Don’t just ban it!

bannedWhy is it our immediate solution to every problem these days is just to ‘ban it’ rather than to try to solve it? This appears to be particularly true with regards to anything dog related. It seems like almost every day there’s an article in the news telling us that dogs have been banned from somewhere; beaches, town centres, parks, outside schools, the list is endless. If we are not every careful, one day we’ll find that there isn’t anywhere left where we can take our dogs, on or off the lead, at all.

In April this year the Kennel Club noted that the overall countrywide trend seemed to be to effectively “ghettoise” dogs, forcing them into increasingly congested, designated areas: Society is creating dog ghettos

To me, one of the saddest bans is when I see huge signs being put up forbidding us to take dogs anywhere near schools. When I was a kid, one of my greatest pleasures was Mum meeting me at the school gate with the family dog at the end of the day ready for a lovely, healthy romp home through the park. What does it say about our society if that has been replaced with Mum fetching the kids in the car while the family dog is left shut up at home?

Let’s ban the banning! Around schools, let’s ask parents to keep their dogs on leads at all times. Let’s teach children never to try and stroke a strange dog, and also how to do so properly if, and only if, the owner has said it is OK. In our city centres, parks and beaches, let’s bring back good manners and ask owners not to ever just let their dogs run up to other people or other dogs, even if they are sure their dog is just being friendly. Let’s provide plenty of bins and insist owners clean up. By all means, let’s provide play areas for kids where dogs are not allowed to run free, but let’s not just ban dogs from everywhere.

If we work together, surely we can find solutions to situations that create a desire for some people to call for dogs to be banned from everywhere before it is too late and dogs are just banned from all of our lives completely?

Some dogs just need more s p a c e

We support Yellow Dog UKAlthough many of you will have already seen the Yellow Dog advert box we’ve been displaying for a while, I thought it would also be a good idea to write a bit about this rapidly growing concept and to ask all of you to help spread this brilliant idea far and wide.

Yellow Dog is an international campaign which began in June last year in Sweden and is designed to create awareness that ‘some dogs need more space’. Support is rapidly growing wordwide, with dedicated websites now available in many countries, including the UK: Yellow Dog UK

Like most great ideas, the Yellow Dog concept is simple – if you and your dog need some space, then place a yellow ribbon, strip or bandanna on your dog’s leash to let other people know.

There can be all sorts of reasons why some dogs don’t like being approached by strangers, especially other dogs. For example, they may be:

  • unwell or recovering from surgery
  • newly rescued or rehomed
  • in training or rehabilitation
  • naturally fearful and/or under-socialised
  • in season
  • old and perhaps in discomfort

The problem is that some people, especially those who don’t have dogs or who have ‘happy-go-lucky’ dogs who get on with everyone, don’t always stop to think about the stress they can cause by approaching too close to a dog who ‘just needs more space’. There is nothing more scary than a bouncy dog and/or a well-meaning, over-friendly person bearing down on you when you have a nervous dog ready to explode on the end of your leash! Unfortunately, if you’re scared, your dog will know it and that will just make him worse…

So, please remember – if you see a dog with a YELLOW ribbon, bandanna or similar on the leash or on the dog, this dog needs some space. Please, do not approach the dog or his people or allow your dog to get too close. How close is too close? Only the dog or his people know, so maintain your distance and give them time to move out of your way.

I read a wonderful comment on Facebook recently from an owner who is so thrilled at how much better her dog is out walking now that she is using a yellow ribbon and people and other dogs are giving them the space they need. It is clearly a win-win situation, because her new-found confidence is rubbing off on her dog who, in turn, is becoming much calmer and better-behaved and may, one day, no longer need that space.

Of course, the Yellow Dog concept can only work if people know what the yellow ribbon means and are willing to respect it, so the more people you tell, the better – not just other dog owners but everyone! Mums and Dads, tell your kids, teachers tell your pupils, everyone tell your friends and work mates. Let’s ensure that by the end of 2013, EVERYONE knows that if a dog is wearing a yellow ribbon, you and your dog need to stay back and give them the space they need! Thank you.

Take The Paws Greeting Challenge!

Greeting: A means of communication where two or more sentient beings make their presence known to each other.

Human greeting customs are both culture and situation specific, and also differ depending upon social status and relationship. If you were meeting the Queen, for example, you’d bow/curtsey to show respect and not speak until spoken to, whereas if you were greeting an old friend, you might offer your hand or maybe just go for a hug and/or kissing of cheeks. One, two and even three kisses on alternative cheeks are all acceptable options, depending upon local custom. In certain cultures, the handshake and/or kissing might even be replaced with a nose rub.

Unfortunately, for some peculiar reason, we humans seem to assume that our customs and rituals are perfectly acceptable for other species too. Although, in fairness, perhaps I should say, some other species. I doubt very many humans would be so unwise as to run up to a mountain lion and try to kiss it on both cheeks. Well, not twice, anyway!

Which makes it all the more difficult to explain why so many of us rush over to a dog we don’t know with hand outstretched, burbling unintelligibly in a high-pitched, excited voice? Approaching a dog in this manner actually breaks so many rules of social etiquette for dogs, that he or she is likely to be at best bewildered, and at worse totally freaked out. In the dog world, personal space is very important, and invading it inappropriately can be seen as a deliberate act of dominance.

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean we have to adopt the dog’s greeting rituals because, I have to admit that the idea of sniffing first noses and then under ‘tails’, so to speak, doesn’t fill me with any great enthusiasm. Dog behaviourists, however, have determined that the best and safest way for a human to greet any dog, regardless of whether you’ve met before or not, is to initially ignore him – no eye contact, don’t talk to him and don’t try to pet him. From the dog’s point of view this is not being unfriendly, it’s being polite and it gives him time to calmly sniff you and either learn about you or remember you from a previous encounter.

Watching his body language will tell when/if he’s ready for you to take the encounter further, as will his owner, who knows the dog best and can advise you on what is OK and what is not. If a dog looks tense or scared, he probably is. Never try to pet a dog who is giving you an intense stare, especially if he’s standing stiff and motionless, looking at you out of the corner of his eye and/or licking his lips. A friendly dog will be wagging his tail or holding it in a relaxed manner, his eyes will be soft and blinking and his mouth slightly open.

The reason it’s so important to greet a dog properly is not just because it’s more polite! Incidents of dog bites continue to increase year on year with the number of bites resulting in hospital admission up by over 5% in the UK in the past year alone. Some of these injuries can be horrendous and, although very few people actually die from a dog attack, those that do are usually small children.

Humans though, are not the only victims. The number of dogs seized and put down under the dangerous dogs act is also significantly on the rise, and some owners are now so fearful of the consequences should their dog become scared and bite someone, they have become nervous about people petting their dogs at all. Ironically, if the owner is anxious, the dog will pick up on this and become more tense and nervous himself, making a bite more likely.

So, next time you meet a dog, try the Paws Greetings Challenge and see if you can resist petting him until he’s sniffed you first. If you want, you can explain to the owner what you are doing and why, so they don’t think you are ignoring their pet because you don’t like dogs.

Old habits are hard to break, so you might be surprised how difficult it is at first! However, if we can all help to avoid senseless bites and keep our dogs safe, calm and happy, it’s got to be worth the effort! Please let us know how you get on.

Let’s end BSL

No doubt you will all have been aware of the sad events in Northern Ireland this week as dog lovers from around the world fought in vain to save the life of Lennox the American Bulldog, who was destroyed by Belfast City Council under the BSL regulations in the current Dangerous Dogs Act: The Dangerous Dogs Act

Lennox’s story highlights the extreme importance for all of us who own and love dogs to get this legislation changed. Right now, the list of breeds banned is quite short but, even so, dogs like Lennox can fall foul of it just because they have similar traits/characteristics of the banned Pitbull. It is all too easy for other dog breeds to be added to this list too, and beautiful Staffordshire Bull Terriers could well find themselves the next ‘demonised’ bully breed if we are not careful, not because they are naturally vicious or dangerous but because a few ‘idiots’ have chosen to use them for fighting and have deliberately goaded some dogs into becoming aggressive. As Lou recently pointed out in her article, Staffy Discrimination other breeds have been equally demonised in the past, including the German Shepherd, the Rottweiler and the Doberman. It is a frightening thought that, if something isn’t done to change our current dog laws, future generations may well never know the joys of owning many of these wonderful breeds at all.

What happened to Lennox was very sad and very wrong. Many hearts have been broken by this story, not least that of the little girl who was Lennox’s best friend. The best way we can honour his memory is by all coming together to fight the injustices of Breed Specific Legislation, and keep on fighting it until those in power get the message that it is bad owners we want punished and not innocent dogs, no matter what their breed.

If you would like to help support the end of BSL worldwide, please sign Lennox’ Law now: Lennox’ Law

Never forget that Lennox is only one of thousands of innocent dogs that have lost, or will lose, their lives because of BSL. The longer it takes us to win this fight, the more innocent dogs may die.

For more on this topic see:

Dangerous Dogs

Defra Dangerous Dogs Consultation Responses

epetition – Amend the Dangerous Dogs Act and end BSL.

No bites for Postie

Having only just launched our Barks but no bites in Berkshire campaign aimed at trying to make this the safest county in the UK for dog bite incidents, it was a bit disheartening to see this article in the local news this week:
Why do dogs attack posties in Bracknell?
Of course, a dog biting the post person scenario has always been a bit of a joke, unless you happen to be a post person, of course – in which case having an out of control dog on your daily round is anything but amusing! To be honest, with a bit of consideration and thought, it should also be totally unnecessary too.

As the Royal Mail worker in the article says, we have all been told that the reason a dog targets any delivery person is because the dog’s action is almost always instantly rewarded by success – the dog barks and/or growls, the delivery person goes away. What we are often not told, until it is too late, is that it is not very sensible to actually encourage your dog to become excited and to bark when someone comes to the door in the first place. When you stop and think about it, what is the point? If the person at the door is someone we want to invite in, we certainly don’t want our dog to be over-excited and jumping around our guests. If it is someone delivering something, or maybe wanting to read the meter, again we just want to be able to deal with it and close the door. We don’t want or need any input from our dog at all.

Here are our top tips to keep postie safe:

If you have, or are thinking of getting, a new puppy, then start as you mean to go on by rewarding him/her for being quiet and calm when someone comes to the door. You might want to keep a jar of treats by the door and ask visitors to give one to your puppy to help teach him that a visitor or delivery person is a good thing not a bad thing.

If your dog is already conditioned to over-reacting to visitors, you can still take steps to change that behaviour, by asking him/her to be calm, and rewarding acceptable behaviour. However, if your dog is likely to become aggressive with strangers, do not ask anyone to feed him/her treats directly, although they may still be able to throw your dog a treat without putting themselves in any danger.

If possible, make sure that your dog can’t get direct access to the front door at all, possibly by putting up a dog gate in the hallway. If that is not practical, then consider fitting a letterbox cage on the door so that your post person can open the letterbox without any danger of having his/her fingers bitten. Another option is to fit a lockable outside post box on the wall so that your post person doesn’t have to use the letterbox at all.

If your dog can’t be trusted to behave at the front door then shut him in another room before you go to answer it. Again, if you practice rewarding quiet, calm behaviour, you can gradually recondition him/her to see visitors as a good thing.

If your dog is likely to be in the garden alone, then make sure your back gate is secure and, if necessary fit chicken wire around the edges and along the bottom so that your dog can’t get his muzzle through anywhere to nip anyone. A dog should never be loose on his/her own in a front garden and/or where visitors have free access.

If your dog does threaten or bite your post person and is reported, the best outcome could be that Royal Mail refuse to deliver your post in future and you have to go and get it yourself. If you have ever queued up to collect a parcel you won’t need telling that you would not want to do this on a daily basis. The worst outcome however is that you could be fined under the Dangerous Dogs Act and your dog may be taken away from you and even PTS. Don’t wait until it is too late. Act now and keep your postie safe!

If you have any other thoughts or suggestions on how to keep our posties safe, please let us know.

Barks but no bites in Berkshire

Bites from dogs in the UK have doubled in the last decade and now put over 6,000 victims a year in hospital:Annual UK dog bite figures
We all hope it’s something that won’t happen to us or our family, and we certainly all hope that our own dogs will never bite us or anyone else. However, there are some things we can all do to help make sure we don’t get bitten, and some signs we can all learn to watch for that will tell us if a dog is about to bite. Who better to explain than world-renowned Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan:Why Dog Bites Happen
We advise everyone to make sure they and all their family are fully aware of the main triggers Cesar has identified:
Possessiveness – this might be over a toy or food, or maybe even a person or another animal.
Fear – usually towards something or someone unfamiliar. Never touch a strange dog without checking it is OK first.
Pain – be especially careful of older dogs that may have chronic pain.
Maternal Instinct – mother dogs with puppies need our respect and a safe place to be alone.
Prey Drive – usually triggered by someone running or cycling etc. Remember that if a dog does chase you, the best thing to do is to stand still. Do not make eye contact and, if the dog comes up and sniffs you, do nothing. If a dog knocks you over, curl up in a ball to protect your face, hands and neck and keep very still.

We also think it is great advice to show children what to do if a dog chases them, and to practice this regularly, in the same way you might practice a fire drill. If you work in a local school, maybe this is something you could suggest teaching in the classroom too? Take care when you present this training that you do not make children unnecessarily scared of dogs and remind them that dogs rarely ever bite without a good reason.

Please also see our special ‘Barks But No Bites in Berkshire’ poster image which we hope you will find useful:

Together, lets see if we can make Berkshire the safest county in the UK for us and our dogs!