Muzzling for Wildlife Safety with Michael Shikashio

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla and Michael Shikashio from The Bitey End of the Dog discuss muzzling. They cover why conservation detection dogs might need muzzles and the best way to acclimate your dog to wearing one.

Show Notes

Why is a muzzle a good idea for a CDD based on their work?

  • Muzzles aren’t just for biting, they can also protect the dog from ingesting things they shouldn’t.

Types of muzzles and what sort is best for a working dog wearing it long-term

  • Three things to look for are comfort, safety (biting, ingesting things, etc.), and function of the dog’s normal behavior
  • Materials are important to consider
  • Leather
  • Biothane
  • Hard/soft plastic
  • Metal
  • Vinyl
  • Rubber

Consider the construction of the muzzle

  • Does it have a safety strap?

Brands to consider are:

Introducing the muzzle/Acclimating a dog to muzzle for long term wear

  • Create positive associations
  • Take your time
  • Go at the dog’s pace
  • Use positive reinforcers with your muzzle to create positive associations
  • Gradually increase the time
  • Careful with dogs that resource guard
  • Break down the steps slowly with the straps
  • Once the muzzle is on, start moving and reinforce
  • Slow and steady wins the race
  • After acclimation, always work with your dog in a level they can tolerate
  • Set your dog up for success, especially while wearing the muzzle

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Where to find Michael Shikashio: Website The Bitey End of the Dog

You can support the K9 Conservationists Podcast by joining our Patreon at patreon.com/k9conservationists

Go Fund Me

Full Transcript

Thanks to Dr. Meg du Bray for this transcript!

Kayla Fratt (KF)  0:09  

Hello, and welcome to the K9 Conservationists podcast, where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt, and I’m excited to be joined today by Michael Shikashio to talk about muzzles. So, this might seem like a strange place for a conservation detection dog podcast to start, but I hope it’s gonna make sense soon.  First, we’ve got a couple housekeeping things.

As you probably know, the podcast is brought to you by K9 Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data. You can support the work we do here by joining us on Patreon, or donating at k9conservationists.org. You’ll find both of those links in the show notes. If you don’t have the money, but still want to support us, consider reviewing the podcast or sharing it with a friend.

So, Michael Shikashio is a pretty amazing guy who wears a lot of hats. He’s perhaps best known for being a world expert in aggression in dogs. He teaches the fabulous Aggression in Dogs master course, works with aggressivedog.com, and he organizes the Aggression in Dogs conference, and really excels at bringing together a diverse range of lenses through which to view dog behavior. It’s really one of my favorite things about his podcast, Bitey End of the Dog. Michael also runs the Muzzle Up Project, which is why we’re talking today about muzzle training. So, I’ll drop in the links to all of the various places you can find Michael in our show notes again. You can also find him over on Clubhouse, so be sure to join him over there if you have started dabbling around in that app.

So Michael, we were talking a little bit before we got on about why I wanted to talk about muzzles for a conservation dog podcast. So just to recap, the basic idea is with a conservation detection dog, you are in a lot of cases expecting a very highly driven dog to be working off leash in the wilderness, often in the presence of an endangered animal. Not always, sometimes we’re working at a boat ramp just searching boats for an invasive species of mussel, or something like that. But in a lot of cases, you’ve got dogs that you’ve selected for really, really high drive really high ball drive, which often does correlate with prey drive, especially in some breeds. You’re expecting to have them off leash in areas where, for the general public, we would just tell them to leash their dog, or not bring their dog there at all, because it’s a known area for an endangered animal.

One of the things I’ve found really interesting about the industry here in the US in particular is that muzzles just don’t seem to be used very much in the line of work. And, in talking to a couple other handlers and trainers, it seems like there’s a little bit of a misunderstanding about how to get the dogs to really wear the muzzles comfortably in the long run. So this is going to be a pretty broad conversation about getting dogs to wear muzzles comfortably in the long run, but also hopefully, it’s going to be really helpful for our very specific audience here. So let’s talk a little bit about using muzzles as prevention or protective tool, where muzzles can be really useful, and if there’s anything else that we should be considering as a way to keep other animals safe from a dog. 

