Saturday, November 13, 2021

Old strategy, new tool dissuades dogs from scavenging on walks

Seeing the world through the lenses I’ve developed in working with dogs is interesting, especially when walking them. I’ve grown accustomed to assessing things by rote before I hitch a dog up to their harness and as we step out the door, with necessary tools aboard to enhance the experience and keep the adventure a safe one. 

It’s rare that there isn’t an adjustment that’s needed at some point on a dog walk—pivoting direction when there’s another dog and handler approaching who aren’t handling themselves well, steering clear of a yard where kids are playing—you get the idea. It can be a minefield at times. 

I’m all about dogs getting the most out of their adventures, with an emphasis on having a chance to sniff the heck out of everything along the way, regardless of their age or ability. It’s probably more important than the physical movement that is the aim of most people when dog walking. A dog’s nose is their most powerful sense, providing the most enrichment and it’s the one they can most rely on when all the others fade in their dotage. And most of the time, I can be a step ahead of their nose, which helps tremendously when there’s a gob of human food casted off in the grass, bunny poop (or that of any other animal) or anything else gross or not a dog might find appealing enough to scarf up with lightning speed. I can usually pivot them away from the offending stuff before they even realize it’s there. 

But alas. 

There are times my spidey senses fail, and with some dogs, miserably far too often.  They are masters of finding anything they shouldn’t gobble up, edible or not. And then my usually-reliable tactic of a ‘leave it!’ cue or the even more effective cue ‘take it!’, (as I learned from a conference lecture by Harmony Dog Training’s Angela Schmarrow this fall) doesn’t offer cooperation in the dog relinquishing the find for a trade of a high value, safe treat. 

And down the hatch it goes. 

Typically, no harm is done, and I chalk it up as my having lost that one and move on. 

Though if you’ve a dog in your care who has a very touchy GI tract, engages in this unwanted behavior habitually despite your best efforts, it can make for outings that are especially frustrating. And if a dog has complex resource guarding issues, it goes without saying how slippery a scenario that can unfold into.

During a recent animal behavior conference, I was excited to learn about a strategy that can help mitigate a dog’s wayward enthusiasm for scarfing down items on walks they shouldn’t. The Crazy Felix is a tool—yes, a muzzle—that prevents the behavior while allowing a dog to breathe efficiently, pant, sniff… all the things we want dogs to be able to do on walks. They can also take treats while wearing it. 

It’s a great option, and one that’s more appealing to many guardians than a basket muzzle, the only other safe tool that’s recommended for this purpose by certified trainers, vet behaviorists and credentialed pet care professionals, like me. It’s ease of use and appearance makes it so. Training a dog to accept wearing the Crazy Felix using positive reinforcement (R+) is still necessary of course, just like other types of muzzles, and the payoff is huge. 

To learn more about muzzle training and why its recommended that every dog be trained to wear a muzzle, head over to The Muzzle Up Project. 

With over 20 years of experience, Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, Certified Fear Free Professional–pet sitter 
and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's also a member of Doggone Safe (where she completed the Speak Dog Certificate Program), as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, Pet Sitters International, Pet Professional Guild, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (supporting member) and Ann Arbor Area Pet Sitters. Lorrie can be found at She tweets at @psa2.