Although muzzles have received a negative reputation in mainstream media, you never know when you might need to use one. In strange or pressurised situations, your dog might behave in ways you’d never expect.
A dog in pain or feeling under extreme threat may act aggressively and you may need to rely on the safety of a muzzle.
Such a scenario might occur at the vet; your dog may be in pain or uncomfortable and require an intensive examination by a stranger and this might mean they require a muzzle to let the vet do their job. Perhaps you’re moving house and your dog is going to be in an unfamiliar environment with removal people or deliveries coming and going. If your pooch is fearful of strange people, a muzzle can be essential for unavoidable interactions.
Getting your dog used to a muzzle is important because when they are likely to wear it, they could already be in a stressful situation. Imagine how much more stress you will add by fitting a strange and unfamiliar object to their face!
We muzzle train all the dogs at NAWT. Muzzles needn’t be a bad thing; in fact, quite the opposite! Muzzle training can be a fun game and by adding 5 minutes training into your daily routine, you’ll have a fab tool in place should you ever need to use it in reality!
How to muzzle train your dog
• Get the right muzzle!
Your dog must feel comfortable wearing their muzzle. Open basket weave muzzles, such as the Baskerville, are the best kind as they allow the dog to pant, breathe, eat and drink through them.
Make sure it’s the right size; the piece that goes across their nose mustn’t rub their eyes. You may find it easier to cut a very small hole in the front, or purchase a muzzle with a wider weave such as the Baskerville Ultra, to make delivering treats easier when training.
Nylon muzzles and those you may see in the vets, which completely close a dog’s mouth, are only for temporary use. Dogs can’t pant with their mouths closed and therefore lose heat so these muzzles are not for daily use - you also can’t reward them if their mouth is closed!
• Get your dog used to the muzzle being around
For some dogs, the sight of a muzzle won’t be an issue whilst others will make a swift exit from the room! Start associating the muzzle with really good things, like tasty bite size treats. Have the muzzle with you, perhaps next to you on the sofa etc, and simply reward your dog for being around it. When your dog is happy, you’re ready for the next step.
• Reward interactions with the muzzle
Start rewarding your dog for every interaction with the muzzle. So initially, for them simply looking at it. Then you want to increase the criteria, so they only get a reward for touching it with their nose.
• Nose in!
Hold the muzzle in front of your dog and reward them for putting their nose towards the muzzle. Increase the criteria until they are putting their nose into the muzzle fully, praise them at the exact point their nose is where you want it and then deliver the reward. Don’t rush this step or you may find your dog loses interest and you’re back to square 1!
• Increase duration
Now your dog is reliably putting their nose into the muzzle each time you present it, you want them to increase the duration they keep their nose in there. Complete the step above but this time, hold off a second or two until you praise them, and then deliver the treat.
Slowly increase the duration. At this stage, you can start delivering treats through the front of the muzzle to increase the duration and just keep them coming!
• Work on fastening the strap
For many dogs, this is a big step, as it feels quite unnatural for them. Whilst you’re delivering tasty treats through the front of the muzzle, with your other hand start handling the straps. Eventually you will be able to do the straps up but, once you initially have, immediately undo them and reward your dog. Then work on the duration at which the dog can have the straps fastened before you remove the muzzle.
• Add duration
Once your dog is happy having the muzzle fastened, add duration to the amount of time they wear it. Continue popping them tasty treats. Add the muzzle into your usual training games so, whilst wearing the muzzle, ask your dog to do some sits and downs whilst you continue to reward them.
Start getting your dog to walk whilst wearing his new muzzle so, walk a few steps back and ask your dog to follow you and reward him when he does. Sometimes, moving whilst wearing the muzzle can feel strange to the dog so this can be a big step.
• Tips and tricks
Never rush any steps and if your dog seems to struggle, take a step backwards and try again. Keep training sessions short so your dog remains focused and use rewards that are unique to this training task. Always pair the muzzle with things your dog really likes to create an awesome association that he’ll remember in a time of need!