Michael Shikashio joins me to chat about the Muzzle Up Project, reducing the stigma behind muzzles, and handling unwanted encounters of the canine kind — like loose dogs!!
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we'll be talking to Mike Shikashio.
Michael is the past president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), and provides private consultations working exclusively with dog aggression cases through his business, AggressiveDog.com. Michael is fully certified through the IAABC and is a full member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT).
He is sought after for his expert opinion by numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, New York Post, Baltimore Sun, WebMD, Women's Health Magazine, Real Simple Magazine, The Chronicle of the Dog, and Steve Dale's Pet World.
Michael is a featured speaker at conferences, universities, and seminars around the world, and offers a variety of workshops, webinars, and online courses on the topic of canine aggression, and founded the Aggression in Dogs Master Course.
Hi Mike! Welcome to the podcast.
Michael Shikashio: Hey Melissa. I'm excited to be here.
Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you remind listeners who your dogs are, and what you're working on with them?
Michael Shikashio: I have several dogs spread out across a couple of families. But I do have Castana here with me. She's my girlfriend's Chilean street dog, and right now I'm working on a million different things with her because she is my demo dog for all of my webinars and course materials. So I've been training her to do a lot of different things, and some of that we'll actually talk about during this podcast.
Melissa Breau: I think you're pretty well known at this point for your work on reactivity, but a little birdie told me you recently took on a new project: the Muzzle Up Project. What is it?
Michael Shikashio: The Muzzle Up Project has been around since about 2013. It was started by Maureen Backman, and it's an advocacy project to reduce the stigma of muzzles, because we know there's a lot of misconceptions and stigma around muzzling and dog muzzles. So it is focusing on that — the advocacy, education, and training aspects of using muzzles with dogs. It's really an outreach kind of thing, educating the public and getting rid of that stigma surrounding muzzles.
Melissa Breau: How did you come to take things over there?
Michael Shikashio: I talked to Maureen quite a bit over the years. I was supporting the project, and I always mentioned it during my seminars and things like that. She approached me in early June of this year about saying, "Hey Mike, do you want to take over the Muzzle Up Project? Because I'm going to be pursuing more of the human side of psychology." So she's pursuing a different career. And then she said, "Do you want to take it over?" I'm like, "Uh … yeah." Because it's a no-brainer. It just fits into what I do.
I am a big advocate for muzzles, and why you would want to use a muzzle on dogs, and all the consequences that can happen if a dog isn't muzzled and they do bite. And muzzles aren't just used for dogs that bite. There's a lot of other reasons, of course, that we can talk about in regards to why we would use muzzles, and that's what the Muzzle Up Project is about.
Melissa Breau: Do you want to go into that a little bit? What are some of the other reasons somebody might use a muzzle?
Michael Shikashio: Sure. There's some dogs that eat things off the ground. That's a big one. A lot of dogs have pica and they eat stones or things they're not supposed to, the occasional dead squirrel or something that you don't want them touching, so that's a great use of a muzzle.
It can be a preventative measure for dogs that might have issues at the vet's office or dogs that might get injured. We might have times where the dog has never bitten anybody, perfectly fine, but any dog in pain or with a severe trauma could bite, so it's really good to have as a proactive measure to prevent anything from happening.
They're also good for fearful dogs — for dogs that don't necessarily bite, but they suffer from what humans like to do, and that's reach out and pet dogs when they don't ask. It's kind of a universal for most people, a universal way of saying, "Hey, back off. This dog maybe doesn't want to be pet," because the muzzle allows that kind of message to come across to the person approaching. They might think twice before petting a muzzled dog, so it could be a helpful signal for the humans.
Melissa Breau: What is it about this project that calls to you? What is it about the mission that's important to you and led you to take up the cause?
Michael Shikashio: Again, it's all about advocacy and teaching and education, teaching the public or helping the public understand why we would use muzzles, the benefits of muzzles.
Again, it can go to the consequences. I always say muzzles are much cheaper than dog bites. Dog bites have enough stigma alone. When a dog bites, or there's a severe attack, it makes the media much more so than the kid falling off the swing set in the back yard who might get injured more than the average dog bite. I think the muzzling part of things could really, really help prevent dog bites, and reduce the number of dog bites we're seeing, if more people would muzzle their dogs in public or when they have visitors, and in circumstances when it would be wise to use one.
