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Cities around the country are noticing an increase in fireworks, and Boston is no exception. We definitely have our share of booms starting at about four o'clock in the afternoon and going long into the night. My personal dogs have always been pretty chill about fireworks; they don't love them, but it hasn't ever been a behavioral trigger, thanks to a combination of good temperament and a lot of desensitization training. Rio, my service dog, has attended a number of fireworks displays at Disney World, so she is especially relaxed about it all. Recently, however, Swanson started showing some fearful behaviors, likely because the sheer volume and consistency of noise has increased. We have had a lot of Ruff Translating community member questions about how to manage firework anxiety, and with the holiday weekend approaching, we wanted to share our best practices for coping with the noise. Swanson is now doing great with the increased volume of fireworks in a matter of less than a week. Remember, like in all things dog training, there is no silver bullet. There are multiple strategies that combine training and management. It takes time to find the magical combination that allows your dog the right coping skills to conquer anxiety and fear. We are here to help you get started with some of our best practices. If you dog has a high level of anxiety already or isn't fully crate trained, we strongly recommend joining us for a private lesson so we can better assist.
1) Get ready for the noise! Extra exercise or a high impact training activity, especially directly before fireworks start -- or even during if you can still get focus -- will help your dog start from a more relaxed place. Lack of impulse control and anxiety will be elevated if your dog's mental and physical stimulation needs have not been met for the day.
2) Restrict wandering! Yes, seriously! Just like many anxious people can get themselves worked up with repetitive behaviors like pacing, dogs who have trouble settling will often resort to "flight" behaviors. This will only increase their anxiety. Instead, provide a limited amount of space for them to hang out in. We recommend sending a pup to their "place," or if they are extra distressed, going ahead and helping them settle down in their crate. It's OK to move your crate or place set up to an area where you are also present. Sometimes that can help, too! At the very least, shut extra doors and restrict movement to a centralized room. With Swanson, we worked really hard on just sending him to "place" and reinforcing that he couldn't run through the house and hide. This allowed him to both be "in-command," which gives him clear expectations, and safe, as "place" is an extension of our crate training. If he were younger or less stable, I may opt for the crate.
3) Drown out the noise! White noise, the television, an air conditioner -- literally anything that reduces the amount of sound that's entering your pup's space. They are still going to hear the noise, but you can cut it down a bit. We like the Cooking Channel or young kid's cartoons for our pup's television background options because the voices are usually calm/friendly. A lot of our dog friends also enjoy talk radio.
4) High value CHEW activities! Chewing reduces stress and releases soothing hormones that help dogs relax. The act of chewing for a dog is similar to us getting a nice shoulder massage. Many, many dogs are too anxious to work on their typical treats, so pull out the extra stinky, extra delicious options! Bully sticks, naturally dried ears, trotters, etc. -- something that is nearly irresistible!
5) CBD! We love pre-measured chews and high quality CBD treats. The trick to using CBD effectively is to find a brand that is growing strains that are beneficial specifically to dogs with strict testing for dosage and purity. Our two favorite brands are Suzie's CBD and Treatibles. In our experience it is most effective to use pre-measured treats instead of oils. We love a Treatibles cookie dipped in Suzie's CBD peanut butter for those extra hard days. Dosage guides are available on each company's website, but you can always reach out to RT if you have questions on your specific pup's needs.
6) Get into a routine. Make the firework prep routine normal, especially on the weekends, even if you don't think you will need it that evening. Dogs LOVE predictability and schedule. If you practice the firework bedtime routine, it becomes a lot more familiar, which also helps reduce anxious reactions.
7) Desensitization exercises! Sound desensitization should really be done with the help of a professional trainer. We have had excellent results in combining scent exercises with increasing levels of firework sounds. Scent work, sniffing, and the like lowers dogs' blood pressure and heart rate, so combining that with unfamiliar, scary noises can be really therapeutic. These exercises require a keen understanding of your dog's stress threshold and how to SLOWLY increase the challenge to keep them successful. To get started on your own, play a low level YouTube video of fireworks on your phone -- be sure that the volume is set fairly low -- and practice "look" with a high value reward. Once you have eye contact, release your pup into a scent activity like a puzzle or a snuffle mat. For more involved exercises, please reach out to us for help!
