Welcome

Bolhaus Kennels are devoted to the promotion of Welsh Terriers, based in the North West of England.  Our Welsh live at home with us, come to work with us and travel across the UK and Europe to exhibit at shows.

Waiting lists for puppies are currently closed but may open in 2021, pending future litter availability.

For behavioural advice, please visit The Terrierist

Fireworks: An answer?

It’s a tricky time of year for anyone with a dog who doesn’t like fireworks. Actually, that doesn’t quite cover it.  Fireworks are tricky at any time of year for dogs who don’t like them, but November is an especially difficult time.

We see countless videos and photos of dogs quaking with fear around Bonfire Night, their world going topsy turvy from the strange loud sounds and lights.  Owners beside themselves with fury because they can do nothing about it.

We are flooded with advice:

  • Walks during the daytime to wear them out
  • Create a safe space/den
  • Thunder shirts or swaddling to calm them
  • Herbal remedies and calming tablets
  • Turn TV/radio up, close curtains
  • Train them to get used to the sounds with desensitisation CDs/videos online.

But for some, none of the above works. Here’s Chuck’s story:

As a young puppy, maybe only a few months old, someone set of a string of enormous fireworks in the early evening in our suburban neighbourhood right above our garden in January 2014 as he was outside having a wee.  January. Not New Years Eve, not Diwali, not Bonfire Night.  Just a random week night in January.  We couldn’t possibly have prepared for that.  We had previously got through New Year’s Eve without a problem, he had even learned to walk outside with the distant popping of the local displays in the air without a problem.

He completely freaked out and lost it.  And he never ever forgot that one random event.

He’s a clever little dog.  He knows the difference between real fireworks and those on TV or the radio.  You can put on a youtube video of a fireworks factory explosion and he won’t bat an eyelid.  He will happily walk around fields with gun shots going off without a care in the world.  Light a real firework anywhere near him, and he sees red.

Dogs have a fight/flight instinct, and Chuck will immediately resort to ‘fight’.  He’s scared but it manifests itself as rage.  He will hurl himself at the doors trying to get out to them and “stop” them.  He will, unfortunately, bite anyone and anything that gets in his way.  He doesn’t mean it, he’s not trying to hurt us, but his red mist is up, his stress levels have gone beyond the point of sensible reaction.

None of the above suggested “remedies” help him when he’s hit that red zone.  We eventually had to resort to prescribed hard drugs.  We have a 10kg terrier on human-grade Diazepam during fireworks.  In that aforementioned slice of suburbia, you could almost guarantee there would be nightly random fireworks from Diwali all the way through to January.  So would the answer be to permanently drug up the dog for nearly 5 months of a year? That’s no way to live.  That’s not good for his system.

We moved 200 miles north to rural Cumbria, and my first reaction was “thank goodness for fewer fireworks”. Yes, the fireworks are fewer, but they are still there.  We can drug him less.  We know when the local displays are taking place, we drive somewhere even more remote for the duration.

Not everyone has the opportunity to make such a drastic move for the sake of their dog.  Annually, petitions are made to parliament, and the result is always the same “no legislation change, but use common sense, we understand the stress it causes”.

I’m sorry, that’s not enough.  More people are buying fireworks for personal use than they used to.  Ten, twenty years ago, you’d never have the blitz of little displays in local neighbourhoods.  The legislation hasn’t moved in line with the rise in activity in this time, and that’s irresponsible governance.

If one cannot sell alcohol without a licence or temporary events notice for the council, why is this not the same for fireworks? We regulate all sorts of industries, hell they even put a tax on plastic bags but nothing is done for firework sale/supply? If you cannot own a shotgun without a licence, why can you simply walk into a shop and buy fireworks? Can they both not be used as a weapon? Do they both not use explosives?

We don’t need an outright ban, but we do need tighter regulation around their sale and use.  If the general public can easily find out when/where fireworks are taking place, dog owners can plan ahead.  Those with PTSD can plan ahead, livestock owners, horse owners, ANYONE can plan ahead.

Here is our suggestion: 

In the same way which one applies for a Temporary Events Notice or even Planning Permission from their local council, if any individual wishes to purchase fireworks, they need to submit an application (it can be online, it can be fast and easy to complete) to the local council who will award (or not) a Fireworks Notice to that person for whatever event it is for a small appropriate fee.

When an application is submitted from individuals at a private residence, neighbours are automatically notified of the application and have the right to object (like planning, see a theme here?).  In reality, objections would be uncommon, but at least the immediate neighbours are notified of the upcoming event and can plan alternative arrangements.