Michael Shikashio (MS)  3:22  

Yeah, so this is a really nice detour for me to talk about conservation dogs rather than dogs that are trying to bite and kill things all the time, so thanks for bringing me on here as well. When we’re talking about muzzles, typically people think it’s for dogs that are maybe gonna bite somebody, but that’s not the only reason we would use a muzzle. It’s one of the more common reasons of course, but they can be used for dogs, that for instance, have a tough time not eating stuff off the ground. So things that you know, there are there are conditions which some dogs will actually seek out whatever they can eat and put in their belly. And that can be life threatening. It’s good to prevent that, and a muzzle can be a very good deterrent to that, the dog can’t physically swallow something with a muzzle on in most cases. You might need to use it for dogs that, they don’t have any history aggression, but we’re putting them in a situation where there could be potential for a bite. So every dog who has teeth has the potential to bite. So, we might have situations where a dog is frightened, or maybe it’s an emergency scenario, we’ve got to transport them, state of emergency happens where the dog has been injured, there’s lots of scenarios where we would hope never happened to a dog but can come up in the future. And any dog that’s really frightened or scared could potentially bite so it’s always good to have as an extra layer safety for those just in case moments.

We use them sometimes when we’re introducing new dogs that we don’t have a history of how they are with other dogs, and they’re displaying pro-social body language, it’s not to say that we’re just throwing dogs into a gladiator ring and putting muzzles on them, right? We’re using them to safely, just if we don’t have any history, and we’re seeing good body language, it can be a good initial step just to prevent any kind of injuries or escalation. For those type of scenarios, they can be great even for dogs that are fearful of people. On really cute and fluffy dogs too who are irresistible, and people can’t help themselves to get closer and to stare at the dog or reach out. Muzzles can be a good universal signal that says, hey, you know, maybe you shouldn’t pet this dog, or go near this dog, for most cases, we all know people that still can’t resist that. But it can be helpful for the dog as a signal to help keep other people away from that particular dog as they’re learning to navigate the world. So lots and lots of different reasons we can use muzzles. It’s it’s not just for dogs who bite.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  5:51  

Yeah, definitely. There’s so much variety and different types and shapes of muzzles. So can we talk a little bit about some of the different types of muzzles that are available? And what may make the most sense given that we want a dog to be able to wear it comfortably and pant? And ideally, you know, with a conservation detection dog, we still want them to be able to scent well.

Michael Shikashio (MS)  6:12  

Absolutely. So the three things I look for in muzzles, when I’m considering a muzzle for a particular dog, is comfort for the dog. So it’s got them, we want them to be as most comfortable as possible wearing that particular muzzle. Safety, for whatever the reason we’re using it for. So, if it’s a dog that does have a bite history, is it going to be safe enough for that particular dog and their bite history, or is it going to be safe enough so that they physically can’t get things through the front of the muzzle to swallow, a rock or something like that. And the last thing I look at is function. How functional is the dog with that particular muzzle on for the tasks that we’re looking to do. So is it a dog that, well, for a conservation dog, are they going to be able to use their, their gear, or their nose, in the way we want them to with a muzzle on.

For dog that’s going out for a stroll and you know, maybe your brachycephalic breed, are they gonna be able to breathe normally with that muzzle on, so functioning of the dog’s normal behaviors is really important. So those are the three things I look for.

And then, what you’re gonna see with different types of muzzles is, first you’re gonna see the different types of materials, we can talk about that. So there’s different materials, depending on what you’re looking for in those three categories, you know, comfort, safety, and function. You have everything from leather, to biothane, to metal to vinyl, rubber, I’ve seen all kinds of different materials plastic, hard plastic, soft plastic, very soft sleeve, almost suede-like material, I’ve seen things that where it looks like a duck bill, and all these kind of other really interesting materials that they use for muzzles, but based on the material, that’s going to often dictate what kind of, it’s going to play a role in the safety, the function and the comfort for the dog. So, you’re going to look at the weight of that material first. So things like metal, of course, are going to be much heavier. So you’re going to discount some, often, comfort for the dog, if it’s a heavier muzzle, especially if it’s a dog that is not used to wearing something like that, but you’re gonna get a lot more safety with something like that. But if I went to look for something that I want the dog to have more function in what comfort with, but less safety, I might look at something like biothane. And we can talk about some of the brands of muzzles in a moment. But biothane is gonna be a lot more lightweight, it’s bendable, it’s breathable, much more so than some of the other styles and material because we’re not necessarily closing off the muzzle completely. So, it’s very customizable, much more so than some of the other materials. And then you have in-betweens: hard plastic, you’re gonna have higher safety level, generally lighter weight, but might not be as safe as some of the other metal-style brand muzzles. So, those are the categories I’m looking for.

So material, and then you’re going to look at the construction of it. So, whether you’re using leather or biothane, or metal, just how that’s, the construction is going to allow for those three criteria I was just mentioning. So has it got an extra safety strap, meaning a strap that goes over the top of the dog’s head, which adds a second attachment point for the dogs that have a tendency to try to slip the muzzle off or pull the muzzle off. The construction of the muzzle is also very important for me, from, for all those very well-functioning standpoint, safety, and comfort for the dog. So, look at the construction of the muzzle when you’re kind of deciding. And we can certainly talk about brands of muzzle. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  9:44  

Yeah, I, think I think it would be a good to we can talk about some muzzles, and I think also just kind of drawing out that specifically, and just kind of underlining for our listeners: I think the biggest thing that I would want to make sure people know is that we’re not talking about a sleeve muzzle here, where that is actually going to kind of clamp the dog’s mouth closed. While that might be useful, so for something like a veterinary visit, I would imagine you know, and kind of like an emergency situation where you’re just going to kind of slip it all the dog, hopefully get whatever needs to happen done, and then take it off, they’re okay for that sort of thing, but for our purposes, we’re definitely talking more about I think, generally like a basket style muzzle, right?

Michael Shikashio (MS)  10:23  

Yes, yeah. So any muzzle that will work for the sake of this show, I’m going to be talking about you know, duration muzzle, so a muzzle that the dog’s gonna be wearing for more than just a few minutes, mostly, so. Yeah, those sleeve muzzles are are not my favorite. Again, good for a quick groomer visit, nail trims, injection at the vet office. So, if you just need something for safety for just a brief moment, but they restrict breathing, they’re very uncomfortable for most dogs because the dog can’t open their mouth, and they’re not actually that safe. Some of the muzzles, vinyl muzzles, the dog can still bite, often with the front of their teeth, if the muzzle’s not fitted exactly right. So be careful with that style of muzzle.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  10:24  

Yeah, yeah, I’ve always wondered a little bit about how well they could still get you with their incisors. 

Michael Shikashio (MS)  10:58  

Yeah, it’s, I’ve seen it happen. So you have to be careful. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  11:16  

Yeah, yeah, we’d rather not. So yeah, do you have any kind of muzzle brands in particular that you like to point your clients toward or anyone that we should be thinking about? 

Michael Shikashio (MS)  11:26  

Yeah, so you know, you also want to consider costs of course. Muzzles can get expensive when you start looking at certain brands. The price range for muzzles is going to end up with anywhere from a few dollars, you can go on Amazon and get these full sets of plastic Italian style basket muzzles for like 20 bucks for like six or seven muzzles, which is really cheap. You do have to keep that in mind that they are cheap. And, all the way up to several hundred dollars for a custom fit custom built muzzle. So, I like you know, for most dogs, I’m going with the Baskerville Ultra muzzle because it’s readily available, it fits most dogs, you can change the shape of that muzzle by boiling and hot water, and you, like a mouthpiece, you can shape this, the size and the fit of that muzzle more. It’s got the extra top strap. They recently just redesigned that muzzle as well where you it’s got a quick clip instead of the previously, it had like a buckle loop-style neck strap, which was a little more difficult to put on. But the new quick clip makes it a little easier and they’ve got a floating head strap attachment now. You used to have to find this tiny little hole in the neck strap with a little lobster clasp. And that took forever to figure that out. But they’ve changed it now so that that head strap just naturally floats on the neck strap so you don’t have to adjust them. It fits most dogs. I will say though, that it is not 100% bite proof, so you have to be careful if you’ve got a bite risk dog that’s a high level bite risk, the Baskerville is not going to afford you the same amount of safety as a metal style muzzle that is that is wire caged with a leather comfort fit, no strap underneath, those are going to be much safer for dogs. You can get a Baskerville over on the $20, you know depending on where you live $15 to $30 range for Baskerville Ultra muzzle. So, that’s usually my go-to.

