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.

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!




  1. Awesome! It's so hard to teach people the difference between "saying NO' to your dog and just plain being mean. People often have a hard time grasping the middle ground. Consequences, whether rewarding or discouraging are necessary for dogs (and not surprisingly, children) to grow into happy well adjusted beings! Kudos to you for being "real" and honest!

  2. Sounds like you have a good plan in place there. It's hard to always remember to manage, even when you "know" the dog is going to do something, so don't beat yourself up over that. Good luck! I hope the scratching and nipping decreases soon. At least fall is coming, and along with it - long pants. :-)