And again, dispelling the stigmas. People will have this view of muzzles, saying, "Oh my gosh, that's so cruel," and "Oh my gosh, my dog's going to look like Hannibal Lechter," or "That's going to keep his mouth shut; he's not going to be able to breathe."
There's lots of misconceptions about muzzles, and the Muzzle Up Project is there to help educate folks on all of the different truths about muzzles. All that can be found where we're currently revamping the website. That should be up soon. We're going to have all the usual educational videos about proper fitting, and how to acclimate a muzzle, and the different brands of muzzles. Lots of good educational resources will be available. They are on the current site, the current site is still up, but we will have a new site with more, and we'll be adding more resources as we go along.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. That was going to be my next question for you, what resources the project offers. If folks want to get involved or help in some ways, are there ways for them to do that?
Michael Shikashio: Yes. The community is the best way that we can support this project. For instance, when I took over the project, Maureen had started a little Instagram account. I went in and, like, oh, she's got, like, five posts over a year's time and she had a couple of hundred followers.
I went in, I searched the hashtag Muzzle Up Project, and there were thousands upon thousands of people using that post. So, for whatever reason, Muzzle Up Project hashtag has gone viral on Instagram. So just that community, using social media as a community to support muzzling. We have all of these people all around the world that use that hashtag. They've got their dogs having fun in muzzles in all kinds of different environments. We've got the Facebook group as well, our Facebook page, The Muzzle Up Project, which again is a community of people around the world sharing ideas about muzzles and spreading the information about how muzzles can be used.
I should mention that I've got a great team. I brought on Kayla Fratt, Deb Jones, Jim Gillies, Dae Grodin, and Sarah McManaman. They're all helping with the project and I can't thank them enough. They're volunteering all their time to help maintain the social media accounts, and Kayla is designing the website as we speak.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. Do you have any big goals or things you're hoping to achieve with the project going forward?
Michael Shikashio: Maureen's done a great job building foundation. She built, I think, 14,000 followers on just the Facebook page alone, and it's really well known in the training world, but I would like to see it get more out to the general public. So I'm looking at partnering with some of the large manufacturers of muzzles. I'm in talks with some of them to help expand the message and get this out to the masses and to the mainstream, because it's pretty well known in the dog training community, but I think it would be very helpful to get it out to the public eye and expand just how much exposure the message is getting and the advocacy part of it, and the education part of it would be great to see hit the masses.
Melissa Breau: It seems like you've made it your mission to advocate for and do what you can to help those dogs who may be struggling with reactivity or some aggression stuff, which I'm guessing is what led us to the topic for your next webinar: Close encounters of the unwanted kind. So I wanted to talk about that a little bit. What kind of encounters are we talking about here?
Michael Shikashio: That webinar is going to be geared toward kind of like a hodgepodge of all the questions I get at my workshops and seminars. You know, "Hey Mike, what should I do if an off-leash dog approaches my on-leash dog?" or "What happens if some dogs come attack my dog when we're just walking on leash?" or all those types of handling nightmares for people when they're in a close-quarter environment and they're trying to control the threshold, or they're trying to prevent their dog from barking and lunging at somebody, but they can't because they're so close to that, or that the environment doesn't allow them to increase distance or do the things that we would normally do in a clean training scenario. So we'll be focusing on things like that.
People that live in the city, or in apartment buildings, they have to take the elevator or they have to take the narrow stairs, so a lot of defensive handling tactics. It's going to be a little bit of that, kind of like what to do if you can't modify the environment to set the dog up for success, all those "what if" moments or "oh boy" moments when things go wrong.
Melissa Breau: For folks listening, it will be September 26 at 3:00 Pacific time slot is when we're going to do that. Let's get into that stuff a little bit. What can people do if an off-leash dog runs up to them when they're on a walk and they're unsure about whether the dog has good intentions or bad intentions?