I will also lean towards the Jafco muzzles. That is a very popular muzzle as well. That one has, for longer snouts like, German Shepherds, Dobermans, I find that one works out better for sometimes, that one also comes with a head strap if you want that added safety so the dog can’t slip it off as easily. They also make a clear plastic version so you can see in the dog’s communication signals more than if it’s a opaque or darker colored muzzle. They’ve also made one with the treat hole, so it’s got, a like about a 1.5, 1.25 inch size hole in the front if you’re using food in your training. The dog can take food to that you can use a Food Tube or other type of long feeder type. If you’re using food as reinforcement, you can get the food in the muzzle a lot easier than it was just a single treat. So, I do like the Jafco a lot for those.

I will branch out to some of the other companies, the other brands of muzzles, depending on the case I have. If I’m looking for a custom fit muzzle, I recommend Bumas. They are a company based in Austria, but they have locations, they have a US location now. They are fully custom fit. You get everything in biothane, and they can do it for brachycephalic breeds, for real tiny dogs. They can do it for dogs the size of a horse, I’ve seen they’ve sent me samples with one of the muzzles is, literally you could fit a small dog inside the muzzle, so they can do a custom fit for really any size. That’s why I like them for, for those custom fits. They can do different colors, and the nice thing about the colors, the different colors is that, they, bright, like neon colors you can get, or you can really pick any design you want. And it’s softens the look of it. That can remove some of the Hannibal Lecter effects that you get with some of the wire cage, or some of the black muzzles. And, so it softens the look of it, it’s very comfortable, very lightweight. They are pricey, though, and they do take some time to get.

There’s another company, Trust Your Dog. So, trustyourdog.com, she also makes custom muzzles, and so she makes them both in the biothane style, and also the shell plastic style that the JAFCO company also makes. So, she can do one of those custom as well. It’s great that there’s an additional option for custom-fit muzzles out there, because both companies, from what I understand, there is a decent amount of wait time, because there is a high demand for those custom-fit muzzles. So, those are my probably top three recommendations. There are quite a few other styles and brands I recommend, but that’s typically my go-to for most cases.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  15:13  

Yeah. Do you have any, I think a lot of the, I know New Zealand as I mentioned, their conservation dogs seem to wear muzzles quite a bit. They deal a lot with like, ground-nesting, endangered birds: Kiwis and Kakapos. It seems like they are often having the dogs wear more of a metal, sighthound sort of muzzle, do you have any places that you like going for those? Or do you just not use them all that much because they are so heavy?

Michael Shikashio

I don’t often go to those, I will, there are a few different sites that I usually refer to. I mean, Amazon’s the easiest for most people around the world, there’s, that you know, to get. Generally though, Amazon’s selling the the plastic, Italian plastic, they call it Italian basket muzzles, or the kind of the light brown colored muzzles, they’re plastic, those can work in all cases. I find, though, that the fit, you really have to go much bigger than what you think you do. And that’s the, that’s the trend more now, is you know, ideally, the fit of muzzle, the dog should be able to hold the tennis ball in their mouth with the muzzle on. So, that’s when you know you have the right circumference around the muzzle, because, especially conservation dogs, they’re going to be working, they’re going to be panting, we want to make sure they can open-mouth pant, and have really free movement of their mouth to to do their job.

I look for that fit, and those Italian plastic muzzles don’t allow quite that open mouth. So, you really want to go super wide. And especially if it’s a conservation dog, you’re not necessarily worried about the dog being a dangerous bite risk. So, you have a little more luxury in them, with the fit of them. You’re not worried about like, somebody’s tiny hands sneaking into the muzzle or something like that.

Going back to the sighthound muzzles, there are a few sites, especially Dean and Tyler. They’d have a lot of working dog muzzles as well, for clients, or for pet owners that like to do sport bike sports with their dogs. So, yeah. I don’t know why I can’t think of them right now! I talk about them all the time. So yeah, so, you know, again, it’s, I don’t stick to just those few, but I do use them quite often because of the work I’m doing. So if it’s for something else, like conservation dogs, I might look at other aspects of the muzzle, like making sure that they can get full use of their nose. So, I’d probably be a lot less restrictive on the airflow that’s going through there, with lots more open spaces. So, something like the Baskerville style, where it has much more wider openings in it that’s gonna allow for full use of airflow in there. I think that’s important, right?

