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Dog Muzzle Training: How and Why!

Muzzle... how does this word make YOU feel? For many, it is a word filled with negetive and sometimes hurtful stigmas.

When we see dogs that may have a tendency to bite, snap, growl, or struggle, do you see them as bad, mean, or untrained? To the untrained eye, most do. However, by using these hurtful descriptors, we are labeling these poor dogs with a negative motivation they simply do not have. Similarly, dogs do not act out of spite. When dogs are fearful or confused, they will try to signal their owners through body language. When we ignore or don’t understand these signals, they may try to defend themselves through biting, snapping, growling or struggling. Rather than labeling these behaviors as mean or bad, we can see them for what they are- attempts by the dog to communicate in the best way possible.

Training your canine companion to put on a muzzle with ease has a couple of clear advantages. Some vets can be reluctant to suggest muzzles because of its negative and misunderstood reputation. More and more vets are now encouraging and talking more about muzzle training and its benefits. It's also a matter of safety and welfare for all involved.

The below list gives you helpful information and a few useful tips about dog muzzles and the best way they may be used:

  • Wearing a muzzle puts everyone involved at ease. You, your vet, dog walker, and others around you. Using your own muzzle and having one readily on hand is the best to ensure the best fit. In a properly fitted muzzle, your dog should be able to pant, eat given treats, and drink comfortably.

  • Attempting to muzzle an already frightened dog can be a challenge. A dog not trained to wear a muzzle will become even more fearful and stressed if you attempt to put one on quickly. For example, you do not want to associate the vet's office with a muzzle. If the only time you muzzle your dog is when seeing the vet, it adds on to all the other scary things that happens and can make your dog even more frightened of their visits. Couple that with a crowded waiting room, needles, strange smells, close up examinations..... it will send their anxiety soaring! Instead you will want to associate the muzzle with positive actions and experiences. Such as putting on a muzzle to get treats, go on a walk or play their favorite games.

  • No matter how docile and friendly a dog is, any dog is capable of biting when in physical pain. If your dog is muzzle trained, you can transport them to the vets and have them examined without the risk of anyone getting bitten.

  • Muzzles can be tricky to fit. There are so many shapes and sizes to choose from, it can be very overwhelming! If you're having trouble, ask a vet or a behaviourist to help you choose the right fit for your dog. A muzzle not fitted properly can impact welfare and be very uncomfortable.

How to train your dog to wear a muzzle:

  1. Cup the muzzle in your hand. You will want to place a treat or 2 in the end of the muzzle for your dog to retrieve. Allow your dog to take the treats from inside the muzzle. Repeat this as many times as required, ideally over a few sessions. I like to do 5-10 minute sessions around 3 times a day. Your dog should come to see the muzzle as a treat dispenser and be excited to get a treat when they see the muzzle. Once your dog happily pops their head into the muzzle to retrieve the treat, start putting treats further back into the muzzle, this will get them comfortable to where their nose should eventually be.

2. Hold the muzzle in your hand and wait for your dog to place their head inside. Do not put the treats inside of the muzzle first, keep them in your other hand. Once their nose is inside fully, feed the treat to your dog through the side or end of the muzzle. You may find it easier to use a treat in a squeezy tube that will fit in the gaps of the muzzle such as a small amount of dog safe peanut butter or squeezy cheese. Repeat this step as many times as required until your dog is happy keeping their face in the muzzle. I find short, frequent sessions are the best to avoid bordom. The aim is to get them readily placing their head in the muzzle in anticipation of a treat whenever they see the muzzle. NEVER force the nose into the muzzle as this will ruin the training and your dog will become stressed and scared.

3. Ask your dog to put their nose in the muzzle using the treat. Once their nose is in the muzzle, lift up the straps behind their ears, without fastening them. This will introduce them to the sensation of the straps. Continue to give your dog treats through the muzzle. Remove the muzzle and repeat this step a few times, still without doing up the straps. This will familiarise your dog with the feeling of the straps around their head without the muzzle being closed. Some dogs may back away during this step as its a new sensation. Just reassure them and do not move forward until they're comfortable with this step. Moving on too quickly will develop mistrust.

4. Once your dog is happy with the previous step, it is now time to fasten the muzzle. Reward your dog immediately and then calmly remove it after a few seconds. If your dog panics or tries to get the muzzle off then you may have moved too fast. If this happens, go back a few steps and try building up to it again. Repeat this step until your dog is relaxed about having the muzzle on and fastened. Once your dog is happy, you can slowly build up the amount of time you leave between fastening the muzzle and giving them a treat.

5. Once your dog is relaxed wearing the muzzle for a short period of time, make sure you continue regular training so that wearing the muzzle is part of their daily routine. You could try putting the muzzle on as you get your dog ready to go for a walk or put it on at home and do some other fun training. This will keep your dog engaged and get them used to associating wearing the muzzle with fun things happening. Putting a muzzle on only during potentially stressful times (such as the vets or groomers) and create a negetive association and create distrust and more stress.

The below video from Battersea will help you with a visual of how to follow the above steps

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