Michael Shikashio: The saying is, "It depends." It depends on the type of scenario. You have two basic scenarios. One is where friendly dogs come up to your on-leash dog, off-leash friendly dogs are coming, and you never know for sure. That's the thing. You can get good at reading body language in how dogs will come up to your dog, and get an idea and a feel for it. So you have those categories where it's off-leash dogs that are friendly, and then you have off-leash dogs that are not friendly, so you can immediately see trouble brewing or an actual attack happens. So there's two different scenarios.
One scenario you can be a little friendlier with, meaning, I call it "the neighborly option." For instance, one of my first go-to's with dogs that are off leash — let's say I'm walking in a park and there's somebody playing with their puppy, or fetch with their Lab, or they're doing something with their Border Collie out there. You can see that is a generally friendly dog, and maybe you see it interacting with other dogs, but then it comes running up to your dog.
The friendliest thing to do — as trainers and as dog enthusiasts here at FDSA, I'm sure a lot of us are carrying treats. So one thing I do is called the treat bomb, where I dig into my treat pouch and grab a huge handful of treats — not just one, but a huge handful of treats — and as that dog's approaching, you throw the treats right in the dog's face. It sounds a little offensive to throw treats in a dog's face, but I think most dogs will disagree that it's offensive and appreciate that.
But it does sometimes startle the dog because they can't always tell what you're throwing unless they can really get a good whiff of it. So I'm throwing it right in the dog's face so that it gets their attention ,and then they're like, "Oh, that smells like hot dogs," and then they're nose down to the ground, if they're going to take the food.
That's my first friendly way of saying, "Let's try to ward this dog off," because if my dog has issues with other dogs, that's the nicer thing to do at first. That works a lot of times because the dog is nose down to the ground, they're looking for the hot dogs, and you can U-turn with your dog and get out of there as quickly as possible.
That's also the reason you don't want to throw one treat, because if you throw one, what do you think is going to happen? The other dog is going to say, "Oh, that was a hot dog. Let me follow this guy." So it's important to give that huge treat bomb. That's usually the first step I take with off-leash dogs.
Now, if we want to start moving into other variables, if the treats don't work and the other dog is saying, 'I'm really coming after your dog," I do recommend, at least where people can get it … you can't get this everywhere, but at least in the States you can get Spray Shield. It's a citronella spray made by Pet Safe. It's a very good deterrent where you can spray that at the oncoming dog. Again, a more friendly option is to just spray it at the dog's feet, or in that direction, as best as you can, because oftentimes just the smell of that, the citronella, can ward off some dogs.
It doesn't work every time, and by the way, none of these work every time. If you have enough tools in your toolbox, then you can reach for the next tool if one doesn't work. So I do recommend Spray Shield. That is a very good way to ward off some dogs. If the dog doesn't notice that, then you can spray them again right in the face. And just for the listener, Spray Shield is citronella, so it's not pepper spray or mace. It's not something that requires you to take the dog to the vet to have it washed out or anything. It acts as a deterrent for most dogs. So that's the next stage.
We can go all the way up the ladder. Depending on where you live, sometimes Spray Shield is not available, so you might even go with pepper spray. Now that, of course, you run the risk of that blowing back into your dog's face or even into your own eyes, or if you're not practiced at using those kinds of items, you might inadvertently spray yourself in the face and then you've got a huge mess. So I always recommend those things as last-resort emergency scenarios to ward off a dog attack.
So a few different options. In the webinar we're going to get into many more handling techniques that require video to show what's going on.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Those are for friendly dogs. Do you have different things that you do if you're pretty sure the dog means business and is going to try to take a chunk out of you or your dog?
Michael Shikashio: Some clients live in an area where there's a history of a certain set of dogs or there's lots of dogs that will get off leash or get out of their yard and they do have a history of attacking other dogs. So you're pretty sure or have reasonable suspicion that the dog is going to attack your dog.
I usually don't reach for the treats at that point because we know that likely won't work with that particular dog. Or if you're seeing definitive body language — if you're seeing very obvious snarling, growling, charging at your dog with intent — then you would want to reach for, again, either the Spray Shield or the pepper spray.