Kayla Fratt

Similar to anytime you’re having a dog wear a muzzle, hopefully we’re also implementing all sorts of good management to avoid needing to rely on the muzzle too much anyway, but I know, you know, having handled conservation dogs for a couple years now, I can only think of one instance where I kind of wished that the dog had been wearing a muzzle. I was working on a black-footed ferret project and the dog kind of put his head down a burrow and came up with a piece of cloth in his mouth that I at first thought was one of the critters. And I didn’t know whether it was a prairie dog or a ferret, and again, it turned out to be a piece of fabric. But that’s kind of the only time over two years that I had really wish that I’d had a muzzle on the dog that I was working.

So I know for me personally, I always have felt really confident getting a dog comfortable putting their nose into a muzzle and kind of wearing it for a little bit. Though, I think we’ll still go over that for our listeners here in case that’s something they’re not as familiar with. But what I would really like to talk about is kind of, helping dogs get comfortable wearing muzzles for a longer period of time. My dog Barley, and we haven’t been great about muzzle-training with him, but to this day, he still thinks he can’t urinate with a muzzle on. He’ll walk and wear it for, like five or 10 minutes pretty comfortably at a time, but he thinks he can’t pee with it on. There’s some definitely some selfishness behind these questions here. So, let’s talk about some of, I know you’ve got some really interesting ideas for helping getting a dog started wearing a muzzle, and let’s just start there.

Michael Shikashio (MS)  21:12  

So it’s all about creating positive associations when it comes to muzzling and we want to make sure that the dog, and this is really, really important because most dogs you don’t have to rush the muzzling process. There are some cases where there’s an argument of like, we’ve got to get a muzzle on much sooner than later in the program. But most dogs, there’s no rush, you have time. And that’s really important, is to take your time, because I find that once there’s a negative association, and that happens when we just slap a muzzle on a dog, and they, they feel like they’re restricted, or they feel like what is, like a straight jacket, you know, we can’t do normal things, it’s at least in their mind, that’s where you run the most risk of it taking a lot longer and having to troubleshoot and problem solve later on.

So, I always recommend taking time just take a moment to get the plan right, and go at the dog’s pace. Each dog is different. I’ve acclimated dogs to muzzles in five minutes, and some dogs, it’s taken five months, depending on the dog. Those are extreme rare cases where it takes that long, but it’s, it’s important to go at the dog’s pace. So, what, what most good muzzle acclamation programs will include is the use of food. So, we’re pairing the sight or having the muzzle on, or all things really related to the muzzle with good things happening. Usually it’s food, you can incorporate other activities, sometimes, and with some cases where food’s not an option. So, so you have a dog that’s not super food motivated, or a dog that has dietary restrictions or things, we can use other activities that predict, you know, are predicted by having the muzzle come out. So, whether it’s play, or hikes, or car rides, or whatever the dog likes, if that comes, the muzzle comes out right before the dog gets engaged in that super fun activity. That doesn’t mean strapping the muzzle on, it could just be like alright, I took this muzzle out, you saw it, and now we’re gonna go for a walk, and then the dog will start to associate that the muzzle coming out, predicts walks. And then, you start to gradually, like okay, you’re going to put the your nose in this thing before we go for the walk. And it’s the same thing done with food, you’re, you’re acclimating the dog to say, okay, anything you do with this muzzle, whether you put your nose in it, or you see it at first, we’re gonna make sure good things happen for you after you do that. And then, you gradually increase the duration of the time and the the steps in that process.

Depending on the dog, you might have them put their nose in the muzzle longer, you might be feeding them through the muzzle, or you might even be putting soft food items inside the muzzle, like peanut butter, or spray cheese or other soft, dog food or cat food even, inside the muzzles so that the dog’s going in there. Now, there there are dogs, you have to be careful when you do that, and I’ll explain that in a moment.

But it’s all about just, getting the dog to really, really be comfortable, like, putting the nose in there, having a good time with the muzzle on, because you’re gonna eventually want to put the muzzle on, put the neck strap on, you know, all that stuff. And we’ll get to that step in just a moment, but just want to back step or backpedal to the, why you want to be careful with putting food inside a muzzle. If you have a dog that has a tendency to resource guard food items, like, they have a history of like, guarding a stuffed Kong toy that had peanut butter in it, or their food bowl, even if at a minimal level. Maybe they just growled, or lifted their lip or something like that, you want to be careful with doing any kind of smearing food inside a muzzle, especially if you’re using like something like a food bowl or the box of the muzzle to just hold the muzzle, and I show that one of my videos where the box is actually used just as a muzzle holder, it makes it really easy to acclimate the dog, but just make sure it’s not a resource guarding dog because what can happen is there they might start resource guarding the muzzle, because it’s always got really yummy food in it. So, just be careful with that if you have a dog like that, you always want them to, you always want to present the food outside the muzzle so the muzzles not equated with food being inside it.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  24:58  

That makes sense, yeah.