Only with proof of this Notice can an individual walk into a shop and purchase (with ID) any fireworks.

Records are made public on a register (like Planning notices) so people can see who/when/where.  You can only apply for so many Notices in one calendar year.

Public displays which are advertised and run by local councils are not affected, but smaller organisations such as Rugby Clubs or Schools should submit applications as above, and ensure that such big displays are widely advertised in the local press/media.

All this does, is replicate existing infrastructure and systems, so there would indeed be a cost to maintaining and running the new application process, but not as high as a whole new regime.  It would be covered by the cost of the application fee, so if the level was set right, could even produce funds for local councils who could spend any profit on the local area for the benefit of all its residents.

Of course, policing this system would be a pain, but hopefully this would be managed by the requirement for production of a valid Notice prior to any individual being sold a firework in the first place.

Something must be done. Something MUST be done that benefits everyone, including those who enjoy fireworks.  Perhaps this is the answer.

Losing Our Marbles

A few years ago, when we started the behaviour journey with Chuck, I came across a whole spectrum of advice from various sources, which ranged from firm whacks with a newspaper (no, thank you) to only praising good behaviour and ignoring the bad (that didn’t stop the bad stuff happening).

Choosing what is the right behavioural adjustment training for your dog really does depend on the personality and motivations of your dog.  What might work for a hungry labrador might not work as well for a prey-driven terrier where a good fight is actually completely thrilling.  Determining what will work as a training aid takes time because you need to work out what the hierarchy of high value “treats” are and how much of these things you need to get your dog to choose good behaviour over bad.  This is why for some dogs, especially prey-driven terriers, clicker training simply doesn’t work. The reward of a click (after extensive training by the book) just isn’t high-value enough. It can and does work for many many dogs, but four terriers later, it’s had very little effect in real-world scenarios for us.

I vaguely glossed over trigger stacking in my last post. A trigger is an action which will cause a reaction in your dog.  Can be anything, absolutely anything.  One by itself might be mildly irritating, and one cookie might make you feel better fairly quickly. It’s a bit like double entry accounting, but that’s a fairly dry metaphor, so here’s a different image:

Think of it as your bag of marbles.  Here’s a trigger-stacking day in the life of Chuck’s bag of marbles.  Chuck has a small but very precious collection of marbles.  He probably only has about 5 in his bag, but they’re truly special.  He takes them with him everywhere.

He’s sitting on his window bench with his bag of 5 marbles.  Olia jumps up to join him (with her enormous bag of 52 marbles) too quickly and accidentally jostles his side.  His bag of marbles shakes a little and the string is loosened.  Chuck warns her with a growl to take better care.  He could have lost a marble there.  

Chuck doesn’t have opposable thumbs to be able to tighten the drawstring on his bag of marbles, so he’s very much aware that whilst he still has his 5 marbles, they’re in a precarious position.  He’s now more alert to his surroundings in case anything happens to his bag of marbles. He’s more likely to react to any perceived threat to his open bag.

A delivery driver arrives and in the hurry to guard the house from this threat, his marble bag tips over and 1 marble goes missing.  This is bad news. But he still has 4 marbles, so perhaps the missing marble will turn up later. A little bit of chicken temporarily soothes the pain of the loss of that 1 marble. 

Amazingly, Olia has only lost 2 marbles in the chaos, she still has 50, she’s chilled about the loss of 2 boring marbles, but the little bit of chicken is absolutely brilliant, thanks! Her 2 marbles immediately appear and she’s even found an extra 3.  She now has 55 marbles! What a fantastic day.

Sulking about his 4 remaining marbles, Chuck comes out on a walk, clutching his bag close to his chest.  Perhaps the marble might be out there somewhere, so it’s worth a look. He spots another dog.  It has a bigger bag of marbles than his.  It’s off lead, showing off all the amazing marbles it has.  Olia is delighted, and would like to show off her bag of marbles too.  Maybe we could all play swapsies with our massive marble collections? Chuck is concerned, the other dog is coming too close to his precious small bag of marbles and what if that dog wants to steal a marble? We are already 1 marble down, and the bag is loose…. best be on the offensive here to protect the marbles.  Chuck barks and lunges at the off lead dog.  In the process he loses another marble.  That’s 2 marbles he’s lost already today and he’s very sorry, but a bit of chicken simply cannot replace the loss of 2 marbles.  The rest of the walk is tense, every slight noise or movement might be someone trying to steal his depleting supply of marbles.