8) Get your leash! Avoid baby talk and instead get your communication line open. Dogs speak really limited human language, but they are body language and pitch geniuses. If you melt when they melt and start using really soft, concerned language, that can accidentally reinforce their fear. It is totally reasonable to show kindness to your scared pup. But, remember, human kindness is not the same as dog kindness. If your dog is struggling, put them on a leash and do a few leash work exercises (ie. heel positions; rounds of soothing pressure using a K9 Lifeline transitional leash; practicing "center," "tuck," "right," "left"). Even just being on a leash and walking slowly around a room and forming tight circles can reconnect and refocus a dog. Try to remember that connection through the leash can help a dog, but coddling can reinforce their fear. Get into your dog's needs, and show them that you know they are scared but they can totally handle it and work through it. We recommend keeping a few slip leads around as your house leash in times where your dog needs a little extra reinforcement.
9) Adaptil diffusers! Adaptil is a synthetic pheromone diffuser that mimics the pheromones released by mother dogs nursing their pups. It takes about three days for the effect of an Adaptil plug in to be noticeable, so order or pick one up and get it plugged in near to where you want your dog to settle for fireworks. We recommend leaving them plugged in by your crate full time, but they also have GREAT travel products. Adaptil spray can be applied to bedding or bandanas for a more instantaneous effect. It is far from a panacea, but with the other tools we mentioned, it can really boost the progress your dog makes.
Truly, with all scary sounds, the most important things you can do for your dog is provide a safe place to be, provide structure, and reinforce their coping skills using training exercises. If you can work on a solid plan for your pup to work through their firework or thunderstorm anxiety, it often will also have behavioral benefits to other scary triggers! It is worth the time and effort to help your dog go through fireworks successfully so that they can be more confident and stable as you meet new challenges together.
You can check out one of our buddies, Ms. Bailey Bae, working on her firework anxiety at Muttessori Academy last week! We are always happy to help you tackle these real world training goals through our day programming!
I have been trying to figure what to say as white dog business owner about Amy Cooper. Amy Cooper is the white woman who called the cops on a black man who asked her to leash her dog, in an attempt to cause him serious harm. She was not at any point in physical danger, and she even actively physically threatens the space of her victim Christian Cooper who asks her to stay back. PS- We are in the middle of a pandemic and her mask is draped across her chin, so as better to use her "call the cops" panic voice.
I keep thinking, over and over, is that it is deeply ingrained white privilege that assumes you don’t need to have control over your dog, or follow rules regarding dog management (ie: leash laws, poop scooping).
Firstly, I will be honest and say I didn’t notice Amy Cooper’s former dog struggling at first in the now infamous video. The pitch of her feigned terror, the laid out plan of threats, the knowing look in her eye- it was all too familiar and I was focused on her lies and the danger she posed. If you haven’t seen the video, take the time to watch it.
Many white animal lovers noticed the dog first, which is undeniably racist. Yea, she manhandled that dog during the conflict. She manhandled that dog with a lack of compassion that paled in comparison with her maliciousness in threatening Christian Cooper, a queer comic trailblazer, Harvard grad, and innocent bystander to her law disregard. The dog was in short term, minor distress. Christian was in peril. That is the reality of policing in this country. And that is what we need to be focusing on.
The RT team is regularly engaged in these typical interactions. A poorly trained, off leash dog comes bounding up to our structured pack, with their white owner waving their hands, sometimes attempting a failed recall, sometimes yelling about the supposed friendliness. Often times, these instances escalate quickly, and several of my team are vulnerable to police violence, but none in the very specific way that a black man is, as we currently do not have any black men on our staff.
During a recent family photo shoot, I asked a white man to leash his dog in a leash-only section of a local park. I am direct, firm and unyielding. I am also incredibly visibly queer, and so is my spouse. The enraged white man began threatening us, causing a scene. It was ugly. Cara (who was also having family pics taken) had to step in with her dog Jonas and offer to remove his muzzle if he continued harassing us. The white man had his dog in a non-off leash section, had little verbal control, the dog wasn’t wearing the required license tag to access the off-leash space (known as a green dog tag). Rio, sensing my panic, was in a full shield bark in a blocking position. I asked the man to leash the dog because we had our full pack on leash, and were taking a few pictures when the off-leash dog entered into the shot. The mere suggestion of a leash turned to aggression in almost no time flat.
If the cops had been called, I would have run. Trans people are not safe in police custody. But the man didn’t threaten that, which one can assume was also because we are white, and eventually wandered away to ruin to someone else’s day. I know that had we been Black, it would have been exponentially worse. This guy wasn’t going to tolerate two white queer folk telling him to leash up- with a pack of 3 (then 4) defensive dogs, and a photographer and a witness. If we had been anything other than white, we could be dead. By the police. For asking someone to follow basic regulations.
