Teaching your dog to enjoy wearing his muzzle
Whilst you could just put the muzzle on your dog and expect him to deal with wearing it, a few short training sessions can make wearing it a lot more enjoyable and therefore also a lot less stressful for both you and your dog. This training aims to help your dog view the muzzle as a predictor for good things, not just when visiting the vets or being in a situation where they feel uncomfortable, so it is important to practise with your dog wearing the muzzle and it being followed by good experiences. This helps to increase the likelihood your dog will be relaxed and happy when wearing the muzzle, which can help protect against bad experiences and reduce the likelihood of them using aggressive behaviour. If you use the muzzle to protect against scavenging it is equally important that your dog is happy to wear it. Dogs who are prevented from scavenging can become extremely frustrated, may try to remove the muzzle with their paws or by rubbing it along the ground and can injure themselves or you.
There are two main types of muzzle; fabric muzzles which hold the mouth closed and basket-style muzzles which cover the nose and allow the dog to drink, pant and eat. Fabric muzzles are ideal for short-term use, such as in the vets, but are not suitable for medium to long term wear in the house or on walks because the dog cannot open their mouth to pant (the only way a dog can cool down) or to drink or eat. If you wish to use a muzzle to walk your dog, or to ensure everyone is safe when introducing a dog to a cat for example, please choose a basket muzzle. If using a fabric muzzle for short-term use, ensure it fits snugly around your dog’s nose or they will be able to nip through the end.
How to train
You can watch a video on how to do this here. This was made by Chirag Patel and Hannah Wright at the University of Lincoln.
Keep the training sessions short and be aware of your dog’s body language: he should feel comfortable at all times. End a session while he is still engaged with the training rather than waiting until he tries to avoid, wander off or, worse, shows any aggressive behaviour. Do not expect to progress through all the training stages in one session; go at a pace that suits your dog. The muzzle will feel strange around his face so he needs time to adjust to wearing it.
As with all things, being prepared in advance of the training session will improve success. Ensure your treats and muzzle are easily accessible before you start training, and have a clear idea of what you are going to do in each session.
Use part of your dog’s daily food ration mixed with some higher value treats as the rewards for these training sessions. This means reducing the amount fed at mealtimes accordingly so that he does not put on weight due to the training.
The initial aim of the training is that your dog is as pleased to see the muzzle as most dogs are to see the lead. You want him to walk across the room and happily put his nose into the muzzle when it’s offered, not to turn his head away or avoid it.
Choose a time when the dog is reasonably relaxed but not too sleepy, and there are few distractions. Attach a lead to your dog’s collar; ideally the lead should be long enough to allow him to move away during the training but provides a way to gently distract and encourage him to move during later stages of the muzzle training. When not using it you can kneel or stand on the end of lead so that you have both hands free.
To start off, have the muzzle in one hand behind your back and treats in the other. Show the muzzle to your dog and give him a treat from the other hand. Hide the muzzle behind your back and stop feeding treats. Bring the muzzle out in front again, and resume feeding treats so that he begins to learn that the muzzle predicts treats arriving. Repeat this a few times, until you can see he is happily anticipating the arrival of the treats when he sees the muzzle. Do a similar thing to accustom your dog to the sound of the clip being done up: with the muzzle in front of you and not on your dog’s nose or too near his ears, do up the clip and then give him a treat, repeating until you again see that he has learned that the sound of the clip predicts a treat arriving.
The next stage is to use the muzzle as a food bowl. Place treats in the muzzle, using your hand to cradle the muzzle to stop the treats falling out (see photo below).
Offer the muzzle to your dog, keeping the straps out of the way, and wait for him to place his nose inside it. If your dog is wary of doing this, move the treats towards the back of the muzzle so he doesn’t have to put his nose as far inside to reach the treats. Whilst his nose is in the muzzle to reach the treats, gently move the muzzle away, so that before he backs out of the muzzle it goes away from him.This is shown in the photos below.
This encourages your dog to keep his nose inside the muzzle, rather than learning to back out of the muzzle. Squeezy cheese or meat paste can be used inside the muzzle to encourage him to lick and keep his nose inside for longer.
