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.

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!