Today, June 1st, a memory popped up on my Facebook, and I hesitate to share it because I don’t want to take away from the the fact that we need to focus on justice for Black folx, individually and systemically. But I want to drive home the incredible, presumptuous privilege, that comes within white people and dog culture.
Last year I was assaulted 4 notable times (and countless stupid verbal interactions) as a visibly queer person with a service dog. The first time, I was grocery shopping. I had my back turned to Rio, who was standing in a tight position behind me, facing the cooler I was reaching into. A kid, between the age of 6-8 waltzed up to her and gripped the fur on her back. I startled as Rio changed position, and turned around. The child knew she had done wrong. I calmly said “Stop touching her. It is incredibly rude to touch a service dog. Go away and find your parents.” The child began to cry. I do not feel bad, I wasn’t overly cruel, and this kid was screwing with the settings on my medical device while I tried to get through an errand. It is not my job as a person with a disability to make other people’s kids comfortable with my adult with a disability boundaries. When the kid returned to her dad crying- he came at me. Up to this point, nose buried in his phone, he was not paying any attention to his kid, who had wandered 3 aisles over to harass me. He ran up to me screaming, and threw a punch, which I avoided mostly because he couldn’t get too close to me because Rio was in a front shield (creating space). He threatened the dog, he threatened me. Customers all around us watched silently. He then tracked me through the store until I went and got a manager, which I could do because I was white- who made him stop but didn’t ask them to leave- because the man's comfort was still more important my safety as a transperson with a disability.
White privilege is in EVERY action, EVERY system, every engagement. I have it, even as a trans person with a disability, I would be impacted differently, and more severely if I was also a person of color.
It is a place of privilege to believe you are above leash laws. It is a place of privilege to believe that your dog deserves better treatment then black people, subconsciously or actively. It is work to change the inherent racism that permeates white people's actions. We must do it. My dogs have their own bedroom and are the most spoiled creatures that have ever lived. But they do not deserve to run off leash more than anyone else deserves to be comfortable in their presence.
To go one step further, I believe that it comes from a place of privilege to not properly train or manage your dog. I am not talking about the people who can’t afford professional help, and are googling the best they can while wrestling their pup on a leash. I am talking about the Karens who believe that if I am allowed accommodation for my highly trained service dog in public, they should be able to shove their doodle into a vest because they like having their dog around. I am talking about the Amy Coopers who believe they don’t have to leash their dogs, and when asked, threaten murder. That’s what calling the cops on black folk is in this situation- threatening murder.
Dogs have a long and complicated history of being involved in racial violence, and comment from the President this week reinforces this. To quote Donald Trump, he threatened with “The most vicious dogs”. Do you know how white people, especially law enforcement, have weaponized dogs specifically to terrorize black communities? They have, and there is a long historical record of it. You can do some further reading, here.
White people, white dog owners- we have a lot to do. We have a lot to be accountable for, we have a lot to work incredibly hard to dismantle and make better. But don’t leave your dog ownership out of it. Do not weaponize your dog by refusing to leash, by poorly training recall, by not using an e-collar to reinforce and correct misbehavior in high distraction environments like public parks, faking service dogs, by not using long lines. Your dog does not have the automatic right to access to off leash exercise over the right of black people to live. You do not have the right to assume that your dog is “good enough” when it could terrorize another human being- simply by approaching them.
As white dog professionals, we have the obligation to call in our clients, ensure that they understand that anything less than 100% recall means we stay on leash unless we are in a designated, fenced, dog area. As white dog professionals we have the obligation to follow leash laws and encourage others to do the same. As white dog professionals we have the obligation to recognize the role of dogs in systemic violence, and work to create avenues that allow safety, emotionally and physically, for those afraid of dogs. As white dog professionals we have the obligation to provide a welcoming, safe, informed environment for BIPOC seeking services and support for their own dogs. We have the obligation of calling in white dog owners who believe their dog is "inherently racist".
Ruff Translating’s official company stance is that we are with Black Lives Matter. We stand against police violence. And we stand against the Amy Coopers of the world who are irresponsible dog owners, but more importantly- are so entrenched in dog owner privilege they commit racist acts endangering the lives of those more vulnerable. Don’t call the cops. Leash your fucking dog. And remember that training is the only way to access public spaces, and that your poorly trained dog is a threat to the safety of both people and other dogs. White dog culture is not just memes, it’s not just dogs in sweaters, it is also deeply entrenched entitlement. That entitlement is downright dangerous, for people and dogs. And we must change.