After a few repetitions with treats inside then offer the empty muzzle, but be ready with a treat to reward his approach to the muzzle, or putting his nose in, by immediately adding a treat / squeezing cheese in through the gaps so that he gets a treat for putting his nose in the muzzle. This can take a bit of practice to get the timing right, but don’t worry if you make a few errors!
Over several sessions, gradually build up the total time your dog keeps his nose inside by adding treats through the gaps every few seconds, and then build up the time between delivering the treats so that your dog learns to stand calmly while you hold the muzzle for him to put his nose in and wait for 30 seconds or so before you deliver a treat.
You can then progress to doing the clip up behind your dog’s ears. When he is happy to stand with his nose inside for approx 30 seconds then bring the straps up behind his ears, briefly do the clip up and then immediately give a treat, unclip again and remove the muzzle. If he is comfortable with this, then repeat and gradually increase the time that the clip is done up, feeding treats through the muzzle.
When you have the clip done up and your dog is able to tolerate a few seconds delay before you feed the treat then start to encourage him to move. Pick up the lead and start moving, encouraging him to move as you do so. As he moves with you then make a fuss of him for doing so and feed treats. Remove the muzzle immediately and then offer it again, taking it off almost straight away.
From now on, start to practise in different places and take the muzzle on walks so that he gets used to wearing it in different situations. Offer the muzzle a few times on walks, but expect to go back to offering the muzzle with a few treats inside at first and progress to him wearing it for a few seconds before removing it each time.
Once your dog is happy to wear the muzzle for short periods on walks, build up to wearing it for longer periods and in other situations. You can also pop the muzzle on before their dinner time, removing it so they can eat, and gradually extend the time they wear it before the food goes down.
If the muzzle is to be used primarily in the vets then practise this by taking your dog to the vets, offer the muzzle in the car park or in the waiting room , feed treats through the muzzle, leave the area and then remove the muzzle. Do this several times before needing to use it in the consultation room.
If your dog is fearful of the muzzle already, then the first stage is to either buy a new one that looks different (e.g. is a different colour and or design) and/ or leave the muzzle lying around somewhere your dog can see it but isn’t scared by it. Do not draw attention to it, and move it every few days until he no longer reacts when he sees it. At this point pick up the muzzle when he is around and if he no longer reacts then throw him a treat. Repeat several times and then follow the rest of programme.
If your dog pulls backwards out of muzzle during a training session, remember to remove the muzzle from his nose before he moves backwards. Use squeezy cheese to encourage him to lick for longer and take the muzzle away before he has finished eating. Dogs will often try to follow the muzzle and push their nose inside it as it is withdrawn, which is exactly what you want to happen.
Your dog is not interested in food / treats so use the muzzle as their food bowl, feeding all meals from the muzzle while you hold it in your hands. Alternatively do training sessions immediately before he will be fed. If your dog has constant access to dry food in a bowl then switch to meal feeding for the duration of the training.
If your dog tries to rub the muzzle off with a paw or by sliding his nose along the floor then distract him by calling his name in a joyful tone of voice, making a kissing sound or using the lead to gently encourage him to move. Do not scold or draw attention to what he is doing. When he has stopped trying to remove the muzzle then keep the muzzle on for a few seconds longer, feeding treats through it as necessary, then remove it. Go back a few stages in the training and build up the time again. Do not remove the muzzle while your dog is trying to take it off as this will teach him that pawing gets the muzzle removed.
If you follow these simple steps then the vast majority of dogs will readily accept the muzzle, but if you are having problems, then you should seek professional advice. Remember, if you are using a muzzle because you are worried the dog might bite, you need to ask yourself “can I help the dog not to feel the need to behave in this way?”. Aggressive behaviour is often motivated by fear, frustration or predation and can be changed through the use of appropriate de-sensitisation and counter-conditioning techniques, or by teaching frustration tolerance and self control. Never try to match aggressive behaviour from your dog with aggressive behaviour of your own. It may appear to ‘cure’ the unwanted behaviour but in reality it often causes more problems than it solves.
We offer behaviour consultations and specially designed classes for dogs with sociability problems. Call 01353 649571 or email [email protected] now to discuss how we can help you understand and change your dog’s aggressive behaviour.