Muzzles

I’ve trained quite a few dangerous dogs to wear muzzles, but I’ve never trained my own dogs to wear muzzles. If you read my last post, “A Horrible Thing Happened,”https://wholedogcamp.org/2021/07/01/a-horrible-thing-happened/ you know why I am training M’Ocean to wear a muzzle now.

Like most people, I thought, if I got my dog as a tiny puppy, from a responsible breeder, socialized him and trained him and socialized and trained some more, my dog would never be dangerous dogs. Wishful thinking is dangerous when it comes to our dogs.

Training helps prevent dangerous behaviors, and petting, grooming, stroking your dog can increase his level of oxytocin and make dogs less dangerous, but some dogs naturally produce less oxytocin than others https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/why-are-some-dogs-aggressive-hormones.

Fortunately, properly muzzled dogs can’t bite. It allows you to more safely socialize, train and travel with your dog, and it allows the dog to pant, drink water, bark, eat treats and even to push around balls and other toys! But a muzzled dog can’t bite, puncture, or pick up and toss a dachshund. A muzzled dog is far, far, far less dangerous than an unmuzzled dog. Here is a video showing how a very dog aggressive dog’s behavior changes when they are disarmed with a muzzle. https://youtu.be/xCEx6pn4W6s

But if the dog isn’t wearing one during the time that you need it or if the dog is able to push the muzzle off his face? It won’t work. A safe muzzle doesn’t interfere with vision or the natural movements of panting, breathing, eating, drinking. It has a forehead strap so the dog can’t push it off his face, and the part that goes around the skull is very snug, so the dog can’t possibly get out of it. Fitting the muzzle can take a week. Often I’ve bought two or three muzzles, and punched new holes in the straps, to get the fit just right.

Basket muzzles can be so comfortable and well ventilated that a dog can wear them all day long. If you have a dog who might jump up and pop you in the face with it, a plastic, rubber or silicon type is better than wire. We condition the dog to love it as with a head halter. Chirag Patel made a great muzzle training video, so I’ll just share that with you here. My only added comment is that you do need a forehead strap, especially if your dog has a history of knowing how to push a head halter off his nose. https://youtu.be/1FABgZTFvHo

The part of the muzzle that goes around the skull needs to be very snug. Often times, when I fit a muzzle, the head strap stretches and loosens over a few days and I need to keep punching new holes to tighten. You shouldn’t be able to fit any fingers under the strap that fits on the back of the skull, but the basket itself needs to be loose enough for the dog to open his mouth, bark, pant, drink water, eat treats. Here are some examples of muzzles that many dogs can wear comfortably all day long. Do you have a favorite muzzle?

https://www.amazon.com/Silicone-Drinking-Prevents-Unwanted-Included/dp/B083FFGBS3/ref=asc_df_B083FFF23Q/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=459722389571&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=9953556696488034736&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9002528&hvtargid=pla-934780762019&th=1

https://www.rayallen.com/wire-basket-muzzle/?sku=EI-6-1

Resource Guarding, part one

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Picture the behavior you want to see.

“Resource guarding” is aggression that occurs around a dog’s possessions. The possession might be a food dish, dog bone, a soft space on the couch, or it could even be YOU. It’s the opposite of what we want, which is  a relaxed attitude, a dog who isn’t worried about anything.

IMG_0124IMG_0192Resource guarding is the dog saying “Stay away!” It might mean stay away from my bone, my pups, my corner of the room, my human. It’s one of the most common behavioral problems I see, but fortunately one that is highly responsive to training.

First off: Why do dogs do this? Like almost all aggression, resource guarding typically starts as insecurity, and a lack of confidence, a dog who can’t predict what’s going to happen with a resource. Over time this can develop into aggression. Some dogs might be genetically more prone to this. I saw a puppy once that was scary aggressive, resource guarding at 16 weeks, and I was told euthanized by 6 months. Something was wrong with that pup.  But that is very rare. Far more typically, resource guarding is triggered by the environment, regardless of genetics.  Resource guarding is almost always a learned behavior. The dog has learned to act aggressively, because it allows them to control access to limited valuable resources.

IMG_0251This is why trying to pick up and control all potential triggers often fails.  You can’t eliminate every possible resource in the environment. When you limit some resources, you’re making every other resource in the environment seem more important,   MORE valuable, and this has potential to escalate things a  dog may choose to guard. We will never be “done” with our mission to  prevent development of resource guarding in all of our dogs. Behavioral health requires a  sense of  resource security throughout the lifespan.

When you’ve  flooded your environment with other resources,  the stinky spot on the rug doesn’t stand out so much. Space is an important resource. Six dogs,  24 tennis balls, half acre, half an hour. Begin with balls just laying there, don’t throw them right off the bat! Give beginner dogs several sessions to not worry so much about balls.  Let the balls just lay there. Ignore the balls, let them do what they want. Add more balls.  I’ve seen dogs learn how to relax, again and again, in a resource flooded environment. They sometimes collect maybe six tennis balls, plus two bones and a rag, but then  settle down and feel foolish because none of the other dogs cares a bit about what they’ve got. All the dogs have all the balls and chews they need. What does this tell you about the world?! I don’t know, but maybe something!

These ideas are not a prescription, but  reflective of experiences I’ve had with dogs who  stayed with me. As an old friend used to say to me when talking about bee keeping, “you need to think like a bee!” The same thing is true regarding resource guarding in dogs. We have to think of how we would feel if someone came and took our iphone out of our hands! IMG_9288