3 minutes out of my sight.  But still...

I take a chance.  I am well aware that it is a chance.  I do not take it thoughtlessly.  I have trained for the distractions of freedom.  My dogs are well identified with flat collar tags.  But, still...

I could make the choice to never, ever let my dogs off leash outside of a fence.  I do make that choice with some of my dogs - my Beagles over the years... my current tiny dogs...my senile old man, Pogo... they stay on leash.  But I choose to give my other dogs the freedom to hunt for birds, swim in the pond and race through the fields.  It is joyful to watch them smile their big doggie smiles after a run.

I am not suggesting that it is OK to be cavalier with your dog's safety.   If you haven't put in the training time for off leash freedom...if you are in an area with traffic or environmental hazards...if your dog is old , too young, too small, too adventurous, too timid etc.  PLEASE keep him on leash!
But if you choose to allow your dog the freedom to be a dog in this paradise we call Vermont, please do it knowing that your friend can be snatched from you at any moment.  Just as your human loved ones can by taken by car accidents, random acts of violence or illness.  Fate is a bitch.

To counteract this lack of control over my world,  I try to make sure that if any of my dogs were to be taken from me tomorrow I could rest easier knowing that every moment we shared was good.  That I never purposefully hurt them or treated them unfairly.  That I cared for them deeply both physically and emotionally.  That I trained them with humane methods that embraced individuality and their intrinsic sense of humor.

My friend's dog is gone...too soon...tragically.  But he lived a life in which he was truly cherished and treated with respect by his people.  He was loved.  He will be missed and his loss will be a constant reminder to me to do right by my dog...today, not tomorrow or next week when I have more time...

Signing off to take a hike with my dogs  The pond is waiting and oh how they love the pond!