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Teaching your dog to wear a muzzle
There are many situations in which your dog may be required to wear a muzzle. Muzzles may be used as a temporary way of managing problem behaviour, until a training plan can be developed. They may also sometimes be used during training sessions whilst behaviour modification is underway. This not only makes the training session safer but also helps everyone relax, preventing any worry you may be feeling making your dog worried too.
Muzzles can also be used to manage unavoidable situations that may make your dog fearful, such as visits to the Vets. Use of a muzzle in this type of situation reduces the amount of restraint the practice staff need to use and so how stressful you, your dog and the practice staff find the visit.
A well-fitting cage muzzle isnít unpleasant for a dog to wear. However many dogs do find them annoying at first, particularly if they are already worried by something else at the time. They can also learn to see them as a sign that something unpleasant is about to happen. It therefore helps to teach your dog to happily accept the muzzle when he is calm and relaxed.
What type of muzzle should I use?
The best type of muzzle is a basket or cage muzzle. This type of muzzle significantly reduces the risk of bites whilst ensuring your dog can still pant and drink. They also enable your dog to continue showing normal appeasing signals such as licking his lips or yawning. These are an important part of your dog's communication with you and so being able to do so tells you how he is feeling. Not being able to do so can also raise his anxiety level.
Fitting the muzzle
Make sure the muzzle fits your dog properly as follows:
- Ensure the muzzle is large enough to allow him to pant and drink
- Check his nose does not touch the front and the muzzle does not rub under his eyes
- Adjust the muzzle straps so they sit behind his ears, then test the muzzle to ensure it cannot be pulled along the length of his nose and over his nosepad
When using the muzzle bear in mind the following precautions:
- A muzzle only reduces the possibility for injury. Dogs can still cause minor teeth injuries, bruising, scratching or emotional distress when wearing a muzzle. No muzzle is indestructible.
- Bear in mind your dog is at risk if attacked by another dog whilst wearing the muzzle. It is therefore important you prevent, or provide close supervision of, all interactions with other dogs
- Don't feed your dog whilst wearing the muzzle, other than small training treats.
- Don't leave your dog unattended for long periods with the muzzle on. He could choke if he vomits or tries to scavenge food whilst wearing it.
- Always follow the manufacturers guidelines
Teaching your dog to accept wearing a muzzle
Above is an excellent video demonstrating one method of teaching a dog to wear a muzzle. However, bear in mind each dog will require a plan tailored to their needs, and so these steps wonít be suited to everyone. Key points to bear in mind when modifying this plan to teach your own dog to wear a muzzle are as follows:
- Identify the signs you dog shows when he is worried by something e.g. licking his lips, yawning, lowering or turning his head away, chomping (like chewing a toffee), withdrawing from you etc. If your dog shows these signs go back a step and proceed more slowly.
- If your dog has already learned to be worried by the muzzle or looks worried as soon as you get it out you may need to teach him to just get used to it lying around before holding it too close to him. Get the muzzle out 2 or 3 times a day and put it somewhere your dog can see it but not reach it and leave it there for about 15 minutes. Make sure he can get away from the muzzle if he feels the need to e.g. go into another room. Carry on as if nothing is happening. Neither give extra attention nor ignore him. Once he shows no sign of interest in the muzzle on two successive training sessions you can start showing him the muzzle and giving him treats as suggested in the video.
- Dogs with a past fear of the muzzle or sensitivity to clicking sounds may not respond well to having the muzzle hung around their neck, as demonstrated in the video. Assess your dogís response as you try to do this and if he looks worried or tries to back away then skip this step.
- If your dog tries to take the treat other than by putting his nose into the muzzle (e.g. from the side, by nudging you etc) just ignore it. Be patient.
- When you reach the step at which you need to clip the muzzle closed keep the straps loose initially. You can try smearing a soft foodstuff such as peanut butter or cream cheese on the front of the muzzle (inside) to keep your dog occupied as you fasten the clip.
- It is important that you only move to a later step once your dog has clearly been relaxed with the current one for a couple of sessions.
Once the training is complete still occasionally put the muzzle on and treat him so he doesnít see it as a sign that something stressful about to happen