Back at home, it’s lunchtime.  He has to put down his bag of marbles to eat. He carefully hides his bag of marbles, it’s such a good hiding place.  Because he only has 3 left, his stress levels are middling.  He knows Olia isn’t going to steal his marbles, because she has SO many anyway, so he leaves her alone wandering around but the humans in the house? They haven’t got special marble collections… in his effort to protect his hidden stash of 3 remaining marbles, if we get too close, he’s going to give a warning nip and tug. Because he knows from previous experience that we will stop moving near his marbles if he does that.  He has to, there’s only 3 left. He wouldn’t feel the need to do this if it was only 1 marble missing, but this is serious now.  He’s lost too many and his hiding place could be compromised at any moment.

But wait, he can smell the special marble-replenishing cake on the side. In Chuck’s world, cake is a high value treat, better than chicken, better than any toy. Not as good as a trip in the car, but it’s up there.

He goes to fetch his hidden bag of 3 marbles and carries it over to the special cake smell. One marble is there! He collects the missing marble and stores it safely in his bag. That’s better, we are back up to 4 marbles.  It’s still concerning, but it’s an improvement. Perhaps a nap might help? He goes into his crate for a few hours’ rest. When he wakes up rested, he sees that last remaining marble. Puts it safely in his bag.

Trigger stacking is important to notice in your dog.  You need to work out roughly how many marbles your dog has and how to help him protect and replenish his marble supply.  You can’t work on behavioural training when your dog has fewer marbles than normal.  They won’t be in a rational mind to learn.  Working with a full bag or ever-so-slightly-open bag is ideal.  You’re below the reactivity threshold. The potential for marble loss is there, but you can at that point work on learning new behaviours that will help your dog learn techniques to protect his marbles.

In my last post, I added a video of our after dinner game of musical statues, to teach Chuck that actually, I’m not out to steal his marbles when he’s carefully hidden them after his meals and i’m walking around.  I’m offering more marbles instead! Hell, I’m a walking marble factory!

However, I’m aware of his marble supply when choosing to start this new game.  He won’t learn the rules of the game if he’s already missing some marbles.  We can only play this new game when his marble supply is intact.  If he’s lost some of his marbles, I will let him search for them by himself, or offer a quick-fix replenishment and work on our new game when he has done his marble audit and is happy they are all present and secure.

Why do we need the rising hierarchy of treats to replenish marbles when a dog has lost more than one marble? Why is the situation so grave that more than one marble lost means one basic treat will not suffice?  There’s science behind it.

It’s fundamentally about cortisol levels.  Each single trigger, each marble, increases stress levels, linked to higher cortisol in the system.  When you lose marble after marble, and you layer trigger over trigger, cortisol rises.  Cortisol takes time to dissipate out of the system, so even after a trigger activity has happened, the cortisol it has created is still lingering (your marble is missing), and then you lose another marble so you’re adding another amount of cortisol on top of what is already there…  A high level of cortisol will take longer to deplete and so a higher amount of response is required to mitigate the reactivity and increase oxytocin into the system.

When is a Good Boy not a Good Boy?

Here’s something that bugs me: Finding the right behaviour advice for your dog.

When you have a problem behaviour with your dog, perhaps you do things in the following order:

  • Google ‘how to stop your dog doing xyz’
  • Ask your dog-owning friends
  • Post on a Facebook group
  • Spend endless hours searching YouTube videos of professionals working miracles
  • Buy some books on Amazon you’ll never read

When you ‘should’ be doing the following:

  • Visit your vet to ensure the problem isn’t something internal manifesting itself as poor behaviour
  • Find a professional to help you with training

So here’s a confession. I’ve done all of the above.

My google history is 99% dog behaviour related at the moment, (and 1% red military blazers). I’m going to admit something I haven’t often admitted in public… Chuck, whilst being a wonderful companion and show dog, has behavioural problems. They’ve been there for years, but with a new dog in the house, it’s time to do something about it.

His issue: at certain times of the day, it seems like he will, for no reason, nip at your limbs in a fairly angry fashion, growling and tugging at whatever clothing you have on. Not visitors or strangers, just his family humans. Just us!

However… There’s no such thing as ‘no reason’. Every single time there is an identifiable trigger. Causality, like in the Matrix when the Merovingian states: ‘You see there is only one constant. One universal. It is the only real truth: Causality. Action, reaction. Cause and effect.

And this is sort of important. Triggers and trigger stacking are hugely important in relation to displayed behaviour. The more triggers/actions you layer up, the more of a reaction you’re going to get. But not all triggers are equal and reactions can vary on the scale of 1 to Idiot.

At the start, I’m desperate to know ‘why’, when actually I don’t need to dwell on why, I just need to know ‘what’.

When you focus on ‘why’, you can send yourself down a frustrating path. It’s much easier to logically analyse cause and effect and remove any emotion from it. Be more of a Merovingian.

So for Chuck, what is making him snap?

We kept a diary of his reactions and there are two trigger actions:

  1. Moving too closely around him after meal times
  2. Moving too quickly in his peripheral vision when he’s asleep and close to bedtime

We know that these things cause a certain reaction, we want to modify his behaviour to remove those reactions.

And this is where we loop back round to the start of this blog post. We:

  • Googled ‘how to stop your dog doing biting’
  • Asked our dog-owning friends
  • Posted on a Facebook group
  • Spent endless hours searching YouTube videos of professionals working miracles
  • Bought some books on Amazon which I actually read

And I learned a LOT. But nothing really sang out to me as ‘this is what you need to do!’ So…

We:

  • Visited the vet to ensure the problem isn’t something internal manifesting itself as poor behaviour. And it turns out Chuck needed some seasonal allergy relief.
  • Found a professional recommended by the Vet to help us with training. She visited our house for 3 hours at the start of August. Observed, took notes, asked questions… and we didn’t hear back for weeks. In fact, we still haven’t heard back.

The very expensive professional who visited us for 3 hours (and from whom we still haven’t seen any sort of report or procedural recommendation for behaviour modification) said nothing to me that I hadn’t already read or seen. What I did learn though, was that to many behaviourists, all dogs are just dogs. There’s no specific differentiation for types of dog and what they were bred for, what their genetic traits are and how this will affect things.

So what did I fundamentally learn from all of this?

That yes, all the information I need is already out there. The value of a behaviourist visit was third party affirmation that the processes and activities I am implementing are the right things to do. That’s a very expensive affirmation.

I’d like to think I am not your average pet dog owner. I’m a show breeder. I can tell you more about my breed and type than any behaviourist. I can tell you why a terrier will do something that a gundog wouldn’t and I can tell you what won’t work within these ‘groups’. I can tell you about physiology, psychology and all sorts of genetic concerns within breeding lines. I know why Chuck is predisposed to the behaviours he shows but more than this. I know his behaviour is my fault.

I didn’t put the effort into his training when he was young.

I didn’t listen to those who knew better when I was more green.

I didn’t look far enough ahead into the future of my fluffy little puppy to think about how his puppy interactions would impact his and our lives in the future.

I didn’t learn about the breed before I got him to really understand what Terrierism is. I wasn’t prepared.

Well I am prepared now. I have studied, I have considered, and I have my own behavioural plan to implement! Below is just one of the activities we are doing as part of my new training:

And we shall report back.

Our thoughts on #BrookeHouts

At some point, every dog owner gets frustrated with their dog.  Maybe something minor, like them not coming when called, or something a bit more drastic, like tearing your favourite armchair to shreds when you’re not there.

What you do in these situations is often just between you and your four walls (and the dog).  There’s a whole scale of frustration, from eye rolls all the way up to unreasonable physical reaction.  Whatever your response is, does anyone ever see it? If a tree falls in a forest, did it fall if you didn’t see/hear it?

They do when you’re a “famous” youtube star, apparently.  There’s a whole thing going viral today about Brooke Houts.  A youtube vlogger with 300,000 ish subscribers who owns a Doberman and managed to film (and publish!) herself slapping and spitting on her dog, pushing it away. Out of frustration.

Sidestep what she actually did for a moment… here’s the thing.  She videoed this, she published this.  In my head, she wouldn’t have done that if she thought her actions were unreasonable.  Or would she?

I’d never heard of her before her name went viral.  But I certainly know about her now.  What little we know about vlogging is that the more subscribers you have and the greater ‘hours watched’ your channel racks up, the more you earn.  So, can we please bear in mind that this video she posted of unreasonable physical action against her pet is earning her money every time someone watches it to see for themselves what she actually did.  Even if she takes that video down, you can bet people will be watching her other videos to see if there’s anything else in there they can find of her mistreating her dog.

Back on track, now. Have I ever beaten my dog because they did something I thought was wrong? No.  Absolutely not.

Have I tapped their butt when they’ve acted out? Yes – instinctively, usually when I’m the target of whatever they’re doing and to turn their attention off shagging my arm.  Have I shaken a can, squirted a water thingy, made a loud noise? Yes.

Our problem as humans is learning about expectations.

The more we anthropomorphise our pets, the higher our expectations of behaviour become. Because we’re treating them as “babies” we’re expecting them to act like children, not dogs.  They’re dogs! Expect them to behave like dogs, not “yes, ma’am” preppy kids out at the Country Club for lunch.  If you want a well-behaved dog, learn to communicate on their level, not yours. Go to classes, read the books, watch the training videos.  Repeat.

Ultimately, the frustration we feel when our pets don’t do as we ask is no reason for any sort of punishment towards our pets.  We should be chastising ourselves more – that we were expecting perfection perhaps but didn’t communicate it in a way we should be expecting our pets to respond to – at their level of understanding.

If you’re frustrated with your dog, Brooke – before you spit on him, you perhaps need to train yourself better.  There are classes for Reactive Dogs out there, maybe there ought to be one for Reactive Humans?

Multi-Dog Households

For those adding a puppy into a household with another dog after many years, you almost forget what puppyhood is like. The toilet training, the obedience, the sharp puppy teeth…  On top of all the usual puppy behaviours, you still have your older established dog to love and teach.

It isn’t easy.  Will they get on? How will the older dog react? Will this ruin our relationship?  When do I step in if trouble is brewing? Is there a hierarchy? Should they be given separate time?  All questions we have dealt with since Olia joined us at Easter 2019.

Nearly 4 months later, there have been moments of despair, joy, desperation and triumph.  There are some schools of thought which suggest you simply “let them work it out”. I’m not a fan of that.  I know Chuck, I know his foibles and “issues”.  He resource guards things like his food, the kitchen space, the sofa.  We manage his problems fairly well as a lone dog, but with the puppy in tow, “letting them work it out” will not be a suitable method of successful integration.

The dogs are fed separately in our house to avoid aggro; there is no hierarchy between them fortunately because they are motivated by different things.  Olia will do anything for food and Chuck will do almost anything for affection (or a digestive biscuit!).  This has enabled Chuck to not see Olia as a threat, so he hasn’t felt the need to protect anything from the new puppy.

Fortunately, Olia (whilst being a very annoying puppy) has developed a deep respect for Chuck – she has learned not to upset him too much and to give him space, with his and our guidance.  Unfortunately, she really doesn’t like rain, so whilst she is toilet trained, she still has accidents inside when it’s raining outside.  We’re working on that – she’s only 7 months old.

Olia has attended ringcraft training since joining us, and has already entered 3 championship shows, coming third, second and 4th respectively.  Interestingly, late 2018/early 2019 was a bumper crop for show quality Welsh Terrier bitches! So there are usually at least 5 in her current class.  Coming third in her puppy class qualified her for Crufts 2020, so she incredibly has qualified on her very first outing.  She really enjoys showing and when she calms down through experience of shows, she will improve her rankings.

Chuck and Olia get along remarkably well, and she’s in the middle of her first season right now whilst has gone very smoothly and with nearly no interest from Chuck!

Watch out for our next pupdate!

 

Creating a Dynasty

What’s the purpose of a dog show? We’ve vaguely covered this in previous blogs – it’s primarily breeders who want to raise the profile of their dogs, promote their lines and improve on the standard.  We all do it for fun, but it’s really a showcase of improvement, heritage and planning.

When we fell into the world of dog showing, we had much to learn about the breed and all that comes with it.  We at Bolhaus, are determined to promote this vulnerable native terrier breed, and ensure that for generations to come, owners have the opportunity to have a pup that is the very best we can breed, with fewest health issues, and the very best terrier type.

Along the way to this point, we have learned about anatomy and physiology, hereditary issues from a broad range of lines, genetics, and all sorts.  We are now in a reasonably informed position to really create a dynasty of Welsh Terriers  for the future.

We have Chuck, the dog with superb temperament and shape.  Over the past year we have been searching for just the right bitch to join him, our Foundation bitch with whom to begin our breeding journey.

She needed to be:

  • As unrelated to Chuck as possible (and that’s not easy in a vulnerable breed)
  • Of sound health, with good hereditary genetics
  • Of sound temperament, possibly a little more “fesity” than Chuck, to balance him out a bit.

That all sounds easy to tick off, but in reality, we could tick requirements two and three but requirement 1 was our sticking point over and over again.  The KC has recommended percentages for the maximum inbreeding (COI) tolerable for all breeds, and with Welsh Terriers, because there are so few of them, it’s tricky to get anything below 15% with any domestic UK born pup who also fills requirements two and three.

We are delighted, therefore, to have found our girl – and she was imported from the Loire Valley, France, in early April.  Look out for Princess Olia in weeks to come!