You also want to use the environment a lot, and I'll get into again in the webinar, but looking at the environment and becoming a very proactive versus reactive handler. If you know your dog has issues with other dogs, or you're in an environment where there's a high likelihood for an off-leash dog, then being a proactive handler is going to really keep you one step ahead of the game versus being reactive.
If you've got a dog that you're walking with and you know there's potential, you're going to be constantly scanning the environment and aware of, "Oh, wait, I can get behind this car," or "I can use this particular bush to block the visual stimulus," or "I can get my Spray Shield ready," "I can turn around if I see the dog coming and then get the Spray Shield ready." All those proactive techniques will deter that attack a lot of times so you don't actually have to deal with the actual attack with the dog.
But I will, again, covering into detail what happens if a dog does attack your dog. I think that's important to know because there's not a lot of good information about how to break up a dog fight or stop a dog attack. Especially if it's multiple dogs, that can get very scary or tricky.
Melissa Breau: Right. Absolutely. Like you said, I'm sure you'll get into those things more in the webinar, but are the techniques that you're talking about specific to if you have a reactive or really fearful dog, or are they things anyone could use them if they found themselves in those kinds of situations, regardless of their own dog's temperament or likelihood to react?
Michael Shikashio: The off-leash dogs, you can kind of think of it, it doesn't matter what your dog's issues in a sense are with other dogs when you're dealing with off-leash dogs coming at your dog. Now, your own dog can make things worse, of course, if they are "reacting" or trying to go after the other dog. Sometimes dogs will communicate: "Well, you're OK. I'm going to leave you alone," or "I'll move away."
But other times it can escalate if we have one dog starts barking at the dog I have on leash, and then the dog I have on leash starts barking and lunging in the other direction, and you have this heated situation, which just gets worse much faster. Again, it boils down to proactivity and of course working with our own dogs to modify that behavior. And again, proactive handling really can go a long way.
Melissa Breau: Just to throw it out there, one of the things that I hear tossed around sometimes is to drop the leash. Are you for or against that particular option?
Michael Shikashio: I guess that would refer to when there's actual dog fights happening? Would that be where you heard it?
Melissa Breau: I think so. When you think that something is going to happen and it's going to be bad, I've heard folks say that sometimes it makes it worse because your dog's on leash, they can't get away if they want to.
Michael Shikashio: That's a good question. I'd like to dig into that a little deeper because it really matters. It really can make a difference in certain scenarios.
I think the "drop the leash" scenario would sometimes be helpful for dogs that have a difficult time when the leash gets tight, because some dogs actually do really well if there's no leash, so off leash or with no tension on the leash, they feel this freedom to communicate, they have freedom of movement, so they're not saying, "Oh, I can't move, I can't get away, you're restricting my flight option, so I'm left with the fight option, the frustration's building because I can't move." There's a lot of problems with tight leashes. So that would be one scenario if I have a dog that is very specific to that, meaning I know that if I drop the leash he's going to be like, "Oh, freedom, let's romp around," versus on leash "I hate being on leash because it's so restrictive," for whatever reason. That's one scenario.
The other scenario I look at is when there's an actual true fight happening, because again, if I'm holding my dog's leash tight, it's terribly unfair for them because they can't defend themselves, and it can make things escalate because of the reason I mentioned before: the restriction of flight option.
I also want to be able to deal with the dog fights. In some scenarios you're able to use the leash to pull your dog away if they're attacking the other dog. So sometimes you have that. You have a puppy come running up to your dog, "Hello, I'm a puppy, say hello to me," and your dog's like, "I don't like puppies and I'm going to go after you." You can easily pull your dog away using the leash.
But on the other hand, you may want to drop the leash so you can deal with the other dog, if the other dog is attacking your dog. Sometimes when you have a dog fight you do need to drop the leash so you can use some other techniques, for instance the Spray Shield or an air horn or other tool that you might be carrying to break up a dog fight. Sometimes it is a good idea to drop the leash.
Those are the two scenarios I can see. I would be really careful about doing it in a lot of other contexts, we don't want to lose our dog, or for our dog to escalate things if they charge back at the other dog. Sometimes the leash is a good way to control our own dogs. Again, it's an "It depends" question.
Melissa Breau: Right. To round things out, my last question for folks these days is what's something that you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?
Michael Shikashio: Here's something interesting to me. I was in New York City yesterday with Dr. Kathy Murphy. She's a neuroscientist, she's also a vet, and she got bored and got an anesthesiology degree too, I think. She was really fascinating.
As somebody that focuses on applied behavior analysis for modifying aggressive behaviors in dogs, we look at the outside. We look at observable behaviors, we look at antecedents, behaviors, and consequences, and we also factor in, of course, what we call setting events or distant antecedents that are factors that make it more likely for our dog to exhibit a certain behavior. But she really got into fascinating stuff about the brain, and how things work on the inside, and how much it can affect arousal or stress, sort of the fuels for aggressive behavior or fear, and how much, for instance, certain scenarios can have such an imprinting impact.
I'm paraphrasing there, so if Kathy's listening, I'm sorry for not getting quite the words she was using. She really does make things very simple to understand, but even then, I have a tough time grasping it sometimes.
But as far as the way fear can imprint at a certain stage from a traumatic event and certain things can latch on to that. So a dog is walking, they get attacked by another dog, and they just happen to be standing next to a stop sign or a mailbox or a certain bush or a certain person, and that becomes part of that picture. So the next time they see a stop sign or a certain bush or a certain person, they're like, "No way am I going near that," because that's part of the package they experienced before.
So you get that conditioning aspect, but it's really interesting, when you look at it from a neural perspective, just how much dogs are affected by certain events. And if you look at the aggression, of course, the aggression context that I work with, it really does play out in my mind as far as having such an effect in so many cases. So it was very interesting.
That's what I've been looking at more and more, the internal, and I think that's going to be one of my topics at the Aggression And Dogs conference, is speaking about the many different lenses we look at in behavior. Again, we have the applied behavior analysis way of looking at things, then you have the medical models, so we'll have of course a veterinary behaviorist speaking from that angle. You have the ethology lens, so Kim Brophey will be there, talking about the ethological way of looking at behavior, and we'll have Kathy there, speaking from the neuroscience side of things.
I think it's fascinating because now we're getting all of these different views into dog training, which is great. There's a lot of views. Of course cognitive ways of looking at behavior, and Maura Donaldson will be talking about that. So there's lots of different views and ways of looking at behavior, and it's so important for trainers to say, "I'm not going to get stuck in my one lens," because I might not be able to see it through the other lenses. Sometimes we find that happening — we get stuck in the lens that we might be looking through, and we're not seeing it from other ways or learning from other ways. So it can be fascinating.
Denise will be speaking there too. She's coming through her own lens of, of course, the sports dog world and when dogs are having fun biting people from her previous protection sports experience. That's what I've been focusing on for at least the last few days — exploring other ways of looking at behavior and not just the one I'm so used to.
Melissa Breau: For folks who want a little more information on some of the things we've talked about — the Muzzle Up Project, the conference you mentioned, you in general — do you want to list where people can go to learn more?
Michael Shikashio: Sure. I made it really easy for people to remember, and I bought the AggressiveDog.com website name and I just launched my new website, AggressiveDog.com. Of course I also have the Facebook page, again named Aggressive Dog. How do you search Facebook pages? Is it at aggression in dogs? I think that's how you find it, but if you just search Aggressive Dog, it should come right up.
Of course the Muzzle Up Project. For the Facebook page, it's The Muzzle Up Project, and for Instagram, it's Muzzle Up Project without the word "the" at the beginning.
Most of the stuff can be easily found through AggressiveDog.com. I have all my courses, seminars, webinars, the master course, everything is all listed there, just funneled into one way people can find all the stuff.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. You'll have to let me know when the website launches, so we can push out the new Muzzle Up Project site.
Michael Shikashio: Probably in another couple of weeks. Hopefully in a couple of weeks.
Melissa Breau: I'll look forward to seeing what you guys come up with.
Michael Shikashio: Yeah, it's going to be fun.
Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Mike! This has been great.
Michael Shikashio: My pleasure. Thank you.
Melissa Breau: We'll be back next week with Janice Gunn to talk about being a crossover trainer and competing at the highest levels of competitive obedience.
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Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!