Michael Shikashio (MS)  24:57  

So it can go, dog puts their snout inside the muzzle, and I will mark that, or I’ll tell them  “good!” And then they hear that word, and then they pull their nose out of the muzzle, and then I reinforce them outside of the muzzle. The dog’s still learning the behavior of putting the nose in the muzzle, and the association’s still happening, but we’re reinforcing outside, so the dog’s not associating treats happening inside the muzzle. So, that’s, that doesn’t happen too often. So, most of the time, you can get away with a super lazy version of just putting food inside the muzzle, dog puts their nose in there, and just keep building onto the steps. So, let’s move on to the next, the neck strapping part, which is where a lot of dogs will have trouble with too, because we’re now reaching around their neck. So, if you have a dog that has, kind of little sensitive to people reaching around the neck, or putting a collar on or putting a harness on, or any kind of equipment, you’re going to want to break down that putting on the neck strap part a little more slowly. And what you can do is, where you’re just literally putting the motion of it.

You might add not even start with the muzzle itself, you might just pretend you’re reaching around the dog’s neck. And we’re pairing that with good things. So I’m going to reach around your neck, and here’s a cookie. We’re going to pause for a second, I’m going to reach slightly around your neck, and here’s a cookie, pause for a second. That pauses to make sure the dog understands what’s really happening, is that reaching around the neck predicts the treat. And then, you start to build in, okay, let me try to put a regular collar on you. Let me try to put the muzzle strap around your neck, but I’m not going to clip it, I’m not going to buckle it, I’m just going to hold it there for a millisecond. The muzzle strap, without the muzzle being on your nose, so the muzzle is just hanging down, and neck strap’s going on. I’m gonna just hold that for a second, and then I’m going to give you a treat after, and then we’re going to rinse and repeat that a few times.

Then, you start moving on to clipping the, or attaching the neck strap around for just a few seconds without the muzzle actually on the dog’s nose. And then, you gradually can continue building up to, now that muzzle’s on your nose, and now I’m going to put the neck strap on for just a brief second. And then, so you get, I’m sure you can kind of figure out the gradual steps there. It’s very gradual, and then the dog starts to really build up a positive association with the muzzle coming on. Now, when you do get the muzzle on, you got the neck strap on, the muzzle is looking good, dog’s got it on, the worst thing you can do is stand there and watch to see what happens. Because a lot of dogs, once they’ve done a beautiful job, they’ve been excited about the muzzle being coming out, so they put their nose in it right away, they get all excited when they see the muzzle, they’re fine putting the neck strap on.

And then what happens is, they stand there, like, wait a second, you’re not going to take it off now? And then they start experimenting with it, maybe they start rubbing their nose, or maybe they start pawing at it, and then that what happens is, it can get self reinforced if, if, worst case scenario, they are able to get the muzzle off, that’s the worst thing that can happen, is that they’ll really try to remember doing that in the future. Or they just get irritated in, so they start gator rolling on the ground, or rubbing their nose in the grass, whatever. So best thing to do, once the muzzle’s on start moving. Get the dog on a leash, this is a good thing to do, like you should have a leash early on, and pretend like you’re going for a walk, or actually go for a walk. And as you’re going for the walk, reinforce the heck out of the dog. Every few seconds, treat happens, treat, treat, treat, treat, treat, as you’re walking, just like you’re teaching loose leash walking, or anything else. And you’re going to continually reinforce, treat, treat, treat, treat, treat, in that way, the dogs make ‘Alright, I’m moving with this thing on my face, and I’m getting treats. So there’s no need for me to focus on this for a moment. But I’m also getting treats it’s not so bad.’ So, it’s kind of like, somebody’s just figuring out like, when they first get ski boots on, if they learned how to walk with their ski boots, on it’s like, you’ve, something really weird’s on you, and you’ve got to figure out how to function normally.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  26:00  

 Yeah.

