Using a Muzzle   2 comments

Muzzles can be a necessity for any dog at some point in their life. As Katalin over at Special Paws Blog recently illustrated, even the most well-trained, lovable dog can run into a situation where a muzzle is needed! In her case, her dog had surgery, and she had been warned that the physical therapy can be painful, causing some dogs to snap or bite to let you know you’re hurting them. Because of this, the therapist requested that dogs wear muzzles while undergoing therapy. For a dog not used to wearing a muzzle, having one on can be a cause for a lot of anxiety, and would make the physical therapy scary when it didn’t need to be. The same is true for an injured dog who is terrified and in pain. If he is not used to it, putting a muzzle on him can amplify that fear a large amount. Training your dog to wear a muzzle, even if you see no immediate need, will help prevent stress in your dog if he ends up in a situation like these and needs to.

Then there are dogs who have bitten in the past in response to certain triggers. When working to counter condition your dog (teach her that the trigger is not stressful and thus no longer causes her to feel the need to bite) you may want her to wear a muzzle so that if you miss a warning sign she’s giving you no one is injured. This is especially important if you need to enlist the help of other people in counter-conditioning your dog. For example, if your dog will bite when her paws are handled, you will need to teach her to accept not only you handling her paws, but other people. While you may be willing to risk a bite, you don’t want to assume that your helpers will, as well.

In situations such as these, a muzzle can be a good tool. Read that again, because it is important. A muzzle is a tool. It is not a solution to a dog’s biting, it is a tool you can use while teaching her to not feel the need to bite, or that you can use in a short term situation when your dog is in pain and is likely to not have good control of herself. If you are working with a biting dog, it can help ensure everyone involved is safe. However, while this article is only about training your dog to accept a muzzle, recognize that it is only a useful tool either in short-term situations or when paired with appropriate training for the underlying biting behavior.

So you’ve decided that you want to teach your dog to accept a muzzle, either because you see an immediate need, or just for the possibility of needing it in the future. How do you ensure that your dog not only doesn’t find a muzzle stressful, but that he actually enjoys wearing it? I’ll go through the whole process, but be sure to break up your training in to 5 or 10 minute sessions, so the training stays fun and stress-free!

Introduce the muzzle to him slowly, and let him choose how quickly he will put it on. Get out the muzzle, and a bag of tasty treats. Now offer your dog a treat so that he has to stick his nose towards the muzzle to get it. Don’t go too quickly! How close your dog has to put his nose will be determined by his comfort level. Remember, the goal of this training is that your dog does not find the muzzle stressful. If you push him too quickly, even with food around, the muzzle will be associated with stress in his mind. Once your dog is eagerly looking to the muzzle, waiting for the next treat to appear, move the treat so it is a little further into the muzzle. Now your dog will have to put his nose either closer to or farther into the muzzle to get the treat (depending where you started). This may cause a little hesitation, but it shouldn’t cause him to balk. Ideally, your dog will be so happy with the game you’re playing that he won’t mind moving his nose an extra half-inch into the muzzle at all! If he balks or seems to get stressed, make the game easier. Put the treat back to where it was, or even further away, for a few repetitions, until he is having fun again. Slowly increase how far into the muzzle your dog has to put his nose to get the food.

If you move slowly enough, you should get to the point where your dog is happily jamming his nose all the way into the muzzle to get the offered treat. Once you hit this point, stop showing him the treat. Hold out the muzzle and see what he does. If he makes a move to put his nose in it at all, say “Yes!” in a happy tone, and offer him the treat inside the muzzle again. This way you are teaching him that you’re playing the same game, but that the muzzle itself is a cue to put his nose in and get rewarded, not the treat. This will allow you to muzzle him even if you don’t have any treats on you in an emergency. Repeat this game until you can offer the muzzle, and he will eagerly stick his nose all the way inside and wait for his treat.

At this point you can start to fasten the muzzle. Up until now you have simply been holding it out and letting him put his nose in, but if you were to let go it would either fall off or be easily pawed off. You are just going to add to the rules of the same game you have been playing all along that your dog loves. Offer the muzzle and let him eagerly stick his nose in, but don’t treat him yet. Instead reach out, grab the straps, fasten them, and give the treat. As soon as he takes the treat unfasten the strap and take off the muzzle. Once the muzzle is off ignore your dog for a few seconds, and repeat the procedure. Note: If you are using a cloth or mesh muzzle which holds your dog’s mouth closed, he may not be able to take a treat, or even lick some baby food off a spoon. If that is the case, put on the muzzle, and give him a different reward. Pet him, cuddle him, give praise, run with him (see the safety note below), do something that your dog loves that doesn’t involve opening his mouth. Once the muzzle is off ignore him for a few seconds, as above. This teaches your dog that having the muzzle fastened means that the good things are coming. Once it comes off life is not bad, but it’s a lot less exciting and fun! At first you may not be able to fasten the muzzle all the way. That’s fine. Remember: the goal is to keep your dog happy! If at any time his tail tucks or he acts upset, slow down and go back a few steps. This should be an enjoyable process! If he starts to get unhappy when you go to fasten the muzzle, start by just reaching out and touching the strap while his nose is in the muzzle and then rewarding him, slowly building up to fastening it. There is no step too small to take in your progress!

As your dog accepts the muzzle being fastened, leave it on for longer and longer periods of time. Keep the rule that while it is on, good things are happening, once it comes off, all the good things stop. No congratulating your dog for doing so well after you take it off! That will teach her that the muzzle coming off is desirable, and she will not like having it on. Instead, congratulate her while it is on. That’s the hard part, after all! Slowly build up the amount of time your dog will happily wear the muzzle, always taking it off before she gets stressed. Once she is happily wearing it for more time than you would need to work on desensitizing her to her trigger (having her paws handled in the above example) you can start counter-conditioning her trigger safely, with her muzzle on and adding no stress. If you’re training it for a rainy day, build up until she will happily wear it for at least 10 minutes. Remember to practice with the muzzle occasionally so your skills stay sharp, though once she likes it the rewards can go down in value and frequency.

Congratulations, you now have a dog who gets excited when he sees the muzzle come out, and can’t wait to get his nose into it! Whether you need it right now, or might in the future, you can add one more check to your list of mastered skills.

Safety Note
Never leave a dog unsupervised wearing a cloth or mesh muzzle which holds their mouth shut. Also never leave it on for longer than about 20 minutes, especially in warm weather. While wearing a cloth or mesh muzzle a dog cannot pant or drink, which can be dangerous for long periods of time, especially in warm weather. This is the main reason I typically prefer a basket muzzle of either wire or plastic, which completely encases your dog’s mouth but does not hold it shut. Another reason is that with a cloth or mesh muzzle while a dog cannot bite, he can pinch since there is typically some give in it. This can still be painful!

Share and Enjoy:

DiggFacebookMixxGoogle BookmarksRedditStumbleUponTwitter

Advertisements

2 responses to “Using a Muzzle

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Pingback: Clicker Carnival #6 (March 2010) | Stale Cheerios

  2. Pingback: Greyhound Gap Fun Dog Show « Just blogging about dog stuff…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: