813front-01-2When I first launched The Muzzle Up! Project, I developed it with three objectives:

1) Reduce stigma surrounding muzzles

2) Provide high-quality information about muzzle training and safety

3) Give owners whose dogs wear muzzles a supportive platform to interact and share ideas

Supporters from across the globe have amazed and inspired me, sending photos of their dogs living full and enriched lives while wearing muzzles. The Facebook community page has grown to almost 5,000 supporters, including leaders in the training and veterinary fields. This positive feedback shows how we as humans can use the foundations of animal learning to train dogs to enjoy wearing their muzzles and help others realize muzzles don’t have to mean a prison sentence for a life bereft of enrichment.

What sets The Muzzle Up! Project and its online training program apart from basic muzzle training available on the web 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.

Using the principles of operant and classical conditioning, Muzzle Up Online works with clients and their dogs to facilitate play, loose and comfortable body movement, and teach a variety of games and activities. We 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.

As dog owners, want our dogs to trust us. We want our dogs to feel comfortable in our presence. We don’t want our dogs to be scared of us. When done the proper way, muzzle training can increase the trust in you and your dog’s relationship, because in every dog’s training plan, trust is not only the foundation, it’s the terminal behavior.

2015 has been a momentous year at Muzzle Up. Many thanks to all our supporters, including Tawzer Dog and the Pet Professional Guild, whose DVDs and inaugural summit have helped Muzzle Up’s message reach dog owners and pet professionals across the globe. Onward to 2016!

–  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 muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog


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