Muzzles are not just for aggressive dogs!
All dogs may need to wear a muzzle at some time during their lives for any number of reasons, including nail clipping, grooming, to be handled safely when injured, or for certain veterinary procedures. A dog may need to wear a muzzle for its own safety, or the safety of a person or other animal, or both.
To make these times less stressful for your dog, and for yourself, it is an excellent idea to get your dog accustomed to wearing a muzzle, by making it into a positive experience, so that they will accept it when they need to wear one. The first time you put a muzzle on your dog should not be the first time you NEED to put a muzzle on your dog.
Muzzle training is a fun way to work your dog’s brain, getting it to work for food, and strengthen your bond, with the bonus of ensuring if your dog ever needs to wear a muzzle, it will be as normal to the dog as clipping on its lead.
Types of Muzzles:
- There are two main types of muzzles – a basket muzzle, which is designed to be worn for longer periods of time, and allows your dog to eat, drink and pant while wearing it, and a soft muzzle, which is usually made out of a fabric nylon material.
- Soft muzzles are only designed to be worn by the dog for shorter periods of time, such as for blood sample collection in the vet clinic, or a quick nail clip, as these muzzles hold a dog’s mouth closed, preventing it from being able to pant effectively, which is a dog’s main method of controlling its body temperature. Never walk your dog or leave your dog unattended while wearing a soft muzzle.
- If you are going to use a basket muzzle for your dog for longer periods of time, such as on a walk, or for grooming, you need to make sure it is fitted to your dog’s nose and head type correctly, so that is comfortable for your dog to wear, but is not going to slip off. Your local vet clinic staff can help you purchase the correct size muzzle for your dog.
What you need:
- Lots of your dog’s favourite treats, cut into small pieces, ideally a soft treat that your dog does not need to chew much to eat
- A muzzle (we have used a soft fabric muzzle for this training session in the photos)
- A quiet place and time. If your dog is easily distracted, or not used to working for food, we would recommend putting your dog on a lead to reduce the chances of your dog becoming distracted.
** If at any time your dog shows signs of aggression while carrying out muzzle training, please consult a canine training or veterinary professional**
Step 1: When the muzzle appears, so do the treats…
Hold the muzzle in your hand so the dog can see it. If your dog seems cautious of the muzzle, start with the muzzle further away from your dog. Keep the muzzle nice and still. Give your dog multiple treats when they can see the muzzle. We are trying to show your dog that muzzle = reward. When your dog seems happy with the muzzle, put the muzzle behind your back, and stop giving treats. This is so your dog learns that when the muzzle goes away, treats go away too.
Repeat this several times, until your dog gets excited with the appearance of the muzzle. You may want to do this over several short 30-60 second sessions. If your dog is unsure, take more time with this, and repeat this step over several days until your dog is happy to see the muzzle. If you had to start with the muzzle further away from your dog, gradually move it closer. Start to move the muzzle around so that your dog gets used to it moving, while still giving treats. Make sure your dog is completely comfortable with the sight of the muzzle before moving on to the next step.
Step 2: Putting your nose in the muzzle brings more treats…..
In this step we are teaching the dog to put its nose inside the muzzle, and then keep it in there for longer periods of time.
Place a treat inside the muzzle and present the muzzle to your dog, letting it sniff the muzzle and find the treat and eat it. If your dog is hesitant to put its nose in the muzzle, use a higher value treat – peanut butter or cheese smeared inside the muzzle can work well. Continue rewarding your dog for putting its nose in the muzzle.
The dog will likely take its nose out as soon as it has eaten the treat, repeat giving treats inside the muzzle until your dog will put its nose in the muzzle without a treat being in there – when your dog does this feed a treat through the open end of the muzzle once the dog’s nose is in there.
You may have to do this step over several short sessions, potentially over several days until your dog is eagerly shoving its nose into the muzzle in order to earn the treat. Once we have achieved this it is time to start getting your dog to leave its nose in the muzzle for longer periods of time. Do this by giving multiple treats rapidly one after the other while your dog has its nose in the muzzle, so that your dog is too busy eating treats to pull its nose out of the muzzle. If your dog pulls its nose out of the muzzle, immediately stop giving the treats and wait. When the dog puts its nose in the muzzle again, recommence the flow of treats. Gradually increase the time between treats as your dog gets accustomed to leaving its nose in the muzzle. Remember, no nose in muzzle = no treats.
Step 3: Clipping/buckling up the muzzle
First we want to get the dog used to the sound of the clip being done up (or buckle depending on the muzzle you are using). With the muzzle off the dog, but near the dog, clip it/buckle it up and immediately give a treat, pairing the sound of the muzzle being done up with a treat reward. Repeat this several times until your dog looks eagerly for the treat that is coming when it hears the sound of the muzzle being done up. You may need a helper for this step, depending on how coordinated you are!
Next with your helper if required, have the dog put its nose in the muzzle for a treat, and then clip/buckle the muzzle behind the dog’s ears, rewarding the dog again with treats as you do so. Adjust the muzzle to fit the dog securely behind the ears, while continuing to give treats.
If you don’t have a helper available you could do the muzzle up loosely before you slip it over the dog’s ears, and then adjust it when in place. Remember to give lots of treats while you are doing this – we want muzzle wearing to be a good experience. If your dog seems worried about the feeling of the muzzle being fitted snuggly, loosen it slightly, giving treats while gradually tightening it when your dog is happy at each stage.
Step 4: Happy muzzle wearing!
At this stage your dog should be happy wearing the muzzle. Continue to give your dog treats while it wears the muzzle, giving lots of treats quickly at the start, and gradually increasing the time between treats. If you have a cage muzzle for your dog, you can take it on a short walk wearing the muzzle, as a reward, if your dog loves going on walks, but remember to take some treats to give as well.
Practice muzzle wearing regularly – get out your muzzle and do a training session as a reminder that muzzle = reward every so often. You can even ask your dog to do its favourite trick, such as shaking hands, while wearing the muzzle, remembering to reward for the trick with a tasty treat!