Michael Shikashio (MS)  26:30  

With that equipment on. Same thing with a muzzle. And that’s why like, dogs like, they get a muzzle on, they’d like, some of them will just freeze, and just they don’t move, or they think life is over, so they don’t pee, they don’t move, they don’t think, like they’re completely frozen. And that usually just means it’s an acclimation issue, it’s like to go back to get the dog acclimated to it. Or, in some cases, if you’ve had a dog with a muzzle, and they hate that particular muzzle or they you know, they don’t like muzzling, switch the type of muzzle.

One of quick things you can do is, let’s say they have a Baskerville muzzle, and they hate it. Like, they see the Baskerville muzzle they, they just, life is awful for them when they have the muzzle on, they just flop down, they don’t move, they don’t do anything. Switch the type of muzzle. Go back and go to a new acclimation process, but go to a JAFCO plastic muzzle, so that way the dog says this is different. So maybe this time, it’ll be a little different. Sometimes you can get a little bit of equity in that, and you can speed the process up, but don’t go back to old habits of just slapping that new muzzle on. It’s got to be slow and steady. So, that’s kind of the quick and dirty version of muzzle acclimation with troubleshooting some of the common things I see that can come muzzle acclimation.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  29:56  

Yeah, that made a lot of sense that I think that’ll be really helpful. And we’ll be sure in the shownotes, to link in some of the videos, because it is the sort of thing that is just so helpful to see on video, and I know, I’ve seen some really, really cool, smart videos that are probably more useful for a dog that might have more serious issues being handled or with aggression directed towards their owner. Hopefully, most of our conservation dogs that are listening are, are not going to fall into that camp and should be a little bit easier to, you don’t have to get super creative with gluing your muzzle, like hanging your muzzle on the wall, and rewarding them remotely or anything like that, hopefully. We want put those videos in anyway, just because they’re cool to see.

Okay, so I think as we’re kind of wrapping up here, because I think that’s most of what I wanted to cover, I wanted to you know, pick your brain as you’re as you’re thinking, you know, with clients about getting their dog ready to wear muzzle, so say that, you know, I would imagine you don’t have to, you don’t work with a lot of dogs where predatory behavior is the main problem, but you know, they’re they’re out and about, they might run into their trigger, and that’s kind of the same issue.

What are some of the other, you know, preventative and management techniques that you like to get in place for your clients, to just help make sure that we’re not slapping the muzzle on and hoping for the best as we go out into the world?

Michael Shikashio (MS)  31:21  

Yeah, so you know, it’s kind of twofold, you want to, if the reason for the muzzle is for aggression, or, you know, the responses that we, we deem undesirable, it’s important to make sure we’re always working with a dog at a level that they can tolerate, especially when you got a muzzle on, because that’s, can feel restricted to some dogs. Even if we do a lot of good acclamation, it can still suppress some behaviors, it can still create some anxiety in some dogs. And again, I want to say that, that’s a small percentage of dogs, most dogs, if you acclimate the muzzle well, it’s going to be just like any other piece of equipment you put on them. It’s just like the harness, a tracking harness, or a, you know, particular type of collar or costume we use on Halloween, or whatever it is, if we acclimate them to wearing it, they’re going to be like, this is just another day, it’s just a normal thing. So, it’s not going to have much effect on behavior. We don’t want that impact on behavior for many reasons, we don’t want them feeling additional stress in a potentially already stressful environment. We also don’t want to get false positives, you know, so you put a muzzle on some dogs, and now it looks like they’re, air quotes, big air quotes here and looks like they’re “well-behaved,” but they’re just being suppressed. Because they’re saying, Okay, I got the muzzle on, so I won’t do anything. But once it comes off, the game is on. So, important to really, really go at the dog’s pace.

With my clients, I’m always looking at setting the dog up for success. So, using the typical criteria I use to make sure the dog is is not going to have over threshold moments. So things like, displaying behaviors we don’t want to see, like barking, lunging, growling, snarling, biting, we’ve, the ways to control that is to make sure you have enough distance from whatever it is they have issues with. And, make sure the intensity of that particular stimulus is at a level the dog can handle. So, if it’s, if the dog has issues with other dogs, and I’m working around other dogs, that other dog has to be at a sufficient distance for the dog I’m working with is just noticing that other dog, so we’re keeping them under threshold. But, it, a lot depends on what the other dog is doing. If that other dog is barking, lunging, growling at the dog I’m handling, that’s a lot more intense for the dog I’m handling so we’re going to need much more distance with that particular dog that we’re around, versus a dog that’s just sleeping and minding its own business, I might be able to get much closer. So now, when you add the muzzle in, if you have a dog that hasn’t been muzzle acclimated, and we’re just doing it for safety, I might need even more distance, because the dog I’m working with is going to feel restricted in their own ability to communicate their own ability to exhibit certain behaviors. So, always keep that in mind that has to do with any equipment or any changes, whatever you’re doing with dogs to, to, kind of, balance that out.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  34:31  

