Muzzles: The Why, the How, and the Why Not
Here’s how to teach your dog to enjoy wearing a muzzle – and why you should teach him that! Also: When should your dog absolutely, positively not be muzzled? Click to find out.
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How to Teach Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle
A muzzle is a safety precaution, not a torture device; it’s not a big project to teach most dogs to enjoy wearing one. Start by proving to Zippy that just the sight of the muzzle is cause for joy. Supply yourself with about a dozen small, superdeluxe treats such as pieces of roast chicken. Hide the muzzle behind your back, bring it out, and as soon as Zippy looks at it, give him a piece of chicken. As soon as he’s eaten it, hide the muzzle. Wait a few seconds, then repeat, until you’ve used up all the treats.
Repeat this little training session three or four times over a couple of days, till Zippy looks eagerly for his chicken as soon as he sees the muzzle. Now you can start teaching him to put his snout inside the muzzle. Or his muzzle inside the muzzle, if you prefer!
You can spray some squeeze cheese into the front of the muzzle or put some loose treats in it and hold it in your hand so the treats don’t fall out. Let your dog put his head into the muzzle to eat; then take away the muzzle just as he’s finishing, before he pulls his head out. You can do several practice sessions each day, but keep individual sessions short, maybe 5 or 6 reps. As you practice, gradually have your dog keep his snout in the muzzle longer, by putting more treats in the front or by feeding him squeeze cheese or squeezable baby food through the front of the muzzle. You always want your dog to act happy to see the muzzle and to stick his head in eagerly and keep it there. Slow and steady wins that race.
Here’s a pitfall to look out for: Pushing the muzzle forward onto your dog’s face. You always, always want your dog to be putting his snout into the muzzle voluntarily. That’s how you know you’re not pushing too fast and too far. Props to the brilliant trainer Chirag Patel, who makes this important point in his muzzle training video, available on YouTube.
Buckling the Muzzle
The next step is to buckle the neck strap. If Zippy’s easily startled by crisp noises, then first teach him to like the sound of the buckle. After all, he’s going to hear it right up close and personal.
This works the same way as showing him the muzzle did when you started out: Hold the muzzle without putting it on your dog. Close the buckle and immediately feed him a treat. Pause for a few seconds; then open the buckle and feed him a treat. Do a few sessions, 5 or 6 reps per session; when Zippy gets all “Where’s my treat?” at the sound of the buckle, you’re set.
The first time you buckle the neck strap while the muzzle is on your dog, unbuckle it right away, before your dog has a chance to get worried about it. Feed treats the whole time the muzzle’s on. As you did at earlier stages, increase the time bit by bit, and always keep an eye out to make sure your dog is happy and comfortable. If he starts to fuss at the muzzle, the message is to take a step or two back in your training.
When NOT to Use a Muzzle
Muzzles have a place in behavior modification. For instance, two housemate dogs who have a history of serious fighting may have been carefully taught to enjoy each other’s company, but with a barrier between them. If (and this may be a big if) it’s an appropriate goal for them to interact freely, then it’s wise to muzzle them at first. But that presumes you and your behavior consultant are confident the meeting will go well.
Or take the example I started with, of a dog who aggresses toward strangers. If you live in the city, then you just can’t avoid walking him around strangers. A muzzle helps keep everybody safe, your dog included.
What a muzzle is not is a means of unnecessarily putting dogs into situations they can’t handle. For instance, you should never muzzle a dog who has snapped at children and then invite children to pet him. If your dog fights with other dogs, it is not a good idea to put a muzzle on him and cut him loose at the dog park. And so on.
That’s all for this week. I don’t bite – well, not often – so stop by and see me on Facebook, or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and though I can’t reply individually, I may use them as the basis for future episodes. Thanks for reading!