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.

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

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.

A response to PETA’s disruption of Crufts…

Chuck’s Mummy here! I don’t often write long ranty posts, but I’m going to, to stand alongside every dog show handler, breeder, and dog. I don’t really care if anyone agrees or disagrees but this article makes me absolutely FURIOUS… and here’s why:

1) You cannot compare the cruelty of a bullring to Crufts or indeed any dog show at any level. If you’re going to stand up for animal rights, go and tackle illegal dog fights. Go and tackle puppy farming, animal testing, the ivory trade, hunting, game sports… go and tackle real abuse. Not a dog show where people put their dogs first.

2) “breeding dogs for their looks” – that’s an incredibly shallow scratch on the surface of what we do. We breed for temperament, health and type. Judges are judging against these qualities, they don’t go “ahhh, cute! First prize!” Many dogs are indeed bred for their looks – look at all the “designer” cross-breeds around. You know what? The KC takes a dim view of breeding for looks. They just don’t shout as loud about it as maybe they should. “Being bred with “pushed-in” faces and weak hips is what puts them at risk” this isn’t actually what Crufts is there for at all… you need to tackle the general public on this one, and the irresponsible breeders who will happily not test their dogs, not pay attention to Inbreeding COI scores and general disregard everything in pursuit of cold hard cash. If there’s a market, they’ll sell to it. Lots is being done to promote healthy stock by the KC, more than ever before, but this is a long multi-faceted marathon to improve, so many of these “deformed” dogs are being imported from abroad now, because UK breeders are taking a stand. It’s a bigger issue than dog shows themselves. Notice that none of these “deformed” dogs were put through to the show you disrupted. Things are moving forward, and you would do better to help promote welfare than protest against showing.

3) In a world where people are in a heightened state of paranoia over terror attacks, what the bloody hell did you think you were doing, storming the show ring? Do you know the panic you caused? It wasn’t helping your cause. You looked irresponsible. You say “my aim is to give audiences pause, to get them to stop and consider” – yeah, do you know what they paused to consider? If they were about to get blown up. Idiot.

4) Do you really know the organisation you’re “speaking” for, with these acts? PETA euthanise perfectly healthy dogs and other animals because they simply can’t be bothered to rehome them. They’ve even admitted to this. Why?

5) “I was no threat to the animals in that arena, but undoubtedly they did feel threatened by the thousands of people, bright lights, music, and loudspeaker announcements in the ring and by being yanked around by the neck, even while wearing choke collars.” They’re not wearing choke collars, they’re literally on the flimsiest of strings… Look at the canine body language of the dogs in that ring, did they look threatened, scared? No. Nobody would take a threatened, scared dog into a show ring like that – they’re well-acclimated to being in this sort of environment. Do you know what threatens them? A crazy person storming the ring and running at them.

6) “when they weren’t being forced to perform, they were being sprayed with products or confined to crates – all weekend long”. Incorrect on many levels, they’re not there all weekend long, you’re there for the time you’re showing, that’s all. You wander around, you go outside, you eat, you snooze… and when did crate training become abuse? Yes, some (but certainly not all) are sprayed with products – most of which carry fewer toxins than the things humans use on themselves. Nobody can force a dog to perform. Have you ever tried getting a Newfoundland into a bath when he doesn’t want to go? Good luck with that one… The steward wouldn’t even let you in the ring if they saw distress.

If I had been in that ring, and you had come within a metre of me and my dog, I’d have taken you down (and Chuck would have probably got to you first). How dare you put me and Chuck in the category of “animal abusers”, you misinformed, camera-hungry fanatic.

Announcement: SOLD OUT!

Update:

Many thanks to all who bought a ChuckBum keyring – you raised a brilliant £100 for Terrier SOS and we sold out within 29 hours…!!!

Drum roll please..!

A most kind friend turned my kennel logo into a solid wooden key ring (oak, I believe).  If you would like one, they are now available for purchase!

bolhausrear

They’re in limited supply, so right now, you can only buy one per transaction (apologies to those who wanted 20… or indeed 60… you know who you are).

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They are £3 each.  For each one sold, £2 will be donated to Terrier SOS.  This is a hugely important charity to our family, and for all terriers.  So, by owning your own piece of my lovely rear, you are also supporting our pals in need.

Yes! I want to buy a Lovely Rear Keyring for £3 (+£1 postage) and help TerrierSOS!
Buy Now Button

Note:  You don’t need a paypal account to purchase – you can check out “as a guest”.

Postage is a flat-rate £1.  If you are non-UK, we will send your order to you, but be aware it will rely on international shipping times.  If I could fly them over to you myself, I would.  For UK pals, you’ll obviously get yours a whole lot faster!