Excellent. I know one of the things that I’ve thought about a little bit as you know, we’re moving towards our next deployment for my dogs, and I, well, not our next one because we, we luckily our next couple field projects are not all that intense as far as potential for being around prey animals. But I know some of the things I’ve thought about a lot have partially come down to the selecting the dogs for this work. I personally don’t really like working with our breeds that are common in detection dog world that may correlate with higher prey drive. So, Malinois are really, really common and really excellent at a lot of detection dog stuff, but I actually prefer not to work them for kind of the prey drive issue. I like more of our labs, our spaniels, our Border Collies. We can just set ourselves up for success in this line of work by not choosing a breed that has a more intact predatory sequence. You have anything you want to say?

Michael Shikashio (MS)  38:10  

Yeah, you know, I was thinking about the the muzzles for those. So, I was going back to the kind of, what to look for with those particular dogs in terms of the safety aspects and the functional aspects that we were mentioning earlier. What type of muzzles would be best in those kind of scenarios. So I’m thinking that the obviously a softer, lightweight, comfortable muzzle is going to be most appropriate, because it’s going to allow for the dog to do the job at its best, right, because it’s not a heavy weighted muzzle, we don’t necessarily need to protect somebody from a high bite risk. But you also need something with a lot of airflow to ensure that the dog is getting the scent, and it’s not impacted by scent, I imagine even the material would play a role because some of the muzzles coming straight from a factory probably have some real heavy smells, it’s something to consider in your work. So, something that would allow for a lot of open space around the nose, around the, around the scent area and then, that’s, but but it’s going to prevent any teeth from injuring any small critters. Also, though from any kind of muzzle punching activity, so like something if a dog’s got a wire, heavy wire cage muzzle on, I know from all my experience, it still hurts really bad if they come over and muzzle punch you with that on versus, let’s say biothane-made muzzle is much softer impact. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  39:32  

That makes sense, yeah.

Michael Shikashio (MS)  39:33  

So, something to consider for the critters, you know, yeah. We want, very safe. If there is going to be any impact, the less the better, I’m sure. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  39:41  

I’m sure, yeah. 

Michael Shikashio (MS)  39:43  

In those rare circumstances. So, something I think you should talk to, like one of the custom ones, you can maybe get like, conservation-specific muzzles designed?

Kayla Fratt (KF)  39:52  

Yeah, yeah, I think I’m gonna peruse Dean and Tyler a little bit as well tonight, and see if, I think I’ll drop in the show notes any that I’m kind of looking at and thinking that they look really well suited. I’ll ask around a little bit as well, because I’ve seen a couple really cool ones that are almost completely open up top, but then do kind of guard the lower half of the jaw. So again, they wouldn’t completely prevent a bite. But probably, at least hopefully, in a lot of cases, it would give whatever animal your dog is after enough time to move away, or give them a good chance or give you a chance to get in there and collect your dog. The nightmare scenario would be a conservation dog coming upon baby animals of some sort that can’t move away or can’t protect themselves in any way.

But, for the majority of cases, what you’re more concerned about are things that hopefully can fly, or climb, or run, or burrow away from your dog as well. So, I think in most cases, just something that prevents a dog from grabbing the animal right away, is going to gonna go a long way. And then, you know, just for our handlers at home thinking about, you know, if you know you’re coming into an area where you’ve got a really high risk, and particularly if you know that you’ve got a dog where part of what makes them a great working dog is that drive to chase and grab things, you know, that’s what ball drive is, considering having that dog on a long line, I know that’s not always feasible in really thick underbrush, putting bells on them, and those sorts of things. And really just making sure that you’re, you’re frightening wildlife away as you move through, because in most cases, we’re not trying to, to approach live wild animals, we’re usually looking for scat or plants. And then, you know, obviously, if you are trying to find those live animals, then you know, don’t put bells on your dog and try to scare them away, I guess. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *