When I first launched The Muzzle Up! Project, I never predicted its potential impact on muzzle education, awareness, and the lives of humans and their dogs. Supporters from across the globe have amazed and inspired me, sending photos of their dogs living full and enriched lives while wearing muzzles. Most importantly, feedback from supporters shows how we as humans can use the foundations of animal learning to train dogs to enjoy wearing their muzzles.
Muzzles don’t have to mean a prison sentence for a life bereft of enrichment.
This spring, I launched Muzzle Up! Online, an online training program to coach dog owners through the muzzle training process, giving them real-time support to ensure peace of mind and a successful training process. The initial launch has been nothing short of inspirational.
Many of my training colleagues have been gracious enough to participate in the program with their own dogs. Many of these dogs are fearful, whether it be generalized fear and anxiety, resource guarding, handling sensitivity, or previous scary experiences with muzzles.
Not all of the dogs participating in Muzzle Up! Online’s initial launch need to wear a muzzle for public safety. Not all of them have a bite history, or a history of dog- or human-based aggression. Their humans are participating in the program because they want to refine their muzzle training skills and want their dogs muzzle trained as a preventative measure. And, most importantly, they want to increase their trusting partnership with their dogs through a force-free training experience.
“When folks ask why I’m muzzle training sweet little Ellie, sometimes I mention her bite history, sometimes I mention prevention and liken a muzzle to a seatbelt or helmet, and other times, I show them photos like these.
Why muzzle train? To see more of these faces! Happy face doesn’t have to be just for dinnertime.” – Cara Lynne Moynes, owner of Pup Tent in Toronto, Ontario
Cara and her dog, Ellie, are an excellent example of how muzzle training has benefits beyond safety and prevention. Because Cara and I are training Ellie using the principles of counterconditioning and desensitization, she has been comfortable and happy during each step of the training process. Ellie is elated when she sees her muzzle, because she knows, through gradual training, that she will have a fun and safe experience (and also get lots of liverwurst).
For other fearful dogs, muzzle training further helps them develop confidence. They learn new skills, continue making positive associations with their environment, and engage in games and activities that promote positive associations.
A higher standard for muzzle training
What sets Muzzle Up! Online apart from basic muzzle training is the use of parameters and games so that dogs not only tolerate wearing their muzzles, but enjoy wearing them. Many plans end with putting the muzzle on the dog, when in fact securing the buckle of the muzzle strap is just the beginning. After all, just because a dog is OK with wearing a muzzle for a few seconds doesn’t mean he has learned to play, run, or interact with the environment while wearing it.
Some dogs are uncomfortable moving their heads when wearing a muzzle. Other dogs freeze when they get outside, unsure whether it is safe to sniff or run. Still other dogs need help learning to eat and move while wearing one.
Muzzle Up! Online addresses all these factors, using the principles of operant and classical conditioning to facilitate play, loose and comfortable body movement, and teach a variety of games and activities. Together with the dog’s humans, I use the dog’s favorite motivators to make muzzle time rewarding and fun, whether it be fetch, soccer, nose work, or simple agility moves.
The results are heartwarming and beautiful. Imagine a fearful dog gaining confidence and weaving around agility poles while wearing a muzzle. Or a shy dog running toward the muzzle from across the room in order to place her snout in the basket, eagerly anticipating her reward. These aren’t just pipe dreams; training makes them possible for dogs of varied breeds, backgrounds and temperaments.
2015 and beyond
This year will be an exciting one for The Muzzle Up! Project. In September, I will be leading a seminar in conjunction with Helping Idaho Dogs, Inc. and Tawzer Dog addressing muzzle education, advocacy and training. In November, I will be presenting on The Muzzle Up! Project at the Pet Professional Guild’s inaugural Force-Free Summit, with the goal of encouraging force-free trainers across the world to elevate muzzle training to a higher standard.
Continue watching this space for more updates throughout summer and autumn.
Thank you to all supporters of The Muzzle Up! Project. Together, we can elevate muzzle training to a higher standard and change the lives of dogs for the better.
– Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will be presenting about Muzzle Up at this year’s Pet Professional Guild Summit in Tampa, FL. Get in touch at email@example.com.